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Politics and Government

Colorado Democrats started this session with a long list of unfinished business. Here’s what they checked off.

Bills on health care, environmental regulations and social issues that died last year on party-line votes have found success at the state Capitol in 2019

The Colorado Capitol, photographed on April 22, 2019. (Jesse Paul The Colorado Sun)
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Through 120 often brutally long days, the 2019 Colorado legislative session has featured chaotic fights, growled warnings and determined reprisals.

Basically, it’s been a Liam Neeson movie.

But as the end credits are about to roll on this year’s session — and regardless of what happens in the late-session turmoil — it’s becoming evident that Democrats have, or will, succeed in passing big chunks of an agenda that they were not able to get through when Republicans controlled the state Senate. And this gusher of changes will likely have impacts on Colorado for years to come, long-term policy shifts brought about by the 2018 elections.

Late last year, we told you about the 74 bills that made it through the Democratic-controlled House in 2018 before dying on a party-line vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. Those bills created an early roadmap for Democratic legislative priorities in 2019.

Now, here’s the follow-up: Democrats this year reintroduced proposals on at least 47 of those bills — or proposals that, if not exact replicas, advanced the same big-picture policy goals. And only five of those new bills died.

That leaves 30 bills this year that have been passed by the legislature, including 8 having already been signed by the governor. (The math goes haywire here because, in some cases, Democrats advanced the goals of multiple bills from last year with a single bill this year.)

Here’s some notes about what’s passed and what’s still trying to, with our fully updated spreadsheet posted below. Let us know if we missed anything by emailing johningold@coloradosun.com.

Accomplishments, unlocked

If you’re a devoted Capitol-watcher, you know a lot of the repeat bills that have already gotten through the legislature by heart. Senate Bill 181, the major rewrite of Colorado’s oil and gas regulations. House Bill 1177, the red flag gun bill. House Bill 1039, the bill to make it easier for people who are transgender to change their birth certificates.

And some might seem really familiar. While it’s not uncommon for bills on this list to have similar titles to their counterparts from last year, 10 bills have the exact same title as in 2018, including the red flag bill and the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act.

Still, not everything here garnered big attention. Be honest, how many of you have been following the multi-year battle surrounding House Bill 1205, which deals with expense reimbursement for members of the state’s restorative justice coordinating council?

Work to do

It’s a sign of how much Democrats tried to do — and how much contentiousness there was around those ambitions — that so many not-new proposals were still being fought over in the legislature’s closing days.

Big policy pushes on climate change (House Bill 1261), minimum wage (House Bill 1210) and health care (such as House Bill 1168, the reinsurance bill) hung in the balance up until the final hours.

Going beyond

In a number of instances, Democrats newly emboldened by their majorities didn’t seek just to replicate the proposals of the past, they pushed beyond them. The oil and gas bill is one example. But so are two health care bills from Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat from Avon.

Last year, Roberts proposed bills to increase transparency around insulin prices and to study the idea of creating a government-backed health insurance program that would compete in the market alongside private plans. This year? The insulin bill became one that, for the first time in the nation, imposes a cap on how much people with insurance have to pay for insulin. And the “public option” bill changed from a study into an instruction to state officials to draw up and start implementing plans to create such an insurance program. Both bills now just need the governor’s signature to become law.

Not quite

On the flip side, there were bills that didn’t quite live up to the ambitions of yesteryear. The most notable: Senate Bill 188, the family medical leave bill. After starting the 2019 session with hopes of creating a nearly $1 billion program to provide paid leave to workers, lawmakers amended the bill to now be just a proposal for further study.

Failed again

A sad trombone played for five of the repeat bills. There was a proposal to make Election Day a state holiday instead of Columbus Day, another to crack down on the use of mobile devices while driving and a third to require continuing education for professional land surveyors.

The election and driving bills both looked rather different in 2018; the surveyors one didn’t. All three met their demise in House committees. Two more didn’t get enough votes by the time the clock ran out.

Explore the complete list

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