Senate adjourns early to caucus on the budget
The Senate adjourned early today so that each party could squirrel themselves away for the rest of the afternoon to discuss the budget and possible accompanying legislation.
The Colorado Independent sat down with Senate leadership last week while the House was working on the budget. Joint Budget Committee member Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver emphasized that sending more money to both higher and K-12 education are priorities in this year’s budget.
“We increased the amount of General Fund dollars that are supporting our school finance act well above what the Governor requested,” he said.
“There’s a very strong shared desire among both parties, both chambers, to see our school finance act start to chip away at the negative factor,” Steadman added.
Right now, just under $200 million dollars are headed towards K-12 education in this year’s budget. Not all of that money, however, will go directly to reducing the $1 billion in cuts the legislature made to public school funding through the policy known as the negative factor. Some of that money is earmarked for legislation that will support English language learning, preschool initiatives and literacy programs.
Whether the legislature should simply plug as much money as possible back into schools without tying the funds to further reforms likely will be a point of contention not just on the floor but within the caucuses themselves.
As things stand, about $100 million in reoccurring dollars is expected to go directly to reducing previous sessions’ cuts to K-12 funding. Steadman, along with House leadership, have said that’s the most the legislature can responsibly do as the economy recovers from the Great Recession. However, some groups such as the Bell Policy Center have argued that the legislature should, and could, invest as much as $200 million annually in restoring recession-era cuts to public education.
Other policies that are likely to see a boost in funding include child care cost support and tech investments to speed up wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The legislature also needs to back-fill some funds that it pulled emergency money from as a result of last Fall’s devastating floods.
Depending on how late they go, you can tune into the Republican budget caucus here and the Democratic caucus here. Tomorrow, senators will meet again in the same rooms to discuss possible amendments to the budget itself before heading directly to the floor to give initial approval to the budget and any accompanying legislation.
Here’s a little cash-minded listening for the big, bad Budget Week:
House approves changes to cross-state firearms purchases with no discussion
The House gave initial approval on a strong voice vote to SB 135 today. The bill, primarily sponsored by Rep. Jared Wright of Fruita, clarifies current statue to allow Coloradans or residents of states that share a border with Colorado to purchase rifles and shotguns in each others’ states as long as the purchase conforms to the laws of both jurisdictions.
Coloradans buying firearms in contiguous states such as Kansas or Wyoming would still be subject to our state’s mandatory background checks.
After being laid-over, the measure got first-round approval today without a single audible “no” vote.
House moves to give higher ed more control over finances
On recommendation from the Joint Budget Committee, the House gave initial approval to HB 1345 today. Sponsored by budget committee veteran Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, the measure would give Colorado’s universities and colleges a little more freedom deciding how they spend their state dollars, allowing more to go towards student stipends.
While the bill is relatively technical, Gerou summed it up by saying, “It will help higher ed, it will help your students in higher ed.”
The measure essentially allows Colorado institutions the flexibility to put more money into their College Opportunity Funds based on enrollment. Right now, students who qualify for the funds get a stipend of $64 per credit hour in public universities and $32 per credit our in private institutions.
The measure passed easily on a voice vote today.
House effectively kills pipeline right-of-way bill
At the end of February the Senate bitterly fought over SB 93, a bill that would write into law an oil and gas company’s right to put a pipeline through private land — even if the owner refused — for the “public good.” The public good here would be the movement of fuel from one place to another. The debate, at that time, was about who should have the right to seize private land, otherwise known as “eminent domain,” and when that right should be given.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, said allowing oil and gas to build pipelines where they need to has long been common practice in Colorado. She called the bill a minor clarifying adjustment to the law.
“This bill, which supposedly makes a little technical adjustment to move us back to where we thought we were, in fact puts before us a significant question. ‘Shall private businesses be allowed to take property as if they were the government?” asked Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud, who opposed the measure in the Senate.
SB 93 did pass in the Senate, though not without some bipartisan disapproval. Today, the House effectively killed the bill by moving to delay a vote until May 9, two days after the session ends.