Colorado legislature updates: House passes child tax credits, new school funding formula; police oversight bill stalls (2024)

Colorado lawmakers convened Wednesday with one week left in this year’s session of the General Assembly, giving them limited time to pass final bills on land-use reform, gun regulation, property tax relief, tax credits and other priorities. Here are updates on major action and key developments.

This story will be updated throughout the day.

Updated at 3:15 p.m.: A proposal to remake the state’s school funding formula so that it prioritizes at-risk students passed a formal vote in the House today — and along the way found that some of its staunchest opposition has softened.

The bipartisan proposal, House Bill 1448, would give school districts more money if they are rural and also prioritize money based on the number of students who live in poverty, are English language learners or have special education needs. Overall, the first major update to the formula in more than 30 years would kick in more than $80 million to school districts in the next year, gradually increasing that over the next six years to $500 million per year.

RELATED: Inside Colorado’s debate over school funding changes — favored by Denver, but not Douglas County

Opponents, including some school districts, had worried the funding would be unsustainable and overlook schools with large populations of at-risk students that otherwise are in wealthy districts. But a series of amendments Tuesday helped move the Colorado Education Association and some of the districts from opposing to more tepid positions.

The bill passed the House 54-10, with more Democrats than Republicans voting no. It now heads to the Senate.

“If disagreement helps us get to a place where we can be better and continue to work over time, so be it — and thank you for those disagreements,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, a Denver Democrat and lead sponsor.

Updated at 3:02 p.m.: Firearms and ammunition sold in Colorado will need a specific merchant code associated with payment for purchases under a new law signed this afternoon by Gov. Jared Polis. The law will help law enforcement track suspicious ammunition or firearms purchases — such as sudden stockpiling, supporters said.

Sen. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat whose son was killed in the Aurora theater shooting, helped carry Senate Bill 66. That killer bought thousands of dollars’ worth of ammunition and firearms in the days ahead of the massacre. Co-sponsor Rep. Javier Mabrey, a Denver Democrat, noted that the mass shootings at a concert in Las Vegas and inside a nightclub in Orlando were likewise previewed by the shooters’ spending ahead of the attacks.

“Now, we will have the ability for that to have a light shine upon it so that we can do something to prevent those (attacks),” Sullivan said at the bill signing ceremony.

The law, which goes into effect in August, was one of several bills this year aimed at reducing gun violence.

Among other bills signed into law by Polis was House Bill 1231, which earmarks nearly $250 million to build several medical campuses across the state. The new construction includes a college of osteopathic medicine at the University of Northern Colorado, a health institute tower at Metropolitan State University of Denver and a veterinary health education complex at Colorado State University.

Updated at 2:19 p.m.: Colorado lawmakers’ latest effort to increase police oversight has stalled, and sponsors today accused law enforcement leaders of trying to kill it. House Bill 1460, as drafted, would have required investigations of alleged misconduct and boosted protection for whistleblowers.

The police and sheriff advocates who had committed to work with bill sponsors in fine-tuning the measure — which cleared the House Judiciary Committee last week — haven’t followed through as promised, Rep. Leslie Herod said. Key provisions in the bill, including the requirement to investigate allegations of misconduct by officers, had been removed to appease law enforcement lobbying groups, though it still would aim to protect whistleblowers.

Herod and co-sponsor Rep. Jennifer Bacon, the assistant House majority leader, called for a House floor vote during the final week of the session. That one hadn’t been set yet was one of the factors in a brief walk-out by progressive Democrats this morning (more on that below, in the 11:08 a.m. update).

“This issue needs to be made public to force change,” Bacon said.

Law enforcement leaders “are trying to kill the bill. They don’t want the bill to move forward. They don’t want to have the conversation on the floor and in public,” Herod said. “We’ve taken the bill down to the studs and they have refused to come to the table,” she said, adding later: “We need to make sure officers who come forward are protected.”

Updated at 1:22 p.m.: After facing extensive opposition from Republicans, the Colorado House passed a bill early Wednesday afternoon that seeks to steer tax credits to lower-income families.

Part of a deal with Gov. Jared Polis that will include an income tax cut, House Bill 1311 directs tax credits worth up to $3,200 per child to families that qualify. Those credits get smaller depending on the parent’s income. The bill, approved 43-21 by the House, now goes to the Senate.

The tax credit would be funded out of the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights surplus, so long as there’s sufficient money to support it each year. That amounts to a $655 million cost this year and $695 million next year.

According to the most recent fiscal analysis of the bill, the credits would max out at:

  • $3,200 for each child under the age of 6 for single tax-filers who earn $15,000 or less in adjusted gross income and for joint filers who earn less $25,000 or less.
  • $2,400 for each child between the ages of 6 and 16 for single tax-filers who earn $15,000 or less in adjusted gross income and for joint filers who earn less $25,000 or less.

Taxpayers who make more than those thresholds can still benefit, but the credit decreases as incomes rises, reaching zero at about $90,000 of AGI for single filers and $100,000 for joint filers.

Democratic sponsors say the credits would cut child poverty in the state in half.

“Tax credit policies that benefit children and families, who could see up to thousands of dollars back under this bill, will ensure our tax code works for more Coloradans and help address childhood poverty,” Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, of Lakewood, said in a statement. He’s sponsoring the bill with fellow Rep. Jenny Willford and Sens. Faith Winter and James Coleman.

House Republicans — the leader of whom is co-sponsoring a bill to use TABOR surplus money for a $450 million income tax cut — repeatedly castigated the bill as a redistribution of wealth and an infringement on TABOR refunds.

Updated at 11:31 a.m.: A bill to prohibit landlords and property owners from using commercially available algorithms to set rents died Wednesday morning when the House and Senate could not reconcile their differences on the bill.

RELATED: Colorado Senate kills bill barring rent-setting algorithms as Democrats spar over company’s role in amendment

After House Bill 1057 passed the House, the Senate added an amendment that allowed landlords to use algorithms as long as the data was publicly available. House Democrats and progressives felt it undercut the intent of the bill, and its House sponsors — Denver Reps. Javier Mabrey and Steven Woodrow — criticized their Senate colleagues Tuesday afternoon. The algorithms are simply a more sophisticated version of collusion to push rents higher, they argued, and they pointed to lawsuits and investigations into the algorithm’s developer for alleged price-fixing.

On Wednesday morning, Sen. Julie Gonzales asked the Senate to accept the House version. That request failed by one vote. Democratic Sens. Kyle Mullica, Chris Hansen, Dylan Roberts, Kevin Priola, Rachel Zenzinger, and Joann Ginal (who introduced the amendment weakening the bill) joined Republicans to reject the House version and kill the bill.

After the vote failed, Gonzales popped her head into the antechamber where lobbyists watch proceedings.

“You made your money today,” she told them. (Read more here.)

Updated at 11:25 a.m.: House Republicans warned about the need to address property tax early Wednesday morning — and not going too far astray from the Property Tax Commission’s recommendations.

Lawmakers convened a bipartisan commission at last November’s special session to address long-term fixes to the state’s property tax system. It’s been meeting regularly since then. A draft bill to implement some of those ideas was informally introduced last week but was quickly sent back for edits to address concerns from commissioners about caps to property tax increases, versus cuts to collections — and how involved the state should be in replacing lost property tax revenue.

House Minority Leader Rose Pugliese said Wednesday morning that, while there’s been lots of work on the issue, “we’re finally at the point where we need to bring something forward.”

Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat and chair of the commission, said they are still working to incorporate more ideas from the commission into the draft before it is formally introduced either at the end of this week or early next week.

House Republicans, who are in a super minority in the chamber, last year walked out of the Capitol in protest over the bill that became Proposition HH. The caucus argued it was a last-minute policy being rammed through the General Assembly. Some Republican members didn’t write off the possibility of another walkout but also didn’t want to make it a routine protest. Instead, they put the ball in the court of Democratic majorities and hoped ideas that come forward have already been floated generally.

“If Democrats ramrod another major property tax measure where they’re dropping it three days before the end of the session, I think you will see us use every tool in our chest — even though it’s a small chest with few tools — available to us to push back and to show just how angry we are,” Rep. Matt Soper, a Delta Republican, said. “I would hope they don’t do that. I would hope what’s in the ether is already out there, but I also know how this building works.”

House Republicans also didn’t knock down rumors of another special session if property tax reforms aren’t addressed legislatively, which Pugliese said “nobody thinks is a great idea.” In particular, lawmakers want to stop Initiative 50, which would create a hard cap on property tax increases, because they worry it would blow a hole in state and local budgets.

Updated at 11:08 a.m.: Shortly after the House began its work Wednesday morning, a group of Democrats — mostly progressive legislators of color — walked off the floor over how their leadership has managed the calendar and how they’ve responded to social media attacks from Republican lawmakers.

The walkout, which involved a dozen House Democrats, led to an off-floor meeting with House Speaker Julie McCluskie and House Majority Leader Monica Duran. During that meeting, the legislators questioned why House Bill 1460, which seeks to address police misconduct and protect whistleblowers, was pulled from Wednesday’s calendar, and what Duran and McCluskie are doing to address abusive tweets from Republican lawmakers.

House Bill 1460 was pulled from Wednesday’s calendar, Duran told Democratic legislators, because she still had questions about it and because the bill, which has been castigated by law enforcement groups, would likely trigger a lengthy floor fight for which she needed to plan. But with a week left in the session, the bill’s backers said that time was running out.

“This is not about a lack of appreciation of you and your work. This is about bringing to your attention the urgency of loops that need to be closed,” Rep. Jennifer Bacon, a Denver Democrat and the co-sponsor of House Bill 1460, told Duran and McCluskie. ” … This is not an indictment of you and your leadership; this is us saying that we have things on the table that we need to understand how we’re going to resolve because of the consequences of how it’s impacting us.”

Rep. Naquetta Ricks, of Aurora, also advocated for House Bill 1373, which would change what types of businesses can sell liquor.

Rep. Stephanie Vigil, of Colorado Springs, asked why House leadership was allowing votes on bills sponsored by House Republicans who’d been abusive on social media.

In particular, Democratic legislators called out Republican Reps. Brandi Bradley and Ryan Armagost (who is the chair of the House committee charged with investigating workplace harassment). Bradley, of Littleton, has repeatedly falsely accused her Democratic colleagues of supporting pedophiles, comments that Democrats have said have spurred death threats. Over the weekend, Bradley also questioned the faith of two Jewish Democrats who signed a letter calling for immunity for protesters on the Auraria campus.

Armagost recently falsely linked a separate Democratic lawmaker to the terror organization Hamas.

“It’s the reality that our workplace harassment policy does not cover any activities outside of this building. I think decorum means absolutely nothing in these halls anymore, and that is a travesty,” Rep. Jenny Willford, who’s been specifically targeted by Bradley on social media, told leadership.

“I’m going to be really clear: We are holding our schools to a higher account when it comes to bullying and harassment than we are holding ourselves,” added Denver Rep. Leslie Herod.

The meeting comes as time runs down on the legislative session, which ends May 8, and as long-simmering frustration about social media attacks reach a boiling point. Compounding the tension in the Capitol is the introduction of several complex policies in the final days, including the long-awaited property tax measure.

McCluskie, who’s been on the receiving end of criticism on social media from one of the meeting’s attendees, Rep. Elisabeth Epps, said the social media comments from some Republicans “have been awful.”

“We’ve been very challenged to address the social media issue in this chamber,” she said. “So I will ask you all to rise above. We have been working on it. We will continue to work on it.”

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Colorado legislature updates: House passes child tax credits, new school funding formula; police oversight bill stalls (2024)
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