On Monday, the House Energy and Environment Committee met to discuss a bill to distribute plastic straws only upon request in restaurants and a second bill to extend and modify Colorado’s innovative vehicle tax credit. HB 1143, Distribute Plastic Straws Upon Request Only, was brought by the Colorado Restaurant Association in an attempt to get in front of a potential full plastic straw ban. However, environmental groups testified in committee that the bill did not go far enough to limit single use plastics. The bill included a provision to clarify that the issue of plastic straws was one of statewide concern but several groups, including the Colorado Municipal League, called for preemption language to be removed from the bill to allow local governments to set their own regulations regarding use of plastic straws. In the amendment stage, an amendment from Representative Saine was adopted that removed the local preemption from the bill so the sponsor Representative Lontine requested that HB 1143 be postponed indefinitely. The bill died in committee with that motion, though the conversation about single use plastics will likely continue this session.
HB19-1159, Modify Innovative Motor Vehicle Tax Credits, would alter the tax credit provided for electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrids. Currently the tax credit is set to decrease in 2021 and expire in 2022 for vehicles that use a variety of alternative fuels such as electricity, natural gas, or hydrogen. HB19-1159 would extend the tax credit through 2025 for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles only. Representatives of automakers, environmental advocates and EV owners testified in support of the bill, highlighting the positive effects current tax credits have had to increase adoptions of EVs and to lower carbon emissions. The bill passed unamended to the House Finance Committee on a 7-4 vote.
In the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) on Tuesday, the Committee took up figure setting for the Division of Child Welfare under the Department of Human Services. During the discussion about increasing the number of caseworkers throughout the state, concerns were raised by JBC members about whether all the money they’ve used the last few years to fund caseworkers was having the desired effect. JBC staff reported that it has been difficult to determine what the impact of the increased staffing levels has been to families and children. Data has indicated that services provided have actually declined and it is difficult to determine if and how funds appropriated for staff increases are spent to increase full time employees. While the JBC approved the request for funds to increase staff at county child welfare offices, Representative Ransom asked that the JBC request a financial audit of each of the counties’ child welfare divisions. The other JBC members approved the request and the Legislative Audit Committee will now consider the audit request.
A top priority bill for Governor Polis had a hearing in the House Health and Insurance Committee on Wednesday. HB19-1168 would allow the Commissioner of Insurance to seek a federal 1332 waiver to operate a reinsurance program, though the bill takes a different approach than prior reinsurance proposals as it establishes rate setting authority for the Commissioner of Insurance and lowers payments for providers. Last year’s proposal, which was killed in the Senate, was written to assess a charge on carriers to pay for the reinsurance program. The intent of a reinsurance program is to address high premiums in the individual health insurance market. The bill would allow for the Commissioner of Insurance to set the attachment point, the percentage of costs that the reinsurance program would pay, the cap, and fee schedule for provider reimbursement. These rates would be set with the aim of achieving a 15 - 35% reduction in health insurance premiums. The Commissioner of Insurance, Mike Conway, gave lengthy testimony to explain the complicated policy to members of the Committee. Representatives from hospitals testified against the bill, explaining their concerns over the rate setting authority given in the bill, having providers be solely responsible for shouldering the expenses of the policy and uncertainty over whether the bill would realize savings in premiums. Before passing to the House Appropriations Committee, the bill was amended to clarify rulemaking procedures and to include an effectiveness study of the reinsurance program, should it be implemented. It passed the Health and Insurance Committee with a bipartisan 8-2 vote.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Fenberg and House Speaker KC Becker were joined by Governor Polis at a press conference to announce a bill would be introduced to impose more strict regulations on oil and gas production. The next day, SB19-181 was introduced. The bill would give local governments more control over new drilling within their boundaries and would charge the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission with regulating rather than fostering the oil and gas industry.
Looking ahead to next week, the Joint Budget Committee will conduct figure setting for the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, the Department of Public Health and Environment, and the Department of Education.