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Politics and Government

This is the expected roadmap for Democrats in the Colorado Capitol

Bills passed by Democrats in the state House and killed by Republicans in the state Senate offer a glimpse of a possible agenda -- from health care to drilling to immigration.

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During the legislative session in 2018, the Democratic-controlled state House passed 90 bills that later met their doom in the Republican-controlled Senate. All but 16 of those bills were killed on a party-line vote.

The 74 remaining bills blocked by Republicans now offer a roadmap for how the Democrats may govern in January when the party takes control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.

The 74 bills run the gamut, from creating a task force to address youth homelessness to requiring that employers give workers time to vote in elections to establishing a special Chicana/Chicano license plate, according to data compiled by The Colorado Sun and Colorado Capitol Watch. But the the primary areas of focus are health care, oil and gas, and social issues.

Here’s a rundown of the main themes, with a full list of the 74 at the end.

Health care could see major changes

Perhaps the biggest category of bills in the 74 relates to health care — and many of those deal with the cost of providing care and insurance.

Two bills tried to create more transparency around the prices of prescription drugs by requiring annual reports from drug companies and insurers. Another wanted to study the idea of allowing people to buy coverage through Medicaid, the joint state-federal program that is traditionally open only to people with lower incomes. Another bill — similar to legislation introduced last year that also passed the House — looked at giving people subsides to help pay for health insurance in areas where insurance costs are high.

Hospitals could also faces more regulation. One bill proposed specifically licensing freestanding emergency rooms — often the source of unexpectedly costly bills for patients — and another wanted hospitals to send annual financial reports to the state.

Another health-related topic expected to return: Prohibiting mental health professionals from engaging in gay conversion therapy. The issue appeared in legislation that cleared the House in both the 2017 and 2018 sessions.

The oil and gas wars are not over

The twin defeats of Proposition 112 and Amendment 74 at the ballot box may have created only a pause in the hostilities over oil and gas drilling.

The past two sessions, Democrats have introduced — and Republicans have thwarted — bills requiring new oil and gas facilities, including drilling sites, to be at least 1,000 feet from schools or “other high occupancy buildings.” Another bill this year required oil and gas companies to report to local governments the location of every flow line or gathering pipeline.

Yet another required oil and gas operators to increase reporting of accidents at their sites, whether spills, flares or serious on-the-job injuries.

National fights could turn local

If the previous two sessions are indeed a roadmap, then a lot of national flashpoints are about to find their way back to Colorado.

Pick your topic:

Immigration: Democrats in the House this year passed a bill prohibiting governments in Colorado from giving information about a person’s immigration status to federal authorities, “without determining that it is for a legal and constitutional purpose,” while another would have created a special “purple card” that people who immigrated without legal documentation could apply for and that would give them the ability to work legally in Colorado.

Elections: Democrats have in the last two sessions passed bills in the House that would require U.S. presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns or not appear on the state’s ballot — a not-so-veiled swipe at President Donald Trump, who refused to release his returns. (Gov.-elect Jared Polis also did not disclose his tax returns in his election, though.)

Gender identity: Another twice-introduced bill that could be reintroduced would make it easier for people who are transgender to change the gender identity listed on their birth certificate. Current state law requires a court order, and the Trump administration is reportedly readying a policy that would consider gender unchangeable after birth.

Climate change: Expect Democrats to push for some kind of new goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Last session, two different bills on the issue passed the House. One called for reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels. The other required an 80 percent reduction over 2005 levels by 2050.

Some bills may draw bipartisan support

Lawmakers often lament the tendency to focus on partisan fisticuffs instead of bipartisan accord, so let’s put the 74 bills into perspective.

In the 2018 session, legislators in both chambers introduced 721 bills, of which 432 passed both chambers. Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed nine bills, meaning that 423 became law, either with or without the governor’s signature.

There was virtually no difference in which chamber was more effective at getting bills through. About 60 percent of the bills introduced in either the House or the Senate passed both chambers and ended up on Hickenlooper’s desk.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the bills that died party-line deaths is that a huge chunk of them had bipartisan births. Of the 74 bills, 34 had bipartisan sponsorship.

That includes one of the session’s most controversial — a bill that would have allowed guns to be seized from people if a judge deemed those people a risk to themselves or others. Democrats have already announced that they are planning to introduce a similar “red flag” bill next session.

Of the 74 bills, 24 of them received 38 or more votes in support when they passed the House on their final roll call. (For much of the session, Democrats held a 37-28 advantage over Republicans in the 65-member House.) And five of them received 50 or more votes in support — including one bill that would have created a license plate honoring the U.S. Navy construction crews known as the Seabees.

Most died in the Senate’s “kill committee”

So how do we know that most died because of partisan battle and not some other reason? Just take a look at where the bills were killed.

Regardless of party, whoever is in control of the House and Senate in Colorado typically treats the respective state affairs committees as a “kill committee,” where the majority-party members are used as political hitmen. Controversial ideas are sent to state affairs to be dispatched with quickly before they can get to a full vote on the chamber’s floor.

And that is just what happened with these 74 bills. Sixty-two of the bills were felled in the Senate state affairs committee on a 3-2, party-line vote.

With Democrats taking over the Senate — and its state affairs committee — next session, it suggests a very different outcome is in store if these bills are introduced again.

(Click to view the entire list)


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