Interstate 70 transportation

Half of the new lanes of the Central 70 Project between Colorado and Brighton boulevards in Denver are close to being finished Tuesday, May 11, 2021, as the other half of the old viaduct stand to the right. The demolition of old viaduct will then begin afterward with the highway projected to be finished in the fall of 2022. 

Sights and sounds from the final day of the Colorado General Assembly.

The 73rd Colorado General Assembly adjourned Tuesday with historic moves made on transportation, tax policy and mental health care. Looking forward, these are the bills that are likely to ripple across Colorado's political, economic and physical landscapes for years to come.

Transportation

Senate Bill 260 - After years of trying to put money into addressing clogged interstates and crumbling rural routs, lawmakers succeeded with a $5.4 billion investment contained in the most significant transportation in at least 20 years. Now Coloradans and visitors will be paying a raft of escalating new fees on gasoline, deliveries, electric vehicles and more for years to come. The debate now shifts to asphalt versus transit and alternative modes of getting around.

Marijuana concentrates

House Bill 1317 - The bipartisan bill marked the first real effort in recent years to impose new regulations on the marijuana industry. And with the bill investing in research into the effects of high-potency THC on the developing brain, it could well mark the start of a trend, not just a blip.

Bias-motivated crimes

Senate Bill 280 - The bill sought by 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner, a Republican, and driven by Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields makes it easier to prosecute hate crimes when bias is not the whole motivation but an obvious factor. The bill elevated the crime of harassment from class 3 to a class 1 misdemeanor if the harassment is deemed even partially motivated by bias based completely or in part based on the victim's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation.

INSIGHTS | Big bucks were the big game at the Colorado General Assembly this year

Victims services

Senate Bill 292 - Lawmakers provide $15 million from the federal stimulus for several victims services programs for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, including the Department of Human Services, the Department of Public Safety and the Victims and Witnesses Assistance and Law Enforcement Fund, as well as to local district attorneys for victims and witness assistance.

Gun laws

Senate Bill 256 and House Bill 1298 - The pair of Democratic-led bills were viewed by the left as good policy to store and transfer firearms, respectively, but they also might prove to be a galvanizing factor for sagging GOP prospects in a state that has turned steadily more blue. In 2013, gun laws fired up the Republican base and cost three Democratic lawmakers, including the Senate president, their seat.

Behavioral Health Recovery Act 

Senate Bill 137 - The $114 million package covered a lot of ground, including addiction services and crisis response, but it had a strong lean toward helping young people, including $2.5 million for elementary school programs and $5 million for specialized, high-quality youth residential help and therapeutic foster care. 

"Gov. Polis, Reps. Dafna Michaelson-Jenet and Chris Kennedy, and Sens. Brittany Pettersen and Faith Winter and their staff have worked day and night over the last week to find the best solutions for Colorado’s kids," Heidi Baskfield, the vice president of population health and advocacy at Children’s Hospital Colorado, stated. "There is much more work to do in the years ahead, but we believe this bill will begin to address the state of emergency our kids are facing."

Farmworkers

Senate Bill 87 - Legislation that provides labor protections for farmworkers, including overtime pay, which could put a further squeeze on small farms and ranches, should they be reported. Republicans and other opponents predicted the worst. "The idea that the people in these cities or the state of Colorado believe that agriculture would be that cruel and mean to individuals that don’t have the same economic background is saddening,” said Rep. Marc Catlin, a Republican from Montrose and vice chair of House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee.

Health insurance

House Bill 1232 - It started out as an attempt to set up a public option, aka Medicare for All-type health insurance plan, to be developed and operated by the state government, if health insurers, doctors and hospitals could not find a way to reduce health insurance premiums in the individual and small group market by 20% over two years.

Major opposition, including a multimillion-dollar ad campaign, drove the sponsors (Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail), along with the governor, to the table to negotiate. 

What disappeared first was the public option, leaving a state-developed health insurance plan that would start in three years if the premiums didn't reduce by 15%. However, that insurance plan would include price caps, set by the commissioner of insurance, on the services provided by doctors and hospitals. The intent is to provide health insurance to the uninsured, the undocumented and to address historic equity issues, although that argument failed to persuade Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who despite voting for the bill had nothing good to say about it. It will be 2025 before anyone knows whether the health care industry was set up to fail, as health insurers have claimed. 

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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