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SESSION HIGHLIGHTS, APR 4-8, 2016

Senate Passes Appropriation Bill

HB16-1405, the “budget bill” or the “long (appropriations) bill,” began in the House this year; the chamber where the chairwoman, Rep. Mille Hamner (D-Dillon) serves. After the Democrat-controlled House made their adjustments on the bill last week, the Republican-led Senate stripped House amendments and began to disentangle the multi-billion dollar expenditure bill.

Over 30 amendments were debated, all making political statements about spending priorities. One of the most controversial amendments stripped $365,000 from the Air Quality Control Commission housed in the Department of Health, an amount equal to the amount needed to implement the federal Clean Air Act. Discussion on the floor highlighted a divide between the two parties: democrats wanting progress toward cleaner air and the republicans wanting to end the “war” on coal and protect communities that rely on this resource.

Other revisions to the HB16-1405 – like preventing the state from engaging in the sale of fetal tissue, more money to higher education, and less money to IT projects – generated much debate, but ultimately did not prevent the bipartisan 30-5 vote to approve the bill.

Massage Therapy Regulation Bill Passes

A bill that closes loopholes in the Massage Practice Act passed this week with bipartisan support.

Law enforcement and state employees have identified some issues in the current Massage Therapy Practice Act, SB09-219.

The original bill set specific requirements for massage licensure and provided a consistent regulatory structure for the profession. That law preempted local ordinances which were in effect at the time except for those in Home Rule municipalities. Much of the debate over this year’s bill, HB16-1320, was over the regulation authority of local governments. Proponents said a fix was needed because people are engaged in illegal activity associated with prostitution and human trafficking. Helping find a solution for that was enough to bring the support of the majority of the House.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

Local Control Bill Over Oil and Gas Dies in House on Bipartisan Vote

In a dramatic turn of events HB16-1355, which would have given local jurisdictions the ability to regulate oil and gas operations, was voted down in a bipartisan manner of the House floor.

There was a sometimes fierce, but civil, debate on the issue regarding the need for counties to govern location, visual, traffic and noise aspects of oil and gas development. The proponents wanted locals to have ultimate authority over these areas; while opponents of the bill this saw that “authority” was nothing more than a mask for the ability to deny permits without having to suffer the consequence of the taking of private property.

The opponents of the bill included an impressive array of organizations like The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI), as well as regional community groups like The South Metro and Denver Chambers of Commerce. In all over 30 civic organizations signed on to oppose the bill.

The bill would have undone 30 years of case law and 20 years of regulatory involvement of local governments in the state permitting process to achieve a nightmare scenario for any industry, dual regulation at the state and local level. Thus creating an impossible morass of conflicting, job killing regulation.

One repercussion of the bill’s death is that going to the ballot for additional regulation of oil and gas will be harder for the proponents of this type of measure. The bipartisan defeat of HB16-1355, sponsored by Rep. Mike Foote (D-Lafayette), creates a higher hurdle to argue against publically as the Green community cannot blame the death of bill on the Republicans in the Senate.

This was a big victory where the industry, royalty owners, businesses, and the Governor united to protect a vital part of the Colorado the economic environment. This expansive coalition was concerned with the future economic health of the state and rose to defend it.

Bill to Protect Consumers with HELOCs Passes in House

By unanimous vote in committee and a nearly unanimous vote in the House, a bill spearheaded bill by the Colorado Bankers Association (CBA) was passed to secure long-term use of home equity lines of credit (HELOC) in Colorado.

Currently, Colorado law regarding HELOCs is unique in that it that it requires a lien to be released anytime a loan is paid down to a zero balance. HB16-1356, sponsored by Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp (D-Broomfield) and Rep. Dan Nordberg (R-Colorado Springs), 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 every time the debt is paid off.

The bill now moves to the Senate where it should be heard next week in the Business, Labor and Technology committee, chaired by Sen. Chris Holbert (R-Parker), a coprime sponsor of the bill with Sen. Cheri Jahn (D-Wheat Ridge).

No Changes to Water Augmentation Plans

A bill that would have changed how certain water wells in the South Platte Basin are administered died in House Agriculture Committee this week.

HB16-1314 required the state engineer and water judges to treat out-of-priority groundwater depletions from agricultural wells that occurred between March 15, 1974 and December 31, 2014 in the Gilcrest and Sterling areas as having been fully replaced due to rising groundwater levels since January 1, 2006.

State law requires water wells pumping out of priority to have augmentation plans to mitigate the impact of pumping on more senior surface water rights. Because there was not consistent and widespread use of augmentation plans for wells that were pumping after the 1965 Water Rights Determination and Administration Act, the General Assembly passed legislation that required the owners of water wells to pay back the past depletions since 1965.

Proponents of HB16-1314 argued that high ground water levels in some area of the South Platte could be mitigated if they did not have to pay back the past depletions therefore being able to pump more water and using it to irrigate their crops.  Opponents argued that pumping more water out of the aquifer and putting it to beneficial use would not solve the problem and instead those communities should work with the state to use their emergency authority to target specific wells to dewater the aquifer.

Science and Cultural Facilities Bill Leaves House Committee

The House Finance Committee gave unanimous and bipartisan approval to the proposal to renew the Denver metro area’s successful Scientific and Cultural Facilities district today. The proposal, SB16-16, will now move to the House floor. It has already been approved by the Senate. 

The legislative effort is another necessary step toward placing the issue of renewing 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.

The bill’s prime sponsors include Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) and Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) as well as House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder) and Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Douglas County) in the House.

“The key to the district’s success and its continued success is quite simply access. Citizens find value in the access they get for their money. In 2015, more than 14 million visits – four million of those from school kids – make clear the continued support,” said Speaker Hullinghorst during her testimony. 

The proposal asks, state lawmakers to consider some of the most sweeping changes ever proposed to the nearly 30-year-old district. These changes include substantial shifts in the way district revenues are distributed which will result in increased funding to medium and small arts, culture and science organizations funded by the district. The tax itself, however, will not increase under the proposal.

“The economic impact of the metro area cultural organizations is substantial. Not just in jobs created or dollars spent on the cultural organizations themselves, but also from the economic impact of the tourism they drive. Metro areas compete for employers, employees, visitors, and reputational quality of life; the SCFD plays an important role in our region’s economy and the attraction of business interest to Colorado,” said Rep. Lawrence.

For 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.

Zoey DeWolf