Monday, May 5, 2008

SENATE SUPPORTS INSURANCE ACCOUNTABILITY ACT


DENVER—Today the Senate gave initial approval to the Insurance Accountability Act of 2008, which would push insurance companies to pay consumers what they are owed for valid claims. Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon (D-Denver) and Speaker of the House H. Andrew Romanoff, HB08-1407 would strengthen the ability of the Insurance Commissioner to deter unreasonable conduct by an insurer, help consumers recover damages, and clarify the definition of restitution. “This bill creates penalties for insurance companies who fail to pay valid claims—it will protect Colorado citizens,” said Gordon. “Insurance companies that do the right thing will have nothing to fear.” The bill would provide the Division of Insurance increased authority to penalize bad conduct by state regulated insurance companies. It would also prohibit insurance companies from unreasonably delaying or denying benefits owed to policyholders. If an insurance company unfairly denies a legitimate claim, customers would be able to take their insurance company to court. In instances where a claim has been illegally denied, insurance companies would be directed by the court to pay the policyholder twice the full benefits owed plus insurance fees. HB08-1407 will next be considered by the full Senate on third and final reading.

Monday, April 28, 2008

SCHWARTZ PULLS BACK CURTAIN ON MINING CONTRACTS


DENVER—Today the full Senate voted 28-7 in favor of a measure that would provide increased transparency in the mining industry by making notices of mining intent open to the public.

Sponsored by Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass) and Representative Kathleen Curry (D-Gunnison), SB08-228 would make all information submitted to the Mined Land Reclamation Board in a notice of intent to conduct prospecting or modify existing notices subject to the Colorado Open Records Act.

“This bill provides a level of transparency for the public where it is often not found,” Schwartz said. “People deserve to know what’s happening in their communities. The more information people have access to, the better equipped they are to make decisions.”

The bill would require the person filing the notice to provide an electronic version to the board so that it could be posted on the board’s web site. One exception to the bill would exempt information specifying the location, size, nature of the mineral deposit, and other information designated by the operator as proprietary.

The bill next heads to the House for consideration.

HIGHER ED FUNDING CLEARS SENATE


Capital Construction
Measure Moves Forward

DENVER—Today the full Senate voted 29-6 in favor of a bill that would direct a portion of Federal Mineral Lease dollars to fund higher education capital construction projects.

Sponsored by Senator Sue Windels (D-Arvada), Senator Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora), and Representative Jim Riesberg (D-Greeley), SB08-233 would authorize certificates of participation to provide funding for capital construction.

“Our colleges and universities are starved for capital construction funding, which means higher costs for students,” Williams said. “It’s time the state give schools the support they need to ensure the very best learning environments for our students.”

The bill requires the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to submit a prioritized list of higher education capital construction projects to the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB). OSPB will turn over the list to the Capital Development Committee and forward it to the Joint Budget Committee (JBC). The bill also allows the State Treasurer to enter into lease-purchase agreements for the construction of the projects identified in the resolution set by the JBC based on the priority list.

SB08-233 next heads to the House for consideration.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

COMMITTEE APPROVES HIGHER ED FUNDING

Capital Construction Measure Moves Forward

DENVER—Today the Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that would direct a portion of Federal Mineral Lease dollars to fund higher education capital construction projects.

Sponsored by Senator Sue Windels (D-Arvada), Senator Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora), and Representative Jim Riesberg (D-Greeley), SB08-233 would authorize state-backed bonds to provide funding for capital construction.

“Our colleges and universities are starved for capital construction funding, which means higher costs for students,” Williams said. “It’s time the state give schools the support they need to ensure the very best learning environments for our students.”

The bill requires the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to submit a prioritized list of higher education capital construction projects to the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB). OSPB will turn over the list to the Capital Development Committee and forward it to the Joint Budget Committee (JBC). The bill also allows the State Treasurer to enter into lease-purchase agreements for the construction of the projects identified in the resolution set by the JBC based on the priority list.

SB08-233 next heads to the full Senate for consideration.

TAX RELIEF ON THE WAY FOR SMALL BUSINESS


DENVER—Today the Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that would exempt more than 30,000 Colorado businesses from the business personal property tax.


Sponsored by Senator Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora), Representative Joe Rice (D-Littleton) and Representative Bernie Buescher (D-Grand Junction), HB08-1225 would raise the business personal property tax exemption threshold from $2,500 to $7,000, giving thousands of small businesses much needed tax relief and allowing them to reinvest in their own businesses.

“As both our country and our state face an economic downturn, this bill gives small businesses the breathing room they need to thrive and grow,” Williams said. “Ultimately we know that good jobs and steady paychecks mean a stronger financial future for Colorado.”

The bill next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

SENATE APPROVES BI-PARTISAN CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING PLAN


DENVER—Today the Senate voted 21-12 in favor of SB08-198, which would require the legislature to create more competitive congressional districts in Colorado.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon (D-Denver) and Representative Rob Witwer (R-Golden), the bill would ensure that the legislature consider all the current criteria in state and federal law, such as keeping cities and counties intact and making the districts as compact as possible, but would add that, to the extent practicable, it consider whether districts contain balanced numbers of Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.

“Competitive congressional districts are districts where you don’t know who is going to win in advance—you actually have to hold the election to find out,” said Gordon. “Congress will function better if the congressmen and women are beholden to the people who vote in general elections rather than the people who vote in partisan primaries. Competition is an integral part of our democracy.”

The bill would also require the General Assembly to:
• conduct at least 12 public hearings throughout the state on proposed redistricting plans;
• make redistricting data and mapmaking tools available to the public in at least one location in each congressional district; and
• allow for the submission of redistricting maps, recommendations, and inquiries from the public.

SB08-198 next heads to the House for consideration.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

GIBBS TO BARK BEETLES: MAKE LIKE A TREE, AND LEAF!


Senator Warns of Critical Wildfire
Risk in Colorado’s High Country


DENVER—Today the Senate voted unanimously in favor of HB08-1269, which would help reduce the threat of devastating wildfires in Colorado’s forests by providing incentives for products that use timber killed by the bark beetle infestation.

Sponsored by Senator Dan Gibbs (D-Silverthorne), the bill would provide an exemption from sales and use tax for sales, storage, and use of wood products, such as lumber, furniture, or wood chips that use wood from salvaged trees killed in Colorado by bark beetles. The bill would also provide cities and counties the option of exempting such sales from taxation.

“Colorado’s forests and watersheds are among our most critical resources and we must do all we can to protect them,” said Gibbs. “It’s heartbreaking to see the extent of the devastation in our mountain forests. With passage of this bill we’re tackling this crisis head-on; removing all that dead timber will greatly reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires and will help protect our forests, our water, and our way of life.”

Gibbs is a Type II Wildland Firefighter and last year crafted and passed the 2007 Colorado Forest Restoration Act, which also dealt with the bark beetle epidemic in Colorado’s high country.

The bill next heads back to the House for concurrence.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

SENATE APPROVES LANDMARK ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PACKAGE

DENVER—Today the Senate passed a landmark package of economic development bills designed to invest in local businesses and bring financial security and new prosperity to Colorado.

The Senate gave final approval to the following five bills:

Bioscience Grants (Bacon/Riesberg) – Extends the grant program to make $26.5 million available to universities and start-up companies to energize one of Colorado’s most promising industries.

Eliminate the “Fly-Away” Tax (Bacon/Buescher) – Encourages aircraft manufacturers to come to Colorado by eliminating the sales tax imposed on airplanes manufactured in the state.

Rural Broadband (Schwartz/Riesberg) – Directs the Chief Information Officer of Colorado to create public WIFI service areas. The bill could provide rural communities access to telemedicine, online education resources and equip small business owners with the tools they need to compete globally.

TIF Downtown Development Authority (Bacon/Buescher) – Extends the period for tax increment financing revenue collected by a downtown development authority.

Performance-based Incentive for New Jobs (Veiga/Hodge) – Creates monetary incentives for business to create at least one new job every five weeks in rural areas and every two and half weeks in urban areas.

The Senate also gave initial approval to the following bill:

New Solar Energy Technologies (Schwartz) – Directs the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to encourage utilities to enhance renewable energy standards and to evaluate energy efficiency regarding public projects. Requires the PUC to publish findings regarding the economic characteristics of varying types of energy technology.

CENTENNIAL CARE CHOICES CLEARS SENATE


Landmark Public-Private Health Care Proposal Heads to House

DENVER—Today the full Senate voted 24-10 in favor of Centennial Care Choices, a proposal that aims to decrease Colorado’s uninsured population by helping individuals and businesses obtain affordable health insurance through balanced public-private partnerships.

Sponsored by Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Senator Bob Hagedorn (D-Aurora), the plan is targeted at Coloradans who earn too much to receive Medicaid but don't buy insurance.

“Colorado’s uninsured population is having a serious impact on the cost of health insurance and to the health care delivery system in our state,” said Hagedorn. “The majority of Americans do not want a big government health program, but something they can have faith in and something that gives them choices. Centennial Care Choices will get us there.”

The proposal includes:
A request for health insurers to create a menu of “Value Benefit Plans” (VBPs) that would be evaluated and endorsed by the state and would be made available to all Coloradans.
Assistance to low income individuals and employees of businesses through a state subsidy of a portion of the VBP premium for those who do not qualify for government programs and cannot afford health insurance.
Assurance that this program builds upon the existing employer-based health insurance system, does not encourage businesses currently offering coverage to discontinue it, and promotes administrative efficiencies.

Supported by Representative Anne McGihon (D-Denver), Senator Steve Johnson (R-Ft Collins), Representative Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs) and Representative Ellen Roberts (R-Durango), Centennial Care Choices next heads to the House for consideration.

Monday, April 21, 2008

SENATE OKs CENTENNIAL CARE CHOICES


Landmark Public-Private
Health Care Proposal Advances


DENVER—Today the full Senate gave initial approval to Centennial Care Choices, a proposal that aims to decrease Colorado’s uninsured population by helping individuals and businesses obtain affordable health insurance through balanced public-private partnerships.

Sponsored by Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Senator Bob Hagedorn (D-Aurora), the plan is targeted at Coloradans who earn too much to receive Medicaid but don't buy insurance.

“Colorado’s uninsured population is having a serious impact on the cost of health insurance and to the health care delivery system in our state,” said Hagedorn. “The majority of Americans do not want a big government health program, but something they can have faith in and something that gives them choices. Centennial Care Choices will get us there.”

The proposal includes:
A request for health insurers to create a menu of “Value Benefit Plans” (VBPs) that would be evaluated and endorsed by the state and would be made available to all Coloradans.
Assistance to low income individuals and employees of businesses through a state subsidy of a portion of the VBP premium for those who do not qualify for government programs and cannot afford health insurance.
Assurance that this program builds upon the existing employer-based health insurance system, does not encourage businesses currently offering coverage to discontinue it, and promotes administrative efficiencies.

Supported by Representative Anne McGihon (D-Denver), Senator Steve Johnson (R-Ft Collins), Representative Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs) and Representative Ellen Roberts (R-Durango), Centennial Care Choices will next be considered by the full Senate on third and final reading.

TUPA SEES YOUR $5, RAISES YOU


DENVER—On Friday Senator Ron Tupa (D-Boulder) introduced SCR08-08, which would eliminate the $5 betting cap in Colorado’s casinos.

The measure is a proposed constitutional amendment and requires a 2/3 supermajority in both the Senate and the House before going before Colorado voters in November.

“The public mood has really changed in the last twenty years toward gaming revenues as a way to pay for state services,” said Tupa. “The projected revenues for the first year alone are $40-50 million. That’s money that could go to pay for things like roads, bridges, public safety and other critical services. I think it’s time the people of Colorado had a say on this issue.”

The proposal could be considered by the Senate as early as the end of this week.

Friday, April 18, 2008

SENATE RISES AGAINST DISCRIMINATION OVER GOP OBJECTIONS


Senators “Disgusted” by
Intolerant Comments from Far Right


DENVER—Today the full Senate gave initial approval to SB08-200, but not without considerable and at times heated debate.

Sponsored by Senator Jennifer Veiga (D-Denver), the bill would add sexual orientation to Colorado’s non-discrimination statutes for 23 areas, including housing, employment, education, public accommodations and health care.

Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver) objected to a joke amendment offered by Republican Senator Greg Brophy, which attempted to include a person’s height in non-discrimination statues.

“Making light of the fear and disadvantage suffered by gay Coloradans is disgusting,” said Groff. “Discrimination is the birth defect of our country – discrimination is not a joke.”

Some Republican senators also argued that there is a lack of statistical evidence that proves the existence of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“I can understand that some people may choose to ignore discrimination in their day to day lives,” said Veiga. “But I can tell you that discrimination still exists and is very real for so many Coloradans.”

SB08-200 was passed on a voice vote and will next be considered by the full Senate on third and final reading.

SCHWARTZ BRINGS BROADBAND TO RURAL COLORADO


DENVER—Today the full Senate gave initial approval for a measure that would help bring broadband internet service to rural areas in Colorado.

Sponsored by Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass), the bill would direct Colorado’s Chief Information Officer to identify broadband telecommunications service areas within Colorado and to develop a map of those areas, with the goal of using the map to help plan the deployment of broadband service to unserved areas of the state.

“This bill is a huge step into the 21st century for Colorado,” said Schwartz. “Many parts of rural Colorado have fallen behind Front Range areas in access to broadband communications. Broadband communication is crucial for economic development, and extending this technology will dramatically improve health care and educational services and strengthen local businesses in rural Colorado.”

SB08-215 will next be considered by the Senate on third and final reading.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

SENATE APPROVES LANDMARK EDUCATION PACKAGE

DENVER—Today the Senate passed a package of landmark education bills aimed at giving all Colorado students the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in tomorrow’s globally competitive 21st century economy.

The Senate gave final approval to the following two bills:

Building Excellent Schools Today (Schwartz & Groff/Romanoff) – Makes up to $1 billion available to repair and rebuild Colorado’s crumbling schools.

Safe Schools (Morse) – Establishes a school Safety Resource Center and Advisory Board in the Department of Public Safety. The center will develop safety/emergency readiness plans to ensure safety in schools through prevention and intervention.

The Senate also gave initial approval to the following five bills:

Cap4K (Romer/Scanlan) – Aligns rigorous course content standards with meaningful proficiency assessments with standardized college admission requirements. Cap4K is a complete redesign and realignment of Colorado’s education systems from pre-school through college.

Teach for Colorado (Shaffer/A. Kerr) – Provides scholarship incentives for college students to pursue careers in mathematics, science, and other high-demand teaching areas in Colorado.

College Opportunity Fund for National Guard Members (Shaffer) – Makes members of the Colorado National Guard eligible for the College Opportunity Fund (COF) stipend.

Streamlining Rural Education (Schwartz) – Streamlines the delivery of administration programs and services in rural school districts. Expands regional service areas throughout the state, leverages resources and encourages collaboration locally to meet varying needs and priorities.

Child Nutrition School Lunch Program (Sandoval/Madden) – Provides school lunches for all eligible children under the federal “National School Lunch Act.”

BILL TO REBUILD AND REPAIR COLORADO’S CRUMBLING SCHOOLS CLEARS SENATE

DENVER—Today the full Senate gave final approval to HB08-1335, which would address health and safety issues by providing funds to rebuild, repair or replace our most dangerous and most needy K-12 facilities.

Sponsored by Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver), Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass) and House Speaker H. Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver), the bill calls for a statewide needs assessment for the selection of schools and projects, and leverages as much as $1 billion in funds while keeping within our balanced budget.

“It’s time the state steps up to address the condition of our schools, especially those in our rural districts,” Schwartz said. “We included measures in this bill to give schools a fighting chance to teach their children in safe environments.”

Colorado's public school buildings across the state are aging. Hazards include failing roofs, structural problems, inadequate fire safety, faulty and dangerous boilers, asbestos and carbon monoxide contamination.

“By investing in school safety we are also investing in the overall education of Colorado students,” Groff said. “This bill not only offers a solution to crumbling schools, but it does it in way that is fiscally reasonable.”

The plan will leverage $30-40 million of revenue annually from the School Trust Lands to raise up to $500 million in capital. Local matching could raise another $400-500 million, bringing the total to nearly one billion dollars, enough to repair hundreds of existing schools or to build scores of new ones.
The School Trust Lands are property the federal government granted to the state in 1876 for the benefit of Colorado’s schoolchildren.

HB08-1335 now returns to the House for concurrence .

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

GIBBS BILL HAILED AS ANTI-WILDFIRE MEASURE


Amid Talk of Forming Committees to Study Wildfires,
Bill Takes Action to Reduce Threats to Colorado Forests


DENVER—Today the Senate unanimously gave final approval to SB08-71, which would address the bark beetle devastation and reduce the threat of wildfires posed by thousands of acres of dead standing trees in Colorado’s forests.

Sponsored by Senator Dan Gibbs (D-Silverthorne) and Representative Christine Scanlan (D-Dillon), the bill would extend the repeal date for the Forest Restoration Pilot Program and its related technical advisory panel from 2008 to 2012.

Gibbs created the Forest Restoration Pilot Program in 2007 as part of the Colorado Forest Restoration Act. It directed the Colorado State Forest Service, the Division of Forestry and the Department of Natural Resources to solicit proposals for experimental forest restoration projects that protect water supplies. It also established a technical advisory panel to assist the state forest service in the proposal selection process.

“Colorado is blessed with 22.6 million acres of forests. Sadly, 1.5 million of that forest now stands dead,” Gibbs said. “It’s heartbreaking to see the extent of the devastation in our mountains. With passage of this bill we’re tackling this crisis head-on; finding uses for all that dead timber will greatly reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires and will help protect our forests, our water, and our way of life.”

Gibbs is a Type II Wildland Firefighter and last year spent a month fighting wildfires in California.

SB08-71 next heads to the House for consideration.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

GIBBS HAS Rx FOR AILING COLORADO FORESTS


Senate OKs Forest Restoration Act

DENVER—Today the Senate gave initial approval to SB08-71, which would reauthorize last year’s forest health measure to address the devastating infestation of bark beetles in Colorado.

Sponsored by Senator Dan Gibbs (D-Silverthorne) and Representative Christine Scanlan (D-Dillon), the bill would extend the repeal date for the Forest Restoration Pilot Program and its related technical advisory panel from 2008 to 2012.

Gibbs created the Forest Restoration Pilot Program in 2007 as part of the Colorado Forest Restoration Act. It directed the Colorado State Forest Service, the Division of Forestry and the Department of Natural Resources to solicit proposals for experimental forest restoration projects that protect water supplies. It also established a technical advisory panel to assist the state forest service in the proposal selection process.

“Colorado is blessed with 22.6 million acres of forests. Sadly, 1.5 million of that forest now stands dead,” Gibbs said. “It’s heartbreaking to see the extent of the devastation in our mountains. With passage of this bill we’re tackling this crisis head-on; finding uses for all that dead timber will greatly reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires and will help protect our forests, our water, and our way of life.”

Gibbs is a Type II Wildland Firefighter and last year spent a month fighting wildfires in California.

SB08-71 will next be taken up by the Senate on third and final reading.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

RAINY DAY & PERMANENT FUNDS BILL MOVES FORWARD


Schwartz Steers Landmark
Measure Through Committee


DENVER—Today the Senate Education Committee approved a measure to create a rainy day fund and ongoing funds dedicated to higher education and local communities most impacted by oil and gas drilling in Colorado.

Sponsored by Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass) and Representative Bernie Buescher (D-Grand Junction), the bill would set aside money from the state’s energy boom to create lasting funds for Colorado’s future.

The proposed measure:
Directs more than $1 billion to communities impacted by oil and gas drilling over the next 10 years.
Designates more than $650 million in future Federal Mineral Lease revenue to capital construction projects at colleges and universities.
Creates a rainy day fund by depositing half of any future lease bonus payments into a newly created Higher Education Maintenance and Reserve Fund. Interest from this fund will pay for higher education projects. In the case of a recession, this fund could be tapped to ensure higher education operating budgets are protected.
Deposits the other half of any future bonus payments into local government permanent fund for impacted communities.
Directs more than $700 million to K-12 education and more than $150 million to the Colorado Water Conservation.

“We are standing on the cusp of an enormous opportunity to set aside money from our state's energy boom and to create lasting funds to address Colorado’s future needs in the event of an economic downturn,” said Schwartz. “We have worked hard on this bill to ensure that the outcomes will be beneficial to all stakeholders.”

The bill moves next to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

SCHWARTZ BRINGS BROADBAND TO RURAL COLORADO


DENVER—Today the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee passed a measure that would help bring broadband internet service to rural areas in Colorado.

Sponsored by Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass), the bill would direct Colorado’s Chief Information Officer to identify broadband telecommunications service areas within Colorado and to develop a map of those areas, with the goal of using the map to help plan the deployment of broadband service to unserved areas of the state.

“This bill is a huge step into the 21st century for Colorado,” said Schwartz. “Many parts of rural Colorado have fallen behind Front Range areas in access to broadband communications. Broadband communication is crucial for economic development, and extending this technology will dramatically improve health care and educational services and strengthen local businesses in rural Colorado.”

SB08-215 next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

CENTENNIAL CARE CHOICES CLEARS COMMITTEE


Landmark Public-Private
Health Care Proposal Advances

DENVER—Today the Senate Health and Human Services approved Centennial Care Choices, a proposal that aims to decrease Colorado’s uninsured population by helping individuals and businesses obtain affordable health insurance through balanced public-private partnerships.

Sponsored by Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Senator Bob Hagedorn (D-Aurora), the plan is targeted at Coloradans who earn too much to receive Medicaid but don't buy insurance.

“Colorado’s uninsured population is having a serious impact on the cost of health insurance and to the health care delivery system in our state,” said Hagedorn. “The majority of Americans do not want a big government health program, but something they can have faith in and something that gives them choices. Centennial Care Choices will get us there.”

The proposal includes:
A request for health insurers to create a menu of “Value Benefit Plans” (VBPs) that would be evaluated and endorsed by the state and would be made available to all Coloradans.
Assistance to low income individuals and employees of businesses through a state subsidy of a portion of the VBP premium for those who do not qualify for government programs and cannot afford health insurance.
Assurance that this program builds upon the existing employer-based health insurance system, does not encourage businesses currently offering coverage to discontinue it, and promotes administrative efficiencies.

Supported by Representative Anne McGihon (D-Denver), Senator Steve Johnson (R-Ft Collins), Representative Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs) and Representative Ellen Roberts (R-Durango), Centennial Care Choices next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

SAFER HOMES BILL CLEARS COMMITTEE


Hagedorn Seeks to Make Carbon Monoxide
Detectors Mandatory in Colorado Homes

DENVER—Today the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee approved a bill to require carbon monoxide detectors in new or resold Colorado homes.

Sponsored by Senator Bob Hagedorn (D-Aurora), the bill would require all single and multi-family dwellings sold after July 1, 2008 to be equipped with carbon monoxide alarms near bedrooms if the dwelling has a fuel burning heater or appliance, a fireplace, and/or an attached garage.

The bill would also require that any building permit issued for new construction of a single or multi-family dwelling, including rental properties, be subject to the same provisions.

“Carbon monoxide is called ‘the silent killer’ because it’s odorless and colorless,” said Hagedorn. “A cracked furnace box can be fatal to a family. A $20 carbon monoxide monitor can prevent long-term health complications or death caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. This is a common sense safety measure to save lives in Colorado.”

The bill would establish requirements for the maintenance and installation of alarms in rental properties, and requires that prior to renting to a new tenant a landlord must replace or repair an existing alarm as needed. A multi-family rental building may be installed with an alarm near the central heating unit in the building, if the alarm is able to notify a responsible person. The bill permits a local government to set more stringent requirements for the installation of alarms.

SB08-187 next heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Monday, April 7, 2008

BIOSCIENCE BOOST CLEARS SENATE


Bacon Moves Major Economic
Development Package Forward


DENVER—Today the Senate gave final approval to HB08-1001, which would extend the Bioscience Research Grant Program to make $26.5 million available to universities and start-up companies to energize one of Colorado’s most promising industries.

Sponsored by Senator Bob Bacon (D-Ft Collins) and Representative Jim Riesberg (D-Greeley), the bill would build on the award-winning grant program created in 2006 and re-authorized last year. The bill could provide as much as $150,000 per project to Colorado research institutions, accelerating the development of new technologies and new Colorado-based companies. It will also make up to $250,000 available to startup companies in Colorado.

“Passing this bill today means great progress for economic development in Colorado,” Bacon said. “Fort Collins is one of the top cities in the nation recognized for its strides in improving entrepreneurship development, which is a key part in retaining and growing local bioscience companies.”

The grant program is a major part of the economic development package announced last fall. A key economic driver for Colorado, estimates suggest the biosciences industry already contributes $415 million in state revenues each year. To date, the program has provided funding for 27 projects at institutions across the state, including CU, CSU, UNC, National Jewish Medical & Research Center and the University of Denver.

Research from the program has led to potential new treatments for schizophrenia, HIV, cancer, lung disease, and technologies that can be applied to environmental pollution, gait problems from chronic illness, optical microscopy and several other diagnostic tools and medical devices.

HB08-1001 next heads back to the House for concurrence.

Friday, April 4, 2008

DEMOCRATS BALANCE, PASS BUDGET

DENVER—Today the Senate gave final approval to the state budget for 2008-2009, making critical investments in education, health care and economic development.

Those investments include providing 50,000 more kids with health care, $7.2 million in grant funding for college-bound students, and $13.5 million for economic development projects.

“It takes courage to invest under the threat of economic downturn, but that’s what is needed to minimize the impact of the downturn,” said Senator John Morse (D-Colorado Springs), a member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee. “Some suggest there are torpedoes in the water – we will watch for them. We will take action to avoid them when they are really in the water headed toward us, but we will not avoid the mission out of fear.”

Some Budget Highlights:

Invested in our children by providing thousands more kids with access to the health care they need to grow and learn. Lawmakers also worked to secure an additional $8 million to provide services for disabled persons on a waiting list that far surpasses the number of people receiving aid. Based on recommendations from the 208 Commission, a $43 million increase in provider rates was secured so that more doctors would be willing to treat Medicaid patients.

Invested in Colorado’s education system to ensure that every child can learn in safe, healthy schools and be ready to compete in a global economy. This budget provides 22,000 additional full-day kindergarten slots and adds 70 new school counselors to work with those students through to graduation. In higher education, $63 million was secured to keep college within reach of every Coloradan who wants to attend, as well as $10 million in need-based aid and $53 million to expand the College Opportunity Fund to more than 30,000 students.

Invested in our economy by creating incentives to lure alternative energy companies to Colorado, bringing high-paying jobs and useful technologies to improve the quality of life in our state. Democrats are keeping Colorado competitive in a growing global economy by streamlining and cutting bureaucratic red tape for businesses and investing in new technologies.

“Damn the torpedoes!” said Morse. “They will not keep us from making Colorado the best place it can be to live, to work, to raise a family and to address the hardships in each of our own lives.”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

GIBBS SHREDS I-70 TOLLS










Senator Tells Front Range Lawmakers to Legislate in Their Own Backyards

DENVER—Today Senator Dan Gibbs (D-Silverthorne) and Representative Christine Scanlan (D-Dillon) ripped into proposals to toll along the I-70 mountain corridor.

Gibbs and Scanlan held a rally with mountain and Front Range community leaders in advance of hearings by the Senate Transportation Committee to consider two bills—one by Senator Chris Romer (D-Denver) and another by Senator Andy McElhany (R-Colorado Springs)—that would impose tolls on the interstate leading through mountain communities to Colorado’s ski resorts.

Romer’s proposal includes using tolls to encourage carpooling and decrease traffic during peak travel times and to add bus service. McElhany’s would charge a $5 toll each way to raise money to widen the highway.

Legislators that represent the areas that would be affected were outraged at not having been consulted about the proposals by the bills’ sponsors.

“Both of these proposals were rushed through the process without any analysis on the environmental, economic and community impacts that would result from tolling I-70,” Scanlan said. “This is not the right way to serve the people of Colorado.”

“The communities in the mountains and foothills that I represent won’t stand for these toll proposals,” said Gibbs. “Our state and federal tax dollars pay for I-70, and it amounts to double taxation for these Front Range legislators to stick their hands in our pockets too. The senators pushing these tolls want an easier cruise up to the mountains to go skiing on the weekends. The folks that will be hit hardest here are the people that actually live and work along this artery and depend on it to move goods and to go about their daily lives.”

Romer’s bill was killed on a 5-2 committee vote, but McElhany’s was approved 5-2 and now advances to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

HAGEDORN ANNOUNCES CENTENNIAL CARE CHOICES



DENVER—Today Senator Bob Hagedorn (D-Aurora) announced the introduction of Centennial Care Choices, a landmark proposal that would lay the foundation for implementing the recommendations of the Governor’s Health Care Reform Commission.

The measure aims to decrease Colorado’s uninsured population by helping individuals and businesses obtain affordable health insurance through balanced public-private partnerships.

The proposal includes:
A request for health insurers to create a menu of “Value Benefit Plans” (VBPs) that would be evaluated and endorsed by the state and would be made available to all Coloradans.
Assistance to low income individuals and employees of businesses through a state subsidy of a portion of the VBP premium for those who do not qualify for government programs and cannot afford health insurance.
Assurance that this program builds upon the existing employer-based health insurance system, does not encourage businesses currently offering coverage to discontinue it, and promotes administrative efficiencies.

“Centennial Care Choices is about doing what we can right now,” said Hagedorn. “It presents innovative ideas, maintains the assurance model, and offers the health care choices people demand.”

Hagedorn's proposal is supported by Representative Anne McGihon (D-Denver), Senator Steve Johnson (R-Ft Collins), Representative Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs) and Representative Ellen Roberts (R-Durango).

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

BILL TO REBUILD AND REPAIR COLORADO’S CRUMBLING SCHOOLS CLEARS COMMITTEE

DENVER—Today the Senate Education Committee unanimously passed HB08-1335, which would address health and safety issues by providing funds to rebuild, repair or replace our most dangerous and most needy K-12 facilities.

Sponsored by Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver) and Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass), the bill calls for a statewide needs assessment for the selection of schools and projects, and leverages as much as $1 billion in funds while keeping within our balanced budget.

“It’s time the state steps up to address the condition of our schools, especially those in our rural districts,” Schwartz said. “We included measures in this bill to give schools a fighting chance to teach their children in safe environments.”

Colorado's public school buildings across the state are aging. Hazards include failing roofs, structural problems, inadequate fire safety, faulty and dangerous boilers, asbestos and carbon monoxide contamination.

“By investing in school safety we are also investing in the overall education of Colorado students,” Groff said. “This bill not only offers a solution to crumbling schools, but it does it in way that is fiscally reasonable.”

The plan will leverage $30-40 million of revenue annually from the School Trust Lands to raise up to $500 million in capital. Local matching could raise another $400-500 million, bringing the total to nearly one billion dollars, enough to repair hundreds of existing schools or to build scores of new ones.
The School Trust Lands are property the federal government granted to the state in 1876 for the benefit of Colorado’s schoolchildren.

HB08-1335 next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

MORSE STANDS UP FOR SENIORS, GOP SITS DOWN


Funding for Seniors’
Fund Clears Committee

DENVER—Today the Senate Finance Committee approved HB08-1108, which would provide vital assistance to some of Colorado’s most vulnerable citizens.

Sponsored by Senator John Morse (D-Colorado Springs), the bill increases funding to the Older
Coloradans Cash Fund from receipts collected from the state sales and use tax.

“This bill is so important not only because it makes fiscal sense, but also because it is just the right thing to do—keeping seniors in their own homes make the most sense for the seniors, their families and the taxpayers,” said Morse. “I was speechless at the votes against funding this measure, and apparently so were the Republican members of the committee. I didn’t hear a single argument from them as to why our senior citizens aren’t worth the funding in this bill.”
The Older Coloradans Cash Fund was established in 2000 and is administered by 16 statewide Area Agencies on Aging. Program services include personal care, assisted transportation, congregate meals, home-delivered meals, homemaker services, adult day care, transportation, and legal assistance.

HB08-1108 next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

GIBBS GIVES BARK BEETLES THE FLICK


Senator Warns of Critical Wildfire
Risk in Colorado’s High Country


DENVER—Today the Senate Finance Committee approved HB08-1269, which would help reduce the threat of devastating wildfires in Colorado’s forests by providing incentives for products that use timber killed by the bark beetle infestation.

Sponsored by Senator Dan Gibbs (D-Silverthorne), the bill would provide an exemption from sales and use tax for sales, storage, and use of wood products, such as lumber, furniture, or wood chips that use wood from salvaged trees killed in Colorado by bark beetles. The bill would also provide cities and counties the option of exempting such sales from taxation.

“Colorado’s forests and watersheds are among our most critical resources and we must do all we can to protect them,” said Gibbs. “It’s heartbreaking to see the extent of the devastation in our mountain forests. With passage of this bill we’re tackling this crisis head-on; removing all that dead timber will greatly reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires and will help protect our forests, our water, and our way of life.”

Gibbs is a Type II Wildland Firefighter and last year crafted and passed the 2007 Colorado Forest Restoration Act, which also dealt with the bark beetle epidemic in Colorado’s high country.

The bill next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

WILLIAMS KEEPING PEACE IN COLORADO COMMUNITIES


DENVER—Today the full Senate gave final approval to SB08-192, which would create guidelines for residential picketing.

Sponsored by Sen. Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora), the bill would prohibit targeted residential picketing, establish restrictions on the size and number of signs that picketers can carry and specify the distance from a residence that picketers must remain.

“This bill is about peace and privacy for Colorado families,” said Williams. “The parameters created in this bill support and guide law enforcement in their efforts to keep our communities safe.”

Williams introduced a similar measure in 2001 that was killed by the Republican-controlled House. SB08-192 differs from the 2001 measure by providing additional clarification for law enforcement officers keeping the peace in residential areas. Violators could be charged with an unclassified misdemeanor and be subject to up to $5,000 in court fees.

The bill next heads to the House for consideration.

WILLIAMS EXPANDS ACCESS TO EDUCATION FOR RURAL STUDENTS


Bill to Offer Duel Enrollment
for Ute Students Moves Forward

DENVER—Today the full Senate gave final approval to SB08-20, sponsored by Sen. Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora), which would extend the “Fast College, Fast Jobs” pilot program to include American Indian students who live on Colorado’s Indian reservations.

The bill would open program eligibility for the Fast College, Fast Jobs pilot program by adding school districts and high schools that serve those students.

“We need to make sure that the programs that are offered through the educational system that provides optimal educational opportunities are inclusive to all students wishing to participate,” Williams said.

Fast college, Fast jobs allows enrolled students to receive a high school diploma and an associate’s degree or a career and technical education certificate within five years. Students take a mix of high school and higher education courses and must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average during four years of high school.

Currently, 23 school districts and 62 target schools are eligible to participate in the program.

The bill next heads to the House for consideration.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

SHAFFER GOES FOUR FOR FOUR


Senator Passes Four
Bills in One Afternoon

DENVER—Today Senator Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont) successfully pushed four pieces of legislation through two different Senate committees.

In a single afternoon, Shaffer faced the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee, where he won approval for four bills that address major issues for our military communities and for public health.

Tuition Assistance for Colorado National Guards—HB-1252 allows a member of the Colorado National Guard to receive tuition assistance when enrolled at a private institution of higher education in a certificate or degree program in homeland security.

Benefits for Military Spouses—HB-1180 extends unemployment insurance benefits to spouses of military personnel who are transferred as part of their military responsibilities.

Dental Assistance Programs for Seniors—HB-1116 requires the State Board of Health to set reimbursement levels for medical providers participating in the Dental Assistance Program.

Wastewater Exemption—HB-1073 allows the Water and Wastewater Facility Operators Certification Board to exempt certain facilities from the requirement to operate under the supervision of a certified operator.

In addition to successfully passing four bills, Shaffer also chaired the Judiciary Committee.

SENATE PRESIDENT TO RECEIVE EDUCATION WARRIOR AWARD


DENVER—On Thursday, Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver) will travel to New York City, where he will be honored with the Education Warrior Award by Democrats for Education Reform.

In addition to Groff, honorees will include New York Governor David Paterson and former NBA star Kevin Johnson, a charter school founder and candidate for mayor of Sacramento.

“These are transformational times in America,” said Groff. “The education reforms we are proposing in our state this year have the potential to transform the educational landscape in Colorado and be a model for the rest of the country. I look forward to working with education leaders across the nation as we continue to revitalize our education systems and move our states and our country forward.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

BACON SIZZLES IN FINANCE COMMITTEE


Major Economic Development
Package Clears Committee

DENVER—Today the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved HB08-1001, which would extend the Bioscience Research Grant Program to make $26.5 million available to universities and start-up companies to energize one of Colorado’s most promising industries.

Sponsored by Senator Bob Bacon (D-Ft Collins), the bill would build on the award-winning grant program created in 2006 and re-authorized last year. The bill could provide as much as $150,000 per project to Colorado research institutions, accelerating the development of new technologies and new Colorado-based companies. It will also make up to $250,000 available to startup companies in Colorado.

“Passing this bill today means great progress for economic development in Colorado,” Bacon said. “Fort Collins is one of the top cities in the nation recognized for its strides in improving entrepreneurship development, which is a key part in retaining and growing local bioscience companies.”

The grant program is a major part of the economic development package announced last fall. A key economic driver for Colorado, estimates suggest the biosciences industry already contributes $415 million in state revenues each year. To date, the program has provided funding for 27 projects at institutions across the state, including CU, CSU, UNC, National Jewish Medical & Research Center and the University of Denver.

Research from the program has led to potential new treatments for schizophrenia, HIV, cancer, lung disease, and technologies that can be applied to environmental pollution, gait problems from chronic illness, optical microscopy and several other diagnostic tools and medical devices.

HB08-1001 next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Monday, March 17, 2008

INNOVATIVE SCHOOLS ACT CLEARS SENATE



DENVER—Today the full Senate gave final and unanimous approval to SB08-130. Sponsored by Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver), the bill would allow schools and school districts to innovate in their approach to improving student performance by creating Zones of Innovative Performance (ZIPs).

If schools’ applications are approved by their local board of education, they could be granted the power to control budgets, hiring, curriculum, length of the school day and teacher compensation, for example. Upon local board approval, these schools would submit the innovation plan to the State Board of Education for designation as an innovative school or zone of innovation.

The bill serves as a tool to allow schools to assess their particular needs and to remove barriers by implementing strategies based on individual school assessments.

“A status quo approach is no longer working and in fact is hindering our ability to graduate our students with the skills they need to succeed in a global economy,” said Groff. “With passage of this bill, we have new tools to improve student performance and close the achievement gap by allowing more innovation in the way we educate our kids.”

The bill next moves to the House for consideration.

Friday, March 14, 2008

CHEAPER TEXTBOOKS ONLY A SIGNATURE AWAY

















College Textbook Affordability

Act Clears Senate

DENVER—Today the Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Senator Ron Tupa (D-Boulder) and Representative John Kefalas (D-Ft Collins), which would help lower the cost of textbooks in Colorado.

The College Textbook Affordability Act will prohibit college professors from ordering textbooks until they know how much the publisher is going to charge for those textbooks. The proposal also requires publishers to disclose changes made to each new edition of their textbooks. The bill will also prohibit publishers from bundling textbooks with additional materials such as CD-ROMs, as they are rarely used by instructors or students but significantly increase the price of textbooks.

“Passage of Senate Bill 73, the College Textbook Affordability Act, will save students and their parents hundreds of dollars a year in college expenses,” Tupa said. “This bill is an important piece of legislation that reduces the overall cost of higher education, by injecting competition into the otherwise “closed” college textbook market.”

Tupa represents Boulder, which has the highest student population in the state. Many of his constituents are already making enormous financial sacrifices to even enroll in colleges and universities.

The bill next heads to the Governor for signature.

EAGLES SPREAD WINGS, PASS SENATE



DENVER—Today the full Senate gave final approval to HB08-1304, which would make it illegal to hunt, take, or illegally possess bald eagles in Colorado.

Sponsored by Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass), the bill would make each violation an unclassified misdemeanor that would carry a fine of $1,000 to $100,000, up to one year imprisonment in a county jail, or both. Additionally, a fine of 20 points could be assessed against a violator’s hunting license.

Although the bald eagle will continue to be protected under the federal “Bald Eagle Protection Act” and the “Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” once the bald eagle is not listed as threatened or endangered, the penalties for illegally taking or possessing bald eagles will drop significantly.

“The recovery of the bald eagle in America is a major conservation accomplishment,” said Schwartz. “It is imperative that Colorado maintain its aggressive protection of bald eagles so that future generations can enjoy these magnificent symbols of America.”

The bill next heads back to the House for concurrence.

BACON BRINGS HOME….THE BACON

















Senator Completes

Hat Trick in Senate Ed

DENVER—Today Senator Bob Bacon (D-Fort Collins) successfully steered three bills through the Senate Education Committee. In a single afternoon, Bacon passed bills to allow more financial independence for schools, set parameters for charter school classification and clarify current education statutes.

“It was a good day to have three excellent successes and have in depth discussion on significant education issues,” Bacon said.

-HB08-1002 would grant investment authority and fiduciary responsibility to the Board of Trustees at Mesa State College and to the Board of Governors of the Colorado State University.

-HB08-1159 would establish good neighbor policies between the Charter School Institute and school districts to exchange information and create a process by which districts are granted and denied chartering authority. The bill would set guidelines on addressing interactions between a school district's local board of education, the State Board of Education, and the State Charter School Institute.

-HB08-1079 would amend Colorado statute by replacing the term “vocational education” with the term “career and technical education” to conform to federal law. The bill would amend money counted toward enterprise status for the Community College Board, and mitigate the likelihood of community colleges going in and out of enterprise status depending on the level of capital construction funding in any given fiscal year.

Bacon plans to spend his evening in an easy chair.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

WILLIAMS KEEPING PEACE IN COLORADO COMMUNITIES



DENVER—Today the Senate State Affairs Committee passed SB08-192, which would create guidelines for residential picketing.

Sponsored by Senator Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora), the bill would prohibit targeted residential picketing, establish restrictions on the size and number of signs that picketers can carry and specify the distance from a residence that picketers must remain.

“This bill is about peace and privacy for Colorado families,” said Williams. “The parameters created in this bill support and guide law enforcement in their efforts to keep our communities safe.”

Williams introduced a similar measure in 2001 that was killed by the Republican-controlled House. SB08-192 differs from the 2001 measure by providing additional clarification for law enforcement officers keeping the peace in residential areas. Violators could be charged with an unclassified misdemeanor and be subject to up to $5,000 in court fees.

The bill next heads to the full Senate for consideration.

UNUSED MEDS BILL PASSES COMMITTEE


Bill Could Help Keep Pharmaceuticals
Out of Colorado’s Drinking Water

DENVER—Today the Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed Senate Bill 190, which requires pharmacists to re-dispense certain unused medicines in licensed care centers.

Sponsored by Senator Lois Tochtrop (D-Thornton), the bill requires pharmacists, including those who are Medicaid providers, to re-dispense Medicaid medications that are returned and meet certain criteria related to packaging, proper storage, and expiration dates. Currently, pharmacists are not required by law to re-dispense returned medications.

“This bill will go a long way to alleviate some of the concerns about pharmaceuticals in Colorado’s drinking water,” Tochtrop said. “When pharmacists re-dispense unused drugs it saves taxpayer dollars in Medicaid costs and reduces the amount of pharmaceuticals going out in the garbage.”

The bill comes amid concerns that pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking-water supplies of at least 41 million Americans.

The bill next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

ROMER POSTS WIKI-BILL




Draft Bill Open for Comments, Criticism

DENVER—Today Senator Chris Romer (D-Denver) announced that he has posted a draft of the bill that will give every Coloradan the historic opportunity to help craft legislation to ease weekend traffic on Interstate 70.

Last month Romer launched an online forum to gather suggestions, comments and criticism on his proposal. Some of the bill’s provisions are a direct result of the information collected from citizens.

"We expect a certain amount of pushback from the trucking industry," Romer said. "Though small, this group has a powerful voice at the state Capitol, and it's time for the public to have their say."

Log on to view and comment on the Wiki-Bill at:

http://groups.google.com/group/fixI70now

INNOVATIVE SCHOOLS ACT GETS PASSING GRADE


DENVER—Today the full Senate gave initial approval to SB08-130. Sponsored by Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver), the bill would allow schools and school districts to innovate in their approach to improving student performance by creating Zones of Innovative Performance (ZIPs).

If schools’ applications are approved by their local board of education, they could be granted the power to control budgets, hiring, curriculum, length of the school day and teacher compensation, for example. Upon local board approval, these schools would submit the innovation plan to the State Board of Education for designation as an innovative school or zone of innovation.

The bill serves as a tool to allow schools to assess their particular needs and to remove barriers by implementing strategies based on individual school assessments.

“A status quo approach is no longer working and in fact is hindering our ability to graduate our students with the skills they need to succeed in a global economy,” said Groff. “With passage of this bill, we have new tools to improve student performance and close the achievement gap by allowing more innovation in the way we educate our kids.”

The bill will next be considered by the Senate on third and final reading.

FLY-AWAY TAX CUT SOARS OUT OF COMMITTEE


Bill Repeals State Tax Aircraft
Manufactured in Colorado

DENVER—Today the Senate Finance Committee passed HB08-1261, sponsored by Senator Bob Bacon (D-Fort Collins) to repeal state sales tax on an aircraft manufactured in Colorado and sold to buyers outside the state.

Colorado was formerly a leader in the aerospace industry, but in recent years aircraft manufacturers and their high-paying high-tech jobs have left the state in search of more favorable business environments.

“We want to reverse that trend in Colorado by creating incentives for the aerospace industry to grow,” Bacon said. “This bill is part of a package of bills aimed at revitalizing this sector of our economy.”

Currently, a newly-manufactured aircraft is subject to both sales and use taxes in Colorado. To avoid paying sales tax, some sellers would fly new planes out of Colorado to sell them, which proved too costly and cumbersome for aircraft manufacturers.

The bill next moves to the full Senate next for consideration.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

KELLER WINS NATIONAL AWARD


DENVER Chosen from a national pool of state legislators, Senator Moe Keller (D-Wheat Ridge) was named by the American Psychological Association (APA) Practice Organization as 2008 State Legislator of the Year.

Keller will be presented with an award by the organization on March 10 at the State Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. Keller is recognized for her leadership in successful legislation related to mental health equality and sponsorship of several bills directly benefiting citizens and consumers of psychological services in Colorado.

“Even though we have made a lot of progress in Colorado, there is still a lot of work to be done,” Keller said. “I would like to expand community based mental health treatment for individuals and their families and implement a triage program to handle the mentally ill taken to hospital emergency rooms.”

In 2007 Keller passed an extension of mental health parity coverage in Colorado to include nine additional mental disorders: PTSD, drug and alcohol disorders, dysthymia, cyclothymia, social phobia, agoraphobia with panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

“Considering her long-standing efforts to improve the mental health system in Colorado, I believe that she is an outstanding candidate for this distinguished award,” said John Mahalik, Ph.D., M.P.A., legislative committee chair & board member-at-large for the Colorado Psychological Association (CPA). “In addition to her legislative efforts towards updating and expanding mental health parity, Sen. Keller has demonstrated a passion for recognizing and improving human services in Colorado.”

Last year, Keller was presented an award by the APA as the 2007 CPA State Legislator of the Year.

BACON BOOSTS BUCKS FOR BIGGER BIOSCIENCE BANG


Major Economic Development
Package Clears Committee

DENVER—Today the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee approved HB08-1001, which would extend the Bioscience Research Grant Program to make $26.5 million available to universities and start-up companies to energize one of Colorado’s most promising industries.

Sponsored by Senator Bob Bacon (D-Ft Collins) and Representative Jim Riesberg (D-Greeley), the bill would build on the award-winning grant program created in 2006 and re-authorized last year. The bill could provide as much as $150,000 per project to Colorado research institutions, accelerating the development of new technologies and new Colorado-based companies. It will also make up to $250,000 available to startup companies in Colorado.

“Passing this bill today means great progress for economic development in Colorado,” Bacon said. “Fort Collins is one of the top cities in the nation recognized for its strides in improving entrepreneurship development, which is a key part in retaining and growing local bioscience companies.”

The grant program is a major part of the economic development package announced last fall. A key economic driver for Colorado, estimates suggest the biosciences industry already contributes $415 million in state revenues each year. To date, the program has provided funding for 27 projects at institutions across the state, including CU, CSU, UNC, National Jewish Medical & Research Center and the University of Denver.

Research from the program has led to potential new treatments for schizophrenia, HIV, cancer, lung disease, and technologies that can be applied to environmental pollution, gait problems from chronic illness, optical microscopy and several other diagnostic tools and medical devices.

HB08-1001 next heads to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

Facts: Colorado Bioscience Companies

  • Bioscience Companies: 380
  • Number of Bioscience Jobs: 16,000
  • Indirectly Supported Jobs: 20,204
  • Average Employee Salary: $63,000
  • Total Taxes Generated: $415.7 million
Source: Colorado BioScience Association

Monday, March 10, 2008

GIBBS KEEPS COLORADO MOTHERS WORKING


Workplace Breastfeeding
Measure Clears Committee

DENVER—Today the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee passed HB08-1276, which would make it easier for mothers to continue breast-feeding when they go back to work.

Sponsored by Senator Dan Gibbs (D-Silverthorne), the bill would establish a standard that employers provide basic accommodations for their breastfeeding employees. This would include providing reasonable break time for employees who are breastfeeding to express milk, and to make reasonable efforts to provide those mothers with a private location in which to express milk.

“This is about families, first and foremost,” Gibbs said. “Employees are more productive when they feel they can balance their work and family responsibilities. This bill is pro-family, pro-working mothers, and pro-business.”

According to the National Association of Working Women, women with infants and toddlers are the fastest growing sector of today’s labor force, with at least 70% working full-time. One-third of American mothers return to work within three months of giving birth, and two-thirds are back at work within six months.

The bill next heads to the full Senate for consideration.

SENATE HALF-TIME REPORT: DEMOCRATS DELIVERING FOR COLORADO

Mid-Session Report Shows Great Progress
Made & More Challenges to Overcome

DENVER—Today Senate Democrats released their mid-session legislative update, showing major progress made in the first half of the legislative session and a snapshot of the work yet to be done in the coming months.

“On opening day we talked about the mountainous challenges facing our state,” said Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver). “We have made historic strides up those mountains this year, and I’m excited to continue our work to improve our state’s economy, healthcare and education, as we press on to move Colorado forward.”

Economic Development & Renewable Energy

Bioscience Grants (Bacon) – Extends the grant program to make $26.5 million available to universities and start-up companies to energize one of Colorado’s most promising industries. HB08-1001 has passed the House and is currently before the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee.

Business Personal Property Tax (Williams) – Raises the business personal property tax (BPPT) exemption from $2,500 to $7,000. This will give 30,400 businesses much needed relief so they can invest more in their business. HB08-1225 is currently before the House Appropriations Committee.

Single Factor Tax (Shaffer) – Cuts bureaucratic red-tape for business owners by moving to one consistent tax. This bill has yet to be introduced.

Eliminate the “Fly-Away” Tax (Bacon) – Encourages aircraft manufacturers to come to Colorado by eliminating the sales tax imposed on airplanes manufactured in the state. HB08-1261 has passed the House and is currently before the Senate Finance Committee.

Homegrown Power (Shaffer & Isgar) – Promotes energy independence for agricultural producers and rural communities statewide by allowing the extra energy they generate to be credited back. HB08-1160 has passed the House and is before the full Senate.

Forest Restoration Act (Gibbs) – Continues to address the devastation of Colorado’s forests by the bark beetle epidemic and spearheads forest restoration projects to protect water supplies. SB08-71 is currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Healthcare

Covering Colorado Kids (Hagedorn) – Will provide access to more than 50,000 Colorado kids who are currently uninsured. SB08-160 is currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Health Care for Kids (Boyd) – Extends health care eligibility standards for people applying for Medicaid and CHP+. SB08-161 is currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Alzheimer’s Council (Boyd) – Creates a council to assess the current and future impact of Alzheimer's disease in Colorado, and to develop a state plan to address the impacts of the disease. SB08-58 has passed the Senate and is currently before the full House.

Autism Commission (Shaffer) – Creates an Autism Commission to study spectrum disorders, identify existing services and gaps in services for people with autism, and identify best practices in providing services. SB08-163 has passed the Senate and is currently before the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Funding for Developmental Disabilities (Keller & Morse) – The JBC has approved $6.8 million to fund services to the developmentally disabled. With federal matching funds, the state could add as much as $14.7 million to services provided to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Education

Building Excellent Schools Today (Schwartz & Groff) – Makes as much as $1 billion available to repair and rebuild Colorado’s crumbling schools. HB08-1335 is currently before the House Appropriations Committee.

Innovative Schools Act (Groff) – Encourages schools and school districts to innovate to improve student performance by creating Zones of Innovative Performance (ZIPs) free of certain district and state regulations. SB08-130 is currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Teach for Colorado (Shaffer) – Provides scholarship incentives for college students to pursue careers in mathematics, science, and other high-demand teaching areas in Colorado. SB08-133 is currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Early Intervention Services (Williams) – Provides early intervention services to children who are not yet identified with a disability, but need additional academic and behavioral support. SB08-89 has passed the Senate and is before the House Education Committee.

Streamlining Rural Education (Schwartz) – Streamlines the delivery of administration programs and services in rural school districts. Expands regional service areas throughout the state, leverages resources and encourages collaboration locally to meet varying needs and priorities. SB08-38 is currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

College Textbook Affordability Act (Tupa) - Prohibits professors from ordering textbooks until they know textbook prices, requires publishers to disclose changes made to each new edition of books, and prohibits publishers from bundling textbooks with additional materials. SB08-73 has passed the Senate and is currently before the House Education Committee.

WESTERN PAINTED TURTLE INCHES CLOSER TO BECOMING STATE REPTILE


Turtle Thrilled at Opportunity
to Serve Colorado

DENVER—Today the Senate gave initial approval to HB08-1017, sponsored by Senator Jennifer Veiga (D-Denver), which would designate the Western Painted Turtle as the Colorado state reptile.

“I was so impressed to see the students from Skyline Vista Elementary School engaged in the legislative process to bring this idea forward,” remarked Veiga. “It was great to see the kids talking and the Senators listening. I’m delighted that Colorado now has an official state reptile.”

The Western Painted Turtle is the largest of the four species of painted turtles is marked with red, yellow and olive designs on its shell. The turtle is unique to North America, Canada and Northern Mexico and lives in ponds, lakes, marshes, and in slow-moving rivers that have soft, muddy bottoms.

Though thrilled at the opportunity to serve, the turtle declined to comment further on the appointment.

The bill will next be considered by the Senate on third and final reading.

Friday, March 7, 2008

INNOVATIVE SCHOOLS ACT CLEARS SENATE APPROPRIATIONS


DENVER—Today the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 130. Sponsored by Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver) and Senator Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), the bill would encourage schools and school districts to innovate to improve student performance by creating Zones of Innovative Performance (ZIPs) free of certain district and state regulations.

If schools’ applications are approved by their local board of education, these schools could be granted the power to control budgets, hiring, curriculum, length of the school day and teacher compensation, for example. Upon local board approval, these schools would have the option of submitting the innovation plan to the State Board of Education for designation as an innovative school or zone of innovation.

The bill would serve as a tool to allow schools to assess their particular school needs to reform and remove barriers by implementing strategies based on individual school assessments.

“A status quo approach is no longer working and in fact is hindering our ability to graduate our students with the skills they need to succeed in a global economy,” said Groff.

“These schools and districts of innovation would have the potential to instruct students in exciting new ways,” said Spence. “I think we have the potential to improve student achievement by offering flexibility in the way education is administered.”

The bill next heads to the full Senate for consideration.