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With 10 days left, CO lawmakers have their work cut out for them

Posted at 7:02 AM, Apr 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-30 21:39:22-04

DENVER – The Colorado legislature has less than two work weeks left before it’s set to adjourn. Still, there are some big-ticket items that need to be decided.

More than 700 bills were proposed this legislative session, according to Colorado Capitol Watch. Of those, more than 300 still have yet to bedecided upon.

For the rest, about 180 have been signed into law and more than 200 others were either postponed indefinitely or shot down altogether.

“I’ll be busy right up until the witching hour,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham.

One of the biggest accomplishments the legislature has achieved is the budget. Lawmakers came together to pass the $28.9 billion budget early this year. Governor John Hickenlooper is set to sign the long bill into law Monday afternoon.

The legislature has also taken significant steps to address sexual harassment at the Capitol. All Capitol staff are now required to go through sexual harassment training annually.

An independent group was also commissioned to study the culture at the Capitol and determine if more needs to be done to prevent sexual harassment. The study was published earlier this month and found significant gaps in how sexual harassment is dealt with.

Several other high-profile bills also passed out of the legislature this legislative session, including Senate Bill 18-014. This bill allows crime victims and their families to know where their perpetrators are being held. It came after the victims and families of the Aurora theater shooting requested to know where James Holmes was being held. The department of corrections is now required to inform the state and the victims where an inmate was moved no longer than 48 hours afterward.

However, there are still some major items lawmakers need to decide upon that affect hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of state funding.

Senate Bill 1, dealing with transportation funding, is still being discussed. The bill is meant to address the nearly $9 billion funding gap that the Colorado Department of Transportation has identified in needs.

The Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would allocate $495 million to transportation in a one-time block of funding. After that, about $250 billion would go to transportation funding each year from the general fund. It also proposes a $3.5 billion bond for voters to decide upon for roads and infrastructure projects.

However, the House won’t take up the issue until Wednesday.

“I’m a little disappointed that it got moved from last Wednesday to the final week. This is a major bill, it’s our top priority,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cook. 

Both Republicans and Democrats have identified transportation as a legislative priority this session. However, Democrats have expressed concerns that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on roads could take away potential funding for schools. 

Republicans say they have the $495 million ready to go for roads that Senate Bill 1 is proposing.

“Our hope still is that we commit these dollars as the Senate proposed, this $495 million, that we actually commit those to roads in this upcoming year,” Grantham said.

The Republican leadership says it won’t support tax increases to pay for those road projects.

“How do you try and sell the idea to the taxpayers of Colorado that you need more money when you had a $1.3 billion surplus this year,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Jerry Sonnenberg.

Another major legislative agenda item is the Public Employee Retirement Association, also known as PERA. This is the public employee pension system teachers and others rely on after they retire.

PERA has a funding shortfall to the tune of $32 billion and lawmakers are working feverishly to try to correct the course. It was one of the major reasons behind the teacher protests las week.
Numerous ideas have been floated to try to fix the PERA pension system, including raising the retirement age, increasing employee contributions and using state money.

It will be up to lawmakers to decide how to shore up PERA so that public employees can retire without worrying about money.

Something lawmakers have not been able to move the bar on is gun legislation. Several bills were proposed this year, some that loosened gun restrictions and some that tightened them.

However, Republicans and Democrats couldn’t seem to come to a compromise on things like banning high-capacity magazines or multi-burst triggers. Nor could they agree on a concealed carry bill for permit holders within school grounds.

“Stalemate is a fair way to describe it. We have very emergent views. So how we proceed forward from there and a bipartisan fashion is difficult,” Grantham said. “Coming to some sort of agreement on legislation is more unlikely than likely. It doesn’t mean we’re not trying to work on it.”
The legislative session is set to wrap up on May 9. Both Democrats and Republicans say they are optimistic some of the most consequential bills will be approved before the end of session.

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert said he has not ruled out the possibility of some afternoon sessions in order to get everything done. He’s asking senators to keep their evenings open until the end of the session just in case he needs to extend some legislative days.

One issue the Republican leadership did not seem optimistic about was the so-called anti-teacher strike bill that was proposed by Senator Bob Gardner.

“I mentioned last week that I’m not sure that the bill even gets out of the Senate,” Grantham said.

“I can tell you I’ll be a no vote,” Sonnenberg said. “I understand what he was trying to do but when it comes right down to it, I think that takes away from somebody’s ability to actually express their First Amendment rights.”

Sonnenberg said he believes it should be up to the employers and the school board to determine if they want to punish teachers for walking off the job without giving the schools prior notice.

“It should be dealt with at the local level just like it would be at any other job,” Sonnenberg said.

Senate Bill 18-264 will be heard by the State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee Monday afternoon.