From education to criminal justice and health care to taxes, Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic legislative leaders set a new direction for Colorado in the 2019 legislative session.
“I think looking back on this session, it’s pretty clear that it was one of the more transformative and productive sessions we’ve had in a long time in Colorado,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder.
“There is not a single person in Colorado that won’t be impacted by this legislative session,” he added.
Hundreds of bills won approval before the four-month term ended Friday, and the vast majority received support from at least one Republican lawmaker. Polis, the first-year governor, will decide whether to sign the bills in the next month.
How most the new state laws will affect Coloradans will take weeks, months or years to see. But others are more immediate. The governor has not indicated he would veto any legislation.
Here’s a look at some of the impacts from this year’s session and what they mean for you:
Jump to: Education | Health Care | Wages & Sales Tax | Recycling & Tech | Criminal Justice | Transparency | Transportation | Your Pocketbook | Marijuana | LGBTQ | Renter’s Rights | Climate Change | Elections
More money for education, and a new approach in key areas ^
For parents of kindergarten-age children: The state, at a cost of $174 million in the next fiscal year, will cover the cost of full-day kindergarten in districts that offer it starting in the 2019-20 school year. The legislation, House Bill 1262, says districts cannot charge parents tuition and fees, and it does not require districts to offer full day kindergarten.
For educators: The state spending bills for education will give school districts an additional $100 million to spend, and rural school districts will receive an additional $20 million. That extra funding could mean more money available for teacher pay and classroom materials, but it will depend how each district decides to spend their share.
For students will disabilities: The state allocated an extra $22 million toward addressing autism spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injuries and hearing impairments in the school age population.
For students with reading deficiencies: The legislature sent to the governor a bill that will overhaul the READ Act, a statewide reading program that has failed to improve the reading deficiencies of young students despite costing the state more than $231 million over the past five years. Under Senate Bill 199, the districts that receive the money would need to ensure early grade teachers receive evidence-based training in how to teach reading to young students.
For younger students facing disciplinary action: A state-funded school can no longer suspend or expel students from preschool through second grade unless the situation meets three specific criteria: possession of a dangerous weapon on school grounds or activities; possesses, sells or uses drugs on school property; or engages in activity that endangers the “health or safety” of others so much that it creates “a safety threat.” House Bill 1194 is awaiting the governor’s signature.
For teachers with student loan debt: Up to 100 teachers a year who work in rural areas or teach hard-to-fill content areas, are now eligible for up to $5,000 annually for a maximum of five years to pay off student loans. Senate Bill 3 is awaiting the governor’s signature.
For students who need help: More social workers, nurses, school psychologists and counselors would join school districts after the legislature allocated an additional $3 million from marijuana tax revenue to cover the cost. No school district in the state meets the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended staffing levels for social workers, nurses, school psychologists and counselors, and the new money under Senate Bill 10 would target districts with the most needs. A separate grant program that won approval would address mental health needs for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
For students in history and government classes: The lessons for history and government classes in Colorado public schools would require, under House Bill 1192, teaching of contributions from Asian Americans, religious minorities, and lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender people. The state already requires teaching the history and contributions of the American Indians, Latinos and African Americans.
Colorado’s health care system gets an overhaul
For people who get insurance on the individual market: The governor is pledging immediate reductions in the cost of health coverage once he signs House Bill 1168, which would help insurance companies pay their most expensive claims — with the savings passed on to consumers. The other, House Bill 1004, starts the process of creating a state-backed insurance plan that would compete in the market against private plans. Both need approval of the federal government.
For those who live outside the Front Range: A new way of negotiating health care prices and buying coverage may help lower costs for some. Senate Bill 4 strengthens the power of communities to form health care cooperatives, which could band individuals and employers together to directly negotiate prices from hospitals and doctors and then ask insurers to bid for the co-op’s business. The model is already being used in Summit County.
For those who have diabetes: State lawmakers put a cap on what diabetes patients will have to pay for insulin, as long as they have health insurance. House Bill 1216 says insurance companies can’t require their customers to pay more than $100 for a month’s supply of insulin.
For those who have to visit an emergency room: Two bills try to reduce your risk of getting a surprise bill. House Bill 1010 requires freestanding emergency rooms — notorious for their high cost — to be specially licensed and gives the state Health Department the authority to set new rules around safety and care at the facilities. Those rules could give consumers a better heads-up, at least, about the cost of services at freestanding ERs. House Bill 1174 limits how much out-of-network doctors or hospitals can bill your insurance company for treating you in certain situations such as emergencies. Patients would still be responsible for paying deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs they owe under their insurance plan. The bill doesn’t go into effect until January.
For those receiving mental health care: A bill seeks to make sure your insurance company is providing you the same quality of mental health coverage as it would for physical health care needs, as federal law demands. House Bill 1269 focuses on closing loopholes in existing law and forcing insurance companies to provide proof to the state that they are complying with the requirement.
For those who want to be a mother or care about someone who does: House Bill 1122 creates a special committee to study maternal deaths in Colorado in the hopes of preventing deaths during or after childbirth.
For home health care workers: You might be getting a raise. Senate Bill 238 asks the federal government to increase the rates it pays to agencies that provide home health care — with the new money all going toward the workers — and also boosts the minimum wage for home health care workers to $12.41 per hour. And it creates new training requirements.
For the general health care consumer: You could get cheaper drugs and less-restrictive insurance coverage. Senate Bill 5 creates a program to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada — as long as the federal government gives the OK, which is not certain. And House Bill 1211 clamps down on policies around when your insurance company can require its pre-approval before it will pay for medical procedures.
For Polis administration health care officials: There are bills — House Bill 1001, House Bill 1320 — that create new transparency requirements for hospitals and new reports for the state to produce. There are other bills — House Bill 1176, Senate Bill 15 — that create study committees to examine what a single-payer system for the state would look like and evaluate other ideas for lowering health costs. And there are still more bills that set forth new rules state officials will have to adopt and police — House Bill 1233, for instance, which seeks to improve investment in primary care.
For people seeking substance abuse treatment: House Bill 1287 orders the state human services department to create an online list of the available substance-abuse treatment beds across the state, including those with medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone clinics.
Big changes for wages and sales tax collection ^
For women who work: The Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, Senate Bill 85, seeks to ensure gender pay equity by requiring employers to publicly post job openings with estimated salaries, prohibiting employers from asking about salary history and allowing an employee to sue over wage discrepancies. Sponsors compromised with business groups by not specifically not banning mediation, reducing the years of potential back pay to three from six, and delaying the law’s start date by a year to 2021.
For minimum or low-income wage earners: House Bill 1210 allows 10 percent of local governments in Colorado to set their own minimum wage at or above the state’s wage, which increases to $12 an hour in January.
For retailers: Help when it comes to remitting sales tax to the state is coming. Colorado’s system is a huge mess because of local rates that could equal nearly 700 tax combinations. Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 1240 establishes the rules and requires the state to invest in software to help all businesses figure this out.
For parents of young entrepreneurs: A new law allows children under age 18 to run an occasional business, like a lemonade stand, without a permit or license, so long as the business operates fewer than 84 days a year and is a sufficient distance from an existing commercial establishment.
For workers who aren’t paid for their time: Colorado lawmakers passed a bill that will make failure to pay wages a criminal theft and a felony charge if more than $2,000 is owed to a worker. House Bill 1267 was brought by labor advocates, particularly in the construction industry, who see workers lured to jobs by labor brokers, or “coyotes,” who then fail to pay them as promised. Wage theft is a key part of Colorado’s underground economy where cash flows under the table.
Recycling, net neutrality and blockchain get new regulations ^
For internet customers: An internet service provider would have to return any state grant money received if it prioritizes some data over others. The net neutrality rule is designed to keep companies like Comcast and CenturyLink from throttling internet speeds
For blockchain startups: Under Senate Bill 23, a blockchain company can create tokens as a form of currency without it qualifying as an investment. The move is designed to help support blockchain technology.
For people buying new tires: The state is increasing the waste-disposal fees paid on new tire purchases, to $2 from 55 cents. The increase is only for tires purchased between Jan. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2023. It would return to 55 cents in 2024. The additional money will be offered as rebates to end users who reuse or recycle tires.
For homes and businesses that produce trash: The operator of a landfill or disposal site must increase the fees for dumping trash starting in January — an additional cost that can be passed along to those who produce trash in Front Range communities, from Pueblo to Fort Collins. The money will fund grants to encourage local governments and other organizations to help divert recycling from landfills. It sets waste diversion goals of 32% by 2021, 39% by 2026 and 51% by 2036. The state average now is around 20.5%.
A criminal justice system paradigm shift ^
For those charged with a possession-level drug offense: House Bill 1263, awaiting Polis’ signature, would reduce drug possession crimes to a misdemeanor in most cases, with exceptions for certain quantities of some drugs and if someone has four or more convictions for a misdemeanor possession charge. It would go into effect in March 2020. To get an idea of the scope of impact, in 2018 there were some 4,600 people convicted of drug possession charges in Colorado.
For those arrested on petty, traffic or most municipal charges: House Bill 1225, which has been signed into law, prevents people accused of many low-level offenses from being jailed because they can’t pay cash bail.
For those who are arrested: Senate Bill 191 orders counties to study how to set bond for arrestees within 48 hours of them being taken into custody. The measure also says that — barring extraordinary circumstances — inmates must be allowed to post bond within two hours of their bond being set and released within four hours of posting that bond.
For those convicted of a crime: House Bill 1275 makes it easier for people to petition to seal their criminal records once their sentence is completed — but only for certain offenses. The offenses that aren’t eligible include murder, manslaughter, homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, child abuse and crimes against at-risk adults or at-risk juveniles. Records could be sealed, generally, several years after someone has finished their sentence.
For people with a criminal history who are searching for a job: Colorado businesses will be barred from asking about a potential employee’s criminal history on job applications, though they can run a background check and follow up later in the hiring process.
For people in prison nearing their parole date: Parole-eligible prison inmates who have not committed offenses while locked up could be released earlier under Senate Bill 143. The measure also aims to reduce recidivism rates by ensuring that people released on parole have support services and are less likely to be returned to prison because of a technical violation.
For anyone on parole: Parolees in Colorado will be able to vote after lawmakers repealed part of a provision barring anyone from serving a prison sentence from participating in elections. Anyone still behind bars, however, will still be prevented from casting a ballot under House Bill 1266.
For immigrants charged with certain misdemeanor crimes: House Bill 1148 strives to keep people with legal residence from being deported by reducing the penalty for Class 2 misdemeanors — like criminal mischief or violating the state’s bingo laws — in Colorado by a single day, preventing the triggering of a clause in federal immigration law for the automatic deportation of anyone convicted of a crime that carried a penalty of a year or more.
For immigrants in the country illegally who plead guilty to a crime in exchange for a deferred sentence: Senate Bill 30 aims to make it easier for people living in the U.S. illegally to have their charges vacated after completion of a diversion program. In order to enter a diversion program, people have to plead guilty to a crime. That can create immigration problems for people living in the country illegally.
For those who want to remove guns from relatives and others who are in crisis: Colorado lawmakers passed and Polis signed a red flag measure, House Bill 1177, allowing Colorado judges to order guns to be seized from someone deemed a significant risk to themselves or others. It goes into effect next year and would allow law enforcement, relatives or other close associates to petition the court for seizure.
For sex trafficking victims: Senate Bill 185 is intended to help victims of sex trafficking by exempting them from prostitution charges. It also requires that law officers report any suspected sex trafficking of a youth to child welfare officials or call the child abuse hotline.
Government transparency improves in some areas ^
For those interested in police misconduct: Law enforcement internal investigations records are now subject to open records requests in Colorado following the passage of House Bill 1119. The legislation went into effect on April 12, when it was signed by Polis.
For those interested in a free speech: House Bill 1324 aims to speed up the process by which people and media organizations can appeal the filing of frivolous libel lawsuits, preventing long and drawn out legal proceedings.
For those interested in jails: Lawmakers passed House Bill 1297 requiring jails to keep public data on inmate deaths, their capacity and the charges of people being held in their facility.
More money and traffic regulations for transportation ^
For motorists tired of traffic and potholes: A little help is on the way. The legislature approved $300 million in funding for Colorado’s local and state roadways this year but the state has a $9 billion backlog in priority infrastructure projects.
For people who drive I-70 through the mountains: House Bill 1207 would require hundreds of thousands of motorists to be equipped with snow, mud or all-season tires with adequate tread when driving on the interstate between Morrisson and Dotsero from September through May — regardless of whether it’s snowing. All-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles are exempt. So-called snow socks or auto-socks and chains carried in a car would count as compliance. Checkpoints could be used to enforce the policy, which could go into effect before next year’s snow season.
For electric-vehicle owners who want to use a public charging station: House Bill 1298 would fine drivers caught parked in front of an electric-charging station, but not charging, $150 plus a $32 surcharge.
How the session will impact your pocketbook ^
For all taxpayers: A measure on the November ballot will ask voters whether to remove the revenue caps in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and allow the state to spend all the tax money it collects each year. The measure won’t affect how much you pay in taxes — but if approved, it would mean the end of sporadic TABOR refunds in the form of tax breaks and rebate checks.
For gamblers: A question on the November ballot asks whether to allow betting on amateur and professional sports. If approved at the state and local level, betting on sports would be legal in gaming towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, as well as online through the casinos, starting in 2020.
For electric vehicle purchases: House Bill 1159 extends tax credits on the purchase or lease of an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid electric to 2026, but in lesser amounts starting in 2020.
Colorado’s marijuana laws get a rewrite ^
For those with autism: The governor signed into law a bill authorizing people with autism to obtain medical marijuana.
For people dealing with pain: Senate Bill 13 would allow medical marijuana to be used for any condition that doctors could also prescribe opioids to treat.
For people seeking to invest in the legal marijuana industry: Lawmakers approved a bill allowing publicly traded and private equity firms to invest in Colorado marijuana businesses for the first time.
For people who want to consume their legal cannabis in public: House Bill 1230 allows people to smoke pot or consume marijuana edibles at so-called “tasting rooms” attached to stores where marijuana is legally sold. It also allows consumers to bring their own for use at specially licensed businesses.
For people who want their pot to come to them: House Bill 1234 OKs delivery of marijuana products by medical marijuana retailers, and eventually retail cannabis sellers starting Jan. 2, 2021, in localities where it is allowed.
LGBTQ community will benefit from new laws ^
For those seeking “gay conversion therapy”: The practice of providing therapy to minors meant to “change an individual’s sexual orientation” or eliminate “sexual or romantic attraction or feelings toward individuals of the same sex” is prohibited starting in August. The therapy that attempts to make an LGBTQ youth straight would become a “deceptive trade practice” under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act. The legislation targets “licensed, certified or registered” mental health providers and does not address religious counseling from a pastor or minister. It would not ban the therapy for adults.
For transgender people: Lawmakers made it considerably easier for transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificate. Current law requires a person to have surgery and prove it to a judge before asking to change the gender marker on a birth certificate. The new legislation, House Bill 1039, requires the state register to issue a new birth certificate — not an amended one — and removes the stipulations of surgery and a court order.
Renters get new rights in landlord negotiations ^
For renters who are late on rent or violate their lease: Under House Bill 1118 a landlord is required to give a tenant 10 days — instead of the current three days — to pay overdue rent or correct a lease violation before the landlord can start eviction proceedings.
For mobile home tenants who are being evicted: House Bill 1309, expands the time a mobile home tenant has to vacate after receiving an court-ordered eviction notice to 30 days from two and increase the time to make an overdue rent payment to 10 days from five.
For renters: A landlord would need to respond to problems reported by a tenant within a specific timeframe under House Bill 1170. It also gives renters more recourse — such as withholding rent payments — when a landlord will not respond to complaints in certain situations.
For anyone applying to rent a home: House Bill 1106 prohibits landlords from charging a rental application fee unless the landlord uses the entire amount to process the application. The landlord is required to return the portion of the fee that went unspent.
For low-income people facing eviction: Senate Bill 180 puts $750,000 into an eviction legal defense fund that the state will pay to nonprofits to provide legal help to low-income people who are threatened with eviction.
Democrats pass bills aimed at addressing climate change ^
For carbon emitters: House Bill 1261 sets a goal of the state reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2025; 50% by 2030; and 90% by 2050 and allows the state to propose new regulations to achieve them.
For those interested in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions: Senate Bill 236 reauthorizes the Public Utilities Commission and requires it to consider the cost of carbon when evaluating future energy projects. Additionally, Senate Bill 96 will require the state’s Air Quality Control Commission to collect data on greenhouse gas emissions in the state and to predict future emissions.
For opponents of oil and gas drilling: The state is developing tighter regulations on oil and gas drilling in Colorado under Senate Bill 181, but much of the power is now in the hands of local government officials to decide where to locate rigs and how to limit the impact, shifting the debate to that level.
For oil and gas industry workers: The tougher regulations surrounding drilling are expected to increase the cost and time it takes to get drilling permits, but it is unknown how much it will affect companies in the state and whether it will lead to layoffs like industry-allies predicted.
Elections will look much different in Colorado ^
For anyone getting a driver’s license or applying for government assistance: Coloradans who get new driver’s licenses or apply for Medicaid or other public assistance would automatically be registered to vote under Senate Bill 235. They would receive a notice in the mail with an option to withdraw their registration, but otherwise would be registered. Now, automatic voter registration only occurs when someone gets a driver’s license, and people are asked at the DMV if they’d like to opt out.
For every voter in Colorado: Those mailers, digital ads and broadcast missives you get during election season will need to specify what candidate or group paid for them. And all groups will have to report spending that mentions candidates between the primary and general elections, a wider window than previously required.
For voters in Colorado’s largest cities: People who live in the most populated parts of the state will find more places to vote and ballot drop boxes, including on college campuses and underserved communities. And 17-year-olds who will be 18 by Nov. 3, 2020, will get to vote in the March 3 Super Tuesday presidential primary under House Bill 1278.
For anyone concerned about lobbying transparency: Lobbyists would have to file any changes in clients or bill positions within three days under House Bill 1248. Now, they could wait nearly a month and a half before such declarations, making it difficult for lawmakers, the public and other lobbyists to know who is working on a bill.
For anyone running for county-wide offices: Countywide candidates will be subject to contribution limits of $1,250 from individuals, $12,500 from small-donor committees and $22,125 from political parties under House Bill 1007. Previously, candidates for county commission and other offices could take unlimited donations. The limits apply to both primary and general election cycles.
For campaign donors: Nonprofits spending money on politics would have to disclose top donors under House Bill 1318. That means dark-money groups, such as Democratic-spending Sixteen Thirty Fund and conservative-leaning Colorado Economic Leadership Fund, that donate to super PACs or buy ads mentioning candidates would have to reveal where their money comes from.
Colorado Sun staff writers and contributors Jesse Paul, John Frank, John Ingold, Jen Brown, Tamara Chuang, Chris Osher and Sandra Fish contributed to this report.