The 2020 legislative session kicked off this week with a 164 bills introduced, opening day speeches by legislative leadership, and the Governor’s State of the State Address. Leading up to the first day of the legislative session, there are several changes in the legislature due to Representative Kimmi Lewis passing away after a battle with cancer, a resignation and pending vacancies. Senator Lois Court resigned effective January 16 after she was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease that affects the peripheral nerves. It is anticipated that Representative Chris Hansen will run to fill the vacancy left by Senator Court’s resignation. If Representative Hansen fills the vacancy for SD 31, this would leave a vacancy for HD 6 and, importantly, an open House Democrat seat on the Joint Budget Committee. Several days before the legislative session started, Senator Angela Williams announced that she would not run for re-election to her state Senate seat, leaving Representative Coleman without a challenger in the SD 35 Democrat primary, at least for now. It is anticipated that Representative Perry Buck will run to fill Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway’s seat after he announced that he would resign effective January 31. If Representative Buck leaves the legislature, Senator Marble is expected to run to fill the vacancy in the House of Representatives from Representative Buck’s seat. Richard Holtorf filled the vacancy for HD 64, an eastern plains district. Representative Mary Young was appointed to fill a vacancy for the Greeley area HD 50. Senator Ray Scott is running for a county commissioner seat, so he stepped aside from his leadership role as Senate Minority Whip and Senator Paul Lundeen was chosen by his peers to serve as whip for the Senate Republicans. All the upcoming changes may lead to other vacancies and affect committee membership so stay tuned for updates as new legislators are sworn in throughout the next month.
Governor Polis gave his State of the State address on Thursday and touched on a lot of familiar points including: investing in pre-school, tackling student loan debt, lowering health care costs, creating a public option health insurance plan, decreasing the budget stabilization factor, increasing transportation funding, improving health care price transparency, lowering the state income tax, passing a paid family leave program and moving towards renewable energy while providing a just transition for energy workers. Senate President Garcia, Speaker Becker, Senate Minority Leader Holbert, and House Minority Leader Neville gave opening day speeches on the first day of session. For the democrats, working to help Coloradans struggling with keeping up with the cost of living remains a high priority. Some of the key policies they mentioned included creating a paid family leave program, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and health care in general, and improving retirement savings of Coloradans. After an historic legislative session in 2019, Democrats do not plan to slow down in 2020. The speeches from republicans centered around two policy areas: transportation and education. Both Senate Minority Leader Holbert and House Minority Leader Neville announced a package of education bills that would be introduced that aim to improve educational choice, address taxpayer accountability and transparency for taxpayers, improve school safety, and increase teacher compensation.
Debates over changes to the health care system will be many this legislative session, including whether to create a public option health insurance plan, implement transparency requirements for pharmaceutical companies, and other proposals aimed to save Coloradans money on health care. Several health care related bills were introduced this week including: HB20-1008, Care Cost-Sharing Consumer Protections, which would set requirements for health care cost sharing arrangements; HB20-1078, Pharmacy Benefit Management Firm Claims Payment, which would prohibit a type of retroactive fee charged by pharmacy benefit management firm to a pharmacy unless it wasn’t a clean claim; HB20-1050, Other Outlet Pharmacies Drug Distribution, which would allow types of surgical centers, hospice centers, and convalescent centers to distribute a limited amount of prescription drugs to other outlets, supply a starter dose of a prescription to certain entities, and to sell a prescription drug to a prescriber; and SB20-005, Covered Person Cost Sharing Collected by Carriers, which would prohibit health insurance carriers from requiring health care providers to collect coinsurance, copayments or deductibles directly from individuals covered under an insurance plan.
On Friday, Governor Polis announced his support for a bill that will be introduced that would allow state employees to collectively bargain. Senate President Garcia and Representative Esgar will sponsor the Partnership for Quality Jobs & Services Act. Also on Friday, early childhood education advocates filed a series of ballot initiatives, the first step to being placed on the 2020 ballot. The initiatives propose a new tax on nicotine products and using the revenue to fund a universal pre-school programs. The differences in the initiatives are mainly the level of taxes proposed, which would increase the taxes on a pack of cigarettes anywhere between $1.20 and $2.60. Typically, statewide taxes face poor chances at the ballot, but voters have proven more likely to approve sin taxes such as the nicotine tax contemplated by these ballot initiatives.
Next week there will be several SMART Act hearings, which is when executive branch departments report to the legislature, and the Joint Budget Committee will hold hearings for the Department of Higher Education and all of the higher education institutions.