Afternoon headlines, March 10 2017

Hundreds of Coloradans fearful over losing their health insurance in the face of the Republican Obamacare replacement plan filled the gym of Denver’s West High School last night for a meeting with Democratic state lawmakers.

The event, billed as a town hall on transparent and affordable health care, offered attendees a chance to hear from Colorado Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne and state representatives Daneya Esgar, Susan Lontine and Janet Buckner.

The main concern, Duran told the audience, was “How do we do the best job that we possibly can at the state level to make sure that people have access to healthcare, and that we protect the most vulnerable?”

Lawmakers described statewide legislation in the works to protect Coloradans, such as a bill to allow residents to receive a yearly supply of contraception at once and to require annual cost and expenditure reports from hospitals, in order to increase transparency.

Several audience members shared their stories of living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, of losing loved ones to diseases like cancer and of having their life savings decimated by exorbitant healthcare costs.

The majority of questions from constituents focused on concerns about losing coverage, increased insurance premiums and what will happen to people with preexisting conditions. Lawmakers said that as the Republican proposal stands, patients will not be excluded from coverage due to preexisting conditions, but there are concerns about how the measure will be funded.

One woman asked how Colorado could protect those with chronic illnesses from losing their coverage under the new proposal. Lieutenant Governor Lynne offered assurance that the state will offer assistance, even if the federal government does not.

“Even if there is some change in Washington, we will work with our insurance department to make sure that we cover preexisting conditions,” she said.

The Colorado General Assembly has now come to the midpoint of its 120-day session.

At halfway through the session that ends on May 11, lawmakers are just now starting the heavy lifting on major issues such as transportation funding and fixing state laws that builders and developers claim make it too easy for homeowners to sue for defective construction.

Those lawsuits, builders say, prevent them from building more affordable, owner-occupied housing, such as condos.
Homeowners groups claim builders just want to avoid taking responsibility for shoddy construction.

The next 60 days will be dominated by action on those construction defects bills, funding billions of dollars in transportation needs, and their biggest task of all: passing a balanced budget.

That’s not going to be easy. Gov. John Hickenlooper, in his budget submittal last November to lawmakers, pointed out the state is facing a 500 million dollar gap between revenues and expenses, and state budget writers also have to deal with a shortfall in property taxes that pay for public schools of up to $170 million.

In related news … President Kevin Gran-thumb of Canyon City is taking a lot of heat for sponsoring a bill that would raise state sales taxes in order to fund $3.5 billion list of badly-needed fixes to state and local roads.

Reaction to the transportation bill introduced Wednesday was fast and especially furious from the General Assembly’s most conservative members, as well as from outside organizations like Americans for Prosperity.

Gran-thumb’s second in command, Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker immediately said he would be a no vote on the bill. House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Castle Rock Republican, also announced his members would oppose the $677 million increase in sales taxes, which would raise the rate from 2 point 9 percent to 3 point five-two percent, beginning in 2018, if approved by voters.

Rural Republican Representative Jon Becker of Fort Morgan said this week that rural lawmakers have to stand up and say quote not only no, but hell no! We are not standing for this any longer. Go find efficiencies in the state budget before you ask us for more money unquote.

The bill’s first hearing date has not yet been announced.

Oil and gas companies in Colorado reported more than 500 industry-related spills in 2016, a new report finds.

The Center for Western Priorities, an environmental advocacy group, has developed a tool called the Colorado Toxic Release Tracker to analyze spills data from the state oil and gas regulatory agency.

The 2016 figure marks a decrease from the 615 spills reported in 2015, but experts predict that rising oil prices will increase drilling activity and lead to more spills in upcoming years. The tracker found that just five companies accounted for nearly half of the spills across the state.

Noble Energy was the biggest culprit, responsible for about one of every six spills. Noble was also responsible for the most spills in 2015. The vast majority of these incidents occurred on private lands, with about 9 percent reported on federal lands and just 2 percent on state land.

Fully half of the spills occurred in Weld County, a hotbed of drilling activity. Jesse Prentice-Dunn of the Center for Western Priorities said that as drilling ramps up again in Colorado, it’s important that residents understand the risks and impacts to the the environment and groundwater.

“Thankfully,” he said, “Colorado has strong reporting requirements for oil and gas-related spills.”

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