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CLS Announcments, Newsletter and Bill Updates

SESSION HIGHLIGHTS, APR 25-29, 2016

Keyser to Appear on Republican Ballot

Less than a week after his promising U.S. Senate campaign appeared over, former state Rep. Jon Keyser (R-Morrison) won a legal challenge against the state Friday, overturning a ruling which would have kept him from the Republican primary ballot for the U.S. Senate race.

District Court Judge Elizabeth Starrs issued a ruling that found Keyser's campaign "substantially complied" with the law when he submitted signatures to qualify for the race. Initially the Secretary of State’s office ruled Keyser missed the mark to qualify for the race by 86 signatures in one congressional district because the address for one of petition collectors did not match the registered voter file.

The Keyser campaign filed a lawsuit Tuesday and presented evidence at an emergency hearing to show a campaign aide who collected 186 valid signatures in the district is a registered voter, but listed a different address because of a recent move.

The judge found the election law "is to be liberally construed" and found the address mismatch is too minor to keep Keyser from the ballot.

The decision is just the latest twist in the battle for the Republican.

Two other candidates are qualified for the race: Darryl Glenn, an El Paso County commissioner and little-known tea-party favorite; and Jack Graham, a former Colorado State Athletic director.

Hospital Provider Fee Budget Fix, Heading to Senate

With considerable bipartisan support, the House gave an official endorsement today of Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst’s (D-Boulder) effort to allow the state to make an enterprise out of the hospital provider fee.

The bill, HB16-1420, creates headroom under the state’s TABOR revenue limit by cutting off the existing hospital provider fee and creating a new state enterprise called the Colorado Healthcare Affordability and Sustainability Enterprise (CHASE). As a state enterprise, CHASE revenues would not count against the TABOR cap.

HB16-1420 would free up millions of dollars without increasing anyone’s tax rate. Its companion bill, HB16-1450, then provides a five-year proposal to ensure which priorities are funded first. Education and transportation are key components of the spending plan.

“This package will prevent severe budget cuts to roads, schools and other services and will support our continued growth and increasing prosperity,” Speaker Hullinghorst said after the vote. “This is an issue of such importance to the future of our state that it deserves a hearing of the full Senate, and I hope the Republican leadership will allow these bills to come to a floor vote.”

HB16-1420 passed 39-26. Voting with the united House Democrats were Reps. J. Paul Brown (R-Ignacio), Don Coram (R-Montrose), Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), Kit Roupe (R-Colorado Springs) and Dan Thurlow (R-Grand Junction.

HB16-1450 passed on a 43-22 vote when the five Republicans were joined by Reps. Tim Dore (R-Elizabeth) Kevin Priola (R-Henderson), Yeulin Willett (R-Grand Junction) and Jim Wilson (R-Salida).

Bill to Re-Start Presidential Primaries Passes

The House gave initial approval Thursday night when legislators passed to a bill to restore a presidential preference primary in Colorado on second reading. Legislators who support intend to avoid a repeat of the 2016 caucus chaos encountered by many caucus-goers.

Under HB16-1454, with the bipartisan sponsorship of Assistant Majority Leader Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City) and Rep. Tim Dore (R-Elizabeth) mail ballots would be sent to registered Democrats and Republicans, while unaffiliated voters – the biggest and fastest-growing segment of Colorado voters – could elect to receive a Republican or Democratic ballot and then automatically go back to being unaffiliated. The caucus system would continue in Colorado for non-presidential races.

The bill should be heard on third reading in the House next week, its final step before moving to the Senate.

State Fair Horse Arena Will Receive State Funds for Renovation

Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) was successful in passing HB16-1447 out of the House Finance Committee this week. 

The bill provides funding to aid in the renovation of the Horse Show Arena, which was first constructed during the Great Depression and serves as an integral part of emergency planning for the Colorado state fairgrounds. The arena also serves as the state’s largest outdoor venue for equestrian sports.

The state fair has partnered with local community groups to bring matching funds for the renovation; more than $600,000 has been pledged from local supporters in the Pueblo area to aid in the effort.  Supporters of the bill hope that renovating the arena will bring in even more events and help the state fair, which has been operating in the red for the last decade, become more fiscally sustainable. 

The Colorado Farm Bureau testified in support of the bill, highlighting the importance of the facility for youth programs such as Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H. 

The bill now moves to House Appropriations, where sponsors will hope to find the $50,000 necessary to fund the bill. 

Oil and Gas Bills Face Difficulty in the Senate

Two bills that narrowly passed in the House died a relatively quick death in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee yesterday: HB16-1310, concerning earthquake liability, and HB16-1430, concerning county notice of operations. 

HB16-1310 would have attached the concept of “strict liability” to the production of oil and gas. In tort law, strict liability is an imposition of liability on a party without a finding of fault. The claimant would only need to prove that an act occurred and then the defendant would be legally responsible. This means that oil and gas companies would be considered inherently dangerous and opponents of the bill say that the bill has no basis in reality and serves only to inflame the opponents of development. The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that the state is headed away from this standard giving strength to the industry’s argument that the bill was a solution in search of a problem.

The Senate committee voted overwhelmingly postpone indefinitely (PI) this piece of legislation on a bipartisan vote of eight to one.

The second bill, HB16-1430, would have forced counties to register with the state in order to ask for oil and gas company projections of how many wells they plan to drill over a five-year period.  Governor Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force examined this issue in addition to The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (COGCC) and both independently came to the conclusion that this method of mandated notice outside the areas where consistent conflict exists was unnecessary.  Each believe that predicting the potential number of wells over such a long period of time, especially over large geographic areas, would be difficult if not impossible and may in fact lead to unintended consequences related to land use.

The bill was just another in a string of bills aimed at increasing the regulatory burden on the oil and gas industry under the guise of “notice requirements.” Senate Republicans saw through the charade, however, and used their one vote majority to kill the bill.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) had powerful support from CACI (Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry), the Colorado Competitive Council (C3), the Farm Bureau and National Association of Royalty owners, plus more agriculture and business groups that recognized the irrationality of both of these bills and stepped forward to make a difference in preserving their access to affordable, clean energy.

House Authorizes Seed Money for Cybersecurity Center

A bill to turn Colorado Springs into a hub for cybersecurity research and training won the House’s voice-vote approval late on Thursday night.

HB16-1453, sponsored by Joint Budget Committee Chairwoman Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon), would invest $8 million to develop the National Cybersecurity Intelligence Center in Colorado Springs, with a roughly equal amount coming from corporate contributors.

“There are not enough cyber professionals being trained in the U.S.,” Rep. Hamner told the House floor. “The time is now to develop a concerted strategy for a hub of cyber innovation in Colorado.” The proposed center, announced by Gov. John Hickenlooper in January, would operate as part of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and take advantage of synergies with other cybersecurity operations in the Pikes Peak region, including the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the United States Northern Command and several private cybersecurity companies.

Through potential partnerships with companies like the University of Phoenix who are already blazing a trail, the mission of the National Cybersecurity Intelligence Center would be to help businesses, nonprofits and government agencies prevent, detect and respond to cyberattacks and help train public officials about cybersecurity issues. Data hacking is a growing threat, and the effort to contain it is already a huge industry. An estimated $75 billion was spent in 2015 to protect the security of digital information.

Massage Bill Moves Forward

Legislation written and initiated by the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) with the intention of closing loopholes in the current Massage Therapy Practice Act passed on second reading in the Senate on Friday.  HB16-1320 is sponsored by Reps. Mike Foote (D-Lafayette) and Teri Carver (R-Colorado Springs), and Sen. John Cooke (R-Greeley).

DORA brought the legislation forward because in the last two years law enforcement has dealt with more than 30 cases of human trafficking under the semblance of unlicensed massage therapy activity. 

The Colorado Coalition of Massage Therapists (CCMT) worked closely with DORA to ensure the massage therapy community has a voice at the table when decisions are being made and that the amendments and changes made to the Massage Therapy Practice Act will not adversely affect legitimate and licensed massage therapists practicing legally and ethically in the State of Colorado. 

CCMT is made up of the American Massage Therapy Association – Colorado Chapter (AMTA-CO), Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) and massage schools in Colorado.  CCMT advocates for the massage therapy profession on the local and state level to ensure Colorado remains an open place for professional massage therapists to practice. This coalition was successful in keeping out language that was disparaging towards the massage therapy, that would have implemented a dress code for massage therapists, and finally, that would have regulated on hours of operation. 

Sen. Ken Lundberg (R-Colorado Springs) worked with the sponsor, Sen. Cooke, to secure floor amendments which clarified inspections by local governments may happen only if there is a complaint of illegal activity. Furthermore the governmental agency only has the authority to ensure the therapists are licensed by the state.  It also specifies that the local government cannot charge any fees for the inspection.

The bill faces one more hurtle – a recorded vote in the Senate – before it can be sent to the governor for his signature.

Ground Water Commission Bill Loses Steam

A bill that would have changed how Ground Water Commission appeals are handled died in a Senate committee earlier this week.  HB16-1337 was legislation sponsored by Reps. Don Coram (R-Montrose), Ed Vigil (D-Fort Garland) and Sen. Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction) required parties in a contested application to the Groundwater Commission to present all their evidence at the administrative hearing level, much like in water court proceeding today.  This bill would have ensured applicants only have once chance to present information and would not be able to provide new evidence on existing cases pending on appeals.

There are eight designated ground water basins in Colorado, all located on the eastern plains and in the San Luis Valley.  Water matters within designated basins go before the Colorado Groundwater Commission Hearing Officer.  The job of the hearing officer is to determine how to apply the policies and rules of the Commission to water change of use plans, determinations, recharge plans and other associated water right questions.  This process is specific to just water matters within designated ground water basins and does not apply to tributary groundwater or any other water sources in the state.  If the applicants of a change to a designated ground water right disagree with the outcome of the hearing officer’s ruling, they have the ability to appeal to district court to have their case heard by a judge. 

“Re-trails” happen historically very infrequently, but the number of times they do is beginning to grow and with that growth comes the increasing costs of such litigation. Starting from the beginning means the same engineering has to be completed, the same legal arguments are made once more and the same data is argued and combed over for weeks, just like it was in the hearing within the Commission. Yet, under current law, applicants are allowed to introduce new information and new arguments which make the plan different from what was discussed in previous hearings.  HB16-1337 would have stipulated that no new information could have been brought to the appeals process that was not brought forth in the original application.  The bill would have required the District Court Judge to hear the exact same findings as was presented in the earlier hearing.

After more than two hours of testimony, mostly from farmers in support of the bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to postpone indefinitely HB16-1337.  Rep. Coram and Sen. Scott vow to bring the concern back next year.

Bill to Fix State HELOC Law Passes Unanimously

With a final vote demonstrating unanimous support, a bill spearheaded by the Colorado Bankers Association (CBA) moves forward to secure long-term use of home equity lines of credit (HELOC) in Colorado.

Colorado law dealing with HELOCs is unique in that it requires a lien to be released anytime a loan is paid down to a zero balance. HB16-1356, sponsored by Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp (D-Broomfield), Dan Nordberg (R-Colorado Springs), and Sens. Chris Holbert (R-Parker) and Cheri Jahn (D-Wheatridge) will do away with that stipulation, allowing borrowers to draw repeatedly upon lines of credit, like HELOCs, without the unnecessary hassle and expense of applying for a new loan any time the debt is satisfied.

The bill is now on its way to the governor’s desk.

SCFD Bill Signed by Governor

The final step in the legislative effort placing the renewal of the SCFD, a critical funding source for arts, cultural and scientific organizations across the seven-county metro area, for an additional 12 years on the November 2016 ballot was completed today as SB16-16 was signed by Governor John Hickenlooper (D).

The bill’s prime sponsors: Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs), Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder) and Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Douglas County) all attended the bill signing Friday afternoon and were joined by leaders in the arts, culture and science community.

Voters in the seven county metro area will decide this November whether or not to continue the investment of one penny on every $10 spent in the district. The diverse array of cultural organizations contribute more than $1.8 billion to the regional economy and employ more than 10,000 people. Citizen support for the more than 275 arts and culture organizations that receive district funds has resulted in world-class facilities and programs and unprecedented access.  More than 14 million people – 4 million of them kids – attend SCFD funded programs each year – many for free or reduced rates.

Seen in the Governor’s “selfie” are: SCFD board member Ellaine Torres, the Mizel Arts and Culture Center’s Steve Wilson, President Cadman, and Speaker Hullinghorst. 

Zoey DeWolf