The First Regular Session of Colorado’s 72nd General Assembly convened on Friday, January 4, 2019. Unlike 2018, when PERA’s sustainability was a major issue at the State Capitol, the PERA Board of Trustees has not identified any legislative agenda items for consideration this year. However, bills will undoubtedly be introduced that could impact PERA.
As is typical, the first day of session was mostly ceremonial; more substantive policy discussions will begin in the coming weeks. Legislators elected in November were sworn in, and each chamber officially approved their new leaders, who were chosen shortly after the election. The leaders of each caucus then addressed the entire body regarding their priority issues for the next 120 days. Finally, the first group of bills were officially introduced. The election’s results should drive the agenda this session, and there are many issues likely to dominate the headlines through May 3.
Governor Jared Polis, sworn-in January 8, made education a key part of his campaign, particularly full-day kindergarten funding and expanded access to preschool. This pledge, coupled with Amendment 73’s failure at the ballot box and the Democratic sweep of the legislative branch, will lead to a much broader debate on education funding. Improving teacher salaries, increasing per-pupil funding, paying down the negative factor, and addressing teacher recruitment and retention are all issues that lawmakers will seek to address.
Two measures (Proposition 109 and Proposition 110) intended to increase funds dedicated to transportation projects failed on the ballot in November. This result automatically triggers a provision contained in 2018 legislation that places another measure on the ballot in November of 2019, unless this General Assembly acts on the issue first.
The 2019 session will surely see bills introduced dealing with health care. Many candidates campaigned on expanding access, improving quality, and driving down costs.
As a result of the State Senate flipping from Republican to Democratic control, bills from the past two years that had passed the Democratic-controlled House but were postponed indefinitely (killed) in the Republican-controlled Senate are likely to reappear. Examples include a nationwide effort to strike the criminal history box on employment applications, known as ‘ban the box;’ and the creation of a Family Medical Leave Insurance Program, or ‘FAMLI,’ that is intended to offer a state solution for paid family leave. Other proposals have included creating a state-sponsored retirement program for private sector workers and giving local governments the ability to set their own minimum wage.
Energy and the Environment
Though in November voters rejected Proposition 112, a statutory measure intended to increase setbacks for new oil and gas development to 2,500 feet from occupied structures or vulnerable areas, this will still be an issue at the Capitol. Other proposals mentioned by lawmakers and interest groups include a moratorium on new drilling permits and giving local communities more control over oil and gas projects, as regulation of them is currently a matter of statewide concern.
TABOR and Gallagher Amendments
Finally, many key policy issues are dependent on increased funding in an environment that is fiscally limited under current law. An interim committee met throughout the summer of 2018 to try and come up with solutions to address funding challenges by recommending changes to the Gallagher Amendment. It will be key to watch whether there is political appetite in the General Assembly to pass such a bill, and ultimately assess whether voters would approve any changes in November.
PERA staff will be actively tracking 2019 legislation closely, so stay tuned for updates throughout the session.