(April 8) – Taking only seven hours of debate and with only 12 mostly bipartisan amendments, the House gave preliminary voice-vote approval today to the state budget for fiscal year 2015-16 and its 18 satellite bills.

SB15-234, the “long bill,” includes $10.9 billion in general fund spending and $26.4 billion overall for the next budget year, which starts in July.

Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst noted that the successful amendments repurposed less than four-thousandths of one percent of the total budget.

“It’s a credit to the work of the Joint Budget Committee,” said Speaker Hullinghorst, D-Boulder. “I especially commend Reps. Millie Hamner and Dave Young, the House Democrats on the JBC, and the Republican House member, Rep. Bob Rankin, for their hard work in hammering out a budget that has stood up so well to the scrutiny of the House and the Senate.”

House Republicans, who several years ago were a driving force behind standardized student testing in Colorado, have managed a complete flip-flop and argued at length today in favor of getting rid of standardized testing altogether. Democrats were the adults in the room today, acknowledging that the testing regime needs to be eased but without throwing out the baby – and $400 million in federal funding — with the bathwater.

Other squirrely Republican amendments would have reduced provider rates for those who take care of our elderly Coloradans in nursing homes, cut back childhood immunization efforts, reduced health care in rural Colorado and eliminated the Division of Motor Vehicles’ much-needed computer system update.

Winning House support were amendments by:

· Reps. KC Becker, D-Boulder, and Don Coram, R-Montrose, to add $5 million to the state’s teen pregnancy prevention program.
· Reps. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth, and Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, whose two amendments add $1.5 million for track improvements for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line through Colorado.
· Reps. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, and Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, swapping $1 million from the Colorado Tourism Office to the state film incentive program.
· Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain, allowing the state to switch $897,000 in federal funds for monitoring of at-risk children from the 2014-15 state budget to the upcoming fiscal year.
· Assistant Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Rep. Landgraf to spend $683,000 to improve dental care for children on Medicaid.
· Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, to add $300,000 for data collection in the Department of Public Health and Environment.
· Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, to add $270,000 for health services in rural Colorado.
· Reps. Moreno and Landgraf cobbling together $240,000 for respite care services.
· Reps. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Beth McCann, D-Denver, to switch $136,000 between anesthesia services and retinal services to prevent more Medicaid recipients from going blind.
· Rep. Rhonda Fields to spend $65,000 for a statewide study of cyberbullying.
· Rep. Navarro to add a footnote recommending the Department of Transportation study improvements to US Highway 50.

After third reading on Thursday, the amended budget goes to a conference with the Senate, which passed its own handful of amendments last week.

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