Produced by The Colorado Indepedent and KGNU, here are today’s headlines.
Governor John Hickenlooper gave his seventh State of the State address Thursday to a packed joint session of the General Assembly.
Hickenlooper focused on transportation, health care, rural broadband and jobs in his 38-minute address. But he also made one plea to lawmakers to reclassify the state’s hospital provider fee, a bookkeeping maneuver that would free up millions of dollars for road and bridge repairs, K-12 education and financial support to rural clinics and hospitals. Senate Republicans, including new Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City, have already said they don’t intend to look at that issue this year.
Hickenlooper asked lawmakers to come up with ideas on how to pay for a nine billion dollar wishlist of transportation projects, saying the Republican insistence upon trying to squeeze the money from the existing budgets through cuts was not realistic.
“Tell us who loses healthcare or what schools have to close to add a mile of highway,” Hickenlooper said.The 71st General Assembly started Wednesday and runs through May 10.
Also in legislative news… The Colorado Independent reports that lawmakers in both parties are reacting to the incoming administration of Donald Trump by readying new state laws.
On the Democratic side, Thornton Rep. Joe Salazar, who might consider a run for governor next year, says he’s working on legislation to make it harder for Trump to turn some of his campaign rhetoric into reality in Colorado.
Specifically, Salazar plans to propose a law that, if passed, would prohibit state and local resources from being used to assist any federal program that might set up a registry for Muslims, create internment camps, or attempt to identify individuals by their religion.
He says he began drafting the bill in September when Trump was ramping up his rhetoric about Muslims. “I said, you know what, if this guy wins I better have something prepared,” Salazar told The Colorado Independent.
On the Republican side, GOP leaders used the opening day of the session to unveil a top priority: Repealing Colorado’s health insurance exchange that was set up under Obamacare. Trump campaigned on scrapping Obamacare and Republicans in Congress are already taking early budget votes to clear the way.
Parker Republican Sen. Jim Smallwood, a first-year lawmaker who is leading the charge to repeal the exchange, says the law, if passed, wouldn’t completely wind down Connect for Health until the end of 2018. In an interview, Smallwood told The Independent he would rather scrap the exchange, which covers nearly 160,000 Coloradans, and let everyone on it buy health insurance through the federal Healthcare.gov portal, since they are paying federal taxes to support it anyway.
He said he believes the state’s healthcare exchange is failing. Smallwood acknowledged, however, that if Trump and congressional Republicans do deep six Obamacare, then it’s an open question whether Healthcare.gov will even exist.
The governor also sent a message to Senate Republicans who have suggested the state repeal the Colorado health exchange: Don’t do it. In his state of the state speech, Hickenlooper pointed out that 94 percent of Coloradans now have health insurance, and he said he prefers a Colorado plan instead of a repeal and replace solution from Washington.
“I think most of us would agree that the last thing we would want is Congress making all of our decisions around healthcare,” he said.
Jefferson County School District Superintendent Dan McMinimee is on his way out after two years. The Jefferson County Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday night to start a national search for his replacement.
McMinimee was hired by the previous conservative majority board from Douglas County, a controversial decision but one that current school board members claim played no role in his dismissal.
Mcminimee still has six months left on his contract but left before the meeting was over and didn’t indicate whether he will stay that entire six months. Board members were unwilling to say what performance issues led to them deciding on a new course, but indicated that Mcminimee is not trusted by many in the Jefferson County community.
The Jeffco school board also said no, a second time, to a proposed charter school that is backed by the Walton Foundation, the family foundation started by Walmart head Sam Walton.
The board initially turned down the application for the Great Work Montessori School, which would have been based in eastern Lakewood, based on concerns about the school’s financial viability. The charter appealed that decision to the State Board of Education in November, and last month, the state board directed the Jeffco board to work with the charter board on its budget issues and rethink the decision.
But the charter board was unable to allay fears that it still doesn’t have enough commitments from area families to make the school’s budget work. The charter board said last night it had 60 letters of intent for the early childhood education program, but only 19 for kindergarten through grade three, and it needed at least 161 commitments for that age group.
The school board’s decision to reject the application does not come without risk; the charter can appeal again to the state board of education, and the state board can order the district to accept the charter.
For these stories and more, visit The Colorado Independent.