They’re Coming Back, but for How Long?
The Colorado General Assembly adjourned temporarily on March 14 due to a declared state of public health emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. A handful of legislators returned briefly on March 30 to declare lack of quorum and adjourn again while awaiting a Supreme Court opinion as to how days must be counted toward the 120-day constitutional limit: must they be counted consecutively or only working days counted? On April 1, the Supreme Court announced its approval of a temporary adjournment during a public health emergency without counting the intervening non-working days, leaving the legislature approximately 52 working days until final adjournment for the year.
The current plan is for the legislature to reconvene on May 18 to take up a budget (the “Long Bill”) and School Finance, both of which must be completed before the end of the fiscal year (June 30). Other priority bills will include the 20-30 “orbital bills” or statutory changes that must be passed to effect various budget adjustments.
Currently the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) is meeting daily to review and reduce previous recommendations with an eye toward cutting the state budget as much as 10-20% before the full legislature reconvenes May 18. The committee is grappling with reductions to Medicaid spending, potential furloughs of state employees, and reduced spending for education and other key programs. When they return, the legislative priority list (in addition to the budget) includes various Sunset bills necessary to extend state certification and licensure programs that would otherwise terminate this year. Other bills will include COVID-19 related measures and potential measures necessary to help the state’s economy recover. Recommendations for economic recovery will be forwarded to the Governor from his recently appointed Council on Economic Recovery and Stabilization chaired by former Denver mayor and federal Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena.
Following the temporary adjournment, more than 400 bills were pending in both chambers as well as major bills that had not been introduced. Two measures, family medical leave and public option health insurance, will not move forward. Some of those remaining may rise to the level of priority while many others will die on the calendar due to lack of time and lack of money to implement. Of special interest is SB 20-204 which would establish an Enterprise to set and assess emission fees to fund activities of the Air Pollution Control Division. The bill was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Fenberg early in March. CDPHE informed CMA that it (and Sen. Fenberg) wish to continue forward with this bill. An on-line stakeholder meeting will be held May 8 to discuss the bill in more detail. As introduced, the Fund would be administered by an appointed board; therefore, a major concern is the lack of any legislative oversight for the potentially unlimited fee increases. A second Enterprise proposal has surfaced from CDPHE, this one to create a PFAS Enterprise to pay for research, sampling, and technical assistance to water systems and communities. The Enterprise would also be authorized to purchase and dispose of materials containing PFAS. Activities would be paid for by fees paid by first purchasers of odorized liquid petroleum gas and manufacturers and distributors of fuel products. Fees would also be charged to airports for business services provided to airports for each airport hangar equipped with aqueous film forming foam fire suppressant.
Business and industry face many uncertainties, including the prospect of increased fees and taxes to cover the budget shortfall in coming year(s), among these surcharges on unemployment tax, increased permit fees for environmental agencies, and the potential elimination of credits and exemptions from sales and severance tax are all possibilities. Although we have heard a strong desire on the part of leadership for a brief session, the question of how contentious it will become remains. It is hard to imagine that health and economic concerns (not to mention the upcoming November elections) will encourage many drawn out battles, but then again this is an unprecedented time.