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Policy Update 2016 – A Summary of the Legislative Session

By: Carol Meredith, Executive Director

Colorado’s state legislative session ended on May 11 this year – here’s a cheat sheet that provides key highlights from each bill we monitored and the subsequent outcome.  Each year, chapters of The Arc in Colorado create a Policy Agenda that guides our work in the fall.  The Agenda is also referenced during the legislative session and for various matters with departments of the State throughout the year.

Although the legislature does not convene until January, our work begins in November with the budget.  The Governor submits a budget to the General Assembly for consideration every year.

Budget 2016 - Business Concept. Budget 2016 - Business Concept on Blurred Background. Budget 2016. Business Concept on Blurred Background. 3D Render. Toned Image.

Then in November and December various departments of the State come before the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) for a briefing and then return after a couple of weeks for a hearing to answer questions from the JBC.

Our chapter tries to attend these sessions in person with the intent to focus on budget matters that affect our community. The Department of Education, The Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, The Department of Human Services, and The Department of Public Health and Environment all play a vital role in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families.  I have spent years trying to understand how these different departments work and the way the money flows to people with IDD.  I also help newer staff members become acclimated to this effort by having them attend hearings and briefings with time to ask questions of more seasoned staff.

This year was a bit anticlimactic on the budget front, as work over previous years ensured that funding for Early Intervention, the Children’s Extensive Support Waiver and the Supported Living Services Waiver is available for all who are eligible and want to access the respective services.  There is still a long waiting list for the Home and Community Based Services for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (HCBS-DD) (aka Residential or Comprehensive) Waiver for adults.

However, this year we received several emergency resources so at least adults with IDD will not be left homeless and alone if their parent or caretaker becomes ill or dies.  We did pay close attention to a proposed reduction in the rates for primary care physicians under Medicaid.  It is hard enough to find a doctor who will take Medicaid at the current rates, so a reduction would have made things unmanageable for many of the people we support and serve.

Here’s a quick take on certain bills that created the most buzz:

  • Senate Bill 38 (community centered board (CCB) transparency bill) This matter took up a lot of time this year and required skilled negotiation and compromise. However, we are pleased with the results.
  • Senate Bill 169 (72-hour mental health holds) We were very concerned about this bill because at first glance it looked like they wanted to put people with mental health and behavioral disorders in jail.  It was a fascinating hearing and our Board President, Terri Barnhart provided important testimony to the committee.  However, we still aren’t sure if the Governor will sign this bill.
  • Senate Bill 196 (inclusive higher education pilot) What a wild ride! We started working on this bill last fall and it didn’t get introduced in the legislature until very late in the session, but it sailed through and the Governor signed it into law yesterday!

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  • Senate Bill 77 (employment first for persons with disabilities) Our chapter was heavily involved in the development of this bill. And the process was the epitome of “sausage making” – lots of changes before and after it was introduced, but it finally got passed and is scheduled to be signed on June 10.

As always, we would love to hear from you about your thoughts regarding our public policy work.  If you have any comments, questions, or concerns please feel free to call or email us.

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