DENVER – Wednesday is the final day of Colorado’s 2018 legislative session, and there remain several outstanding measures that lawmakers will try and finalize before heading back to their home districts.
Lawmakers saw what is likely to be their crowning achievement of the session, the massive transportation funding package contained in Senate Bill 1, pass both chambers to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk Tuesday. Its success came on the heels of a last-minute deal between Senate Republicans and House Democrats.
Neither side got exactly what they wanted. The Republican-controlled Senate pushed for a $3.5 billion bond for transportation funding. The Democrat-controlled House instead tried to pass $1.3 billion in funding.
In the end, the two met in the middle, signing off on $2.3 billion in bonds that will be paid off over a 20-year period using money from the general fund.
The additional funding is a drop in the bucket in comparison to the $9 billion in identified needs for transportation infrastructure across the state.
Another bill that had received plenty of attention in recent days was Colorado’s red flag mental health and gun bill, which was killed by three Republican senators in a Senate committee Monday after it passed the House and received support from Colorado law enforcement officials and some Republicans.
The biggest remaining measures left for lawmakers to tackle include the continuation of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, a bill to reform the state pension’s massive liabilities, and measures dealing with which stores are allowed to sell full-strength beer.
Those bills, along with another dealing with state infrastructure money and another dealing with marijuana taxes as they pertain to local governments, are all in conference committee, where chosen lawmakers are hashing out differences between the House- and Senate-passed versions of each respective bill.
Republicans and Democrats who have worked on the bills have struggled to overcome some of the differences throughout the session.
Among those 25 bills that could still be sent to the governor’s desk are several addressing mental health, one about higher education funding, several regarding income tax deductions and credits, and bills to prevent sex abuse of children and to help survivors of crime.
Gov. Hickenlooper has already signed more than 200 measures passed this session into law, and several more have been sent to his desk for consideration.
The pension system, PERA, is severely underfunded. Analysts put the funding gap somewhere between $32 and $50 billion. The pension system provides benefits for more than half a million state employees, including teachers.
The House has a hearing scheduled for Thursday after the session is set to end to discuss what comes out of the PERA conference committee.
During their weekly press availability on Monday, Republicans expressed optimism about the chances of the bill, Senate Bill 200, passing.
“As with Senate Bill 1, there are I think positive, encouraging words and feedback coming from folks and I think they’re going to find a way to get Senate Bill 200 across the finish line,” said Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert.
Something else legislators still need to discuss is recommendations on reforms to the sexual harassment policy at the state Capitol. Several lawmakers have been accused of inappropriate behavior this legislative session alone, including Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Thornton Democrat who was expelled from the legislature.
The accusations prompted an independent group to study the culture at the capitol and recommend changes. The legislature already upped its sexual harassment training and will review additional changes in an executive committee Wednesday morning.
Senate Republicans are also making a last-minute push for a school funding bill. House Bill 1379 passed the Senate Tuesday and is heading back to the House.
Under the revisions, public schools will be given $7 billion in funding for the 2018-19 academic year. If approved, that would be the most ever spent on education, representing a $460 million increase compared to the previous year, according to Republicans. The bill would increase per-pupil funding to $8,837 and the negative factor would be brought down by $150 million. The bill is now back in the House.
Denver7 will have a full wrap-up of Colorado’s 2018 legislative session Wednesday after adjournment.