Rape kit testing, fugitive unit, education and health care prioritized in proposed Colorado budget

DENVER - Gov. John Hickenlooper's proposed budget would allocate new funding for testing genetic evidence in alleged sex assaults and to the Department of Corrections for hunting fugitives.

Unveiled publicly Friday afternoon, Hickenlooper's budget proposal was also delivered to the Joint Budget Committee of the legislature. The total of the budget is $24.03 billion, a 4.4 percent increase over the current budget year.


--Public safety highlights--

Lawmakers in June allocated money to create the Fugitive Apprehension Unit, as the Department of Corrections scrambled to fix problems that allowed a parolee to cut off his tracking monitor and kill two people in March. The unit has nine officers who began their work with the unit on August 1.

The proposed budget includes $951,314 in funding for the unit and a $10 million placeholder for future recommendations from the DOC.

CALL7 Investigations following the murders in March exposed a lack of accountability and oversight in how parole officers tracked missing fugitives. Since that time, a new leadership team has been installed in the department.

Hickenlooper's proposal also includes $14 million in funding for a law he signed in June, requiring testing of all genetic evidence collected in alleged rapes in Colorado.

A CALL7 investigation in November revealed that police departments around the state fail to test thousands of rape kits, especially when they know the identity of the suspect. Experts say failing to test all rape kits may allow a serial rapist to avoid justice because DNA from the kit would not be tested against evidence from other crimes.

After the CALL7 investigation, state Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, introduced a bill requiring law enforcement to test all rape kits. House Bill 13-1020 overwhelming passed the General Assembly and Hickenlooper signed it into a law.

More recently, 7NEWS reported that a census required by the law found at least 5,000 rape kits were untested throughout the state.


--Fires, Flood impact budget--

The summer wildfires and September floods will have a significant impact on the next budget. The Office of State Planning and Budgeting says the state put $122.1 million into the Disaster Emergency Fund for those emergencies and the office expects more to be spend before the end of the year.

"Colorado is still recovering from the most destructive flooding in the state's history," Hickenlooper said in a written statement provided by his office. "This budget frames what by necessity will have to be a collaborative effort that crosses party lines. We expect compromise from both sides that is based on common sense, which has no political affiliation."

The budget office says $50 million will need to be paid back to the Medicaid budget, $46 million to the Disaster Emergency Fund and $48 million returned to the Controlled Maintenance Trust Fund.

The budget also requests $12 million from the General Fund to support water and wastewater infrastructure as a part of the flood recovery.

"By taking these actions, we are confident that appropriate resources will be available for emergencies and recovery next fiscal year," the budge office said in a written statement about the budget.


--Education spending increases--

The proposed budget includes an increase of per-pupil funding, but may have to change if Colorado voters approve the Amendment 66 ballot measure in next week's election. The current proposal would increase spending by $223 for each student in grades K-12. That would make a total per-pupil funding of $6,875.

Unless changed by Amendment 66, the Colorado Constitution requires education funding keep pace with inflation.

For higher education, Hickenlooper is proposing spending an additional $101.8 million -- a 15.5 percent increase over current funding.

Some $60 million of the increase would be spent on institutional operating expenses, in exchange for a "handshake agreement" that governing boards would not increase tuition by more than six percent.

Of the remaining money, $30 million is for need-based financial aid, $5 million is for college work/study programs, and $5 million is to restore the merit scholarship program. Hickenlooper's office says these increases for financial aid programs are the largest in Colorado history.


--Single largest area of spending: health care--

With $9.37 billion of the overall budget proposal, health care-related items are the single largest area of the proposed budget. That amount represents the total requests from the Departments of Human Services and Health Care Policy and Financing.

Medicaid enrollment is expected to grow by 154,431 clients to 967,681 during the budget year. The Accountable Care Collaborative program is also approaching 400,000 enrolled citizens.

The Department of Public Health and Environment is also included in budget increases.

$7.1 million from the Medical Marijuana Cash Fund would be earmarked for medical research.

Hickenlooper's proposal also puts $2.8 million aside to add support for children and adults with disabilities who are in transition between programs, leaving institutions or in emergency situations.


-- Mental health given new funding under health care programs--

The budget proposal includes $750,000 to create a program of "mental health first aid" training throughout the state. The program is described as a parallel to CPR training, teaching people how to react to mental health problems.

Another $2.3 million is being allocated for "various initiatives" at state Mental Health Institutes.


--Raises for state employees--

Hickenlooper is proposing a 1.5 percent raise for the state's employees, with another 1.5 percent available for merit-based raises. A total of $52 million would be allocated for this spending.


--New computers for DMV--

The proposal projects $93.4 million will be needed over two years to replace computer systems in the Department of Revenue. The current system, the governor's office said, is about three decades old and its age is the cause of outages or delays.

The computer replacement, in addition to staffing increases and a $16.1 million employee management system, are part of a plan to reduce the Division of Motor Vehicle's average wait times from 60 minutes to 15.

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