State Lawmakers Have Introduced Over 270 Bills. Here Are The Big Ones We’re Following | KUNC

State Lawmakers Have Introduced Over 270 Bills. Here Are The Big Ones We’re Following

Jan 23, 2020

Colorado's legislative session is just over two weeks old, and lawmakers have already introduced more than 270 bills and counting. With hundreds more bills expected to land in the coming weeks, here are some of the ones we are starting to watch at the state Capitol.

School safety

Some of the very first bills introduced this session are a response to the deadly shooting at the STEM School Highlands Ranch, which occurred in early May. One bill would spend $50,000 to better promote Safe2Tell, the state's anonymous school safety tip line. The program received more than 20,000 tips last school year. According to the state, 33 of the calls came from individuals in need of crisis intervention or counseling.

Other measures up for debate this session include a proposal to let children take days off from school for mental health reasons, and another that would increase funding for behavioral health training at schools.

Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, says the behavioral health training would help teachers spot mental health issues early on.

"Most people don't get diagnosed with their behavioral health issues until maybe they are incarcerated or until they are an adult," Fields said. "So this gives us an opportunity to be proactive and identify resources and support for kids before they find themselves in desperate situations."

Tobacco regulations

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are getting behind a proposal to increase the minimum purchasing age for tobacco products in Colorado from 18 to 21. This comes as lawmakers continue to stress over the state's high teen vaping rate. Last session, teenagers pleaded with the legislature to take action. And Gov. Jared Polis himself is now vowing to "take on big tobacco."

Last year, lawmakers made it easier for local governments to pass their own restrictions on tobacco and nicotine sales, including raising taxes on them without fear of penalty from the state. But the new bill introduced in the House goes further, setting the statewide legal age at 21. It also increases the penalties on businesses that sell cigarettes and nicotine vaping products to minors.

Death penalty repeal

Democrats appear to be on the verge of finally repealing the state's death penalty this year after their past efforts came up short. Some bipartisan support is fueling the new momentum: the latest version of the repeal has the support of at least three Republicans.

For some lawmakers, the issue isn't so much a political stance. For example, Republican Sen. Kevin Priola cites his Catholic faith as the reason he is supporting the repeal. Gov. Polis is also backing the effort, calling capital punishment "archaic" and costly to taxpayers. He notes the state has carried out an execution since 1997.

Don't hold the phone

You see it all over Colorado: Drivers staring down at a smartphone or talking on it while their car is zooming on a highway. Lawmakers failed last year to pass new restrictions on using mobile phones while driving. Under current state law, only drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from holding a cell phone while they are behind the wheel. A measure to apply that rule to all drivers failed last year. But lawmakers are trying again this session. The rules would include an exemption for hands-free devices. A 2017 state survey found that 40% of drivers admitted to checking a message on their phones while driving, and 53% said they had talked on a cell phone.

Still to come

Some of the biggest, most contentious proposals have yet to drop. Lawmakers are gearing up for a battle over a public health insurance option, which would create a new plan on the state's individual marketplace.

Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, said the new plan will help drive down premiums by having the state set hospital reimbursement rates. Residents in Roberts' district on the West Slope have only one insurance plan to choose from on the individual market. He thinks having more competition would also bring down prices. But the state's hospital association is opposing the idea, saying it could destabilize the market.

Another issue still looming is a paid family leave proposal, which stalled last year because of concerns from the business community. Lawmakers are set to debate the framework of a plan, including how many weeks of leave employees should receive to care for a newborn or a sick relative. Gov. Polis says the legislature needs to submit a proposal that does not put any financial risk on the state.

Is there a bill you're interested in learning more about? Email Capitol Coverage reporter Scott Franz at scott.franz@kunc.org

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Eleven public radio stations particpate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.