What’s on tap for the last week of the 2017 legislative session
It’s called sine die, pronounced see-NAY dee-AY. It translates loosely to “on this day and no more.”
On Wednesday, the General Assembly is expected to finish up its 120-day 2017 session and lawmakers will head back to their districts for the rest of the year.
With that in mind, what stands between lawmakers and recess: 192 bills still awaiting action as of Monday morning, with 115 in the House and 77 in the Senate.
Topping the long list: a sweeping deal to save rural hospitals, a rewrite of the state’s energy policy to focus more on fossil fuels and nuclear energy and a bill to require oil and gas companies to map wells and flowlines.
The bill that would save the hospitals passed on a 25-10 vote in the Senate this morning and now heads to the House, where Reps. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan and House Majority Leader KC Becker of Boulder will marshal it through committee hearings later in the day. All the “no” votes in the Senate, save for Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction, came from urban Republicans.
Rural Republican Sens. Larry Crowder of Alamosa and Don Coram of Montrose joined the Senate’s Democrats in signing on to co-sponsor the measure.
If you get a chance, drop sen Sonnenberg a note thanking him for bringing SB 267 forward. All of rural Colorado health care benefits
— Larry Crowder (@SenatorCrowder) May 6, 2017
The Republican effort to change the state’s energy policy hinges on whether Democrats will accept that rewrite in order to save the state’s energy office, which is due to close on June 30 without reauthorization. The rewrite would shift Colorado energy policy from renewables to a focus on nuclear, hydroelectric, coal and natural gas.
That bill is slated for a final vote in the Senate this morning and then it heads to the House.
The House Appropriations Committee is expected today to review a bill requiring oil and gas companies to map their wells and flowlines. Assuming the bill passes the committee, which is expected, it would then head to the full House for debate and preliminary passage. Should that happen, the measure would be up for a final vote on Tuesday.
However, according to Republican Senate leaders, the proposal is not going to succeed in the Republican-controlled Senate.
And some measures will never see final action and will die on the calendar. That includes one of the first bills introduced this session to much fanfare: a repeal of the Colorado health benefit exchange, aka ColoradoCare.
The measure was boldly rolled out on the first day of the 2017 session. Its sponsor, first-year Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Parker Republican, said the bill would repeal the state exchange and that Coloradans would go onto whatever program is available from the federal government.
But with the slow start by Republicans in Washington, D.C. to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and no federal replacement available, the Colorado measure had nowhere to go, and it was laid over today to May 11, the day after the session ends, in effect killing the bill.
Two other bills, dealing with issues related to building affordable condos, also aren’t going to get final action by the Senate.
For five years, lawmakers have tried to find a way to jump-start condo construction in Colorado, which fell from about 20 percent of new housing starts to 3 percent in 2016. Developers and builders blame the state’s construction defects laws, which allows homeowners’ associations (HOAs) to unilaterally sue on behalf of their homeowners for as few as five defective units. Efforts to find a compromise between builders and trial lawyers have regularly failed every year; developers want these disputes to go to binding arbitration, as well as help with out-of-control insurance costs, and trial lawyers and homeowners want to retain the right to sue for defective plumbing, windows that aren’t properly sealed and other defects in their new condos.
Among the two bills that won’t gain ground: a bipartisan bill that would spread out the liability among insurers on a construction defects claim. Hopes for it were high, but it gained late opposition from contractors and builders and that was enough to put it to bed without a vote.
The second measure, to define construction defects, gained opposition from the other side: groups backed by homeowners and trial lawyers, who say the bill’s definition was too narrowly construed and would limit claims to only major defects and those that could cause potential injury. That measure also will not make it from the Senate to the House.
What did succeed: The major bipartisan bill dealing with construction liability, a compromise worked out last month by House Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat; and Republican Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist of Centennial.
The measure requires the boards of condo homeowners’ association to seek permission from a majority of homeowners (instead of making the decision on their own) in order to pursue a claim related to defective condos within the first two years of the home’s completion and occupancy. Once a defect is found in that first two years, the HOA has another six years to file a claim.
Once the compromise was reached, the bill flew through the House and Senate, winning unprecedented unanimous support at every step along the way. Given that the construction defects issue has languished in the General Assembly for the past five years without resolution, the unanimous support from lawmakers was a testament to the desire by lawmakers to declare a victory, albeit one that many called just a good first step.
The day is already off to a tense start, with a long debate in the Senate on the school finance act, the annual bill to fund Colorado’s public schools. The measure has gotten bogged down in the Senate over Republican efforts to include language from another bill that would require school districts to share property taxes with charter schools. Democrats won an effort to strip off that language on Friday. The bill passed the Senate this morning on a 27-8 vote and heads to the House.
Its not all work in the last days of the session. On Tuesday, House Republicans will put on their best theatrical talents (or not, in some cases), and spoof their Democratic counterparts in an annual series of skits known as Hummers, a tradition that goes back decades. Pictures and recordings are not allowed.
On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood is expected to ascend to the tip-top of the Golden Dome, and drop a rubber band ball from the Dome to (hopefully) the first floor. Kerr has been tasked with the annual job of collecting rubber bands all session long and attaching them to the ever-growing-larger ball, which is now around five pounds.
If the ball hits the first floor in just the right spot, it will bounce back up to the level of the third floor. If not, there’s a good reason why Capitol security clears the first floor.
Photo of the Senate rubber band ball by Marianne Goodland
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