The Colorado Legislature concluded an extraordinarily productive session on May 3. During the 120 days — and some late nights — we debated 598 bills, passed 462, and defeated 136. Key measures aligned with the governor’s priorities — and campaign promises — including full-day kindergarten, controlling rising health care costs, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and reforming the criminal and juvenile justice systems.
Reflecting the tradition of collegiality that prevails in the Colorado Legislature, the vast majority of bills — more than 95 percent — passed with bipartisan support. We can be duly proud of our accomplishments.
In every session, however, there are always a few contentious bills that provoke strong disagreement and receive most of the publicity. This year, oil and gas reforms, FAMLI paid family medical leave, Extreme Risk Protection Orders (or the red flag bill), comprehensive human sexuality education, vaccinations, equal pay for equal work, vaping/tobacco tax and local minimum wage were among the most divisive. What is often not recognized and is important to understand is that none of those bills passed as introduced, and all were either significantly amended by the Legislature to address legitimate concerns, or they failed to pass altogether.
But these controversial bills were only a small fraction of the total bills enacted. Colorado’s Legislature is a model of respectful, deliberative and thoughtful decision-making in which collaboration, compromise and stakeholder inclusiveness are virtues. This session was no different. Our track record of bipartisan accomplishments is a model that other states and especially the federal government should follow.
The Legislature addressed climate change and conservation issues with a package of bills, including:
- SB191 which added more local control provisions in determining where oil and gas can be developed;
- HB 1261, a statewide climate action plan establishing goals to reduce greenhouse gasses by 26 percent by 2025 and 90 percent by 2050, of the levels of greenhouse gas emissions that existed in 2005;
- HB-1279, a Sierra Club priority, banning the use of perfluorooctanoic acid, the deadly firefighting foam that has contaminated the Fountain water supply; and
- HB 1231, adopting updated energy and water efficiency standards for residential and commercial products as well as bills expanding solar gardens and incentivizing closure of coal plants.
In addition to sponsoring HB-1231, I joined my colleague Tony Exum in sponsoring HB-1279.
In the health care arena, we passed significant legislation that will improve health care outcomes while reducing costs for consumers. The governor’s new statewide “Office of Saving People Money on Health Care” is the cornerstone of these initiatives. It will reduce patient costs for hospital stays and expenses, improve price transparency, lower the costs of prescription drugs, and make health insurance premiums. Legislatively, we passed a variety of measures, including:
- SB-5, which authorizes the importation of drugs from Canada;
- HB-1174, a hospital billing transparency measure which protects consumers from surprise, out-of-network expenses;
- HB-1004, which calls for the creation of an affordable state option insurance plan; and
- HB1274, which caps the cost sharing required for insulin at $100 per month.
I was the prime sponsor of 36 bills, two-thirds of which had bipartisan support and one third of which were cosponsored by the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. I continued my commitment to criminal and juvenile justice reform by sponsoring 15 bills, 13 with bipartisan cosponsorship. We passed common sense legislation to remind Coloradans of upcoming court dates by text message to reduce overcrowding in our jails. Along with Senator Bob Gardner-R, I sponsored SB108 Juvenile Justice Reform which will implement evidence-based decision-making and best practices, including restorative justice diversion for juvenile offenders. We passed HB1225 to end cash bail for certain low-level offenses so people without financial means don’t remain in jail, saving both the state and defendants millions of dollars. We passed sensible parole reforms and extended funding for three successful justice reinvestment bills, including Transforming Safety in Southeast Colorado Springs. In addition, we expanded and simplified criminal and juvenile record sealing so people who have paid their debt to society can move on with their lives.
We also passed a series of bills to address the opioid crisis, drug abuse and behavioral health issues, all with bipartisan support. With regard to opioids, there were multiple bills including:
- HB-1297, which sets up a web based behavioral health tracking system to identify programs and facilities where medication assisted treatment, medical detoxification and residential and inpatient treatment can be accessed
- SB-8 that provides alternatives to filing criminal charges, record sealing provisions and a harm reduction grant program, including co-responder programs.
- Two of the most potentially impactful bills are SB 222 and 223 which I sponsored to divert people at risk of incarceration resulting from behavioral health issues and to facilitate assessment and provision of services once incarcerated.
While we accomplished much in this session, we will continue to enact common sense, bi-partisan measures to respond to ever changing issues facing our state. We stand ready to continue the work next January, so please send your suggestions, concerns and proposals to me or any of your other state legislators. We were elected to serve, and it is an honor and privilege to do so.
Pete Lee is a Colorado state senator for Senate District 11 in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at 303-866-6364 or peteleecolorado.com.