2012 Legislative Wrap-up

Bill signing ceremony highlights legislation benefitting military personnel, the elderly

The Colorado Statesman

Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed a handful of bills addressing the needs of military personnel and their families, as well as measures to assist seniors most in need.

One of the legislature’s centerpiece measures sent to the governor was a bill that makes it easier for military personnel to vote.

Senate Bill 62, sponsored by Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, and Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, improves on a pilot program established in 2009 that developed an Internet-based voting program for military personnel serving overseas starting with the 2012 election. SB 62 initially sought to transfer $100,000 from a state cash fund to the pilot program. But an improved budget picture allowed for funding through the annual budget.
Instead, SB 62:

HB 1059 is set out alongside a group of Governor Hickelooper’s personalized pens, as observers await his official signature.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

• Adds an identification card issued by the federal Veterans Health Administration as an allowable form of identification for voting;

Gov. John Hickenlooper, flanked by members of the military as well as legislators and lobbyists, signs one of two bills, outside the Governor’s Mansion.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

• Allows overseas military voters in a hostile war zone to request a mail ballot by providing an officer with a verbal or written request; and

State Rep. (and bill co-author of HB 1350) Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, praises the Governor’s efforts. Waller, himself, is a military spouse.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

• Requires county clerks to accept an unsigned federal postcard application for a voter if an officer provides a signed statement stating that the military voter made the request.

As he finishes signing one of the two bills that day, Gov. John Hickenlooper elicits a jovial response from CU Regents Irene Griego and Sue Sharkey, Colorado Adjutant General H. Michael Williams, CU Regent Joseph Neguse and (partially seen) Major Hope Adler, USAF.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

The bill was signed on April 12.

State Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, refers to her notes while listening to Governor Hickenlooper.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

“Our servicemen and women work to defend the rights and freedoms of Americans everyday,” said Looper. “Granting them easier access to ballots and protecting their right to vote is more than just common sense, it’s a moral obligation.”

Secretary of State Scott Gessler also praised the signing of the legislation. “SB 62 made changes to state law so that we can continue our leadership role in serving military and overseas voters, making sure that our service members can cast a vote, no matter where they are in the world,” he said.

Lt. Governor Joe Garcia arrives for the bills signings of HB 1059 and HB 1350.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

The legislature also sent to the governor House Bill 1059, sponsored by Looper and Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, that allows military spouses stationed in Colorado to practice their licensed profession for up to one year without state licensing. The spouse must be licensed, certified or registered in another state. The spouse must agree to be governed by Colorado law.

CU Director of State Government Relations Kirsten Schuchman prepares to witness the bill signings at the Governor’s Mansion.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

The bill also allows licensing authorities to accept continuing education, training or service completed during military service as credit toward qualifications for renewing licensing authority. And it provides a six-month exemption from licensing fees and continuing education requirements to emergency medical service providers on active military duty for more than 120 days when the fees and requirements become due.

Colorado Department of Military Affairs Legislative Liaison Gregory J. Dorman chats with Sen. Nancy Spence before the bill signing event gets underway.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

The legislation excludes Realtors, engineers, surveyors, architects, physicians, physician’s assistants, optometrists and people licensed to work with fireworks.

State Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, a sponsor of HB 1350 in the Senate, offers remarks at the bill signing ceremony.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

The measure was signed on June 8.

“Servicemen and servicewomen are ordered to relocate in accordance with the needs of the military, not the wants of the military family,” said Looper. “The least Colorado can do is foster an atmosphere in which professional and qualified military spouses are able to gain employment.”

Veteran’s affairs advocates point out that military families average one move every three years, and because of the low pay associated with military duty, families require income contribution from the spouse that is not serving.

CU Regent Sue Sharkey praises the benefits of House Bills 1059 and 1350.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

“Because Colorado is home to six major military bases, military spouses are frequently being relocated,” said Jackie Harriman, state liaison for the Colorado Department of Defense. “House Bill 1059 helps these spouses by providing them the opportunity to work in their field of expertise.”

State Rep. Nancy Spence, Republican from Arapahoe County, joins CU President Bruce Benson in the garden after the two bills are signed.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

House Bill 1350, sponsored by Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, also assists military families by granting in-state higher education tuition rates to military families, even if the student graduated from a high school outside of Colorado. The student must have completed at least two years at a high school in Colorado.

CU VP for Communication Ken McConnellogue, left, and CU Regent Joseph Neguse converse in front of the flags at the Governor’s Mansion following the bills signings.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

The measure was signed on June 8.

“We owe a responsibility and a debt of gratitude to every member of our Armed Forces,” said Waller. “Helping their families afford a college education invests in their success and our future economic prosperity.”

Hickenlooper added to the sentiment, saying that assisting military families assists in securing the nation’s defense.

“We can’t have a strong military without having strong military families,” said the governor. “By expanding job opportunities to military spouses and increasing access to education, we are working to make Colorado the most military-friendly state in the nation.”

Several other bills also addressed the needs and commitment of military members, including House Bill 1063, sponsored by Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, which expands the Homelake Military Veterans Cemetery and requires the Department of Human Services to maintain the cemetery.

House Joint Resolution 1003, sponsored by Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Sen. Suzanne Williams, designates the por-tion of Interstate 70 running through Colo-rado as the “Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Trail” to commemorate the first all African-American air combat unit, which engaged in aerial combat during World War II.

House Joint Resolution 1007, sponsored by Reps. Mark Barker, R-Colorado Springs, and Su Ryden, D-Aurora, and Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, encourages continued donations to the Fallen Heroes Memorial Fund, which is being used to construct a memorial honoring Coloradans who died in military conflicts in the 20th and 21st centuries.

House Joint Resolution 1005, sponsored by Reps. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, recognizes the annual Military Day and acknowledges the state’s veterans and current military personnel.

House Joint Resolution 1008, sponsored by Reps. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, and Beth McCann, D-Denver, and Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, recognizes those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and honors fallen soldiers from Colorado.

House Joint Resolution 1006, sponsored by Reps. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, and Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, recognizes the crew of the U.S.S. Pueblo and designates Jan. 23 as U.S.S. Pueblo Day. The resolution also calls for the return of the ship to the United States.

Senate Joint Resolution 40, sponsored by Sens. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, and Shaffer, and Reps. John Soper, D-Thornton, and Waller, honors the Colorado Bar Association and the Veteran Trauma Court for their work in providing assistance to military veterans.

The elderly

Hickenlooper also signed bills aimed at assisting the elderly, especially low-income seniors.

House Bill 1326, sponsored by Reps. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora, and John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, and Sens. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, and Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk, targets extended benefits to the state’s old age pension program.

The measure authorizes the State Board of Human Services to increase the monthly old age pension award from $699 per month to $725 a month. The assistance is provided to seniors 60 years or older with little or no income. The bill also restores funding for dental assistance for recipients over age 60 with less than 135 percent of the federal poverty level. The bill appropriates $3 million to fund the dental assistance program. The bill was signed on May 22.

“Seniors are among the Coloradans hit hardest by this recession,” said Acree. “This new law fulfills our constitutional obligation to assist Colorado’s neediest seniors.”

Hickenlooper also signed a bill that aims to fight elder abuse. Senate Bill 78, sponsored by Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, and Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, establishes the Elder Abuse Task Force, which is charged with making recommendations for creating a system for mandatory reporting of at-risk elders in Colorado by 2013. The bill also requires individuals working with at-risk adults to complete a criminal history check.

The task force will include representatives of senior citizen groups, advocates for people with disabilities, social workers, lawyers, long-term care providers, law enforcement officials and health care professionals. The measure was signed on May 29.

“Colorado is one of only four states left that does not require mandatory reporting of elder abuse,” Hudak said in defending a need for the law. “This legislation will allow us to take the initial steps toward developing a statute here to protect this very vulnerable population.”

Jefferson and Gilpin counties District Attorney Scott Storey spoke of the necessity for the legislation, pointing out, “Elder abuse and crimes against elders are very underreported. It’s very similar to what child abuse was 25 years ago, and that’s why we have a mandatory reporting statute for child abuse. We need to have a mandatory reporting statute for elder abuse with designated folks that are mandatory reporters.”

The governor also signed a bill to expand access to the state’s Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE. The program is a Medicare/Medicaid managed care system that provides health care and support services to seniors 55 years of age and older.

Senate Bill 23, sponsored by Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, and Reps. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, and Andy Kerr, R-Lakewood, requires case managers and state agencies who enroll elderly persons who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid services to provide information about the state’s PACE program. The law was signed on April 12.