Bills raining down (like the snow outside the window)
We are one quarter of the way through the legislative session and the legislature has introduced 472 bills. In a typical session between 600-700 bills are introduced, so already they have hit two-thirds of their usual allotment. We also understand they may have expended much of the allotted budget for developing legislation. JBC members continue to caution their colleagues that new programs and initiatives may need to be sidelined in this tight budget year due to a TABOR refund requirement and the failure of Proposition CC to be approved by the voters. (Editorial comment) That warning has failed to curb the enthusiasm for new bills, regardless of how misguided or unnecessary. CMA members can follow progress on bills of potential interest on CMA’s Bill Tracking Spreadsheet.
Three big themes for the legislature this year are tax policy, environmental justice/protection, and increased agency authority. Also, on the agenda are programs to spur economic development in rural areas, but those are being sidelined because of budget constraints. Any proposal that was not in the Governor’s budget will have a difficult time ahead.
CMA continues to work with other business and industry groups on a bill that would require metering of energy use in order to claim a sales tax exemption by manufacturing and industrial activities (including mining). That exemption has been in statute for 80+ years and has expanded over time to include more categories of business. An interim committee raised a red flag when the Department of Revenue could not provide data on the amount of revenue “lost” through this exemption nor verify compliance with the statute. Legislative perception was further eroded when the Auditor’s Office issued a scathing criticism of severance tax compliance by oil/gas and mining. We are working to correct some of those misperceptions. As lawmakers continue to turn over the couch cushions in an attempt to find more money, new and increased fees will be proposed as well as increased attacks on credits and exemptions.
Environment. The march to counter air pollution counter and climate change steamrolls forward with a requirement for the sale of biodiesel inside the nonattainment area. While most of our members operate outside the nonattainment area, CMA opposed this bill but was successful in obtaining an amendment to exempt diesel sold for mining use from the requirement. Newly introduced legislation calls for the Department of Personnel which handles state contracting requirements to develop rules regarding the maximum global warming potential for a variety of materials (including concrete, cement, carbon steel rebar, flat glass, and mineral wood board insulation) used in public projects. Contractors for public projects must then include the global warming potential in materials to be used when submitting bids on public construction projects. Criminal fines and penalties for water pollution would be doubled under a bill pushed by the Attorney General’s Office and civil penalties for violation of air and water regulations would be increased to match the federal maximum under separate legislation pursued by community activists. Money from the increased civil penalties would help fund community environmental mitigation projects. That bill is supported by the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment.
Agency Authority. Under the heading of both environmental protection and agency authority, new bills directing the CDPHE to develop standards and regulations on PFAS (the “forever chemicals” in firefighting foam and many nonstick coatings) and a broad segment of “air toxins” has industry worried. There Is serious question as to whether CPHDE has the scientific capability or financial resources to accomplish these goals, particularly when we understand the department may be seeking fee increases for air permits. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s office is pushing a bill to allow AG review of proposed mergers and acquisitions that are also reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice. The current prohibition, as explained by the AG office, was put in place when the feds were considered to have primary expertise. Now, concern that Colorado-specific consumer impacts might escape federal notice plus the “anti-trust expertise” of our current AG combine to call for repealing that prohibition.
All in all, any hope that this pre-election legislative session would be quieter is being dashed daily as committees run late with long witness lists. Even a recent bill banning puppy mills filled the Capitol’s largest hearing room. And still to come are controversial measures on paid family and medical leave, vaccination, and gun rights!