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Victories and Defeats in a Frenzied Final Week

Instead of winding down slowly, the 2015 legislative session was more of a mad dash to the finish. Several longtime staffers and lobbyists said that they could not remember a session with more bills to be decided in the final days. The legislature finally adjourned a bit after 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6.

Among the bills we watched most closely:

The Senate turned down an attempt to avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in future taxpayer refunds under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). House Bill 1389 would have reclassified the Hospital Provider Fee as an “enterprise,” which would have removed more than $600 million in what are essentially pass-through funds from the state’s TABOR limit beginning in fiscal year 2016-17. The change would have allowed the state to avoid issuing mandatory refunds to taxpayers, which cut into funding for areas such as transportation and schools.

The bill’s assignment to the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee sent a clear message about Senate President Bill Cadman’s feelings on the proposal. The so-called “kill committee” dispatched the bill on a 3-2 party-line vote, leaving it without a single show of Republican support since its introduction. Only two members of the committee were present for the testimony phase, but the other three members returned for the vote. Gov. John Hickenlooper said he would bring the proposal back next year, when the TABOR refund is projected to grow significantly.

House Bill 1194 also reached the end of the line in the Senate State Affairs Committee. Unlike HB 1389, this bill – which sought to provide $5 million in state funding to continue an acclaimed birth control program for low-income women – had a measure of bipartisan support. Sponsor Don Coram (R) had attempted to mobilize conservatives to back the Colorado Family Planning Initiative if they hope to reduce abortions in the state, but the argument failed to work in the Senate committee. 

Many Republicans cited concerns over the use of government funding for long-acting reversible contraceptives, saying it was not the proper place for Colorado’s dollars. Proponents of the bill, including Dr. Larry Wolk, the head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, have vowed to search for funding elsewhere in an effort to continue the program. The day before the bill’s final hearing, Wolk traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive a national award for the initiative.

Another bill of special interest was the so-called teledentistry bill, which allows dental hygienists to perform temporary fillings under remote supervision. House Bill 1309 passed both chambers and is on its way to the governor. The bill flew through three Senate Committees (Health and Human Services, Finance and Appropriations) and passed the two necessary floor votes in the final three days of the session. The proposal received broad bipartisan support, winning unanimous approval on its last vote. It sealed a perfect track record for expanded-scope-of-practice health bills this session.

A recap of other bills’ fates: 

Passed and Headed to the Governor

House Bill 1083, requiring a study on the efficacy and billing practices around physical therapy, occupational therapy and chiropractic services, failed in Senate Appropriations after an amendment to request funding for the study was turned down, but the bill returned from the dead. After asking for much less funding, HB 1083 passed its final reading on the session’s final day.

House Bill 1226, creating a stakeholder group to study inspections of retail food establishments, passed the Senate. The bill originally would have increased funding for food inspections, but was amended to establish a task force.

House Bill 1281, requiring that newborns be screened for congenital health defects using a pulse oximeter, passed the Senate

House Bill 1283, creating a reference library for marijuana testing at the state Department of Public Health and Environment, passed the Senate.

House Bill 1318, establishing a single Medicaid waiver for services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, passed the Senate.

House Bill 1367, referring a ballot issue to voters in November requesting permission to keep retail marijuana tax revenue instead of refunding it under TABOR, passed the Senate.

Senate Bill 14, regulating medical marijuana caregivers, finally made it through the legislative process and passed the House. The bill was introduced on January 7 – the first day of the session.

Senate Bill 214, establishing a committee to study school safety and youth mental health, passed the House.

Senate Bill 228, establishing a regular Medicaid provider rate review process, passed the House unamended. 

Senate Bill 256, increasing meetings and bills allowed from the legislative oversight committee of the state’s insurance marketplace, passed the House. The committee will meet monthly until November, the start of the next open enrollment period.

Failed

House Bill 1088, creating a farm-to-school grant program, failed in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a vote of 3-2.

House Bill 1258, creating the family and medical leave insurance program to help with wage-replacement for workers who are sick or serving as caretakers, failed to pass its third and final reading in the House. The vote was 31-33, with one excused.

Senate Bill 274, reinstating a tax exemption on soft drinks, failed in the House Local Government Committee on a vote of 6-5. The bill’s estimated fiscal impact – $15 million annually in lost revenue from the tax – was cited a major concern. 

Senate Bill 275, allowing legislators to receive confidential health information during the session and protecting those who provide it to them, passed the Senate Local Government Committee 6-0, but failed on the Senate floor.

Senate Bill 285, requiring warnings about fetal pain and the opportunity to view an ultrasound at least 24 hours before an abortion, failed in Senate Health and Human Services after freshman Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik (R) joined the committee’s two Democrats in opposition. Martinez Humenik said conversations with her constituents convinced her to vote no.

Senate Bill 289, limiting fee increases that can be assessed against assisted living facilities, failed in the House Finance Committee by a unanimous vote.

CHI will soon post our full bill tracking list – complete with the final status of each bill we watched during the 2015 session – for those who are interested in browsing the health-related proposals. Also watch for a blog recapping the session’s themes and trends and then our annual Legislation in Review.