Colorado’s much-lauded 40 percent reduction in teen pregnancy rates has shifted the debate over lady parts at the Capitol, in what seems a productive way. A handful of lawmakers, strange bedfellows to be sure, have stepped off the well-tread pro-choice versus pro-life path and say they’d rather talk reproductive economics than rights.
The bill at the center of this conversation is HB 1194, which would put $5 million annually into a program that offers long-acting reversible contraception (IUDs and implants) to low income teens.
The policy debate surrounding reproductive economics has not only drawn staunch pro-choice and women’s rights lawmakers but also the odd rural Republican male. The bill is co-sponsored by Boulder Democrat Rep. KC Becker and Republican Rep. Don Coram of Montrose. In Montrose, the teen birth rate has dropped by half in the last decade, yet still remains roughly 150 percent higher than the state average.
“This isn’t about whether you think there’s a right to have an abortion or not. It’s about how you most effectively prevent unwanted pregnancies,” said Becker, adding that the bill could wrack up huge savings in Medicaid and public assistance costs.
The bill has already drawn bipartisan support in the House, where it’s likely to pass. The Senate is a different terrain. In the GOP-controlled upper chamber, the bill is still searching for a sponsor.
Yet even in the Senate, opposition is sticking to the reproductive economics discourse.
“I am very pro-life but I’m trying to keep that out of it,” said Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa. “I’m looking at this from strictly a financial viewpoint.”
Crowder recently penned an op-ed for the Denver Post arguing that the state shouldn’t fund the program. It’s not because he thinks it hasn’t worked. He does. It’s also not because he’s stuck on the IUD-as-abortifacient debate — Crowder’s understanding of how IUDs work is precise and his position swings toward better incentivize IUDs than repeat Plan Bs. No. It’s because he thinks the program is no longer needed because there’s a privately funded national equivalent and there is also the expanded provisions of the Affordable Care Act cover contraception, including IUDs and implants, without copay.
“I do think we have to be guardians of the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Crowder, who also confirmed that there’s support in the pro-life caucus for programs like the one HB 1194 would fund because they reduce abortions.
While Becker agreed that the provisions of the ACA that cover birth control are great, she still sees tremendous need for HB 1194.
“I do think this is a transitional issue in terms of the ACA,” said Becker. “There are a lot of patients who are still un- or under-insured.”
Driver’s license debate returns to committee
The Senate voted unanimously and quietly on Monday to send the headline-grabbing program that provides undocumented residents of the state with driver’s license to conference committee, where they will consider re-funding the program they defunded. The committee is comprised of the exact same six people, the members of the Joint Budget Committee, who birthed this debate a month ago when they disagreed 3-3 about whether the Department of Motor Vehicles should get to collect and spend more fees to fund the popular program.
“We’ve been over the river and through the woods since then,” said JBC member Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.
Yay future energy: House Dems kill bill that sought to undercut renewable energy standard
Republican Senate Bill 44 went straight to the House Democrats’ State Affairs “kill committee” Monday and died as expected on a party-line vote. The measure sought to roll back the current renewable energy standard to 15 percent for all utilities. The current standard is 30 percent for large, urban utilities and 20 percent for rural cooperatives by 2020. The standard was lauded as a vanguard energy policy and a model for the nation. But Republicans here, spurred in part by oil industry political interest groups, have catered to a conservative rural constituency opposed to renewable energy reflexively as some kind of liberal imperialism — even though analysts say Colorado wind and solar power could power the state, and even though renewable energy technology companies here are a thriving sector of the economy bound to grow in decades to come.
Environmental groups gathered at the Capitol cheered the vote.
Top photo by Sam Kramer.