Legislature 2017: Funding increase for higher ed; hospital provider fee eases budget pressure

CU-sponsored legislation being signed into law
By Staff

Joining Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signing of Senate Bill 297 at CU Boulder are, from left, Frances Draper, Tanya Kelly-Bowry, Kim Hunter Reed, Kachina Weaver and Heather Retzko.
Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado
Joining Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signing of Senate Bill 297 at CU Boulder are, from left, Frances Draper, Tanya Kelly-Bowry, Kim Hunter Reed, Kachina Weaver and Heather Retzko.

Colorado’s 2017 legislative session concluded May 10, bringing resolution to several pieces of CU-sponsored legislation and clarity for the state’s 2017-18 budget.

“Many of the bills introduced had major state-wide policy implications which generated complex, passionate and at times politically charged discussions,” wrote Tanya Kelly-Bowry, vice president for Government Relations, in a post-session communication. “Several bills were introduced on behalf of CU in our continued efforts to bring more operating efficiency and cost savings to the university. We also worked hard to stave off or kill pieces of legislation that would have negatively impacted our operations or created unfunded mandates.”

Results of the final budget as passed by lawmakers:

  • $16.7 million statewide increase for higher education operations, including $7.8 million in additional funding for CU through the higher education allocation model.
  • $3.9 million statewide increase for financial aid, including $2.5 million in anticipated additional funding for eligible CU students based on the CCHE allocation.
  • $4.1 million for controlled maintenance projects on the CU and AHEC campuses.

“Of particular importance this session were several bills aimed at alleviating the significant budget challenges in our state, including transportation, roads and funding for rural hospitals. In coordination with Vice President Todd Saliman, we worked strategically throughout the session with leadership in both chambers on a critical bill, SB 17-267,” Kelly-Bowry wrote.

With its passage, a long-sought change to the hospital provider fee was achieved. By reclassifying the fee as an enterprise, pressure on the state budget will drop significantly when Colorado’s economy is robust.

“This is great news for CU and all of higher education,” Kelly-Bowry wrote. “While state budget writers will continue to face difficult choices every year, they will not need to implement budget cuts to pay for TABOR rebates for several years due to the changes in this bill. If the bill had not passed, hospitals throughout Colorado would have been cut by $256 million next year.”

The bill was named “Sustainability of Rural Colorado,” a reference to the positive impacts on rural hospitals and schools, which stood to otherwise face severe funding challenges.

Below are highlights from the 2017 legislative session, including the names of sponsoring legislators; please visit this page for a full list of bills and links to bill text.

SB 17-40 Public Access to Government Files (Kefalas/Pabon): This bill modernizes the Colorado Open Records Act by requiring governmental bodies to provide requested records electronically when feasible. This bill was sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper for signature.

SB 17-41 Higher Education Employment Contract Terms (Priola/Willett, Hooton): This CU-initiated bill addressed higher education employment contract terms. Prior law had limited higher education institutions to awarding only six term-employment contracts per campus and system. Contract length also was limited. SB 17-41 enables more flexibility by exempting contracts for positions funded by revenue from auxiliary activities, such as athletics. In CU’s case, all contracts still must be approved after review by the Board of Regents in a public meeting. The board retains the ability to decline to offer contracts to any auxiliary employee and to decline individual contracts on a case-by-case basis. The bill was signed by the governor.

SB 17-62 Student Free Speech Public Higher Education Campuses (Neville, T./Bridges, Humphrey): This bill eliminates the use of “free speech zones” on college campuses. This bill has been signed by the governor.

SB 17-74 Create Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT) Pilot Program (Garcia/Esgar): This bill, initiated by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and stakeholders from CU Anschutz, creates the MAT expansion pilot program, administered by the University of Colorado College of Nursing, to expand access to MAT to opioid-dependent patients in Pueblo and Routt counties. The bill appropriates $500,000 from the Marijuana Cash Fund over two years. This bill was sent to the governor for signature.

SB 17-193 Research Center Prevention Substance Abuse Addiction (Jahn, Lundberg/Rankin, Pettersen): This CU-initiated bill appropriates $1 million to CU Anschutz to establish a national center for substance abuse education, research and treatment. The bill will provide critical seed funding that will help leverage additional federal and private support. This bill was signed by the governor at CU Anschutz; read more in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences blog.

SB 17-296 Faculty Oath Section in School Finance (Hill/Pettersen): Currently, upon hire, all higher education faculty and K-12 teachers in the state must take a notarized sworn oath to both the United States and Colorado Constitutions. The CU initiated section of this bill will make the process more efficient by allowing the oath to be taken electronically. This will save costs and time in hiring. This bill was sent to the governor for signature.

SB 17-297 Revising Higher Education Performance Requirements (Lambert/Hamner): The bill repeals a performance-based funding plan for institutions of higher education that was included in the master plan for Colorado postsecondary education. It also realigns performance contracts more efficiently with the current funding formula. The CU budget office was instrumental in the negotiations on this bill which helped lead to its passage without opposition. The bill was signed by Gov. Hickenlooper at CU Boulder; read more in CU Boulder Today.

HB 17-1004 College Credit for Military Education and Training (Michaelson Jenet, Danielson/Garcia, Hill): This bill requires all campuses to have a policy for awarding credit for military learning. It also directs the GE Council to establish common standards for GT pathways designation of military prior learning. This bill was sent to the governor for signature.

HB 17-1081 Olympic Athletes Colorado In-state Tuition (Nordberg/Fenberg): This bill makes it permissible, but not mandatory, for institutions of higher education to offer in-state tuition for Olympic athletes training outside of Colorado Springs. CU supported the United States Olympic Committee in introducing this bill and it has been signed into law by the governor.

HB 17-1094 Telehealth Coverage under Health Benefit Plans (Buck, Valdez/Crowder, Donovan): The bill removes impediments to the enactment of telehealth in Colorado and makes telehealth work for all medical purposes. This bill has been signed by the governor.

Related: CU Boulder Today’s Q&A with the federal relations team on President Trump’s 2018 budget.