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The Colorado state Legislature, now about halfway through its work season, has seen national debates spill into the local realm, with a concealed-carry bill and an increasingly protracted discourse over sexual harassment showing as flashpoint issues in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, efforts to improve Colorado’s health-care system have seen developments, and proposals to tackle the state’s opioid crisis have varied in success.
The regular session — the 120-day term when bills can be passed — started Jan. 10 and will end in early May.
A party-line 3-2 vote in a state Senate committee, with Republicans in the majority, stopped a proposal to allow one Colorado area to create a supervised-injection facility — where people with substance-use disorders can safely inject drugs — on Feb. 14.
Previously, the proposal was to allow Denver specifically to create the facility. No other place in the United States has such a site, according to the Colorado Legislative Council staff, but there are around 100 of them in 66 cities among nine countries, according to committee member state Sen. Cheri Jahn, independent from Wheat Ridge. San Francisco and Philadelphia this year have moved closer to establishing such facilities.
Health professionals would have overseen the facility, making sure to reverse overdoses if they happen, said state Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, in November. They’d also have been able to refer people to resources to address their substance-use disorders.
But Republicans were skeptical of the bill, which was part of a package of six proposals aimed at addressing the opioid crisis that were up for consideration this session.
Another of the bills, SB 18-022, aims to limit the amount of opioid medication a health-care practitioner can prescribe. The Senate on a bipartisan vote passed that bill, authored by Republican state Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, on Feb. 22, according to a news release. It then proceeded to the House.
For initial prescriptions for situations like getting a tooth pulled, a surgery or other short-term issues, prescriptions would be limited to a seven-day supply for the first prescription for a person who has not been prescribed opioids in the last 12 months, the release said. Individuals with chronic or long-term conditions would be among the exceptions.
The bill would require practitioners to access the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, before prescribing the first refill prescription for an opioid, except under some cases. The PDMP collects information submitted by pharmacies about prescribing and dispensing medications, and about patients.
Denver DA balks at request
In a twist the Legislature’s process gave no sign of foreshadowing, state Senate President Kevin Grantham urged Denver District Attorney Beth McCann on March 1 to open investigations into recent sexual-harassment claims against lawmakers.
The DA’s office responded on March 2 that it does not have jurisdiction to “investigate or enforce civil matters or workplace policies.” McCann said the office is not initiating an investigation based on Grantham’s letter.
Criminal sexual misconduct should be criminally investigated “apart from the separate authority” of the Legislature to investigate claims of misconduct on its own, the DA’s letter said.
Grantham, R-Cañon City, responded March 6 in a letter citing laws and court cases he said enable the DA to open investigations without victims requesting them through police. McCann responded in yet another letter March 8 reiterating her earlier points that her office would investigate claims if accusers go through the standard police process and that the Legislature has its own authority to dole out discipline.
State Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, argued in a statement that Republicans are dismissing the Legislature’s independent investigations as invalid for political gain.
Former state Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton was expelled March 2 by the House in the first expulsion of a House member since 1915. Sens. Jack Tate, Randy Baumgardner and Larry Crowder have all faced accusations in recent months.
Concealed-carry conversation abounds
After the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, a push to allow concealed carrying of firearms in Colorado schools was stopped in the House in committee on a 6-3 party-line vote Feb. 21 with Democrats in the majority.
But a bill that would allow law-abiding people the right of concealed carry without a permit — but not on school grounds — is still alive. Senate Bill 18-097, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Tim Neville of Jefferson County, was introduced Jan. 22 and passed the GOP-majority Senate on a party-line 18-17 vote on March 8. It now moves to the Democrat-controlled House.
“The idea behind constitutional carry is that you should be able to carry a concealed handgun without applying for government permission,” Neville said, according to a news release.
Keeping health-care costs honest
A bill to increase price transparency for free-standing emergency departments — which patients often confuse with urgent-care facilities only to be charged emergency-room fees that can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars more — passed the Senate March 5.
SB 18-146 requires FSEDs — which are sometimes operated by hospitals at separate, off-campus locations or run independently of a hospital system — to provide individuals with information on cost of treatment, the individual’s right to reject treatment and the ability to ask questions about options and costs.
The proposal would require that information to be explained by a staff member or health-care provider orally and would include that the facility is an emergency-medical facility, that it’s not an urgent-care center or primary-care provider if it doesn’t include an urgent-care clinic at its location and that it will treat a person regardless of their ability to pay.
The bill also requires locations that don’t have urgent-care centers to post a sign that says, “This is an emergency medical facility that treats emergency medical conditions.”
After determining that a patient does not have an emergency-medical condition or after treatment has been provided to stabilize such a condition, the facility must provide information on whether it accepts programs like Medicaid, what health-insurance provider networks and carriers the facility participates with and the price information for the 25 most common services it offers.
The bill proceeded to the House.
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