Colorado Democrats claim progress on children’s issues |

Colorado Democrats claim progress on children’s issues

DENVER ” Majority Democrats say the Legislature has made significant progress in helping Colorado children during the 2008 session, which wraps up this week.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, a Denver Democrat, said lawmakers have delivered on the promise he made to children on the session’s opening day in January.

“I said their lives would be better, and they will,” Romanoff said, citing the passage of bills to improve education, health care, energy and the environment.

Senate President Peter Groff, another Denver Democrat, said children will also benefit from bills reducing the number of statewide school assessment tests and rewarding innovative schools and teachers.

Republican leader Mike May of Parker countered that measures aimed at the state’s booming oil and gas industry ” including tighter regulation and reduced tax breaks ” will mortgage children’s futures.

“How is it that you help kids when you raise fees and hurt their parents?” said May, the House Minority leader. “This is a trickle-down economy, and the damage done to the parents will trickle down to the children.”

Romanoff said the big successes this year included $1 billion to fix crumbling schools, money to send 25,000 more children to preschool and kindergarten, increases for higher education and a plan to streamline education from preschool through college.

He said health care will be improved with legislation to hold the insurance industry accountable for improperly denying claims, require prior approval of insurance rate hikes and use standard health-insurance identification cards to cut costs.

Lawmakers also passed bills to promote renewable energy and protect the environment, including laws allowing homeowners to install solar or wind power and still be connected to electric utilities, helping communities cope with bark beetle infestations that have ravaged forests and providing low-interest loans for renewable energy.

Legislators hope $26 million for grants for universities and startup companies to develop bioscience industries will boost the economy, along with a plan that would eliminate the business personal property tax for 30,000 small businesses.

The clock runs out on the 2008 session at midnight Wednesday, but legislative leaders hope to adjourn a day or two early.

That could be in jeopardy, however, because of a fight over a bill needed to keep the Public Utilities Commission in business.

At issue is a provision requiring utilities to justify higher rates outside their territories.

Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Aurora, said municipalities are trying to remove the rate justification requirement. He is blocking the bill to prevent that, and that could force the Legislature to remain in session.

House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, said if Kopp should reimburse taxpayers for the extra time lawmakers spend at the Capitol if the issue isn’t resolved.

Also this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee will consider creating an insurance ombudsman’s office to help Coloradans with everything from resolving claims problems to shopping for a policy.

Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, said the position would be paid for with a 15-cent annual charge on every insurance policy in the state. It would apply to all kinds of insurance, including health and auto policies. The measure must pass another vote before it could go back to the House for consideration of that change.

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