Deal to save rural hospitals clears first hurdles

The measure to save rural hospitals cleared two major steps in the state Senate today, first winning over the Senate Appropriations Committee Friday morning and then garnering a voice vote of approval in the Republican-controlled state Senate shortly after after noon today. The preliminary Senate approval followed a brief debate with  low-key opposition from a few conservative Republicans in the state Senate. The bill is up for a final recorded vote from the Senate on Monday and if passed, heads to the House.

The fireworks of the day came earlier, when its Republican co-sponsor sidestepped a first big hurdle by employing a rare procedural move to get it past the objections of a powerful fellow Republican colleague who sought to kill it in committee.

Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, wanted to deny the bill, known as “Sustainability of Rural Colorado,” the needed hearing before that committee. Such a decision is within his power as chair. No hearing. Bill dies. The measure would reverse a nearly half-billion cut to hospitals and fund transportation, rural schools and provide tax relief to small businesses. Most objectionable to some Republicans is that it moves hundreds of millions of dollars out from beneath revenue limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, thus freeing up the state to raise — and spend — more tax revenue.

Related: Lawmakers reach high-stakes deal to save rural hospitals

But bill co-sponsor Republican Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling forced Lundberg’s hand by rallying a majority of the members of appropriations to ask that the bill be heard despite the chairman’s objections. Senate rules allow for such a maneuver, though it is rarely used. On Thursday, Sonnenberg sent Lundberg a letter signed by five of the committee’s seven members requesting the hearing.

The bill cleared the committee this morning on a 5-2 vote, with Lundberg and Sen. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs opposed.

During the committee hearing, Lundberg called the measure “the worst piece of legislation I’ve seen in 15 years” as a lawmaker. He is term-limited next year. After the hearing, Sen. Lucia Guzman of Denver, the measure’s other co-sponsor, called the bill “one of the finest bills of the last 12 years” and the most important bill of the 2017 session.


Feature photo of Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, credit: Colorado Senate GOP, Creative Commons, Flickr. 

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.