Legislative Wrap Up

The 2018 legislative session saw big wins for transportation, PERA funding

Gov. John Hickenlooper touted the 2018 legislative session as the most successful one under his two terms in office. 


The session saw bipartisan compromise on a number of big issues, including fixes to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association as well as funding solutions for transportation and two state entities — the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the Colorado Energy Office. 

But compromise failed on a few fronts, including a push to establish a supervised injection facility and attempts to ban assault weapons and bump stocks statewide. 

Here’s a rundown of session highlights, and a look at initiatives that are anticipated to make a comeback next year.

Sexual Harassment

Allegations against state lawmakers cast a shadow over the beginning of the 2018 legislative session. 

Five legislators were accused of misconduct. Rep. Steve Lebsock was expelled from the House in March, and Sen. Randy Baumgardner was removed from his committee positions earlier this month. 

“I know how difficult it is for women to succeed in politics. There were times I had to work twice as hard and be twice as smart to be in the role I am now,” House Speaker Crisanta Duran told Law Week at the beginning of the session. “In the year 2018 we still have barriers for women to break through, and my hope is with people coming forward that we truly see systemic change – and changes we need that are cultural as well.” 

At a session recap press briefing, Senate President Kevin Grantham said an interim committee will continue to work to implement policy changes and suggestions from a report by the Investigative Law Group conducted earlier this year. 

Those suggestions include removal of political offices from the investigations to ensure an impartial process and revising the legislature’s harassment policy. 

“It certainly shaped things around here and shaped things for me,” Grantham said at the conference. “It has increased awareness around here about individual actions and mannerisms and things like that. I think it’s made us all more careful and better at how we interact with people.”

Transportation

Efforts to fund a $9 billion backlog of transportation projects finally saw success this session. Senate Bill 1 commits $645 million from the general fund to transportation over the next two years and if a business community ballot initiative fails to make the ballot or pass in November, SB 1 will initiate a proposal to voters on the 2019 ballot to approve $2.34 billion in bonds. 

“I don’t have to be happy with all the bells and whistles we didn’t get, but the things we did get are huge,” Grantham said. “Not to discount anything that the other side of the aisle did in working with us to get there, but I’m proud of the team we had and Republicans who helped drive that train from day one and even before day one — when we talk about roads, we’ve consistently been on that message of general fund money for roads, and what did we get at the end of the day?”

The $645 billion will be split three ways, with 70 percent going toward CDOT projects, 15 percent to local infrastructure and 15 percent toward multimodal projects. 

PERA

A back-and-forth debate on unfunded liabilities in the state pension also saw a bipartisan agreement this session. 

The plan sets aside $225 million from the general fund. The Senate version of the bill asked for a retirement age of 65, while the House version stipulated age 60. 

The final version of the bill grants full-service benefits at age 64. Previously, the cost of living adjustment was at 2 percent. 

The Senate version proposed a cut to 1.25 percent. The final bill ratchets that down to the original House proposal of 1.5 percent. 

Grantham called Senate Bill 1, introduced in 2010, a “Band-Aid” for PERA funding. He said it was a tough conversation, one that will have to continue into the future.

“It was called a Band-Aid even back then by folks, and we’ve been telling PERA ‘You know your numbers aren’t realistic, and this is where this is heading, we’re heading for the cliff,’” Grantham said. 

Colorado Energy Office

The office received a funding boost of $3.27 million that will go toward both fossil and alternative fuel projects. It lost millions in funding at the end of last session after legislators failed to reach a compromise on prioritizing those energy sources.

Colorado Civil Rights Division 

The commission was scheduled to sunset this year, and in February Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee voted to withhold funding. A bipartisan effort from both the House and the Senate reversed that. Two amendments were adopted in the Senate version before it passed, which stipulates that the governor will appoint five members to the commission and the House speaker and Senate president will each appoint two members, provided those who hold the positions are not of the same political party as the governor. 

“I think [the commission] did get what it needed – we were able to provide full funding for the agency despite numerous Republican attempts to strip it,” bill sponsor Rep. Leslie Herod said. “We negotiated a compromise between Democrats and Republicans that allowed for the commission to not be politicized and continue functioning in a way that works best for Colorado – not for special interests of the Capitol.”

Senate Majority Leader John Cooke said at the briefing that Senate Republicans didn’t feel the initial proposal went far enough, and voted it down because it didn’t include a provision that called for Senate approval of the governor’s commission picks. 

“Nobody wanted to see the Civil Rights commission go away or killed, we talked about compromise and in the end, it went well,” Cooke said. 

Notable wins for the session also included funding for rural broadband and a handful of bills that aim to address the opioid crisis, but lawmakers have said there’s work still to be done on several fronts. 

Rural Broadband 

Efforts to pass funding for rural broadband infrastructure have stalled multiple times over the last few years. Senate Bill 2 commits $100 million in funding over the next five years toward deploying high speed internet in rural Colorado communities, and though both major parties touted the legislation as a win, negotiations with internet service providers on implementation will still need to be hashed out.

“We have to make sure we’re protecting private suppliers and private enterprise in rural Colorado as much as anything, but still targeting that money in areas of need. We still have a lot of work to do on that,” Grantham said. 

Opioids

Lawmakers passed three bills that will address healthcare policies and funding for programs like youth prevention and recovery services. But the most contentious piece — legislation that would have enacted a supervised injection facility in Denver, one of the first in the nation — failed to make it out of the kill committee early on in the session. Bill sponsors Sen. Cheri Jahn and Rep. Brittany Pettersen have expressed hope that with time and education the initiative can move forward. 

The Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee will continue to study data on the opioid crisis and identify gaps in prevention and treatment. 

Oil and Gas 

Few oil and gas measures survived both chambers this session and will likely resurface next year. Three made it through, however — House Bill 1098 and Senate Bills 167 and 230. HB 1098 ensures that leftover expenditures from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will go into an environmental response fund. SB 230 bumps up ‘forced pooling’ notices for mineral rights owners from 34 days to 60. ‘Forced pooling’ refers to the consolidation of land and resources. And SB 167 strengthens Colorado’s 811 ‘Call Before You Dig’ program. An initiative to map out pipelines — prompted by the home explosion in Firestone — failed last year.

House Bills 1157 and 1352 weren’t so lucky. HB 1157 aimed to increase reporting on oil and gas spills, leaks, explosions and other incidents. HB 1352, which sought to create a minimum 1,000 distance between schools and oil and gas production facilities, died in the Senate earlier this month. 

Guns

The City of Denver banned bump stocks earlier this year, but Senate Bill 51, which aimed to do the same statewide, was postponed indefinitely in March. And House Bill 1015, introduced for the fourth year in a row, was also postponed indefinitely. The legislation attempted to repeal prohibitions on possession of high capacity magazines. 

– Kaley LaQuea

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