While the partisan debates around election integrity and reproductive justice bills grabbed headlines this legislative session, Democratic majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly are working to address Coloradans’ other pressing concerns following a second year of pandemic and a continuing upward trend in the cost of living.

A review of significant bills from the 2022 session — and the fiscal prioritization of each — demonstrates a focus on lowering Coloradans’ costs through targeted tax relief, increased funding for health care and housing while also addressing homelessness, mental health, and addiction. And while much of the hundreds of millions of dollars in spending comes from the one-time federal funds Colorado received for pandemic recovery, it’s not only going towards saving people money now but also investing in programs designed to help Colorado families for years to come.

The following review is a summary of legislation currently moving its way through the 2022 session that capitol watchers say they are expected to pass and be signed into law. With less than a week until the lawmakers adjourn, all of these bills are already through at least one chamber. With Republicans continuing to employ procedural delay tactics such as demanding bills be read aloud, this lengthy bill list should make for some long nights between now and May 12.

$450 million allocated for behavioral health

As many as twelve separate bills addressing behavioral and mental health services for Coloradans have been introduced and moved through committee and floor votes to pass, many with bipartisan support.

House Bill 1278 establishes a statewide Behavioral Health Administration with the authority to oversee behavioral health programs, which largely address mental health and substance abuse, by monitoring the performance and outcomes of those programs and determining licensing requirements.

Nearly $73 million will be allotted by Senate bill 181 for addressing recruitment and retention of the behavioral health workforce and mitigating burnout. Senate Bill 177 allocates $12 million for care coordination which includes training behavioral health care navigators and reducing administrative burdens on providers.

Sixty-five million dollars will be spent, as directed by House Bill 1303, to increase residential treatment capacity across the state by 140 beds with appropriate staffing and resources.

An allocation of $35 million is provided by House Bill 1302 for grants to primary care practices to provide mental health and substance-use disorder screenings and integrate physical and behavioral health care services.

Several behavioral health bills direct aid to children and families.

Senate Bill 147 appropriates $11.1 million for behavioral health centers for staffing, diagnosing, and treating children with mental and behavioral health needs through school-centered programs and primary care practitioners. This bill had unanimous support in the Senate, and awaits Gov. Polis’ signature to become law.

Two million dollars of pandemic relief funding will be appropriated by House Bill 1369 for prevention and behavioral health intervention for young children experiencing trauma and chronic stress. House Bill 1281 will fund $90 million in grants for services, with specific aims to identify and prioritize communities impacted by gaps in available behavioral health care services. House Bill 1283 will direct $54 million to fund regional residential and in-home behavioral health care programs for children and families while boosting support for existing residential facilities and creating a new neuropsychiatric program for youth at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan.

Additionally, $8 million will be allocated for free behavioral health services to young people under the age of 18 through the “I Matter” program, and for a school mental health professional matching grant program under the provisions of House Bill 1243.

Other bills address the criminal diversion and substance use-disorder aspects of behavioral health, including $35 million for medication-assisted treatment in jails, harm reduction programs, and the purchase of overdose-reversing medication known as naloxone (House Bill 1326) and $6 million for domestic violence prevention program within the Colorado Department of Human Services (Senate Bill 183).

Senate Bill 196 will spend $62 million to fund programs that redirect people with behavioral health needs from involvement with the criminal justice system, as well as for medication-assisted treatment for inmates with opioid use disorders in order to facilitate long-term treatment and recovery upon release.

In addition, $5 million is appropriated by Senate Bill 148 for to develop inpatient treatment and transitional housing facilities for Colorado’s land-based tribes.

$428 million directed toward housing initiatives

At the outset of the 2022 legislative session, Democratic leadership prioritized affordability as a focus for their legislative agenda, and suggesting a fiscal commitment of $500 million for affordable housing development and investment in programs and initiatives across the state, following recommendations from a task force on housing policy. The bills passed during the 120-day session seem to align with those goals.

House Bill 1304 will fund local grants across the state with $178 million to purchase land and develop affordable house projects, specifically targeting areas in the state which were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Another $150 million is apportioned by Senate Bill 159 to create a self-perpetuating revolving loan program to finance affordable workforce housing, senior house, and housing designed for people living with disabilities.

Between three other bills, an additional $100 million will take on other challenges to affordability in the housing market. House Bill 1282 will incentivize development and construction of innovative forms of affordable housing. Senate Bill 160 will assist residents of mobile home parks in buying their land and establishing resident-owned communities. And Senate Bill 146 will broaden affordable workforce housing for middle-income families who wish to live in the same communities in which they work.

$200 million in addressing Homelessness

Democrats ushered four bills through the 2022 session to target homelessness and support unhoused residents in transitioning off the streets, obtaining stable employment, and accessing medical care and other critical services. In April, Sen. Julie Gonzales described the legislative effort as “meeting folks where they’re at and it’s connecting folks to the services they need and to the care and housing that they need.”

Celebrated by Colorado homelessness advocates, House Bill 1377 is a historic statewide collaborative investment addressing challenges of homelessness across the state. It earmarks over $100 million dollars for local communities and nonprofit organizations to fund strategies such as outreach, shelter, transitional housing, supportive housing, and support services for unhoused residents.

House bill 1378 directs $50 million for a grant to establish a regional navigation center for people experiencing homelessness in the Denver metro area to access support with case management, shelter, housing assistance healthcare, substance use treatment, and vocational services in a single setting without lengthy wait times for appointments.

Based on the Fort Lyon Supportive Residential Community Program‘s record of success over nearly 10 years with more than 2000 individuals, Senate Bill 211 provides $45 million to convert the former Ridge View youth correctional facility into a supportive community similar to Fort Lyon. The residential facility will provide transitional housing, a continuum of behavioral health service treatment, medical care, vocational training, and skill development for unhoused Coloradans.

Also focusing on homelessness, House Bill 1083 will expand an existing program offering tax credits to organizations that serve the homeless. Previous qualifications for the tax credits were restricted to organizations located only in enterprise zones. This bill will change that requirement, allowing any organization across the state to claim the tax credits if they provide certain services to individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Saving money for Colorado families with $1 billion in tax relief, preschool and college savings, health care reforms

The challenges confronting Coloradans around cost of living and affordability extend beyond housing, and several bills from the 2022 legislative session provide opportunities to save money and reprioritize their expenses in more manageable ways.

Late last month, Governor Jared Polis (D-CO) and Democratic lawmakers announced a program they dubbed “Colorado Cashback” (Senate Bill 233]) which will expedite the constitutionally required TABOR refunds for Colorado residents — $400 per individual and $800 for those filing their taxes jointly. The program puts cash in their pockets by the end of September, rather than waiting to do so as until after the 2023 tax deadline, with the intention of mitigating current financial pressures faced by families with rising gas prices and economic disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Other sources of tax relief for families come with Democrats’ proposed Senate Bill 238. This bill would provide for a two-year reduction in property tax, saving average Colorado homeowners $274 per year. Expanded earned income tax credits and child tax credits, as directed by Senate Bill 182, and saving homeowners money on wildfire mitigation (House Bill 1007) will save state taxpayers around $180 million collectively.

Reforms to Colorado’s sales tax will eliminate added costs to diapers and hygiene products (House Bill 1055).

Colorado businesses will retain $40 million of the sales tax they collect under House Bill 1406, and will avoid increases in their costs to replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund (Senate Bill 234). An additional $5 million more will come from the Sales Tax Assistance for Small Businesses (Senate Bill 006).

The costs to families for child care and pre-school will be reduced thanks to bills that help care providers keep their doors open (House Bill 1006), paying for 10 free hours per week of quality preschool for every family (House Bill 1295), and the initiation of a child care sustainability grant program (Senate Bill 213).

Health care costs will be reduced by bills ending surprise medical bills (House Bill 1284), requiring hospital pricing disclosure (House Bill 1285), reducing prices of prescription medications (House Bill 1370), and introducing a Colorado Option health car plan on the individual market next year (House Bill 1232) which was passed by Democrats last year.

Finally, six bills impacting the cost of college tuition and credit and degree offerings for high school and college students will add to savings for Colorado families (see House Bills 1350, 1390, and 1155; and Senate Bills 192, 226, and 003).

CORRECTION 05/10/2022: House Bill 1305 did not pass through the Legislature, as we initially reported.