Work season for the Colorado state Legislature began in the shadow of sexual-misconduct claims from last fall and amid continued exasperation over rising housing prices and traffic and transportation …
Work season for the Colorado state Legislature began in the shadow of sexual-misconduct claims from last fall and amid continued exasperation over rising housing prices and traffic and transportation concerns.
In the weeks since the Jan. 10 kickoff of the regular session — the 120-day term when bills can be passed — some battles and points of agreement have taken shape.
Here's a roundup of recent moves the Legislature has made:
Harassment policy to be reviewed
The Legislature's leadership chose an independent, third-party contractor on Jan. 24 to conduct a review of its workplace-harassment policy, which includes rules on sexual misconduct.
The top lawmakers, who are called as a group the Executive Committee of the Legislative Council, selected Denver-based Investigations Law Group to perform the review.
“We have contracted for a comprehensive cultural assessment as well as specific recommendations on workplace policy,” K.C. Becker, D-Boulder, House majority leader, said in a news release.
Mandatory training for lawmakers on workplace harassment, an effort adopted by leadership in response to recent complaints, were scheduled for Jan. 29, Feb. 2 and Feb. 16.
Other changes included hiring a human-resources professional to help handle HR issues, and conducting mandatory annual trainings on harassment prevention for legislators, full-time staff, aides and interns. Such trainings were before only required for legislators every two years and for staff only when they're hired.
The state Legislature's executive committee is chaired by House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and includes Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City; Becker; Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker; Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver; and House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock.
A boost from Trump?
State Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, recognized in a news release President Donald Trump's apparent show of support for paid family leave in his State of the Union address.
“We disagree on so many other things, but I'm glad President Trump came out (in the speech) in support of paid family leave,” Winter said. “I challenge Colorado Republicans to follow the president's lead and put families first and support House Bill 1.”
The bill to create a family medical-leave insurance program in Colorado is a high priority — Duran made it the first bill to be introduced this session.
“My bill creates an insurance pool to provide coverage for all Coloradans to care for a dying parent or a newborn, or to get chemotherapy or treatment of other serious medical conditions,” Winter said in the news release.
Each employee in Colorado would pay a premium that must not initially exceed 0.99 percent — less than 1 percent — of their yearly wages to fund the program if the bill passes, according to the Legislature website.
House Bill 18-1001 was scheduled for its first hearing Feb. 6 in the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee, a necessary step before it faces debate on the House floor.
Long road to a fix
Senate Republicans are pushing a proposal to spend between $300 million and $350 million to secure bonds totaling $3.5 billion in value that would jump-start many high-priority transportation projects the state has identified, Republicans said in a news release.
As of 2016, Colorado carried a $9 billion need for additional transportation funding through 2025.
Citing a roughly $1 billion budget surplus for 2018-19 — more than $747 million in additional general-fund revenue and more than $256 million in new state income-tax revenue resulting from federal tax reform — Republicans said the roughly $300 million can be spent without raising taxes on Coloradans.
“There is enough surplus remaining to address other budget priorities as well, like education. There is simply no reason not to take action now,” Grantham said, according to the news release.
But the total bond amount would be paid off over a number of years with 10 percent — or roughly $350 million — of existing sales and use tax revenue per year, which the Democrats said is money that would otherwise go primarily to health care and education spending, a news release said. The bill would push the question of which programs would be affected to future legislative sessions, the Democrats' release said.
Last year's HB 17-1242 proposal, which would have asked voters to increase Colorado's sales and use tax from 2.9 percent to 3.4 percent, according to Capitol-staff analysis, would provide almost double the revenue without forcing cuts, Democrats said in the release. Grantham and Duran backed that bill, but it failed.
As of Jan. 23, SB 18-001 was scheduled to move to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.
Affordable housing measure stopped
State House Republicans and some Democrats killed a bill on Jan. 31 that would have allowed Coloradans to vote on whether to enact a 25 cent tax on plastic bags used at large grocery and other commercial stores to raise money to subsidize affordable housing in the state.
Each transaction in which a plastic bag is used would have been charged 25 cents under the policy, regardless of how many — it wouldn't have been a per-bag tax.
Customers using federal food assistance — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), once known as food stamps — would have been exempt.
The House's Local Government Committee shot down HB 18-1054, which, with voter approval, would have added 18 new government employees and required more than $1.26 million dollars of revenue in the first year to start the program, according to a news release from the House Republicans.
It would have raised $22 million in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, and $40 million the following fiscal year, to put more money into the state's Housing Development Grant Fund, which provides grants to “acquire, rehabilitate and construct affordable-housing projects,” according to analysis by Capitol staff.
Protecting personal information
State Reps. Cole Wist, R-Centennial, and Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, are two of the leaders who introduced on Jan. 19 a bill to increase security standards for public and private entities in Colorado that keep documents — paper or electronic — containing personal identifying information.
HB 18-1128 would require those entities to maintain a written policy for the documents' destruction and disposal — making them unreadable and indecipherable — when they are no longer needed.
Personal identifying information would mean, under the bill, a Social Security number; a password or passcode; an official state or government-issued driver's license or identification card number; a government passport number; biometric data; an employer, student or military ID number; or a financial transaction device.
Those who maintain, own or license that data would have to maintain “reasonable security procedures” for the information and must conduct an investigation if a data breach occurs, and persons or entities must notify the affected Colorado residents if the investigation determines that misuse of information has occurred or is likely to occur, under the potential policy. The bill sets a general deadline of 45 days after a breach to send notice.
"I'm “proud to partner with @jeffbridges on this important legislation to protect Colorado consumers and their personal identifying information,” Wist said in a Tweet.