Lawmakers agree on teen pregnancy, powdered alcohol bills

Lawmakers: Teen-pregnancy prevention, yay (3:15 p.m.)

A bipartisan proposal to expand a successful Teen Pregnancy and Dropout Prevention pilot program made it past first base today. The House Finance Committee voted 10-1 in favor of extending the program to  Medicaid-eligible teenagers.

“This program provides information about abstinence, contraception, family planning and other choices, like avoiding drugs and alcohol, avoiding peer-pressure — just avoiding unhealthy behavior so they can stay in school, get an education and then have more opportunities down the road,” said Rep. Danielson, D- Wheat Ridge, who is co-sponsoring the measure with Rep. Don Coram, R- Montrose.

Coram, who has been a major supporter of the pilot programs in and around his district, noted that, of the 140 participants in Montrose, just one became pregnant — and that student was able to stay in school.

“Frankly Mesa, Montrose and Delta counties aren’t the only places in the state where teens are having sex,” Coram told the committee. “So, yes, I’d say it [our success] can be replicated statewide.”

He wants the legislature to pay for the program out of the General Fund. The pilot programs have been funded largely by federal money with a 10 percent local match.

“That match is something they may not be able to afford,” said Coram. “If you look at Delta county in particular, they just lost 400 coal mining jobs and those are $100,000 jobs. That community is definitely feeling the hit of the economy and this would be a huge benefit for that county.”

The sponsors also pointed to a fiscal note that projects savings of $7,559 per Medicaid pregnancy avoided, which would translate to more than $1 million in the first full year of the expanded program.

“I just want you all to really consider the Medicaid costs, the Women Infants and Children costs, the graduation rates and the result to our economy that can occur if we can prevent these pregnancies,” said  Corrine Rivera-Fowler of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights. Rivera-Fowler added that expanding the program is particularly important to her organization as rates of teen pregnancies among Latinas in Colorado continue to be three times as high as those among white teens and twice as high as among black teens.

Rivera-Fowler was a teen mom. She now has a 20-year old attending the University of Colorado – Boulder. Her voice wavered as she told the committee how helpful these resources would have been when she and her best friend both became pregnant in high school.

“No one was talking to either one of us, providing support, counseling or information about our sexual activity, our options for contraception, or the barriers or consequences we would face,” she said. “I chose to have my child. I persevered. I made choices about the path I took and had to work much harder than my peers to get there. I know that if we had access to counseling, information and contraception we may have made other choices and had different paths.“

Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain, underlined the strong case the witnesses made for the program.

“We’ve talked a lot about the financial savings this program ultimately brings,” she said . “I think we saw here that more important is the emotional, life-long difference this program can make in people’s lives.”

House puts Palcohol in time-out (12:30 p.m.)

The House gave initial approval to a Republican measure to ban powdered alcohol in the state, pending regulations. HB 1031 has received strong support, despite concerns from libertarian-minded Coloradans asking: “What is powdered alcohol and why does the government want to keep it from us?”

Sponsor Rep. JoAnn Windholz, R-Commerce City, emphasized that the bill would only put powdered alcohol, or Palcohol, in a “time-out” until state guidelines regulating its sale could be put in place.

“This is not an anti-free market bill; this is a health and safety bill,” she said on the floor.

“State Affairs was happy to get this bill, we were very supportive of it. It’s a good public safety bill,” agreed Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, the vice-chair of the committee where the measure passed 9-2.

The inventor of Palcohol, Mark Phillips, has written that he is disappointed that no state legislature considering a ban invited him to provide testimony about how the product works. Five states have already banned Palcohol and three more states, in addition to Colorado, may follow suit.

“The responsible action by a legislature should be to regulate powdered alcohol to keep it out of the hands of underage drinkers by having it sold in licensed liquor stores where a person must present a valid ID,” Phillips argues on his site.  He even made the following video to serve as pan-state legislative testimony:

The bill will get a final vote in the House tomorrow before moving to the Senate.