Denver Women's Commission
Legislative Wrap-Up - 2001
June 1, 2001
Prepared by Chaer Robert
For Colorado Woman News
Is the glass half full or half empty? What do you think of this year's State Legislative Session?
Colorado had a chance to have a women's commission again. Lawmakers turned it down. The wage non-discrimination act (SB 41) would have charged a commission with studying pay equity tools and sponsoring a pilot program for business wishing to implement pay equity. The bill would also have made it illegal to fire employees for disclosing their wages. Without knowledge of others' salary, even the current Equal Pay Act is of limited value.
For two years, legislators made permanent reductions in the state income tax rate--starting from 5% to 4.63%. Since only those with income high enough to be tax benefit from this, lawmakers created a refundable State Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits the working poor. Again this year, however, lawmakers chose not to make the credit permanent (HB 1058). It stays conditional on having state excess revenues.
The state budget was tight this year. Consequently, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Bill (SB 63) proposed using private money to match the 65% federal money to provide cancer treatment for some uninsured women. Last fall, Congress approved this deal too good to be refused, but Colorado refused it. This year 50 low-income uninsured Colorado women will be diagnosed with cancer through state-run program, but then have to go begging for surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Look next year for each of these bills to be reintroduced.
As explored in last month's column, many small steps were approved to address the needs of families on welfare (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). HB 1004 will allow women returning to work to keep TANF eligibility for a year to ease the transition from welfare to work. Counties were encouraged to help families sign up for transitional Medicaid. Counties were encouraged to talk with women leaving TANF to ensure there are aware of transitional support services. Counties will have more flexibility in using TANF funds to fund community programs serving the poor.
A flurry of health related bills made some positive changes. The Child Health Plan (CHP) was restructured to be far more affordable to low-income families. Bureaucratic and financial barriers discouraged too many families. Ten of thousands of children who should be on CHP have gone uninsured. Low-income children will have more access to routine dental services from dental hygienists.
After reviewing a number of different proposals, bipartisan support succeeding in passing legislation (SB 224) which will make small group health insurance more available and affordable. Qualifying as a legitimate business group of one will be based on gross income, rather than taxable income. Health-based rate hikes for business groups of one were voted down this year. Requirements for insurers in rural areas were relaxed (HB 1396), though consumer protections were built in. Telemedicine was added as a billable resource to help deliver health care in rural areas.
Domestic violence legislation (HB 1184) developed out of a concern for children who witness domestic violence. Courts will give families information about resources that can help them deal with the impact that family violence has on their children.
Marriage and divorce are common topics at the statehouse. Quietly, the legislature approved a proposal to determine temporary spousal maintenance based on a formula. This (SB 154) should give separating couples one less source of conflict. Separation is almost always financially challenging.
Not approved was the requirement for one year of counseling before separation ("Dr. Laura Bill"). A TANF "dowry" bill would have let counties give TANF recipients a financial bonus for getting married. A proposal to ban or punish cities and governmental entities for having benefits for domestic partners died an early death.
Disappointed? A recent Denver Post poll showed only 1 in 5 Coloradans had EVER talked to a state legislator. A telemarketer no-call list was killed by this legislature, then reintroduced and passed. Why? One legislator noted he had received over 300 calls on the telemarketing issue. Contrast that with a comment by a legislator who voted against the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Bill, " No one talked to me about this bill”. Don't expect legislators to vote your way, however strongly you feel, if you do not communicate with them.