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The Race is On! 2016’s First Bill Roundup

We’re off and running in the 2016 legislative session, and lawmakers aren’t wasting any time. As of Monday, 160 bills had already been introduced. Here’s a look at some we’ll be watching.

Flashpoint Bills

We knew that the 2016 session would feature a variety of bills that speak to social or emotional issues, bills that are sure to generate passionate debate from both sides of the aisle. We already have a handful of examples.

House Bill 1113 would make it a Class 1 felony — punishable by life in prison or the death sentence — for a doctor to perform an abortion. It is sponsored by Rep. Stephen Humphrey (R). 

HB 1007, sponsored by Rep. Janak Joshi (R), would categorize fetuses as people when they are crime victims and allow prosecutors to file charges if a fetus is killed or injured. 

HB 1024 seeks to repeal a ban on large-capacity gun magazines, and Senate Bill 17 would allow Coloradans to carry concealed handguns without a permit.

The much-discussed aid in dying bill is also back, times two: the “End-of-life Options Act” has been introduced in both the House and the Senate, as HB 1054 and SB 25. The bill has the same sponsors as last year, and all are Democrats. By introducing two bills, supporters are assured of a hearing in both chambers, which sets up the bill for even more public attention and debate. If enacted, it would enable competent, terminally ill adults (defined as having six months or less to live) to request life-ending medication.

The House version of the bill has been assigned to the Judiciary committee, while the Senate version will go to the State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee, where it is almost sure to fail.

A version of the Parents Bill of Rights is back this year with HB 1110, by Rep. Patrick Neville (R). Last year’s version would have allowed parents to exempt their children from vaccines and health surveys for any reason. This year’s bill does not mention any specific policies. Instead, it declares that “the liberty interests of a parent in the care, custody, and control of the parent's child are a fundamental right,” and government cannot infringe on those rights without demonstrating a clear need.

Insurance

Several bills concern health insurance and specifically the state marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado.

SB 6 was the only bill so far to come from the Health Benefit Exchange Oversight Committee, but in failed in its first committee hearing Wednesday. It aimed to require Connect for Health Colorado to refer consumers to licensed insurance brokers for help enrolling in a health plan. The new referral system would include a call center and online help. It was sponsored by Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik (R) and Rep. Lang Sias (R). 

SB 2 would ask voters in November whether Connect for Health is allowed to impose a tax to support its finances and operations. It is sponsored by Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R), who believes that current fees should be classified as taxes and therefore require voter approval. It is headed to the Health and Human Services Committee, which is chaired by Lundberg.

HB 1015, sponsored by Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R), would automatically repeal certain parts of state health insurance law if similar federal requirements are repealed by Congress. The bill has been assigned to the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee, where it is set to fail just as it did in 2015.

Prescription Drugs and Marijuana

While the state is learning more each year about how to manage its groundbreaking legal marijuana industry, questions persist – and there will be no shortage of bills concerning pot in 2016. Other bills deal with drug costs, immunity for reporting drug overdoses, and how Medicaid enrollees can receive their prescriptions.

SB 15, which has bipartisan sponsorship, would require the governor to designate a state agency to determine what pesticides are allowed in marijuana cultivation. And HB 1079 would create a state-approved label for marijuana grown without pesticides.

SB 80, another marijuana bill, would standardize security requirements for homes where marijuana is grown by making medical marijuana subject to the same rules as retail marijuana.

HB 1102 would direct drug manufacturers to submit a report to the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care for any drug available in Colorado that costs at least $50,000 per year. The commission would then submit a report to the legislature in December with recommendations for controlling pharmaceutical costs.

SB 42 seeks to broaden the definition of who can qualify for immunity from being arrested or charged if they report an emergency drug or alcohol overdose to authorities.

And SB 27 would authorize Medicaid enrollees with chronic conditions to receive prescriptions by mail, which is not currently allowed.

Mental Health

This issue has been top of mind for many people following the governor’s State of the State speech last week, when he talked at length about mental health and Colorado’s high suicide rate. Several mental health-related bills have been introduced so far.

HB 1063 aims to allow mental health professionals to disclose concerns about a client if that client makes a direct threat against a school or behaves in a way that creates a dangerous school environment. A report on the 2013 shooting at Arapahoe High School said school officials failed to act on red flags raised by the shooter’s behavior in the months leading to the attack. The report found that high school staff were confused about the rules on student privacy, which made it harder for school officials to get a clear picture of the shooter’s worrisome behavior.

SB 39 would add mental health professionals to the teams that provide services and supports to children in need. They would join professionals such as local health department representatives and probation services staff to provide services. The bill passed its first committee hearing Wednesday.

Grab Bag

There are many other bills that we’ll be watching with interest. A few that come to mind:

HB 1047 would allow the governor to enter into an interstate compact to allow doctors licensed in other states to get licensed quickly in Colorado (or other member states). It has bipartisan support.

HB 1065, sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Conti (R), would create an income tax credit to assist seniors to pay for home modifications or home health care services. The specifics of the credit would change by each two-year interval, and there is a maximum amount for the tax credit each year. A similar bill was introduced by Conti in 2015 but failed due to concerns about the price tag.

HB 1137, by Klingenschmitt, would require labels on any product containing nicotine, such as e-cigarettes, to warn users that nicotine is addictive.

HB 1101, by Rep. Dave Young (D), would allow doctors to serve as the decision-maker for an incapacitated patient if no other qualified family or friends can be found.

And SB 69 seeks to allow the state to license and regulate community paramedics, or certified emergency medical providers who work outside of hospitals.

There’s much more to come. Last week, health committee leaders previewed their priorities for the session, and we have yet to see bills that touch on those issues. Rep. Beth McCann (D), Chair of the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee, and Sen. Larry Crowder (R), Vice-Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, highlighted a diverse slate of potential legislation at a breakfast hosted by the Colorado Center on Law & Policy. 

McCann mentioned bills on stand-alone emergency rooms, prescription medication assistance, and drug pricing transparency (an effort led by Rep. Joann Ginal). She also stressed the need for continued funding for the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care and the importance of determining a path to sustainability for the state’s insurance marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado. 

Crowder will be working with Rep. Dianne Primavera (D), Chair of the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee, to resurrect a bill to make physical therapy services more affordable. He also discussed efforts to make mental health care services more accessible outside Denver.CHI Senior Communications Expert Joe Hanel contributed to this post.