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Afternoon Headlines May 5, 2017

Posted: May 5, 2017 at 4:07 pm by , in Headlines

The Colorado Senate this morning gave preliminary approval to a hard-fought compromise measure that would spare rural hospitals from the budget chopping block.

The bill, which centers around reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee into a government-owned enterprise, seeks to reverse a $264 million cut to hospitals statewide. That cut was part of the $26.8 billion budget sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper Wednesday.
If approved by the House, as expected, the measure, “Sustainability of Rural Colorado,” would save close to a dozen rural hospitals, fund rural schools, give small businesses a break on business personal property taxes, and set aside money for long overdue transportation projects.

But perhaps its most sought-after achievement — at least by Democrats — lies in the reclassification of the hospital provider fee. The fee helps cover the cost of medical care for low-income Coloradans and is matched by federal dollars. Making it its own government enterprise, moves roughly $600 million to $700 million out from beneath state constitutionally-mandated revenue limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Republicans have been opposed to reclassification for that reason — they see it as an end-run around TABOR.
If the bill becomes law, the state can collect more revenue starting July 1 to spend on roads, education and other projects.

A sweeping rewrite of the state’s energy policy that shifts the focus from renewables to coal, natural gas and nuclear energy is moving through the state Senate this week.

The, measure, sponsored by Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction, would allow the state’s Energy Office, slated for closure, to stay open for another four years. But that extension comes with caveats, such as repealing certain renewable programs managed by the energy office.

Scott said that with renewables such as wind and solar becoming mainstream, the energy office needs to shift its focus to other energy sources.

The measure is now up for debate in the state Senate, and with the energy office’s renewal on the line, it puts Democrats in the tough position of approving an energy policy with which many might not agree.

Congressman Mike Coffman of Aurora was the only member of Colorado’s Republican congressional delegation to vote Thursday against a national healthcare bill that attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Coffman said he was concerned that “a small percentage of those with preexisting conditions may still not be protected.”

The vote was an about-face for Coffman, who is up for re-election next year in a suburban Denver-area district that slightly favors Democrats. On March 24, Coffman supported an earlier Trump-RyanCare health-care proposal that ended up going nowhere.

At a town hall meeting three weeks later, angry constituents blasted him for supporting that plan, which the Congressional Budget Office said would cause 24 million Americans their health insurance coverage. Coffman told constituents at the town hall that he would not support any future health care bill that would eliminate protections for people with preexisting conditions. “I will protect those with pre-existing conditions. … I will maintain that commitment,” Coffman said.

The new health care bill passed the U.S. House and will go on to the Senate where it awaits an uncertain fate.

Coloradans who live on the border of Weld and Boulder counties have a warning for Boulder County residents facing new oil and gas development: Stay vigilant.

On Monday afternoon, Boulder County’s five-year oil and gas moratorium came to an end. While a crowd of anti-fracking activists protested the change at the county courthouse, one developer had already begun laying the groundwork to drill more than 200 wells.

Denver-based Crestone Peak Resources is the fifth-largest producer in the Denver Julesberg basin along the Front Range. In March, the company said it planned to drill up to 216 wells on a 12 square mile area near Highway 287 and Colorado 52, between Longmont and Lafayette.

Crestone has been granted nine months to develop its plan, working with the county commissioners, residents and state regulatory agencies. But homeowners who live near Crestone wells say the company is problematic and have filed complaints against it for noise, smell and vibrations.

Crestone spokesman Jason Oates said in response to the criticism that not one of the more than 130 complaints the company has received from various community members since 2016 has led to a finding of violation. “We are meeting all the rules, but the rules are not a guarantee that people are going to be accepting or tolerate that level of noise.”

Oates stressed the temporary nature of drilling. “Again, it isn’t permanent, and we’ll try to get out of here as quickly as possible,” he said. “But for the time being, this is something that will just have to be endured.”;

For more on these and other local news stories go to ColoradoIndependent.com.