Here They Come…

In just a few short days, legislators will swarm back to the Capitol to continue playing “whack-a-mole” with the many issues confronting the State of Colorado in the hope that passing yet more laws will make some very real problems (and some more illusory) disappear. When considering the broad swath of progressive legislation enacted in the past three years, it is difficult to image what more can be done, but nonetheless 100 elected officials with good intentions will go forth to battle. What issues will they tackle? Following are a few of the likely top priorities.

The COVID-19 pandemic that is strangling the airlines, disrupting consumer supply chains, and raising prices also underscores an issue already addressed through legislation and initiative. Proposition 118 requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of partially paid medical and family leave. But what to do about employers who already provide generous (although perhaps not identical) benefits? Working on a timeline set forth in Prop 118, employers and employees will split the cost of a state-run insurance program to pay for leave when a new baby is welcomed, an employee or family member is sick requiring care, or an employee needs to flee domestic violence. Local government employers are exempt, as are federal agencies. Governor Polis had issued an Executive Order fast-tracking a similar program for state employees but that was recently overturned by the courts. Employers of ten or fewer are not required to pay into the system yet this year (although their employees will), and rules are still being worked out at the Dept. of Labor and Employment. To address the many remaining questions, the General Assembly is expected to take up implementing legislation in the coming session which convenes January 12. Meanwhile, SB 20-205 is still in effect requiring up to 48 hours of paid sick leave be allowed for employees who fall ill or must care for sick family members, with special provisions applicable during a public health emergency,

No one who watched the inferno that raced through parts of Boulder County this past week can deny that drought played a role. Not surprisingly, one of the first legislators to comment on the tragedy noted that as soon as they return to the Capitol, “climate change” will once more be at the top of the list to prevent similar events. Rulemaking and task force meetings continue as a result of extensive climate legislation passed in 2019, 2020, and 2021 which require reduced use of natural gas in buildings, greater efficiency, and expanded economic access to electric vehicles.

And to speak of drought brings immediate attention to the topic of water. Although a state dredge and fill program is not anticipated for the coming session, CMA will remain vigilant to conditions that could change that projection. Previous issues of Rock & Coal also mentioned a bill to designate certain streams as “headwaters” that would require additional scrutiny when actions concerning those waters are considered. Any such “headwaters” bill will bear careful watching because of the key role those waters play in serving not only Colorado needs but those of the Lower Colorado Basin states under various compact agreements.

Another aspect of the recent wildfires is the impact of any resulting legislation on land use planning in Colorado. Actions such as zoning, land use planning and building codes have long been the province of local government. However, even during the interim Wildfire Matters committee talk of state level mandates began to surface. And with federal grant money coming in for fire mitigation and watershed protection in fire-prone areas, the legislature will surely have much more to say on the matter. Ultimately for the mining industry, the issue with this type of legislation may not be the substance of the bill itself, but environmental amendments that may be added in the course of debate.

If you throw in continuing concerns over social justice, crime, and health care, the 2022 legislative session could be among the busiest we have yet seen.