This week was marked by headlines of the escalating outbreak of coronavirus cases and disruptions, closures, and cancellations. The landscape changed quickly since March 5 when the first case of coronavirus was announced in Colorado to the end of this week when the legislature met on Saturday to pass a resolution to go in to a unprecedented two week recess. On Saturday, the House and Senate passed two relevant resolutions: HJR20-1006 asks the Colorado Supreme Court to issue an opinion on whether or not the 120 days of the legislative session must be counted as consecutive calendar days. HJR20-1007 is needed to adjourn the legislature for more than 3 days and sets up the legislature to reconvene on Monday, March 30. The 120 legislative day dispute could have consequences for the timing of the rest of the legislative session. Some legislators argue that Joint Rule 44, triggered by the current public health crisis, allows the legislature to take a pause so that when the chambers reconvene, their legislative calendar would pick up where it left off. Some legislators believe that the constitution requires that the 120 days to be counted consecutively and that any time the legislature is in recess would not extend the legislature’s ability to meet past May 6, 2020. The legislature or Governor could always call a special session to complete unfinished work if the legislature is further delayed from working. The legislature is required to pass a balanced budget each legislative session, and action on the School Finance Act (K-12 funding) is still outstanding as well.
On Tuesday, Governor Polis announced a forthcoming executive order and on Thursday, the official state of emergency declaration was released. This allows the executive branch access to emergency funds and federal funds. The Executive Committee, composed of legislative leadership in both chambers, met several times throughout the week to discuss the possibility and logistics of going into recess for an extended period of time. The plan announced late Thursday night was to pass HB20-1359, ask the Supreme Court to clarify if the 120 legislative days may be counted non-consecutively, and a Joint Resolution be drafted that would allow the legislature to adjourn temporarily. HB20-1359 was put on a fast track to pass in 3 days, the minimum amount of time it takes to pass a bill. It allows delay of county political party assemblies and allow these to be conducted remotely to avoid large public gatherings.
Megan Gilman’s appointment to the Public Utilities Commission was confirmed by the Senate on Friday by a 20-13 vote. The confirmation for Susan Perkins, the previous appointee, had stalled in the Senate for several weeks until she withdrew her name. Senate President Garcia had raised concerns that Perkins would have to recuse herself from votes regarding Black Hills Energy due to previous work she conducted involving Black Hills Energy. Gilman’s appointment replaces Frances Koncilja’s seat on the PUC.
SB20-167, the bill to allow electric car manufacturers to sell electric vehicles directly to consumers, passed its final hurdles in the legislature this week. The bill awaits the signature of Governor Polis. SB20-093, which proposes changes to arbitration proceedings related to disputes over certain contracts, passed the Senate on a 19-15 vote after being stalled on the Senate floor for more than a month. Two amendments passed on Third Reading that limit the bill to employee contracts and requiring certain information to be kept private in the arbitration. HB20-1293 Emergency Telephone Service Charges modernizes statutes related to 911 emergency services, including the financing mechanisms for 911 services, in preparation of a migration to IP enabled technology which provides accurate location identification for calls made by cell phones. It eliminates the cap on local 911 charges and establishes a new statewide surcharge to fund 911 services. The bill passed the House Finance Committee on a 7-3 vote to the House Appropriations Committee.
HB20-1336 Holocaust And Genocide Studies In Public Schools passed the House Education Committee unanimously on Thursday this week. It requires the State Board of Education to adopt state standards on holocaust and genocide education and requires that these standards be met as part of a class that is already required for high school graduation. Dozens of people from the Jewish community, Armenian community, educators, and others testified in support of the bill. Witnesses shared stories of their relatives from WWII and discussed the importance of ensuring that these histories are known by younger generations. The bill now moves to the Appropriations Committee.
The House Transportation Committee met on Thursday and passed a number of bills including HB20-1151 and HB20-1315. HB20-1151 would allow transportation planning organizations (TPO) to exercise authorities of a Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), including the ability to ask voters for increases in taxes to fund transportation infrastructure projects. Metro area mayors testified in support of the bill during the House Transportation Committee, arguing that this tool would help them to fund transportation projects regionally. Those opposed to the bill raised concerns that this would leave rural communities, and communities that have less willingness to increase taxes, behind and make a statewide funding solution less likely. Several amendments were added to the bill allowing local governments to opt out of financing mechanisms such as bonding or tax increases, as well as clarifying that the bill does not affect currently operating RTAs. The bill passed on a party line vote. HB20-1315 would allow carpooling apps, which connect drivers and riders who are traveling to the same destination, to legally operate in Colorado. In late 2019 TreadShare, a carpooling app that connects riders and drivers looking to visit ski resorts along the I-70 corridor, received a cease and desist letter and was ordered to stop operating. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) had classified TreadShare as a transportation network company (TNC) like Lyft and Uber. HB20-1315 would allow carpooling apps to operate. It would require a disclosure for riders to acknowledge that the drivers have not gone through background checks and cars have not been inspected and it would limit the driver to driving only one round trip per day. The bill passed its first committee on a vote of 9-2.
The Quarterly Revenue Forecast that will be used to set the budget is now scheduled for Monday, March 16. Turmoil in the stock market, travel restrictions, closures of schools, higher education institutions moving to online instruction, many cancellations of conferences and public gathering, and overall uncertainty caused by the coronavirus outbreak are expected to negatively impact the revenue forecast. If state revenue expectations are lowered, the Joint Budget Committee will have to revisit previously approved line items to ensure a balanced budget. During the 2-week recess, the Joint Budget Committee will continue to meet to set the state budget. JBC members have recognized that this may be one of the most difficult budgets they prepare as members of the Committee.
HB20-1349, the bill to create a public health insurance option, now called the Colorado Health Insurance Option, received its first hearing on Wednesday. The hearing lasted until after 10:00pm and many people from around the state testified to the bill. The bill would require insurance carriers to offer another plan on the individual market and require hospitals to accept rates specified in the bill. Consumer advocacy groups and individuals from around the state testified in support of the bill, highlighting the high cost premiums that many Coloradans pay to receive health care and the necessity to do something to lower premium prices. Hospitals, insurance carriers, health care providers, and business organizations testified against the legislation, raising concerns about giving government the ability to dictate prices and mandate participation for health plans and hospitals, and pointing out that the bill would serve only a small portion of the market. Several amendments were added onto the bill. Representative Mullica proposed an amendment that would have expanded the pubic option to the small group market (currently the bill is limited to those who purchase insurance on the individual market) but he withdrew the amendment from consideration after receiving push back from other committee members. The bill passed on a 7-4 vote to the House Appropriations Committee.