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CLS Announcments, Newsletter and Bill Updates

SESSION HIGHLIGHTS, FEB 22-26, 2016

Filed Ballot Initiatives Reaches 100

The number of ballot initiatives filed for the Colorado November 2016 election reached 100 this month. As of today, 100 proposed initiatives have been filed with the state. This a massive increase from the number of ballot initiatives proposed in Colorado during the last three election cycles, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Last year at this time, only 74 ballot initiatives had been filed for the General Election. In 2012 that number was 58, and in 2010 it was 44. The total number filed in those three cycles was 145 (2014), 95 (2012), and 98 (2010). Given the high number of measures filed this year already, if the current pace holds Colorado seems poised to have over 200 filed this cycle.

The high number of ballot initiative proposals this cycle includes a variety of hot-button topics, such as alcohol sales in grocery stores, restrictions and bans on oil and gas development, increases to the minimum wage, implementation of single-payer healthcare, opening primary elections to unaffiliated voters and medical aid in dying for the terminally ill. Some of these issues have already gathered national attention and could make a significant impact on turnout if they appear on the ballot this year; impacting both state and local candidate races, including the U.S. Senate race against Congressman Michael Bennett (D).

Funding Cut for Colorado Cost Commission

The Joint Budget Committee, chaired by Millie Hamner (D-Summit County), voted to approve the staff recommendation for the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care’s (CCAHC) funding in the amount of $177,000 this afternoon 5 to 1. This number represents nearly half of the originally requested $400,000.

Both Republicans and Democrats felt this was a good compromise and that funding the commission to this amount would give the group the opportunity to finish a report on their findings, but would have to do so more frugally.

CCAHC was created out of SB14-187 by Sens. Irene Aguilar (D-Denver) and Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) and former Reps. Amy Stephens (R-Colorado Springs) and Sue Schafer (D-Wheatridge). The bill laid out provisions for the commission to study and make recommendations to the legislature regarding health care costs. The primary focus was on evidence-based cost controls, access and quality of care.

Megan Davisson, the JBC Staff Analyst, made a recommendation to amend the original statute SB14-187 to remove the words “continuous appropriation authority.” Her recommendation is intended to place guardrails around CCAHC’s spending which she said were unfoundedly high. She told the committee that the Commission has no accountability and that they have spent excessively. Davisson cited that $160,000 were spent in the last year on facilitation costs alone and that instead of the $177,000 going to cash funds that they can spend at will, the commission will have to work through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which would have the authority to approve or deny their spending. If this idea were to move forward, CDPHE then would be responsible to make sure the funds are spent on the purpose aligned in statute.

Instead of letting this discussion happen in orbit around the budget, members, on a vote of 6-0, decided to move forward in drafting a bill that would move forward with staff’s recommendation regarding continuous appropriation. That bill draft has yet to be released.

Senate Passes SCFD Renewal Plan 

This week, the Senate approved the board-approved plan for renewing the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). The SCFD is the Denver metro area’s thriving district for funding arts, science and cultural organizations in the seven-county area. The proposal, SB16-016, now moves to the House, where it has strong bipartisan support.

The proposal asks state lawmakers to consider some of the most sweeping changes ever proposed to the nearly 30-year-old district. These changes include substantial shifts in the way district revenues are distributed which will result in increased funding to medium and small arts, culture and science organizations funded by the district. The tax itself, however, will not increase under the proposal.

 “What I like about this concept is that these districts are established and funded by locals, with their explicit approval, so you know it’s something the community really values and supports,” said Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs), one of the bill’s prime sponsors.

Voters from the district, which is comprised of Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas (except for Castle Rock and Larkspur) and Jefferson counties, still have final approval of whether or not the district is sustained as legislators only have the authority to send language to the ballot.

In November, if SB16-016 passes, voters from the district will ultimately decide to continue the investment of one penny on every $10 spent in the district, which supports the diverse array of cultural organizations that contribute more than $1.8 billion to the regional economy, serve over 14 million people annually, and employ more than 10,000 people. The SCFD was originally passed in 1988 and has been renewed by regional voters in both 1994 and in 2004.

 “Each time voters have gotten the chance to renew this important district, they have registered a resounding yes,” said Senator Cadman’s fellow prime sponsor, Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver). “With this solid proposal, I know voters will again say they value the district and the incredible access it provides them to a vast array of experiences.”

In the House, the legislation will be carried by co-prime sponsors House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder) and Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Douglas County).

Rain Barrel Bill Makes Successful 2016 Debut

Preceded by an unsuccessful bill last year, HB16-1005, sponsored by Reps. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) and Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge) passed out of the House Agricultural, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee on a vote of 10-2 this week. The bill would allow residents to store the rain off their roof in up to two 55-gallon rain barrels for use on gardens and lawns.

Last year, the bill ran into a huge roadblock over concerns that it didn’t protect against injury to other water rights.  This year, conversations are focused on adding language to the bill which would recognize the state’s prior appropriations system and would allow the State Engineer to address injuries to other water rights should they occur in the future. 

The bill now awaits a second reading vote on the House Floor.  

Zoey DeWolf