Fetal tissue, clean air, rural schools dominate budget debate

The Joint Budget Committee approved a modified version of the House budget on Wednesday. The new draft tanked Senate Republican efforts to ban Colorado public universities from purchasing fetal tissue, walked a middle road on key environmental funding and rejected additional funding for a proposed program to attract teachers to rural schools.

House Democrats, when they reviewed the budget bill two weeks ago, had slated more than $8 million for the the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Quality Program. The program would administer state efforts to implement the federal Clean Power Plan aimed at reducing carbon emissions by 38 percent by 2030. That’s assuming Obama’s plan is given the green light from the U.S. Supreme Court, where it has stalled.

When the $27.1 billion budget bill arrived at the Senate, Republicans chopped out roughly $320,000 and 2.5 full-time employees from the Air Quality Program to hamstring it.

But when the Senate budget returned to the Joint Budget Committee, they compromised, instead reducing the Air Quality Program funding by $111,652 but without cutting jobs.

Conservation Colorado’s Pete Maysmith said in a statement that Colorado’s air quality agency “should not suffer cuts to its budget solely due to politics and messaging. Our air quality should not be held hostage for a game of chicken over climate change.”

Lost in the decision to use the House’s version of the budget instead of the Senate’s: $500,000 to fund three education centers that would recruit teachers to rural school districts — a bill working its way through the Senate.

Also gone: a footnote from Republican Sens. Tim Neville of Littleton and Laura Woods of Arvada stating higher education institutions could not use state money to purchase fetal tissue. Institutions maintain they don’t do that anyway and that any tissues purchased for research purposes are paid for out of federal research grants.

The issue relates to the long-standing fight between Republicans at the state Capitol and both the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Colorado State University.

Both CDPHE and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman turned down requests from an ad-hoc committee of Republican lawmakers last year to investigate whether Planned Parenthood was trafficking in fetal tissue.

Colorado State said it had purchased fetal tissue from a Planned Parenthood affiliate in California in 2013 but has not done so since, and that the sale complied with state and federal law.

The budget bill now returns to the House and Senate for another round of review. There, lawmakers will either accept the changes made by the budget committee or modify them.

If approved, the budget bill then goes to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature. He has the ability to veto footnotes as well as line items, although the latter rarely happens.


Photo credit: Maggie Stephens, Creative Commons, Flickr