2015 Legislative Session Report

Helping the Middle Class & Small Businesses

This session we fought hard to promote and expand the middle class, to grow small business, and to help build a Colorado where everyone has a fair shot at success and economic security.

We also worked to prepare our citizens for the jobs of the 21st century with the Colorado Ready to Work Package.

Economic Gardening Pilot Project (HB15-1002) – Rep. Lee
Would have extended the state’s successful economic gardening pilot program through 2018. The program has already provided specialized advice on effective business strategies to 13 Colorado companies including companies dealing in robotics, advanced manufacturing, IT and software design businesses. Extending the program would have ensured that more small businesses receive valuable support to find new markets, expand, and create more good-paying jobs for hardworking Coloradans. (Failed in Senate Business, Labor, & Technology Committee)

Strategic Planning Group on Aging (HB15-1033) – Rep. Primavera
The population of Coloradans over the age of 65 is expected to more than double by 2040. As baby boomers and others move into retirement, state revenues from sales, income and property taxes are expected to decrease, while more resources will be needed to provide services to the growing number of seniors. Currently there is no comprehensive statewide plan to address the problem. House Bill 15-1033 authorizes Gov. John Hickenlooper to appoint 23 people to a strategic planning group that will focus on how to handle the expected loss in revenue while funding the increased demand for services seniors need to continue living independently. (Signed into law)

Prohibited Communications Concerning Patents (HB15-1063) – Rep. Pabon
This bill will protect small businesses in Colorado from patent trolling, which is extortion or blackmail. Many small businesses have received letters claiming patent infringement and threatening litigation or asking for compensation from individuals who do not hold or represent the patent. House Bill 15-1063 gives the Colorado Attorney General’s office authority to prosecute individuals who send a letter in bad faith while ensuring that legitimate patent infringement cases can proceed to court. This legislation will stop con artists from preying on Colorado’s small businesses. Entrepreneurs who create new, exciting products and innovative technologies should be protected from blackmail. (Signed into law)

Cottage Foods Act Expansion (HB15-1102) – Reps. Hamner & Wilson
Homemade foods for sale at farmers markets are a fast growing segment of our economy. Locally produced homemade food items are a source of agritourism dollars for the State of Colorado. The Cottage Foods Act exempts sellers of certain foods from state inspection standards. This bill expands the permitted foods to include flour and pickle products. The purpose of this bill is to support local farmers and growers by expanding the offerings at farmers markets and for sale from home kitchens. (Signed into law)

Economic Development in Distressed Regions (HB16-1157) – Reps. Pabon & Willett
It is the duty of the General Assembly to fight for economic prosperity for all corners of the State of Colorado. There are many areas of the state that are still suffering from the effects of the Great Recession. House Bill 15-1157 would have addressed economic problems in distressed regions of Colorado by creating a task force to identify distressed regions, make recommendations and submit suggestions to the General Assembly on how to best use economic development tools to jump-start these regions. (Failed in Senate Business, Labor, & Technology Committee)

Colorado Retirement Security Task Force (HB15-1235)  Reps. Buckner & Pettersen
In the wake of the Great Recession, far too many Coloradans are nearing retirement age with inadequate savings. The PERA retirement program is in place for public employees, but the same support services are unavailable for individuals in the private sector. These hard-working Coloradans currently lack the resources to plan for a secure retirement. This bill would have created a retirement security task force to study, assess and report on factors that affect Coloradans’ ability to save for a secure retirement, and to make recommendations on the feasibility of creating a retirement savings plan for private sector employees. This bill will help Coloradans in the private sector enjoy the high quality of life they deserve in retirement. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee)

Colorado Crowdfunding Act (HB15-1246) – Reps. Lee & Pabon
Although Colorado’s economy has been expanding, the state must continue to remove barriers to small business and startups created by a lack of access to capital. This bipartisan bill will enable Colorado businesses to raise capital through equity crowdfunding. House Bill 15-1246 allows Colorado companies to offer stock to Colorado residents who want to invest in Colorado businesses. 80% of the proceeds have to be spent in Colorado. It is the democratization of venture capital by using the Internet to sell stock. (Signed into law)

Agricultural Market Development Grants (HB15-1320)  Rep. Young
A comprehensive answer to the problem of agricultural development in Colorado, HB15-1320 would have established an avenue for private businesses to receive resources to help agricultural development expand and thrive. By providing study and business grants and well as reimbursement of market development and promotion expenses, HB15-1320 would have given companies throughout rural Colorado the tools they need to succeed. (Failed in Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy Committee)

Economic Development for Distressed Regions (SB15-282) – Reps. Duran & Willett
Provides tax benefits to approved new businesses that locate inside a rural jump-start zone and establish a relationship with a state institution of higher education, junior college, or an area vocational school. A rural jump-start zone is an area within a distressed county. The Colorado Economic Development Commission will be responsible for developing guidelines for the administration of the rural jump-start zone program and identifying eligible distressed countries. (Signed into law) 

 

Building a World-Class Education for All Coloradans

Every Colorado kid deserves access to a high-quality education system, from preschool through post-secondary and beyond. We worked to expand funding for Colorado schools and ensure that our education and workforce programs are preparing kids for success in their chosen fields.

Changes to School Standards & Assessments (HB15-1323)  Reps. Buckner & Wilson
This bipartisan bill is the result of over a year of stakeholder meetings. It reduces testing in the entire K-12 system by 40 hours, or three full school days, and places a greater emphasis on college readiness. It streamlines the School Readiness Assessments and reduces the number of required tests. It allows schools to offer a pen and paper option for all tests and streamlines the testing process for younger students while preserving the critical mission of ensuring every student learns to read and write at grade level. Ultimately, we must not lose sight of our objective, which should be to create an education system that gives every student – regardless of circumstance – the best chance to succeed. (Signed into law)

School Finance Act (SB15-267) – Rep. Hamner
The School Finance Act will continue to fund Colorado’s K-12 education system and buy down the “negative factor” in a responsible way to ensure stable funding in the future. SB15-267 is a bipartisan compromise to fund Colorado’s schools when the budget required $245 million to be set aside for TABOR refunds. The bill makes important investments in Colorado’s K-12 system. It increases funding by $200 million to meet a 2.8 percent inflationary increase mandated by Amendment 23 and to keep the negative factor from growing. The bill buys down the negative factor by an additional $25 million, increases funding for at-risk students and English Language Learners by $5 million and it keeps $300 million in Colorado’s State Education Fund to ensure adequate funding for the 2016-2017 budget year. (Signed into law)

Early Childhood Educator Development Scholarships (HB15-1001) – Reps. Pettersen & Garnett
House Bill 15-1001 would have created a scholarship program for early childhood educators to continue their education and improve their teaching skills. It would have made it more affordable for early childhood educators to improve their classroom skills and provide a better education to the children of Colorado. (Failed in Senate Education Committee)

Increasing Number Of Preschool Program Students (HB15-1024) – Rep. Pettersen
Preschool and other early childhood education programs are critical for preparing children to be successful later in school and beyond. Only 1 in 5 Colorado four year-olds are currently supported through the Colorado Preschool Program (CPP), and as of 2014 an estimated 16,588 at-risk four year-olds had no access to preschool through CPP or Head Start. This legislation would have created an additional 3,000 slots in Colorado’s preschool program for half-day or full-day students. A quality education is linked to reductions in crime, drug use and drop outs across all demographics. An investment in preschool now will yield dividends for the state down the road. (Failed in House Appropriations Committee)

Employee Leave Attend Child’s Academic Activities (HB15-1221)  Reps. Buckner & Fields
This bill would have allowed parents to take time off from work to attend their child’s school activities to increase parental involvement in their kids’ education, which has a direct correlation to future academic success. A parent could have taken up to 6 hours of a leave a month, but not more than 18 hours of leave per academic year and must have provided their employer with a week’s notice except in cases of emergency. The bill would have reduced barriers and made it easier for parents to actively participate in their child’s education. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee)

Improving Charter Schools (HB15-1184) – Rep. Lontine
The purpose of this bill is to bring Colorado statue in line with current practice by establishing “charter school networks.” There are about 65 charter schools that currently operate under a network system. This arrangement increases efficiency in governing charter schools by running multiple schools under a single set of rules, and a single governing body. (Signed into law)

Interagency Farm-to-school Grant Program (HB15-1088) – Rep. Winter
Colorado farmers and ranchers currently face barriers to providing schools with local farm fresh foods and small producers struggle to be cost competitive with large out-of-state vendors. This bill would have created a grant program to help farmers and ranchers provide healthy, locally grown food to local schools and school districts. It would have made it easier for Colorado farmers and ranchers to sell their produce and livestock to Colorado schools, offering students healthier meal choices. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee)

Flexibility & Funding For Rural School Districts (HB15-1321) – Reps. Pettersen & Wilson
This bipartisan bill exempts rural school districts from certain regulations to provide them with administrative flexibility. It also provides $10 million in one-time funding for rural school districts to ensure that schools have the resources they need. (Signed into law)

Implementing Student Learning Objectives Processes (HB15-1324)  Reps. Danielson & Young
HB15-1324 would have created student learning objective processes to sets goals for student learning that are tied to specific subject areas. This bill would have helped Colorado students by creating instructional periods for providing measures of student academic growth to evaluate educator effectiveness. (Failed in Senate Appropriations Committee)

Middle Class College Savings Act (HB15-1347)  Reps. Young & Pettersen
This bill incentivizes middle class families to invest in college savings accounts by giving them tax deductions on their investments. Ultimately this will create more opportunities for Colorado students to attend institutions of higher education and will help to better prepare Colorado students to be competitive in an ever-changing job market by making college more affordable. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee)

In-State Tuition for Veterans (HB15-1294) – Reps. Lee & Keyser
Providing in-state tuition to our veterans and their families is the right thing to do. This bill brings Colorado law in line with new federal guidelines requiring all public education institutions to expand benefits and provide in-state tuition to veterans and dependents living in their states as a condition of receiving federal aid. The bill secures $55 million in federal financial aid for Colorado’s public colleges and universities through the GI Bill. This legislation will attract veterans to Colorado and ensure they and their families have access to Colorado’s colleges and universities. (Signed into law)

Innovative Industry Workforce Development Program (HB15-1230) – Reps. Foote & Lee
This bill creates the innovative industries workforce development program to reimburse businesses for half of the expenses related to providing a paid internship in an innovative industries. Interns in the program will gain practical experience in the areas of fabrication, assembly, engineering, finance, product development, manufacturing processes, computer systems and management. Ultimately, this bill provides a pipeline from schools to businesses. Innovative industries account for nearly 30 percent of Colorado’s wage earnings, nearly 30 percent of the total sales revenues across all industries within Colorado, and nearly 35 percent of Colorado’s total exports. (Signed into law)

In-state Tuition for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth (HB15-1369)  Reps. Pettersen & Esgar
The asset of an education is a key poverty reduction strategy and is a leading approach in breaking the cycle of poverty and homelessness for the next generation. Under current law, to be eligible for in-state tuition a student must have a legal residence in Colorado for at least a year preceding his or her enrollment, which disqualifies nearly all homeless youth from in-state tuition and forces them to pay out-of-state tuition rates. HB15-1369 would have clarified that unaccompanied homeless youth may determine their own legal residence under federal guidelines to receive in-state tuition at Colorado colleges and universities. (Failed in Senate Education Committee)

State Moneys Received By Local District Jr. Colleges (HB15-1224)  Rep. Mitsch Bush
Under current law, Colorado Mountain College (CMC) is required to keep two separate operating budgets, one for its two-year programs and one for its four-year programs. House Bill 15-1224 clarifies that CMC may use state money to fund both its two-year and four-year academic programs under one operating budget. The bill aims to reduce burdensome red tape on CMC and allow them to offer an accessible, affordable education to their students so students can pursue their degree and career in their community. (Signed into law)

In-state Tuition for American Indian Tribes with Ties to Colorado (HB15-1027) – Rep. Salazar
Beginning with the 2015-16 academic year, this bill would have extended in-state tuition classification to any Native American student who is a registered member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe with historical ties to Colorado. The bill would have applied to all state institutions of higher education except Fort Lewis College, which already provides free tuition for any Native American. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee)

Expand Job Growth Tax Credit for Higher Ed Projects (HB15-1366) – Reps. Pabon & Willet
The bill allows a taxpayer to receive an income tax credit through the existing job growth incentive tax credit beginning January 1, 2015, if the project is a qualified partnership between the taxpayer and a state institution of higher education The project also need to create at least 5 new jobs with an average yearly wage of at least 100% of the statewide average. (Signed into law)

 

Equality for All, Opportunity for All

Everyone deserves a fair shot at success. We fought to build a Colorado in which every person has the opportunity to succeed.

Continue Colorado Pay Equity Commission (HB15-1133) – Rep. Danielson
For hundreds of thousands of Colorado women and their families, pay inequality is a threat to economic security and membership in the middle class. House Bill 15-1133 would have restored and strengthened Colorado’s Pay Equity Commission. A 50-state federal report found that the pay of Colorado women compared to men in the same jobs has fallen by 2 cents, to78 cents for every dollar made by men. Colorado lags below the national average, which is 82 cents. Ignoring the problem of pay inequity will not make it go away. Colorado is relying on the State Legislature and commissions like this one to find solutions that will help grow the middle class so families can pay their bills, send their kids to college, and save for the future. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee)

Local Government Minimum Wage (HB15-1300) – Reps. Moreno & Melton
The current minimum wage is below the federal poverty level for a family of four. No one should have to work multiple jobs just to get by. HB15-1300 would have allowed local governments to set their own minimum wages. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee)

Fund Dollars for LARC Services (HB15-1194) – Reps. Becker & Coram
House Bill 15-1194 would have provided funding for Colorado’s already successful family planning program. The program provides long acting reversible contraception (LARC) like IUDs to clinics across the state. The program is designed to prevent low-income women from having unintended pregnancies because women who have a planned pregnancy are more likely to be economically independent and less likely to be reliant on public assistance. Since 2009, there has been a 37 percent decrease in the birth rate for unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school and a 42 percent reduction in the abortion rate among women ages 15 to 19. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee)

Prohibit Conversion Therapy (HB15-1175) – Rep. Rosenthal
Conversion Therapy, which attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation, should not be practiced on anyone who is not a consenting adult. HB15-1175 would have prohibited registered psychiatrists and other registered mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy on patients under 18 years of age. By eliminating this controversial therapy for minors, we could have protected Colorado’s youth from unproven and potentially dangerous methods. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee)

Gender Identification on Birth Certificates (HB15-1265) – Rep. Moreno
The privacy and the rights of transgender Coloradans should be respected and protected. Under current law, transgender Coloradans may only receive an amended birth certificate, inviting questions and potential discrimination in the workplace or wherever a birth certificate may need to be produced. With HB 15-1265, people born in Colorado, or the parents or guardians of minors, would have been able to request and receive a new birth certificate changing the gender designation. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee) 

Protecting Seniors From Elder Abuse (HB15-1018) – Rep. Danielson
Current law requires some types of professionals, ranging from physicians to clergy members to law enforcement officials to pharmacists, to report physical or financial abuse of Coloradans ages 70 and above when they observe it. HB15-1018 would have bolstered older Coloradans’ protections against physical or financial abuse. This bill will expand the list to include victims’ advocates associated with law enforcement agencies, and call-n-ride drivers who pick up a person from a location other than a designated route. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee)

Interactive Electronic Harassment- Cyberbullying (HB15-1072) – Rep. Fields
This bipartisan bill makes sure we protect our children and adolescents in Colorado from cyberbullying. By adjusting the current law so that it includes all types of social media and other technologic platforms, House Bill 15-1072 will ensure that all Coloradans feel safe and secure. By eliminating certain loopholes and provisions, this bill ensure that no one can be harassed through electronic means without recourse. This legislation promotes healthy interactions between Colorado’s youth and makes the Internet a safe place for everyone. (Signed into law) 

Teen Pregnancy Dropout Prevention Program Funding (HB15-1079) – Reps. Danielson & Coram
The program, currently piloted in Delta, Mesa and Montrose counties, provides counseling to Medicaid-eligible at-risk teens to help them avoid peer pressure, drug and alcohol abuse, make responsible reproductive health choices, and prevent unintended pregnancies. Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of school and more likely to wind up on public assistance. In 2013, program providers reported that over the previous three years, only one of the 140 teen participants reported a pregnancy. This bipartisan bill would have taken the pilot program statewide, giving young Colorado women information that will help them stay in school and earn a degree. (Failed in Senate Finance Committee)

Business Opportunity Study (HB15-1306) – Reps. Salazar & Williams
HB15-1306, which is similar to legislation brought forward in the 2013 and 2014 sessions, directed the Department of Personnel and Administration to study whether there is disparity in the selection of businesses for state contracts to ensure inequities do not exist in the process. This year’s bill had bipartisan co-sponsorship for the first time and would have ensured every business owner in Colorado has a fair shot at getting a state contract regardless of their race, religion, sex or disability status. (Failed in Senate State Affairs Committee)

 

A Balanced Budget that Invests in our State

With this budget, we were able to invest in the future of Colorado. We were able to increase funding for education, child welfare, transportation, senior services and capital construction while at the same time maintaining a balanced and responsible budget.

  • Every year, the legislature must uphold its constitutional requirement to pass a balanced budget.
  • Unlike the federal government, whose budget runs a major deficit every year, Colorado will not have to worry about going into the red since we have balanced our budget.
  • We were unable to invest nearly $245 million in this year’s budget due to TABOR set asides as a result of Colorado reaching the TABOR cap.
  • Each year, we must allocate funds to certain programs before we look at anything else in the budget. This year, those allocations included a 6.5% reserve dedication (rainy day fund), $128 million for transportation funding, $184 million for Medicaid caseload increases, $63 million for Department of Corrections caseload increases, nearly $200 million for education funding and $126 million for Senior Homestead property tax exemptions.
  • This year’s budget comprised of $10.9 billion in general fund spending and $26.4 billion overall.

Investing in World-Class Education for our Kids

  • This budget invests in our children first and foremost by buying down the negative factor on a permanent basis by $25 million. That means more dollars for our schools and greater educational opportunities for our kids.
  • We were able to make education a top priority by increasing K-12 funding by nearly $200 million.
  • We also invested substantially in higher education, by $105 million, to reduce the burden of tuition hikes and increase educational opportunity for Colorado students.
  • Additionally, we increased public school and statewide capital construction projects to ensure safety and improve facilities statewide.
  • $2 million was appropriated for the Counselor Corps program to increase the availability of effective school-based counseling and increase the level of school counseling services. These services will help improve the graduation rate and increase the percentage of students who appropriately prepare for, apply to, and continue into higher education or postsecondary careers.
  • We have also included an increase for state grants to go to the state public library system.

Investing in the Middle Class

  • We invested nearly $4 million in senior services for programs like meals on wheels to help seniors stay in their homes and live independently.
  • For the first time in 6 years, we have funded a substantial increase in transportation funding to help repair and rebuild our roads and infrastructure. More than $100 million was added for projects across the state.
  • We increased funding to the Colorado Main Street Program to support downtown revitalization across the state.
  • More than $4 million was allocated for courthouse capital and infrastructure maintenance that is badly needed in many rural areas.
  • A $7.6 million dollar increase was made to the Senior Citizen and Disabled Veteran Property Tax Exemption.
  • We were able to increase funding to assist companies locating or expanding operations in Colorado with job training costs.

Investing in Safety and Opportunity for All

  • For the first time we were able to increase the number of child welfare workers to reduce the caseload. We are hopeful that this investment will have an impact on reducing abuse and neglect and keeping our most at-risk kids safe.
  • We were able to invest in services for the intellectual and developmental disability community in a variety of ways, including respite care to better help people stay in their homes.
  • The budget included a 1.7 percent rate increase for social services providers to help expand the provider network and improve access to quality care.
  • We provided additional funding to improve SNAP services, which offers nutrition assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and families.
  • Funding was included to provide incentives to help encourage primary care physicians to provide care in rural and underserved areas where they are desperately needed.
  • Additional funding was also added to expand community-based child abuse prevention.