2014 legislative session rounds halfway mark, anticipate action-packed second half

The 2014 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly passed the mid-point over the weekend with slow progress being made on a number of the Bell's key legislative goals. Like a lot of NBA games, most of the action this session will take place in the second half. This is due, in part, to the large number of bills that involve state spending. Lawmakers don't want to commit to spending decisions until they see how much money is available and, as a result, many bills have passed out of substantive committees only to languish in Appropriations while they await the March 18 quarterly revenue estimates.

Several of the Bell's priority bills fall into this category. Legislation to fund and refocus adult education (HB14-1085) passed out of the House Education Committee on Jan. 27 and awaits action in House Appropriations. The College Affordability Act (SB14-001), which will add $100 million more to higher education funding and limit future tuition increases for Colorado undergraduate students, passed out of the Senate Education Committee on Feb. 12 and awaits action in Senate Appropriations. Last week the House Finance Committee approved a bill (HB14-1072) to ensure that low- to moderate-income taxpayers will receive a tax credit for child care expenses. It also awaits action in House Appropriations.

One of the Bell's key bills (SB14-004) has passed through this maze and been signed by the governor. It authorizes the state's two-year colleges to grant Bachelor of Applied Science degrees under specific circumstances and with approval of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. We think this will expand access to post-secondary education for a number of students, making it more affordable for them to earn a degree and advance in their professions. We testified in favor of the bill in both the House and Senate and attended the governor's signing ceremony.

We successfully opposed several bills that would have rolled back progress made in previous sessions, hampered the implementation of health care reform in Colorado, or which we simply think proposed poor policies. We testified against bills that would have limited the ability to fund the new school finance act in future tax elections (HB14-1120), rolled back protections against workplace discrimination that we secured in 2013 (SB14-074), placed undue regulatory burdens on staff that help people navigate through the new health care system (HB14-1134), restricted the use of General Fund revenues for expanding Medicaid (HB14-1135) and legislation creating unnecessary and ill-conceived tax credits (HB14-1097). All of these bills were killed in committee.

As we said, the second half of the session promises to be action-packed. Legislation to make broad changes in the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (HB14-1317), which includes efforts to address the cliff effect, was introduced this week. This bill will be heard along with another to make changes in cliff effect pilot programs (SB14-003). The School Finance Act (HB14-1298) and the Student Success Act (HB14-1292) will receive considerable attention once revenue forecasts come out. While both bills contain some provisions that we support to address the achievement gap, they also contain problematic measures attempting to deal with the $1 billion shortfall in current funding for K-12 education.

Once the revenue forecasts are in, we expect lawmakers will act on the bills dealing with adult  education, tax credits for child care expenses and college affordability. And there is a strong likelihood that a few more bills dealing with major issues we support will be introduced shortly.

We'll be paying close attention as the second half unfolds. You can keep up with what we're doing at the legislature by following us on Twitter, where we often tweet live play-by-plays of committee hearings, and checking out our Facebook page. Our website contains updated status reports of priority bills along with our testimonies and links to the legislation.

Hang on to your hats, it promises to be an all out sprint to the finish on May 7!


Article posted on March 12, 2014