Hot-button issues await lawmakers

DENVER — If a bill to create civil unions for gays and lesbians doesn’t spark enough political wrangling in the Colorado Legislature this session, a bill to do away with the state’s health benefits exchange program likely will.

Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, introduced a bill Friday that would repeal last year’s health benefit exchange law if the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Government-run health care exchanges violate core constitutional principles of personal liberty and free choice,” Neville said. “These government-approved cartels also fly in the face of basic free-market principles by limiting choices to government-approved insurers, which can only offer government-approved insurance.”

The measure is part of a political fight going on inside the Republican Party, particularly between Looper and House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Colorado Springs.

Stephens and Looper were placed in the same House district when new legislative maps were approved last year, and the two are battling to win that seat in a primary race in June. Stephens also has been attacked by conservative groups over the benefits exchange law for introducing it last year, which they have dubbed, “Amycare.”

A fight over the measure isn’t expected to reach the House, however. It was introduced into the Senate, but because the health benefits law passed with bipartisan support there, the bill isn’t expected to get out of committee.

Additionally, identical language was considered in last year’s law and was rejected by the Senate.

Another measure that’s expected to draw some political battles won’t be over an actual bill, but a budgetary issue.

In his State of the State speech, Gov. John Hickenlooper said the state doesn’t have the money to appropriate $100 million to the homestead exemption for seniors. The exemption covers up to half of senior’s annual property taxes if they’ve been in their homes for 10 years or longer.

In his opening-day speech, however, House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, demanded the Legislature fully fund that property tax exemption, saying the recent recession has hurt seniors, and they need the tax break.

“There may be some compromise,” predicted Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs. “The seniors in this state do deserve a little tax relief, however modest it may be. We’re always saying, ‘It’s for the kids.’ Well, what about the people who have been putting equity and paying their taxes for 40 years? They deserve something, too.”


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