Ten Big Huge Pieces of Legislation

Ten Big Huge Pieces of Legislation

By Chris Kennedy (July 15, 2021)

Friends and Neighbors,

Every legislative session brings its own challenges, and I’ve previously written about the work we did this session to prioritize pandemic-and-economic relief and recovery. Now that the dust has settled and bills have been signed into law by Governor Polis, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about the bills I spent the bulk of my time developing, stakeholding, and passing over the last several months.                   

In addition to maintaining my focus on reducing the high cost of healthcare and expanding prevention and treatment programs for substance use disorders, I dug in on democracy reforms, energy efficiency and utility assistance programs, rural broadband infrastructure, civil law, and health care services for people with severe disabilities. Read about my bills below, and click here to read the House Democrats’ comprehensive end-of-session report.

HB21-1047: County Commissioner Districts Gerrymandering                                              
In 2018, Colorado voters overwhelmingly chose to adopt Amendments Y and Z, which established guardrails to prevent gerrymandering for state legislative and congressional districts. My bill applies similar standards to county commissioner districts in counties that elect some or all of their commissioners by district (rather than countywide),  establishing clear criteria for fair and representative maps and requiring robust public participation.

HB21-1071: Ranked Choice Voting In Nonpartisan Elections                   
This bill seeks to encourage voter engagement and expand voter choice by making it easier for local governments to use a ranked-choice voting system. The bill allows municipalities to run ranked-choice elections through a county coordinated election, and directs the Secretary of State’s office to create statewide rules regarding voting systems and auditing practices for municipalities that opt into a ranked-choice voting system. Ranked-choice voting is secure, saves money, and empowers voters to rank candidates in order of their preference rather than being forced to select only one.

HB21-1105: Low-income Utility Payment Assistance Contributions
This bill creates a sustainable funding mechanism to support utility bill payment assistance, weatherization retrofits, and a cross-enrollment with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to maximize the number of Coloradans who can access these programs. Not only will these expanded programs help families afford their utility bills, but the increased weatherization investments will reduce energy consumption in the first place and help protect our environment.

HB21-1188: Additional Liability Under Respondeat Superior
In 2017, the Colorado Supreme Court made it easier for employers to shift liability for negligent or harmful actions to an employee and thus protect themselves from additional liability (Ferrer v. Okbamicael). This bill holds corporations accountable by allowing a plaintiff to bring direct negligence claims against an employer who has already admitted vicarious liability for its employee’s negligence.

HB21-1276: Prevention Of Substance Use Disorders
In 2019, Colorado experienced an unprecedented 1,062 drug overdose deaths. This bill requires health insurance plans to reduce copays for safer alternatives to conventional opioids including physical therapy, acupuncture, and atypical opioids. The bill also continues the 7-day limit for opioid prescriptions and the requirement that prescribers check the prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing, establishes new guardrails on benzodiazepine prescriptions, forms a university collaborative to bring together experts to identify and implement the best evidence-based prevention programs, and funds expanded prescriber education programs.

HB21-1289: Funding For Broadband Deployment
The need for broadband access and reliability has burdened Colorado communities for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic made this need even more apparent. This bill provides $75 million to increase internet access and reliability across the state through the deployment of devices, and the development of middle and last-mile infrastructure to support essential services like telehealth and education. 

HB21-1321: Voter Transparency In Ballot Measures
Because of TABOR, the title for any ballot measure raising taxes must be in ALL CAPS and must begin with “SHALL TAXES BE INCREASED BY $###,###,###. However, there’s no requirement that a ballot measure reducing taxes show where the cuts will come from. This bill adds new requirements to ballot titles and blue books to make sure voters have all the information they need to make informed decisions about ballot measures that have such a profound impact on our state.

SB21-038: Expansion of Complementary And Alternative Medicine
Coloradans with long-term physical disabilities like spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, brain injuries, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy currently face difficulties accessing affordable integrative therapies. There is strong evidence that alternative treatments including massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic services dramatically improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and keep them off of opioids and out of the hospital, which saves money. For nearly a decade, Colorado has studies these impacts through a five-county pilot program for people with spinal cord injuries. Building on the success of the pilot, this bill expands the program to include persons with the aforementioned conditions in every county in Colorado.

SB21-137: Behavioral Health Recovery Act
For a long time, Colorado has underfunded mental health services and so Coloradans struggle to get the mental health care that they need. Last year, we were forced to cut funding even further for many behavioral health programs because of COVID-19. This bill invests $114 million in various behavioral health programs that address substance abuse, maternal and child health, and other behavioral health prevention and treatment programs around the state.  It also established a process that will take place this summer and fall to take a look at our behavioral health system and target investments from the American Rescue Plan to make transformative changes and create a true system so that every Coloradan can access behavioral health services when and how they need them.

SB21-175: Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board
Nearly one in three Coloradans across the state currently struggles to afford the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy. This bill will help reduce the high cost of prescription drugs by establishing the Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board, which will research, review, and limit costs for up to 12 unaffordable prescription drugs each year.

For me, the best parts of this job are that I get to help people every day and that I get to learn new things every day. I’ve already started working on legislation for 2022, and I can’t wait to share with you what I have in store. Make sure to send me your ideas too!

Chris


P.S. Check out these news stories written about many of these pieces of legislation:

73rd General Assembly adjourns, with historic moves made on transportation, tax policy, mental health care

Colorado looks to lower high prescription drug costs by reviewing prices, setting ceilings

9 bills that will likely shape Colorado in years to come from the 73rd General Assembly

Colorado Has New Laws For Health Insurance And Drug Prices. What’s Next?

Polis signs Colorado Option bill into law, along with bill meant to reduce prescription drug prices

Polis signs bills on mental and behavioral health and substance abuse

Governor signs bills on elections, tribal nations and broadband expansion

Power provider plans to bring fiber-optic broadband service to rural parts of El Paso County

Polis signs bill to increase broadband access in rural Colorado

Polis signs substance use prevention bill but warns against future health insurance mandates

Colorado law boosts utility bill payment assistance for low-income households

Colorado lawmakers passed 502 bills during this year’s legislative session. Here are 65 you need to know about.

Colorado lawmakers passed 502 bills during this year’s legislative session. Here are 65 you need to know about.

The measures include six gun control bills, new cannabis regulations and a policy inspired by Elijah McClain’s death.

By Thy Vo and Jesse Paul (June 14th, 2021)

Colorado lawmakers introduced 623 bills during the 2021 legislative session that ended last week, passing 502 of them and spiking the rest. 

Democrats were able to advance a number of big policy priorities in their third year in the statehouse majority, including a bill to lower health insurance premiums and a measure to enact new fees to raise money for transportation projects. There was also legislation sent to Gov. Jared Polis continuing to-go alcohol sales by restaurants and resurrecting Colorado’s retro license plates. 

Here are 65 bills passed during the 2021 lawmaking term that you need to know about:


Health care

House Bill 1232: It started as a measure to create a public health insurance plan and reduce costs by 20%. The final version of the legislation, however, will instead force health insurance companies to offer a state-regulated insurance plan and seeks to reduce costs by 15%. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 175To address the soaring cost of certain prescription drugs, this legislation would create a state board to determine whether drugs are affordable. If a medication is deemed unaffordable, the Prescription Drug Affordability Board would have the power to set maximum prices that can be charged in Colorado. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 142:Medicaid patients seeking an abortion will be able to access the procedure at more facilities under this measure. The bill removes restrictions that forced some low-income patients to travel long distances to get an abortion. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 193: Pregnant people in Colorado’s prisons will be granted certain health care rights under this measure. It requires that mothers are not left alone in a cell during childbirth and that they be given access to educational information, breast pumps, and a doctor who specializes in pregnancy and delivery. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 9: Under this billlow-income people who otherwise qualify for certain government health care programs but aren’t eligible because they are living in the U.S. illegally would get access to free reproductive care, including birth control and abortions, paid for by the state.

Senate Bill 194: In an effort to improve maternal health and reduce mortality rates, this bill requires health insurers to cover certain labor and delivery costs. It also expands state health coverage of pregnancy and post-partum services and requires that the state’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee improve data reporting on race, ethnicity and other factors. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 137: Mental health and substance abuse treatment programs will get a $114 million boost from this measure, with nearly $100 million coming from the pool of federal stimulus dollars. The legislation includes nearly $20 million for youth crisis beds and other youth-intervention programs. >> READ MORE

House Bill 1258: Every Coloradan 18 and younger would have free access to a mental health screening and up to three subsequent visits with a mental health professional under this measure aimed at helping kids cope with the long-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. >> READ MORE

Criminal justice

House Bill 1251: Sparked by the death of Elijah McClain, this measure limits when the powerful sedative ketamine can be administered outside of a hospital in situations involving law enforcement. EMS providers aren’t allowed to administer ketamine when a person is suspected of a crime unless there’s a genuine medical emergency. 

House Bill 1280: Courts would be required to hold a bond hearing within 48 hours of a person’s arrest under this bill, an effort to keep people out of lock-up longer than necessary. The bill establishes the position of a statewide judge who can hold bond hearings remotely and on weekends to help rural districts with limited staff meet the legislation’s requirements. >> READ MORE

House Bill 1211: Large local jails in Colorado would be subject to new restrictions on when an inmate can be housed in solitary confinement under this measure. The legislation includes requirements that people held in isolation be checked on periodically, have access to appropriate medical care and be given time outside their cells. It also prohibits youth and people with certain medical or mental health conditions from being housed in isolation. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 271: This sweeping piece of legislation would rewrite Colorado’s misdemeanor laws by changing the maximum sentence for a Class 1 misdemeanor to 364 days in jail and a fine of $1,000, down from 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. For Class 2 misdemeanors, the penalty would be 12 days in jail and a fine up to $750, down from 364 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. Class 3 misdemeanors are eliminated. A number of crimes would also be reclassified under the measure. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 124: People convicted of felony murder in Colorado would no longer be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Instead, they’d face 16 to 48 years in prison, a sentence similar to a second-degree murder conviction. 

House Bill 1314: The state would no longer be able to revoke driver’s licenses or ID cards based on unpaid court costs and municipal violations. People also would not lose their driver’s licenses based on fraudulent use of license plates or a car title, failure to pay fare on public transportation, underage consumption of alcohol or marijuana, and other offenses. 

House Bill 1315: Juvenile offenders and their families would no longer be required to pay certain court fees or fines, including cost-of-care fees, prosecution costs and a variety of other surcharges.  

Senate Bill 280: Colorado’s laws around bias-motivated crimes — also known as hate crimes — would be expanded under this bill, which says that bias only needs to be part of a defendant’s motivation for the offense to be considered a hate crime. The bill would also make the crime of harassment, when motivated by bias, a Victim Rights Act crime, which provides a victim certain rights.

Housing

House Bill 1117: Colorado cities and towns will soon be able to require developers to include below-market rate units in new rental developments, so long as developers are given alternatives and municipalities have tried other measures to increase density. The measure reverses a 20-year-old court ruling. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 173: Colorado tenants would have expanded protections under this measure, which limits when late fees can be charged and restricts evictions based on failure to pay late fees. The bill also imposes fines on landlords for violations of its provisions. 

Senate Bill 242: The state’s Housing Development Grant Fund would be allowed to give grants or spend money for projects related to converting motels, hotels and other “underutilized” properties into shelters or affordable housing under his bill. That fund would also get a $15 million infusion from the state.

Guns

Senate Bill 256: This measure would allow local governments, public higher education institutions and special districts to enact gun policies that are stronger than what’s written in state law. The bill was part of a slate of legislation introduced after the Boulder King Soopers shooting. >> READ MORE

House Bill 1298:This legislation would close the so-called Charleston loophole by requiring gun dealers to complete a background check on a gun buyer before transferring a weapon. It would also prohibit people from purchasing a gun if they have been convicted of certain misdemeanors within the past five years. The bill was part of a slate of legislation introduced after the Boulder King Soopers shooting. 

House Bill 1299: The Office of Gun Violence and Prevention would be created within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment under this bill. 

House Bill 1106: Starting on July 1, 2021, Coloradans who own guns will be required to store their weapons in a gun safe or with a trigger or cable lock when the owner knows or should reasonably know that a “juvenile or a resident who is ineligible to possess a firearm can gain access to the firearm.”

Senate Bill 78: Colorado gun owners must report a lost or stolen firearm to law enforcement within five days of realizing the weapon is missing. Failing to report a lost or stolen firearm is a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine. A second or subsequent infraction is an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $500. 

House Bill 1255: The measure would require people who are subject to a restraining order because of domestic abuse to submit to a judge, within seven business days, an affidavit including a list of the type and number of firearms they own, as well as the location of those weapons. The legislation is aimed at ensuring those charged or convicted of domestic abuse relinquish their firearms. >> READ MORE

Transportation 

Senate Bill 260: This is state lawmakers’ plan to raise revenue to fund the state’s growing infrastructure needs. It includes a series of new fees on gasoline and diesel fuel, deliveries and rideshare trips. In total, this measure seeks to raise and spend more than $5 billion over the next 11 years. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 238: Transportation advocates have longed for a passenger rail system to transport people up and down the Front Range and cut down on car reliance. This measure would create a new special Front Range passenger rail district overseen by a 14-member board that would have the power to ask voters to raise sales taxes to pay for the train. >> READ MORE

Environment

House Bill 1266: Colorado has a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions, but House Bill 1266 would turn most of those goals into mandates for oil and gas, electricity-generation and manufacturing sections, with a timetable for achieving the cuts. The measure also creates environmental justice provisions.  >> READ MORE

House Bill 1162: Plastic bags would be banned in Colorado starting in 2024, with exceptions for restaurants and small businesses, under this measure. Starting in 2023, plastic bags and paper bags would be subject to a 10-cent fee. The bill would also ban polystyrene containers — aka styrofoam — across the state starting on Jan. 1, 2024.  >> READ MORE

House Bill 1189: Industrial plants, including Suncor’s Commerce City refinery and Goodrich Carbon’s airplane brakes plant in Pueblo, would be required to monitor air quality on-site and publicly report the results under this legislation. >> READ MORE

House Bill 1290: The measure would set aside $15 million to the Office of Just Transition and Coal Transition Worker Assistance Programs to fund the agency’s work in communities where there are planned closures of coal mines and powerplants. 

Senate Bill 272: The Public Utilities Commission will get money to spend on outside experts when considering rate cases and other matters under this measure. Among other “modernization” steps, the bill also requires commissioners to adopt new rules saying that in any case before them, they must consider how to “improve equity and prioritize disproportionately impacted communities.” 

House Bill 1260: The bill would set aside $20 million to implement the State Water Plan. 

Wildfire

Senate Bill 12: The Wildland Fire Management Section in the Department of Public Safety’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control cannot disqualify an applicant for employment solely due to the applicant’s conviction of a felony, this measure says. The bill also requires the division to develop materials to ensure inmate firefighters know about job opportunities at the agency.  >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 113: This measure allocated about $31 million so that Colorado can purchase a Firehawk wildfire fighting helicopter. The helicopter is an adapted Black Hawk helicopter that can fly at high speeds and quickly react to fires across the state. 

House Bill 1208Coloradans who own property with a natural disaster premium would have to pay an extra fee for disaster mitigation under this measure. Money raised by the legislation would be allocated in the form of grants to groups aiming to prevent wildfires and floods.  >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 88For survivors of child sexual assault for whom the civil statute of limitations has run out, this measure would give those individuals a three-year opportunity to sue their abusers and the institutions or organizations that failed to stop the abuse. 

Senate Bill 73This measure eliminates the civil statute of limiations for all future sexual assault victims, giving them unlimited time to sue their abusers. 

Education 

Senate Bill 172: This measure creates a state account dedicated to increasing the pay of teachers and other school personnel. It only goes into effect, however, if a ballot measure to increase taxes to raise money for the fund is passed no later than November 2027.

House Bill 1103: This measure requires that the State Board of Education revise its academic content standards for reading, writing and civics to include media literacy. The Colorado Department of Education would also be required to create an online resource bank on media literacy issues. 

House Bill 1164:School districts would be allowed to slowly raise their mill-levy rates to levels previously approved by voters up to 27 mills under this measure. The bill is expected to increase property tax revenues for school districts by $91.7 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year. That number jumps to $145.5 million in the 2022-23 fiscal year.  >> READ MORE

House Bill 1304: Colorado would have a Department of Early Childhood under this measure. The department would be tasked with rolling out the state’s universal preschool system become the regulatory agency for programs that are now spread across various agencies. >> READ MORE

Marijuana 

House Bill 1317: This measure would place new restrictions on how much marijuana concentrate medical cannabis patients can purchase. It also would prompt research on the effects of high-potency marijuana on adolescents, and track cannabis use among young people who die of non-natural causes. 

House Bill 1090: The adult possession limit for recreational cannabis is now 2 ounces under this measure, which also makes it easier for people with past convictions for possessing up to 2 ounces to get those convictions sealed or pardoned by the governor. >> READ MORE

Immigration

Senate Bill 199Senate Bill 77, and House Bill 1054: These measures remove various requirements that Coloradans prove legal immigration status to access state or local public benefits, such as medical or housing assistance, or to qualify for professional and business licenses. >> READ MORE

House Bill 1057: The measure prohibits a person from threatening to report an immigrant’s citizenship status to authorities for extortion.  

Government 

Senate Bill 64: Harassing or making a credible threat against an elected official would become a specific crime in Colorado under this measure. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 69: This bill would allow Colorado’s Division of Motor Vehicles to begin selling the state’s retro license plates — the ones with green mountains — again with an extra charge. The measure also seeks to clamp down on people skirting new-vehicle registration fees. >> READ MORE

House Bill 1107 and House Bill 1015:These measures make it illegal to “dox” — share a person’s private information online in a way that poses a “serious and imminent” threat — a public health worker, employees at state prisons and public defenders. 

House Bill 1071: The Colorado Secretary of State would be required to establish statewide standards and pay for software upgrades to make it easier for Colorado cities and towns to adopt ranked-choice voting. A handful of Colorado municipalities already use the alternative voting method, but it’s expensive to do because state voting machines and software aren’t adapted for it. >> READ MORE

House Bill 1047: Colorado counties with five-member commissions in which members are elected based on where they live would be required to follow new transparency rules and guidelines when redrawing their commission’s district boundaries. The bill is an effort to apply the redistricting guidelines in Amendments Y and Z, passed by voters in 2018, to counties that are growing in population and may consider expanding their commissions. >> READ MORE

Taxes

House Bill 1311: This measure would roll back tax breaks for Colorado’s wealthiest residents, including by capping itemized deductions and limiting deductions for contributions to 529 College Savings Accounts. It also eliminates almost all capital gains for wealthy Coloradans. In turn, the bill would expand the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and create a temporary tax credit for companies that convert to worker-owned models. >> READ MORE

House Bill 1312: This tax legislation eliminates tax breaks for the insurance, oil and gas and coal industries. In turn, it expands the business personal property tax exemption. The state would be required to reimburse local governments for lost revenue related to expanding the exemption. >> READ MORE

House Bill 1321: This measure would change what language must accompany tax measures on the ballot. For measures increasing tax revenue, for instance, the bill would require language about the level of public services funded by the measure and what those public services would be. The legislation is a progressive response to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 205: Colorado’s fiscal year 2021-22 budget spends $34.1 billion, restoring cuts made as the coronavirus crisis descended upon the state while also saving a historic amount for future budget years. >>READ MORE

Senate Bill 288: This measure begins Colorado’s process of spending $3.8 billion in federal coronavirus stimulus money. About half of the money was allocated during the recent legislative session and the rest will be distributed by state lawmakers next year. The dollars are being spent on everything from transportation projects to efforts to protect domestic abuse victims. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 293: Senate Bill 293 would drive down property assessment rates in the 2022 and 2023 taxation years for certain subcategories of property. Starting in the 2023 tax year and continuing indefinitely, the legislation also would allow homeowners to defer an increase of more than 4% on their property tax bill, up to $10,000, on their primary residence. The balance becomes a lien on the property that’s paid back when it is sold. >> READ MORE

Business and Labor 

Senate Bill 39: A handful of Colorado companies paying workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities less than the minimum wage under an antiquated federal law would have to slowly raise those workers’ pay over the next four years to match minimum wage thresholds under this measure. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 87: Agricultural workers will be able to organize and join unions, strike, and receive state minimum wage and overtime pay under this measure. >> READ MORE

Senate Bill 190 This measure would give consumers the right to tell companies to stop tracking their personal data and to delete it. Colorado would be the third state to adopt a comprehensive consumer privacy law, after California and Virginia, if the legislation is signed into law. >> READ MORE

House Bill 1027: Restaurants would have until at least July 1, 2025, to continue takeout alcohol sales under this measure, though they’d be limited to selling to-go booze from 7 a.m. to midnight. >> READ MORE

House Bill 1048: Colorado businesses will be required to accept cash starting later this year under legislation aimed at assisting those who don’t have access to banking services. Noncompliance with the law could result in fines.  >> READ MORE

House Bill 1289: The measure would set aside $75 million in federal stimulus dollars to support broadband internet infrastructure development.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 11:23 a.m. on June 15, 2021 to correct the amount of federal stimulus funding allocated under House Bill 1289.

Read more at ColoradoSun.com.

This senior property tax exemption has saved Colorado’s older homeowners millions. But it also has an equity problem.

This senior property tax exemption has saved Colorado’s older homeowners millions. But it also has an equity problem.

As lawmakers continue their efforts to address housing issues, the exemption that’s less available to people of color will get a hard look with an eye toward fairness.

By Kevin Simpson (June 4, 2021)

Dian Feral has lived in the frame house on a corner lot in Denver’s Westwood neighborhood for more than 30 years since she bought it for $87,000 back when she worked the graveyard shift at the Keebler cookie and cracker plant.

It was never what she’d call a good house, situated in what she describes as a “poverty-stricken area” and beset with frequent repairs. But it has nonetheless provided her an affordable home even after the plant closed in 2001 and she fell back on her savings and a company pension that allowed her to pay off the mortgage. 

For the last few years, 69-year-old Feral has squeezed another benefit from the home she shares with three cats and two ferrets. Because of her age and the fact that she has lived in her house for more than 10 years, Feral qualifies for the property tax break called the senior homestead exemption. It saved her $530 off her last tax bill of $1,402.

“It makes a difference,” she says. “That’s a substantial amount of money. It’s maybe one vet bill. It’s a home repair. It’s a lot of things. It’s meaningful.”

In a time of sticker shock from property valuations and rising concern over inequity in the housing market, the two-decades-old exemption stands as both a means of financial relief for many homeowners but also a tool that — in its present form — has raised questions of fairness.

A 2019 study by the Colorado Fiscal Institute found that the exemption disproportionately benefits white homeowners. And overall, roughly half of all older Coloradans don’t qualify for an exemption either because they rent instead of own or, if they do own a home, haven’t lived in it for 10 years. Those who do qualify for the exemption are less likely to be experiencing poverty than all older Coloradans.

Although lawmakers have pushed forward with a measure to provide broad property tax relief in the current session, they have for years flirted with strategies to make the senior exemption a more effective tool — for renters as well as homeowners, for more Black and Latinx homeowners and for more people experiencing poverty.

“People know it’s not an equitable program, and at times the whole program was on the chopping block because the benefits are not distributed equitably,” says state Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat. He adds that while bills addressing the senior exemption were introduced twice previously, “neither had kinks worked out.”

A hedge against rising taxes

Voters installed the senior homestead exemption into the state constitution via referendum in 2000 as a means of helping older homeowners remain in their homes as rising property taxes threatened to outrun their often-fixed incomes. The exemption allows those who are at least 65 on Jan. 1 of the year they apply, and who have lived in their homes for at least 10 years, to subtract up to $100,000 of their home’s value before calculating property taxes. (Disabled veterans also can qualify for the exemption.)

Technically, the tax break allows homeowners to deduct 50% of the first $200,000 of appraised value. In Colorado, where the median home price exceeds $500,000, that break easily fits most long-term homeowners in the state’s hottest areas, and can reduce their tax bill by hundreds of dollars. It can also figure into qualifying homeowners’ decision on whether to stay or sell, since the exemption isn’t portable.

Some years ago, an audit of the program raised concerns about “checks and balances” — basically, ensuring that those who claimed the benefit actually qualified, says JoAnn Groff, the state property tax administrator. The result was that the Division of Property Taxation’s role expanded to run applications against databases of deaths and income tax returns to confirm that the properties were, in fact, owner occupied as a primary residence — and that the claimant was still alive.

“The benefit doesn’t get to follow you into the next world,” Groff says. “But when someone passes, the county assessor doesn’t necessarily get it, so this is a way that we can be sure that the exemption ends when someone is no longer with us … It’s a pretty thorough review, short of going out to someone’s house and ringing their doorbell and making sure that they’re living there.”

Since its inception, lawmakers have mulled a number of tweaks to either expand or contract the exemption, which requires the state to backfill lost revenue to the counties that contain the qualifying homes. As Colorado’s populace ages and more people qualify for the exemption, it places a growing burden on the state budget.

In 2002, the state granted 123,380 exemptions and paid counties about $62 million in lost tax revenue. The average tax savings totaled $503.

For the 2020 tax year, Coloradans claimed nearly 270,000 exemptions totaling nearly $158 million in county taxes that had to be backfilled by the state. On average, a qualifying applicant saved $585.

It may seem a drop in the bucket in a $30 billion-plus budget, but it’s not exactly insignificant. 

“It’s big enough that it’s consistently considered when cuts are required,” Kennedy says of the exemption. “We talked about cuts when COVID hit, but fortunately found other things to cut. It’s consistently among the big ticket items that need reform. By making it more equitable, we can reform the longevity of the program.”

County notices of property valuation that went out in January contain an alert that instructs homeowners that they may be eligible for the exemption. A simple application must be completed and filed no later than July 15. Homeowners can contact their county assessor for more information.

Because the exemption is enshrined in the state constitution, lawmakers are limited in what they can do to tweak it. But the legislature does have the authority to adjust the size of the exemption, and can even suspend it during economic dry spells — as it did after the 9/11 attacks in the early 2000s and from 2009 to 2012, when the state budget reeled from the impact of the Great Recession.

AARP keeping tabs

The homestead exemption looms large for AARP Colorado’s roughly 670,000 members — the vast majority of whom are homeowners, including many who have owned their homes for at least 10 years, says state director Bob Murphy. But he also recognizes that while the tax savings can be a nice bonus for well-off Coloradans, the exemption doesn’t extend to a lot of folks for whom even a few hundred dollars could be critical. 

“By any objective analysis (the exemption) is not completely fair,” Murphy says. “Generally 40% of folks who live in Colorado own their homes and 60% rent. So there’s a sort of inherent inequity between owners and renters.

“And it’s not means-tested. I don’t know how many people that would impact, but that’s one of the questions that legislators have grappled with for several years as they look to make changes.”

Murphy says that leads to a third point: A legislative change in the exemption has some urgency because in a state where the population’s older demographic continues to grow, impact on the state budget increases every year.

By any objective analysis (the exemption) is not completely fair.

Bob Murphy, AARP Colorado director

He notes that the Gallagher Amendment, had it not been repealed by voters, would have triggered an 18% decrease in the residential assessment rate — the second largest property tax cut in modern Colorado history. So in addition to removing some longstanding residential property tax relief (another factor in the just-introduced bill) the repeal ends up making the homestead exemption that much more expensive for the state to backfill.

The many moving parts of the state’s financial mechanism make the homestead exemption a tricky thing to try to fix.

“Sometimes those efforts have unintended consequences,” Murphy says. “You could make it more equitable, but that in turn could result in blowing a bigger hole in the state budget….So it’s definitely important to our members, and we understand that we’ve never really had to advocate for or against it. But any objective analysis shows discussion of refining that is probably valid.”

Data points to inequities

The CFI study from 2019 notes that of more than 480,000 Colorado households with at least one older homeowner, only slightly more than half qualify for the exemption. And while 60% of older white households qualify, only 40% of older Black households and 21% of older Latinx households qualify. People of color account for more than a quarter of the over-65 population but only 13.6% of homestead exemption qualifiers. 

Chris Stiffler, CFI senior economist and author of “Inequities in Colorado’s Senior Property Tax Exemption,” notes that the exemption is, in one sense, insulated against well-off homeowners benefitting too much because it’s capped at a $100,000 deduction whether a home is valued at $400,000 or $1 million. But it’s difficult to fine tune it beyond that.

“The legislature can zero it out,” he says, “but it’s trickier to not give it to the super wealthy, and beef it up for lower-income people.”

Stiffler says the purpose of his research wasn’t to come up with any sort of recommendation, but to see what the data would tell him. His biggest takeaway from the research cross-referencing databases was how many Hispanic/Latinx intergenerational families don’t own their homes — which puts them at a disadvantage in terms of the homestead exemption.

He adds that about a dozen states have a “circuit breaker” that kicks in if property taxes exceed 20% of a homeowner’s income and pays the difference to provide relief to lower income seniors.

In Colorado, individual counties sometimes have programs that can help older residents mitigate property taxes, including by doing volunteer work. Homeowners 65 and older also may qualify to defer property taxes. The state treasurer pays the tax in the county where the homeowner resides and places a lien on the property that must be settled once the homeowner dies and the property is sold or the title transferred.

Kennedy says that he plans to propose a bill that would provide means testing for an exemption, but it would likely involve eliminating the current program by dropping the exemption to zero and starting from scratch on a different approach. 

“It’s more complex than it sounds,” he says. “You have to restructure the entire program. We’ve wrestled with it over the years, and we want to make sure it’s equitable and accessible. And we want to make sure it is efficient for the state to administer.”

Key to any revamp, he says, would be finding a way to make it accessible to renters.

“Seniors who rent struggle as much as seniors who own,” Kennedy says. “In addition to property values, Colorado has a competitive rental environment. It’s very difficult to find affordable rental housing. I’m going to work on something over the interim, and come back with (a bill) in 2022. I’ve run a pretty robust stakeholder conversation around this, and I intend to do the same over the interim.”

Read more at ColoradoSun.com

Stand with Colorado families, not Big Pharma

Stand with Colorado families, not Big Pharma

By Yadira Caraveo and Chris Kennedy (May 26, 2021)

Nearly one in three Coloradans across the state currently struggles to afford the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy. The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated this struggle for too many, and prescription drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them. 

Pharmaceutical costs are the fastest-growing consumer health expense in the United States and account for over 20% of health insurance premiums. This is not a new issue and is in fact one that people have been asking lawmakers to address for years.  People can’t heal, go back to work, survive, or thrive without access to the medicine they rely upon.

This session, it’s time to stand with the people of Colorado and not with Big Pharma. We have introduced Senate Bill 175, to help reduce the astronomical costs of prescription drugs by creating a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB). This independent board, within the Division of Insurance, would be responsible for researching, reviewing, and limiting costs for the most unaffordable prescription drugs.  

The board would be made up of health-care and health-care financing experts, who would investigate exorbitant costs and price increases for the most expensive drugs. They will be limited to establishing more affordable costs for up to 12 drugs per year in their first three years, and the board is designed with a robust stakeholder and collaborative decision-making process that gives ample opportunity for everyone from consumers to manufacturers to weigh in. It’s estimated that this board could save Colorado up to 75% per year on the most unaffordable drugs. 

Unfortunately, every time we try to take steps to reduce the costs of prescription drugs for hard-working families, we hear the same empty threats from Big Pharma. It’s an old and tired playbook corporations rely on to scare voters and scare lawmakers into not doing their jobs. 

The truth is, there are many people around the world who already have access to drugs at lower costs — and Coloradans are footing the bill. In fact, Coloradans pay about 65% to 85% more for prescription drugs than people in other countries. Big Pharma is already giving different discounts to different customers, and 17 other states are already considering or have passed similar legislation. What the PDAB will do is ensure these costs are more transparent and affordable for everyone to improve access to medications for Coloradans. 

There are also consumer protection provisions in laws that would limit the ability of manufacturers to advertise in Colorado without the intent to sell, and the bill gives sufficient authority to the attorney general to protect Colorado consumers in this situation.  

Regardless of what scare tactics opponents are using, a bipartisan 75% of Coloradans support lawmakers taking action to create a prescription drug affordability board to reduce the costs of prescription drugs.   

That’s because we all know that one sure way to ensure people can’t access critical drugs is to make them unaffordable. Right now, we also know that this industry is profiting in the trillions of dollars selling medications that people rely upon to live. In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have spent almost twice as much on marketing as on research and development. In addition, over a third of research and development in the United States is funded through taxpayer dollars and philanthropic grants.  

Industry threats about innovation and access are unproven. It’s time to take bold steps to address the prescription drug affordability crisis, which is a well-established reality plaguing Coloradans. It’s time for us as lawmakers to stand up to industry and stand with Colorado families. The only thing more expensive than the current costs of prescription drugs is the cost of doing nothing. 

Yadira Caraveo, M.D., a practicing pediatrician and Thornton Democrat, represents House District 31 in the Colorado General Assembly. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat, represents House District 23 in the Colorado General Assembly.

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com.

 

Colorado Democrats want to use one of TABOR’s most effective tax-halting mechanisms for themselves

Colorado Democrats want to use one of TABOR’s most effective tax-halting mechanisms for themselves

House Bill 1321 comes as progressives have all but given up on doing away with TABOR, the 1992 constitutional amendment that has served as a third rail in Colorado politics ever since its passage

By Jesse Paul (May 21, 2021)

One of the most effective parts of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights when it comes to stopping tax-raising ballot questions in Colorado is a requirement that voters be informed, IN CAPITAL LETTERS, about the eye-popping sum they are deciding whether to allow the government to collect.

“SHALL STATE TAXES BE INCREASED $766,700,000 ANNUALLY FOR A TWENTY-YEAR PERIOD?” Proposition 110, which was focused on raising money for transportation projects, scream-asked voters in 2018. (It failed.)  

Now, Democrats are trying to adapt that potent TABOR transparency tool for their own purposes. 

House Bill 1321, a measure introduced at the Capitol this week, would require voters to be informed of which programs would be affected by ballot questions decreasing taxes. 

The legislation would require the following language be attached to tax-reducing ballot measures: “Shall funding available for state services that include, but are not limited to, (the three largest areas of program expenditures) be impacted by a reduction of (projected dollar figure of revenue reduction to the state in the first full fiscal year that the measure reduces revenue) in tax revenue…?”

The bill would also mandate that ballots containing tax questions highlight how many people in which tax brackets would be most affected by tax hikes or decreases, and require that ballot titles for tax increases state that the aim is to “increase or improve levels of public services” and then list those services. 

“It’s an attempt to provide more information and level the playing field,” said Carol Hedges, who leads the liberal-leaning Colorado Fiscal Institute, which supports the measure. “Currently, the all-caps language focuses people’s attention only on the size of state government. We know that the size of state government is not the only factor people should be considering.”

Scott Wasserman, who leads the Bell Policy Center, a liberal advocacy organization, called the measure “a great idea” that seeks to offset what he sees as the manipulative aspects of TABOR.

House Bill 1321 comes as progressives have all but given up on trying to do away with TABOR, the 1992 constitutional amendment that requires voter approval for tax hikes and limits government spending and which has been a third rail in Colorado politics ever since its passage. Democrats are now trying to work within TABOR’s confines to find ways to raise revenue and reform the tax code. 

“I think that this legislature in particular has finally said ‘enough is enough,’” Hedges said. “I don’t think it’s nefarious. I think it’s an acceptance of the idea that this is what we’ve got.”

Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat who is a prime sponsor of the measure, said it is a “stop-the-bleeding bill.”

“What we’ve seen, increasingly, is that Republicans, who have not been successful at winning majorities here at the Capitol in recent years, are increasingly turning their attention to the ballot and using that as a way to try to get government closer to the size that can be drowned in a bathtub,” he said. “We’d prefer that government not drown in the bathtub. We’d prefer that ballot measures don’t continue to chip away at our ability to fund our public schools and the other priorities that the voters of the state care about.”

Kennedy said people don’t always connect the dots between a potential tax decrease and the programs and initiatives that are likely to be cut as a result.

“In Colorado, we empower voters to make a lot of big decisions on the ballot,” he said. “And I think it’s only fair that they see the whole picture.”

Proponents of progressive tax-increase questions may benefit the most from the legislation since it would show voters that higher earners would have to pay more under the proposals. Reforming Colorado’s tax code to make wealthier people and businesses pay more has been a top policy goal for Democrats.

Kennedy says there’s no requirement that the language that would have to be added to tax ballot measures would have to be in capital letters as TABOR mandates. 

“We all swore an oath to uphold the constitution,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we have to like everything that’s in it. I think we are respecting the powers that be and just trying to make sure voters are given this information if they are going to be making these big decisions.”

The other prime sponsors of House Bill 1321 are Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, and Democratic Sens. Dominick Moreno, of Commerce City, and Brittany Pettersen, of Lakewood. The legislation is slated to get its first committee hearing next week.

Read more on ColoradoSun.com.

House committee approves bill to cap drug prices

House committee approves bill to cap drug prices

By Marianne Goodland (May 20, 2021)

While the big fight on healthcare in the 2021 session has been focused on the Colorado Option bill, a fight that hasn’t gotten as much attention but is almost as big is being waged over prescription drug costs.

While everyone acknowledges that prescription drugs are becoming more unaffordable, there was plenty of argument on both sides about whether Senate Bill 175 is the best way to address it.

SB 175 was reviewed Wednesday night in a five-hour hearing with the House Health & Insurance Committee. That’s after the bill got an eight-hour hearing in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee back in March, along with dozens of amendments from sponsors and opponents and a two-hour floor debate in the Senate almost two months later, on May 6.

What the bill does: beginning Jan. 1, 2022, the bill makes it illegal to buy a prescription drug at a cost that exceeds the price cap established by the new five-member Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board. The state board, to be appointed by the governor no later than Oct. 1 and confirmed by the state Senate, would set an upper payment limit for a dozen prescription drugs per year for three years, for a total of 36 drugs. Board members must all have advanced degrees and expertise in healthcare economics or clinical medicine.

Insurance carriers and pharmacy benefit managers must report to a state database, known as the “All-Payer Health Claims Database,” the top 15 most expensive drugs paid for by insurance carriers, as determined by total annual plan spending; the top 15 drugs that account for highest increase in total annual spending, the top 15 drugs that caused the greatest increase in insurance premiums, and the top 15 drugs that the carrier paid for most frequently and/or which earned the biggest rebates from manufacturers.

Carriers and PBMs also must report total spending for brand-name drugs and generics, and drugs administered by hospitals in both in- and out-patient settings.

That information will be used to review the drugs for which the board will set price caps.

Bill sponsors Reps. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, and Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, noted the bill has a five-year sunset, so that group of 36 drugs with price caps may be the only ones that are reviewed by the board in its first five years.

And while “orphan” drugs, which are used to treat rare medical conditions and may be exorbitantly expensive, are exempt under the bill, other expensive (and life-saving) medications are not. And that’s what drew dozens to the hearing Wednesday night, to warn that their lives could be put at risk if they can’t get the medications they need for cancer or cystic fibrosis, for example.

On the other side, patients with long-term conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, testified that their medications are so expensive that in some cases they break up doses or aren’t taking them at all.

“We are not here to demonize the pharmaceutical industry, but we are here to try to correct a market failure,” Kennedy said at the beginning of the hearing. As to claims made by pharmaceutical companies that research and development are big cost-drivers for drugs, Kennedy said he believes those costs are based more on what the market will bear. He recounted the story of a family friend with cystic fibrosis, who has now lived to the age of 39, well past what was expected.

“I am thankful for these drugs that are changing their lives, but some of these drugs are bankrupting families at the same time,” he said.

He also claimed nine out of 10 of the largest drug companies spend more on marketing than on researching new medicines as well as millions of dollars on lobbying. Kennedy said he believes wholesalers, the so-called middle man between pharmacies and manufacturers, will pay less for drugs, responding to the price caps, and will be reimbursed by the manufacturers for the difference.

“We really don’t believe that in-state purchasers are stuck in the middle in this bill,” Kennedy said.

However, not one witness confirmed that claim, and no one representing wholesalers testified at the hearing.

Kim Bimestefer, executive director of the state Department of Healthcare Policy and Financing, testified that high-cost drugs are the leading cause of the overall healthcare cost crisis. Less than 2% of drugs prescribed in Colorado consume 50% of the overall prescription drug budgets for Medicaid and employers, she claimed.

And while Kennedy said he wasn’t out to demonize the pharmaceutical industry, Isabel Cruz of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative had no trouble doing so.

“Drug manufacturing companies spend billions of dollars a year on marketing and advertising and pay enormous fines from unethical business practices. Even in the midst of a pandemic, they have continued to choose profit over people and increase prices well beyond the rate of inflation,” she told the committee.

The committee also heard from patients who struggle to pay for prescriptions.

Mike Russell of Highlands Ranch, representing the national Multiple Sclerosis Society, has primary progressive MS. He has to support his family on a $20-per-hour job and prescription costs at $5,000 per year. He estimated that 40% alter their medication doses or stop taking them completely because of cost. He gets an infusion twice a year, and last year it was $32,000 per infusion. The cost increased to $35,000 in 2021, and his out-of-pocket cost was $5,000.

“I urge you to help pass the bill and stop the choices of feeding your family or taking your prescribed medications,” he said.

One witness from Ridgway testified that her son has a rare autoinflammatory disorder with prescription drug cost at $5,000 per month. Her husband’s insurance covered it, until the costs went up so much that their claims were denied. They had to switch to a drug that was covered under the insurance, but that meant the medication that made the greatest impact on his condition was not covered.

SB 175 passed on a party-line 8-4 vote and was sent to the House Appropriations Committee.

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com

House panel advances $75M broadband expansion proposal, largest stimulus bill to date

House panel advances $75M broadband expansion proposal, largest stimulus bill to date

By Pat Poblete (May 4, 2021)

A House panel on Tuesday advanced a $75 million proposal to build out the state’s broadband infrastructure, the largest state stimulus bill to begin working through the legislative process so far.

House Bill 21-1289 from Reps. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, and Mark Baisley, R-Roxborough Park, divvies up the appropriation by sending:

  • $35 million through the Broadband Deployment Board at the state Department of Regulatory Affairs for so-called “last mile” projects that aim to link telecommunication networks to users’ homes;
  • $5 million to the Interconnectivity Grant Program Fund in the Department of Local Affairs to fund so-called “middle mile” projects linking the last mile to a telecommunication network operator’s core network;
  • $10 million to both the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribal nations, who have broad discretion on how the funds can be used to build out broadband infrastructure;
  • and $15 million to boost connectivity for telehealth providers.

The bill also formally codifies the Colorado Broadband Office, which was created by executive order by former Gov. John Hickenlooper and has since been operating under the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology. Kennedy told the House Transportation and Local Government Committee he and Baisley wanted to create a formal structure for that office to “make sure that all these different funds are coordinating with each other.”

“If there’s a local government project here and an industry project here, they should know what’s going on, make sure that all of those are going into the mapping process that they have and then giving an opportunity for facilitating these conversations about where the highest priority projects are in the future,” Kennedy said.

Though the bill eventually cleared the committee on a bipartisan 9-1 vote, several members of the panel expressed concerns with the direction of money, particularly with the amount dedicated toward middle mile projects.

According to Kate Sneed, OIT’s legislative liaison, the bill’s sponsors and stakeholders settled on that number after an “interesting game of moving parts” conducted after learning local governments were in line for a large chunk of federal stimulus dollars for broadband deployment.

“We’ve rearranged some things based on the knowledge that we will be getting, or expectation that we will be getting, significant money to local governments for the middle mile aspect,” she said.

The $5 million for middle mile projects is set to replace the standard amount DOLA would dole out through the grant program. The agency’s legislative liaison, Bruce Eisenhower, indicated the program has been running since 2013 but DOLA was not planning to dedicate any money to the grant program this year due to a lack of revenue.

Overall, Eisenhower said DOLA has released just under $30 million in grant funds to local governments for middle mile projects. Those grants generated more than $65 million in spending on broadband expansion when factoring in the local match accompanying those grants and a total of 147 miles of fiber built, Eisenhower said.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed concern with the matching provision. Rep. Donald Valdez, D-La Jara, indicated rural communities are “trying to find a balance with the funding aspect” in the wake of the pandemic.

“I just see and continue to see some of the low-income counties in our state continue to be left behind,” he said.

Eisenhower countered that his agency had learned in the course of administering the program that “any participation at all brings that buy-in, that commitment from the local government to see it through.”

“If it’s funded entirely, it doesn’t have that sort of buy-in and commitment to get it done and bring the best product forth for their community, so we feel it’s very important, whether it’s a smaller amount or 50% or more, that the local government does have buy-in,” he said.

Rep. Marc Catlin said he understood the need for buy-in from locals but highlighted that “these folks are having trouble paying a lot of the bills they’ve got anyway.”

“It seems like we’re putting a barrier in front of some of these communities that may be of the most need,” the Montrose Republican said.

And that need is dire, according to Miriam Gillow-Wiles of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments. She also said she would like to see an increase in funding for middle mile projects and highlighted overall need in some regions of the state.

According to Gillow-Wiles, a study conducted by Montezuma County estimated the cost to provide broadband service to all 25,000 of the county’s residence came in around $100 million.

Kennedy acknowledged the state’s “tremendous amount of unmet need,” noting that the dollars in the bill wouldn’t cover all of Montezuma County’s need, never mind the whole state.

“So what you’re seeing here is us attempting to balance those needs: give some money for last mile, some for middle mile, some for telehealth and some to the Ute Nations to try to move the ball forward,” he said. “We’ve done our best to balance those interests and advocate for the dollars in the places we believe there are the greatest needs.”

Ultimately, each member of the panel present for the hearing backed the bill except Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, a Highlands Ranch Republican. The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.

Read more at ColoradoPolitics.com.

Three-quarters of Colorado voters want to create a board to lower prescription drug prices

Three-quarters of Colorado voters want to create a board to lower prescription drug prices

By Pat Poblete (May 3, 2021)

Three out of four Colorado voters back a bill working its way through the General Assembly that seeks to lower prescription drug costs with a board that could set price limits on expensive medications, according to a new poll from Keating Research released Monday.

The poll – commissioned by Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, Good Business Colorado, the National MS Society and Centennial State Prosperity and conducted between April 20 and 26 – shows broad support for the concept of Senate Bill 21-175 across party, region and age.

That bill would create the Prescription Drug Affordability Board, a five-member panel appointed by Gov. Jared Polis that would research, review and establish payment limits for drugs deemed unaffordable. The governor has previously spoken in support of the measure.

Of the 528 active voters who were asked about “a proposal that would create a state board of appointed healthcare experts who would analyze and act to lower the cost of certain prescription drugs,” 74% said they were supportive, with 42% of the overall sample in the “strongly support” category.

The concept of a prescription drug board was backed by majorities in each party, including by 89% of Democrats, 60% of Republicans and 74% of unaffiliated voters. Democrats made up 30% of the sample with Republicans making up 27% and unaffiliated voters rounding out the remaining 42%.

The poll also found widespread support across the four regions it grouped voters into, including:

  • Denver and Boulder counties, where 79% were supportive;
  • Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Douglas, and Jefferson counties, suburbs where the poll found 73% support;
  • Front Range Larimer, Weld, Pueblo, and El Paso counties, where 76% of voters indicated they were supportive;
  • And the state’s remaining 53 counties, rural areas where the poll found 68% support.

The poll, which has a plus-or-minus 4.3% margin of error at the 95% confidence level, skewed slightly toward the suburban counties, which made up 38% of the sample. The Front Range counties were the next largest group in the sample with 26%, followed by Denver and Boulder with 19% and the rural counties at 17%.

Support for the proposal by age ranged from 68% on the low end, from those between 35-49, and 80% on the high end, from 50-64-year-olds.

The results match with a poll released by CCCHI earlier this year that found 77% of respondents supported a state board of appointed healthcare experts that would work to lower the cost of prescription drugs. After hearing arguments against the board, over 70% of respondents to that poll still supported it.

Since that poll, which was conducted last December and released in January, Sens. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, and Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, and Reps. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, and Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, introduced SB 175. The bill has cleared the Senate Health and Human Services Committee as well as the chamber’s Appropriations Committee and is scheduled for consideration before the full chamber on Tuesday.

It faces opposition from Republican lawmakers, who voted against it in both committees and have previously express concerns that it would impact the pharmaceutical industry’s research and development capacity.

The bill also drew opposition from the industry. A spokesman for Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America the trade group representing the pharmaceutical industry, in a statement to Colorado Politics in March said, “Creating a board of unelected bureaucrats with the authority to arbitrarily decide what medicines are worth and what medicines patients can get would be a disaster for patients.

“While Colorado policymakers are attempting to brand this government board as way to make medicines more affordable, there is no guarantee that the policy would provide any sort of meaningful savings for patients,” said Nick McGee, PhRMA’s senior director of public affairs. “Even more, in practice, this policy could make it more difficult for individuals to access the medicines they need now and in the future and could lead to discrimination against seniors, those with disabilities and the chronically ill.”

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com.

Colorado’s county commissions will have guardrails on how they draw commissioner districts under new law

Colorado’s county commissions will have guardrails on how they draw commissioner districts under new law

House Bill 1047, which aims to enhance transparency and create legal guidelines for a process previously left up to counties, was signed by Gov. Jared Polis.

By Thy Vo (May 3, 2021)

A new state law sets new rules for how powerful Colorado county commissions redraw their political boundaries. It currently applies only to three counties, but would apply to counties with growing populations that opt to expand the number of representatives on their commissions.

Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday signed House Bill 1047 into law. The measure borrows rules for congressional and legislative redistricting approved by voters in 2018 under Amendments Y and Z and applies them to counties, said state Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat who spearheaded the legislation. 

House Bill 1047 allows for, but doesn’t require, the creation of independent panels to conduct the county commission redistricting process. 

The law does require counties to hold public hearings, prohibits improper communications between commissioners and commission staff and requires that paid lobbyists file disclosures. It also specifies the factors that counties must consider in redrawing local boundaries. 

Until now, Colorado had few requirements for how counties conduct redistricting. Proponents of the new law argue it adds transparency to a process that can be vulnerable to political influence. 

The law also adds language requiring that gerrymandering be kept out of the process, and prohibits commissions from approving maps that protect incumbents, candidates or any political party, or which deliberately box out certain communities. Commissions must “to the extent reasonably possible” consider maps that maximize the number of politically competitive districts. 

The legislation applies only to counties with five-member commissions, where some or all members are elected by voters within the district where the candidate resides. Most Colorado counties have commissions with three members who live in their districts but are elected at large. Counties with populations greater than 70,000 can expand their commission boards to five members. 

Only Arapahoe, El Paso and Weld counties are currently covered by the new law, although it sets guidelines for growing counties that may consider expanding their boards in the future, Kennedy said.

Read more on ColoradoSun.com and theDenverChannel.com.

New Bill Would Stop Employers from Dodging Direct Negligence Claims

New Bill Would Stop Employers from Dodging Direct Negligence Claims

Plaintiff’s lawyers say bill will hold corporations accountable while employer-side attorneys raise concerns about increased scope of discovery, litigation

By Jessica Folker (March 15, 2021)

Colorado lawmakers have introduced a bill that proponents say would hold corporations accountable for employee negligence and expose employer wrongdoing,  while defense attorneys warn the bill could increase litigation costs and risks for some companies.

HB21-1188 would allow a plaintiff to bring direct negligence claims against an employer who has already admitted vicarious liability for its employee’s negligence. If passed, the bill would undo the Colorado Supreme Court’s 2017 holding in Ferrer v. Okbamicael, where the court held that an employer’s admission of vicarious liability bars a plaintiff’s direct negligence claims against the employer.

Under the respondeat superior doctrine, an employer can be held vicariously liable for an employee’s negligence as long as the misconduct occurs within the course and scope of the worker’s employment. But the company could also be liable for its own direct negligence, such as negligent supervision, training and hiring or failure to properly maintain a company vehicle.

The Ferrer decision allowed employers to avoid direct negligence claims by admitting vicarious liability. When direct negligence claims are barred, plaintiff’s attorneys can’t take depositions or make other discovery requests regarding the employer’s hiring and training practices, maintenance records or other conduct that might have led to the injury.

“[Ferrer] says once they admit vicarious liability, that’s it. They’re done. You can’t do anything else with the company,” said Michael Nimmo, former president of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, which is supporting HB21-1188. “So this bill really is about corporate responsibility.”

“All of this bad conduct that’s out there, potentially, is being hidden from the public, and it’s being hidden from the plaintiff,” said Nimmo, a partner at Denver Trial Lawyers. “We can’t right the wrong from the right people. We can only bring it against the employee and the company for the employee’s conduct rather than the employer’s conduct.”

Defense and employer-side attorneys say the Ferrer ruling has helped to streamline litigation by eliminating the time, costs and complexity associated with discovery.

“…(W)here an employer has conceded it is subject to respondeat superior liability for its employee’s negligence, direct negligence claims against the employer that are nonetheless still tethered to the employee’s negligence become redundant and wasteful,” Justice Monica Márquez wrote in her majority opinion in Ferrer.

“That expansion of discovery puts pressure on the employer to settle the case,” said Evans Fears & Schuttert partner Lee Mickus, who filed an amicus brief in Ferrer on behalf of the Colorado Defense Lawyers Association.

“All that becomes very expensive, and it becomes very disruptive,” he said. “And a lot of small businesses … don’t have the resources to be in a position to manage litigation full time while they’re also trying to run a business full time.”

In addition to increased litigation costs and time, direct negligence claims can also open employers up to reputational risks as potentially embarrassing or damaging information could become public during discovery or trial, said Sterling LeBoeuf, a partner at Davis Graham & Stubbs. “It’s one thing to say this one employee messed up on this one occasion. And it’s another thing to have your whole organization opened up for examination,” he said. LeBoeuf added employers could also be hit with higher insurance premiums over time if they face additional liability claims.

According to the attorneys, respondeat superior issues most often arise in the transportation and trucking industry; the Ferrer case involved a cab company whose driver hit a pedestrian. But other industries could fall within the scope of HB21-1188. “In theory it would apply to any situation involving a corporation where an employee is involved or an agent is involved,” said Nimmo, including the medical industry in malpractice cases or a property management company in a premises liability case.

Mickus said vicarious liability can apply in “just about any [industry] with exposure to the road,” which includes restaurants, manufacturing, retail and wholesale businesses that have delivery drivers or move their product. But it can also arise in other situations where an employee is interacting with the public, the attorneys said, such as in the retail and hospitality industries.

HB21-1188 was introduced March 4 and has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. The bill’s prime sponsors are Rep. Chris Kennedy (D-Jefferson County) and Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver).

A similar bill was introduced last year but was put on the back burner due to the pandemic. Nimmo said he and other proponents have been working on the bill “for quite some time” to “make it as palatable as possible,” and they have been listening to objections and concerns in order to craft a bill that will get bipartisan support.

According to Nimmo, the bill won’t change the amount a plaintiff is awarded, but it will demand more accountability and transparency from employers. “It doesn’t change the damages,” he said.

“It’s just about holding corporations liable for their own negligent conduct. And if you don’t do that, then what incentive do they have to not be negligent?” Nimmo said. “Because they never have to pay for it. They never have to stand trial for it. It’s never discovered. It’s just in the background, always going on, and nobody knows about it.”

The bill doesn’t allow plaintiffs to recover compensatory or punitive damages more than once for the same injury. But LeBoeuf said direct negligence claims could allow a plaintiff to discover and present evidence of systemic problems in hiring, training or supervising, giving the plaintiff leverage for a bigger settlement or more ammunition if the case proceeds to trial.

“These are the types of arguments that really inflame juries, when they hear about a systemic issue at an employer or at a company,” he said. “And they’re the kinds of arguments and evidence that tend to make juries want to award punitive damages.”

Read more on LawWeekColorado.com.