On April 14, lawmakers serving in the Colorado House powered through a marathon 12-hour debate on next year’s $34.1 billion budget package.
Out of 93 proposed amendments to the “long bill” — Senate Bill 21-205, the legislation funding the state government — around 15 were approved by a majority of House legislators.
The annual budget debate highlights major priorities from each party. Even though Democrats hold the majority on the Joint Budget Committee and in both chambers of the Legislature, some lawmakers from the party thought the budget was missing funds for certain programs. They passed amendments that added more money for domestic violence survivors, housing and other areas.
House Republicans, meanwhile, brought dozens of amendments that would have prioritized specific transportation projects, paid for anti-human trafficking efforts and eliminated a raise for state employees. Most failed to pass.
The next step in the months-long budget process will be for a conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers, who are the same people serving on the Joint Budget Committee, to decide on which amendments from their colleagues to keep. The Senate passed around a dozen amendments to the budget earlier this month, totaling more than $30 million. Combined, the House and Senate amendments amount to more than $50 million — which is just a fraction of the $34.1 billion in spending planned for the next fiscal year.
The House and Senate must approve the conference committee’s final report on the long bill by April 30. After that, Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, will review the budget and decide whether to approve the entire document. He may choose to veto individual line items.
Here’s a list of the budget amendments that passed in both chambers, which stand the best chance of being included in the conference committee report and the final budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Passed Senate and House
• A Senate-approved amendment that would add $10 million from the State Education Fund for K-12 students with severe disabilities also passed in the House.
“Many of us have heard from our constituents about how their students with special education needs have been severely impacted by the pandemic,” said Rep. Mary Young, a Greeley Democrat who sponsored this amendment in the House along with Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, a Highlands Ranch Republican.
• Another amendment that passed both chambers would increase the payments for emergency medical transportation and ambulance services. The budget already includes an across-the-board rate increase of 2.5% for all providers that contract with the state, but this amendment — championed by Reps. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn, and Colin Larson, R-Littleton — puts around $1 million toward an additional 2% for those medical transporters. The money would mainly come from federal funds and the state’s general fund.
• Both the House and Senate approved an amendment that would add $1 million from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund for a state grant program addressing prevention and early intervention for alcohol and drug addiction. In the House, Mullica and Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, sponsored this amendment.
• Democratic Reps. Iman Jodeh of Aurora, Jennifer Bacon of Denver and Tony Exum of Colorado Springs teamed up on an amendment to add $160,000 for a chief educational equity officer position in the Department of Higher Education. Before the pandemic hit, this position was going to be funded, but it had to be cut last year when lawmakers on the JBC were expecting a revenue shortfall, according to Sen. Dominick Moreno, the Commerce City Democrat who chairs the JBC.
• Exum also succeeded in getting House support for another Senate-passed amendment that would add $1.04 million for the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program. The existing state program helps fund local organizations’ prevention, intervention and education efforts around youth crime and violence, youth marijuana use, and child abuse and neglect.
“The TGYS is defined to support communities and youth during hard times like COVID-19, providing resources to help build communities back together,” Exum said.
• A bipartisan group of legislators including Reps. Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, and Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, brought an amendment to add $5 million for domestic violence survivors from the state’s general fund. The money would benefit the state’s Domestic Violence Program, which contracts with local organizations that help people leaving abusive situations and survivors in need of support.
• Reps. Larson and Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, passed an amendment that would add $2 million to a program that helps people with disabilities apply for federal benefits.
“My adult son wanted to apply for (Social Security Disability Insurance), and I helped him, and I spent a year of my life and many hours over that year,” said Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, who also urged her colleagues to vote for the Senate-passed amendment. “My son could not have done any of that on his own. People need help, and this bill will get them the help that they need.”
• Another amendment that passed in both the House and Senate would fund a $215,000 study contracted by the Department of Law to examine the availability of safe and affordable lending options in Colorado.
“Coloradans’ access to credit, including from non-bank options, is more important than ever — especially important to disadvantaged communities,” said Rep. Shannon Bird, a Westminster Democrat who sponsored the amendment along with Van Winkle.
• Reps. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams County, and Duran led a group of legislators who championed a Senate-passed amendment that would put $5 million specifically toward housing assistance for people who can’t verify lawful presence in the U.S. This money would come from the state’s general fund.
• Two Republicans — Rep. Janice Rich of Durango and Larson — got House support for adding $2 million of general fund money for school-based health centers. The Republican-led amendment also passed in the Senate.
• Democratic Reps. Matt Gray of Broomfield and Susan Lontine of Denver sponsored the House version of a Senate amendment to fund $650,000 for the civil rights division in the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies. The money would pay for more full-time employees, including investigators, for the Civil Rights Commission, according to Sen. Faith Winter, the Westminster Democrat who introduced the amendment.
• A bipartisan group of House lawmakers, including McKean and Bird, sponsored a Senate-passed amendment adding $3 million to fund body-worn cameras for local law enforcement agencies. The amendment lost on an initial voice vote in the House. But later, the amendment passed after the vote was recounted. The amendment — urged by lawmakers who represent rural parts of Colorado — would double the long bill’s current allocation for the program.
“The JBC took action on this issue and allocated $3 million for the small and rural counties to help them purchase these cameras,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat and Joint Budget Committee member who opposed the amendment. “So to my colleagues in rural and frontier areas, that is already funded through the long bill for $3 million.”
Passed Senate only
Not all of the amendments that passed in the Senate earned enough support to pass the House:
• One amendment sponsored in the House by Larson would have provided $2 million in additional funding for the School Bullying Prevention and Education Cash Fund.
“Our department (of education) has not asked for this funding,” said Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, who sits on the JBC. “We are making tremendous investments in behavioral and mental health for our schools.” The amendment failed.
• The House also voted down a Senate amendment that would have added $500,000 for a suicide prevention program within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In the House, the amendment’s sponsors included Rich, Larson and Rep. Marc Catlin, a Montrose Republican.
Passed House only
House legislators from both parties spearheaded dozens of their own amendments to the state budget, a few of which passed:
• One amendment by Rep. Andy Pico, R-Colorado Springs, along with Carver and Rep. Rod Pelton, R-Cheyenne Wells, would increase the per-diem rate the Department of Corrections pays county jails to house state prisoners.
The amendment would raise the daily rate from $59.42 to $80, for a total cost of $4.5 million from the state’s general fund. A similar effort failed to pass in the Senate.
• Democratic Reps. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez of Denver and Amabile sponsored an amendment adding $1 million from the state’s general fund for the Collaborative Management Program in the Department of Human Services. This program, created through 2004 legislation, encourages counties to improve services for families in the child welfare system by joining forces with courts, public health agencies, school districts and mental health organizations.
• Michaelson Jenet and Amabile also drew support from their House colleagues for an amendment putting $250,000 toward the Colorado Children’s Trust Fund. The fund allocates money each year to community-based organizations focused on preventing child sexual abuse and infant exposure to drugs.
• Reps. Duran and Tracey Bernett, D-Boulder County, won support for an amendment appropriating $13.5 million in federal funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program toward short-term cash assistance.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:20 p.m. April 30, 2021 to correct that an amendment to increase funding for body-worn cameras passed in both chambers of the Legislature on second reading.