DENVER — Majority Democrats declared that state-supervised public option for Coloradans seeking health insurance and an ambitious family medical leave proposal headline their agenda for the 2020 legislative session that started Wednesday.
Democrats who won control of both chambers in 2018 also vowed to build on legislation passed last year to extend health care coverage, lower rates and put a spotlight on hospital and prescription drug prices.
Minority Republican leaders are wary of more state involvement in insurance markets and any involvement when it comes to business leave offerings for their employees. Again, they insisted that Colorado’s roads get their fair share of state spending without raising taxes.
In their opening day remarks, leaders from both sides professed a desire to avoid a repeat of a rancorous 2019 session in which Democrats overhauled regulation of the oil and gas industry and passed a gun bill designed to remove firearms from persons deemed by a court to be a threat to themselves or others.
But they also managed a little scolding after Republicans last year resorted to parliamentary filibusters, followed by a series of failed recall efforts against a handful of Democratic lawmakers.
“Let me be clear: There has been a brazen effort to not only divide this chamber but dismantle it, from Washington-style political antics to pointless attempts to upend the will of voters,” Senate President Leroy Garcia declared. “To those set on continuing their commitment to gridlock, let me say your efforts have been, and will continue to be, a fruitless endeavor.”
Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert insisted the floor tactics are designed “not simply to expend time” during the four-month session but to “vie for discussion” with Democrats pursuing their aggressive agendas.
Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, has thrown his weight behind creating a state health insurance option complementing private plans. Some proposals could require hospitals and insurers to participate in some way. Both Holbert and House Minority Leader Patrick Neville vowed to fight the initiative.
Democrats also want to build upon a two-year reinsurance program, adopted last year, designed to reduce health insurance premiums by having state and federal funds cover high-cost individuals.
Colorado’s largest business chambers fended off efforts to create a paid family leave program last year, questioning the cost to employers and workers and the fiscal soundness of the proposal.
A post-session study committee raised the potential price tag for a leave program to as high as $2 billion but left lawmakers to consider the amount of leave time available for workers as well exempting employers with their own leave plans from the program. Employer concerns persist about participation mandates.
The perennial debate over roads spending could take a few more twists this session. Holbert insisted that, at the very least, $300 million be allocated to transportation this year, an amount equal to last year. He also reiterated the benefits of bonding to generate billions of dollars for large-scale projects.
Democrat Faith Winter, chair of the Senate Transportation & Energy Committee, has suggested allowing municipalities to craft their own transport spending programs. She also wants lawmakers to examine fees for electric vehicle users, especially commercial fleets, as well as ride-share firms. Voters repeatedly have rejected new state taxes for transportation.
Democratic House Speaker KC Becker vowed to pursue legislation to strengthen industrial air pollution monitoring and penalties for violations, as well as gun measures requiring reporting of lost or stolen firearms and ensuring safe storage. Both Becker and Garcia pledged ambitious efforts to support job creation in green energy such as solar and wind and to help workers affected by the energy transition from coal.
Polis delivers his second State of the State address on Thursday.