Friends and neighbors,
May 8th was the final day of the 2023 legislative session. It was turbulent to say the least, but at the end of an incredibly challenging session, I’m proud to say we rose to meet the challenges facing the people of Colorado.
We prioritized Coloradans’ most urgent needs and made advancements in gun violence prevention, reproductive healthcare access, and lowering the cost of housing. Not only that, but we also made record investments in our K-12 public schools and made progress on many other issues, including improving our healthcare system, protecting our environment, reforming our criminal justice system, and expanding protections for renters.
You can read more about our legislative achievements in the Colorado House Democrats’ 2023 end-of-session report.
I played a part in supporting all of this work, but as you know, we all tend to specialize and focus on passing our own bills. This year, I continued to focus most of my energy on health care, energy, and tax policy. Here’s a rundown of the bills I sponsored this session.
SB23-303: Responsible Reductions in Property Taxes, and; HB23-1311: TABOR Refund Fairness
Sometimes, a piece of legislation must tackle several problems at the same time. And this set of problems was a doozy.
First, rising home values are causing a huge spike in the property tax bills that homeowners, renters, and businesses will face at the end of this year. Second, our schools, fire districts, libraries, and county services (including critical work like child welfare, human services, and public safety) have been facing major funding challenges for years. Third, right-wing groups have kept proposing draconian tax cut measures that would deliver property tax reductions at the cost of devastated public services.
We knew we needed a balanced solution that could help people and small businesses keep up with the cost of living but that wouldn’t destroy the critical services funded by property taxes.
SB23-303 refers a measure to the November ballot that will deliver responsible reductions while providing state backfill funding to protect schools, fire districts, and other critical public services. If voters approve Proposition HH in November, the increase in residential property taxes will be cut in half, saving the average homeowner $1264 over the next two years. The increases facing businesses will also be meaningfully reduced. Senior homeowners who are eligible for the homestead exemption will receive a larger exemption than before, and their exemption will be made portable–that means that these seniors will be able to downsize and continue to receive their property tax exemption.
To ensure the state will have sufficient revenue to backfill revenue losses to local governments, Prop HH will also allow the state to retain an additional 1% of revenue above the TABOR limit. This is the pay-for, and is necessary to ensure that local governments are protected.
But lest you think this is not complicated enough, there’s more. There are two more big problems with cutting property taxes. First, the largest benefits go to people with the most expensive homes and businesses with the largest properties. Second, there’s no guarantee that landlords will pass along their property tax savings to renters.
As a condition for my support and sponsorship of this policy, I insisted on addressing these two problems. We did so in two ways. First, an amendment made on the House floor set aside up to $20M a year for rental assistance programs. Second, we made a one-year change to the distribution of TABOR refunds through a separate-but-connected bill, HB23-1311. Current law would distribute refunds based on a complicated formula known as the six-tier sales tax refund. This formula would give $454 to Coloradans with incomes below $50K and $1434 to Coloradans with incomes above $280K. HB1311 will send $661 refunds to everybody, which means a little bit more for everybody making less than $100K per year.
I won’t pretend this is simple or elegant, but I do believe we have found a reasonable and balanced solution that addresses the multiple problems we needed to solve with the bill. Voters will have a chance to read even more about it in their blue books before they cast their votes on Prop HH this November.
SB23-291: Addressing Rising Utility Prices
Coloradans have faced unprecedented utility bills, causing financial strain as many struggle to cover the cost of basic necessities. To address this issue, we established the Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates to investigate rising utility costs and possible policy interventions. The work of the committee informed the contents of the bill, which will lower utility bills by removing profit motives for utilities to build unnecessary gas infrastructure, smooth out unpredictable rate spikes, create a fairer utility rate-setting process, and prevent utilities from charging their customers for lobbying and advertising costs.
HB23-1167: Good Samaritan Overdose Law
Across Colorado, five people die each day from preventable overdoses. The Good Samaritan Law provides certain legal protections to incentivize people witnessing an overdose event to seek assistance rather than run from law enforcement. Unfortunately, a technical cross-reference error in last year’s big fentanyl bill rendered the law null. This bill restores immunity for all drug possession charges and expands immunity to people sharing small amounts of drugs among friends. This will save lives and ensure that the fear of criminal charges does not stop Coloradans from calling 911, staying at the scene of an overdose, and fully cooperating with law enforcement to try to save a life.
HB23-1244 Regional Health Connector Program
Colorado’s system of Regional Health Connectors plays a vital role in connecting healthcare providers with public health, social service providers, and community organizations to improve integration and coordination in our healthcare system. The nonprofits that manage these RHCs have been operating on shoestring budgets for several years since the initial federal grant expires. HB1244 will provide sustainable funding for the program into the future.
HB23-1225: Prescription Drug Affordability Board Update
Too many Coloradans struggle to afford the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy. In 2021, the Prescription Drug Affordability Board was established to limit the cost of the highest-cost prescription drugs. This bill strengthens the board by loosening restrictions on how many Upper Payment Limits the Board can set in its first three years and improving the criteria for selecting drugs for an affordability review. These changes will better allow us to address rising drug costs and ensure that patients can access the medications they need.
HB23-1226: Hospital Cost Transparency Update
Hospitals account for a significant portion of Colorado dollars spent on health care, but policy makers need a clearer picture of where those dollars are going. In 2019, I carried a bill that gave us a closer look at hospital finances, which informed some of the major policies we’ve passed to lower the cost of health care. This bill builds on this work to address gaps, increase compliance, and provide data to understand the financial health and performance of Colorado’s hospitals so we can continue creating policies that put people over profits and save Coloradans money on health care.
SB23-271: Regulation of Intoxicating Hemp Products
Many Coloradans enjoy and benefit from hemp products, which can take the form of everything from clothing to nutritional supplements like CBD. Because these products contain very low levels of THC–the intoxicating chemical in marijuana–they have been regulated differently from marijuana.
But certain hemp manufacturers started concentrating and altering hemp products to produce highly intoxicating substances like Delta-8 and Delta-10 THC, which are unregulated and can be bought by kids at gas stations. Needless to say, this is a huge problem.
A task force met over the summer and fall of 2022 and came up with a set of recommendations that formed the core of this bill. Right off the bat, we’ll be banning the sale of synthetic cannabinoids and other highly intoxicating products.
What was trickier was figuring out how to regulate “full spectrum” hemp products, which means unaltered extracts of the hemp plant which typically contain at least a 15:1 ratio of CBD to THC. There is some recent evidence that higher ratios of CBD to THC mitigate the intoxicating effect of the THC, but there is still concern that a kid might be able to buy a large package of CBD gummies and eat them all in order to get a high enough quantity of THC to get high. The bill sets limits on products that can be sold without an ID, and establishes new and robust labeling requirements.
SB23-176: Protections For People With An Eating Disorder
It is estimated that more than 30 million Americans will experience an eating disorder during their lifetime, but less than 20% will receive treatment. Unfortunately, weight is a significant barrier to receiving treatment, even though most people with eating disorders are not medically underweight. This bill prohibits Medicaid and state-regulated health benefit plans from denying treatment for an eating disorder based on a patient’s body mass index, ideal body weight, or any other standard requiring an achieved weight. The bill also prohibits the sale of diet pills for individuals under 18.
HB23-1284: Modifications To The Property Tax Deferral Program
Colorado’s Property Tax Deferral Program provides a last-resort option for those who can’t afford their property tax bills. The program allows homeowners to postpone payment of their property taxes until a specified time frame, death, or transfer of property. The current law allows for unlimited deferral by seniors and active military, and a limited deferral for any other residential property tax payer. For seniors and active military families, HB1284 eliminates a prohibition on rental income, which will allow folks to rent out an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) on their property while still deferring their property tax bills. This is just one small step to help these folks keep up with the high cost of housing.
I can say a lot more about our work this year, but I’ll leave it here for today. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue serving Colorado, and after a little bit more of a break, I’m planning to dive into planning the legislation I will sponsor in my 8th and final year as your State Representative.