State lawmakers waited until the last minute to decide some of the biggest issues hanging over the capitol for the 2015 legislative session. They worked overtime to get everything wrapped up before a Wednesday midnight.
Reducing the number of standardized tests public school children take has been a top priority for lawmakers in both parties this session. The Governor even mentioned it during his January State of the State Address. Despite overall agreement on the problem, the issue wasn't resolved until the final moments of the session, after months of negotiations and numerous bills on the topic.
Test reform wasn't alone, priorities such as a felony DUI bill, reauthorization of the Office of Consumer Counsel, a change in the law for rain barrels, and a salary increase for elected officials were all on the docket in the waning moments of the General Assembly.
Severance taxes are what energy companies pay to the state for the oil, gas, coal, or other minerals they take out of the ground. Each year that adds up to a lot of cash. In Colorado, half of that money is supposed to go back to cities and counties impacted by energy development.
That's why when Colorado lawmakers voted to take $20 million away from the state’s severance tax fund for the 2015/2016 state budget, Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer wasn't happy.
"Every year they try to take it. So we fight this every year," said Kirkmeyer.
A bill to raise the salaries of state lawmakers and other elected officials quietly made its way through the statehouse in the final days of the legislative session. It cleared the House with the minimum number of required votes. It had virtually no debate in either chamber.
"People in my district, whenever I tell them how much we make as lawmakers up here, are astounded. They are kind of appalled," said Senator Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City), he voted for the measure in the Senate where it passed with a wider margin, 21-14.
Colorado will soon have a felony DUI law on the books. On the final day of the legislative session the Senate passed House Bill 1043 [.pdf] to create a felony DUI for habitual drunken driving offenders. Legislators had failed to pass it for several years, this time it passed the Senate 34-1.
"There are some holes this legislation is never going to fill there are family members we're not going to get back, and tragedies we can't undo," said Senator Mike Johnston (D-Denver) the bill's sponsor.
Only a handful of states don't have a felony DUI law. Some lawmakers were worried about the costs of incarceration, other legislators wanted to make sure the state provided proper treatments and interventions before giving jail time.
The debate over continuing the Office of Consumer Counsel won't be decided until the final day of the state's annual legislative session. The Office represents taxpayers when utility and telecom companies go to the state to ask for rate hikes. Without Senate Bill 271 [.pdf], the Office of Consumer Counsel would sunset and go away altogether.
Determining the scope of the office's role though has been contentious.