Legislative Update: Bottom of the Eighth Inning

Since the Rockies opened their season just over two weeks ago, a baseball analogy seems appropriate. With only three weeks to go before adjournment sine die, the legislature is now not only running hearings into the evening hours, but also met Sunday (April 14) in an effort to complete its work. Over 700 bills have been introduced to date, including procedural measures, with additional new proposals continuing to surface. Key to this backlog are the number of controversial measures including gun bills, housing/zoning proposals and construction defects.

Adding to the controversy is a phenomenon arising in part from technology. Civic engagement has recently become a pastime for not only advocates on all sides, but those just wanting to offer their “two cents” on a given issue. This is possible with the ability to register and provide testimony on legislation via Zoom from one’s home computer. When remote testimony first became available, it required traveling to a location, usually at a local college campus, that provided teleconferencing capabilities and staff to operate. When COVID arrived, making remote interaction not only desirable but necessary for a vast array of activities, the legislature jumped in and allowed its members to participate in debate and vote remotely, and allowed citizens to participate in legislative hearings through a relatively simple pre-registration process and zoom connection. While this is immensely helpful for citizens across the state to avoid the necessity of traveling to Denver for legislative hearings, it has also raised the profile of the more controversial legislation which now drives hours of debate. On a recent day, three of the higher profile bills were scheduled for debate and vote by the full House of Representatives and under current House rules allotted limited debate time. The most controversial bill, a ban on future purchase of assault weapons, was provided five hours; two bills requiring local governments to allow construction of more dense housing (overriding local zoning) were allotted two and three hours of debate, respectively. Look for more time limits to be placed on upcoming debates as the clock ticks on toward May 8.

Dredge and Fill takes the spotlight, CMA President and CEO Adam Eckman testifies

For CMA members, environmental legislation has been, as usual, among top concerns. Following more than two years’ discussion concerning state development of a dredge and fill permit program to cover the “gap waters” no longer regulated as Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), two bills were introduced. SB 24-127 was introduced in the Senate to cover those gap waters with the program placed in the Department of Natural Resources, and HB 24-1379 was introduced in the House. The House bill within CDPHE, sponsored by Speaker Julie McCluskie, veered sharply from the previously discussed “gap waters” approach to “waters of the state” meaning any and all surface and subsurface waters which are contained in or flow in or through the state. The definition excludes sewage systems, waters in treatment works of disposal systems, waters in potable water distribution systems, and all water withdrawn for use until use and treatment have been completed. The broad scope of waters that would be covered has caused widespread concern among business, industry, agriculture, water providers, and treatment works. Those groups, including CMA, have viewed SB 127 as the better approach to protecting state waters by incorporating the federal 404 Nationwide permits and guidance into state law rather than the hurried and complex rulemaking envisioned by HB 1379. Both bills have passed their first committee hearing with amendments, including an amendment to SB 127 placing it also under the umbrella of CDPHE.

Water Conservation Measures Pushed

Legislation resulting from the report of the Colorado River Drought Task Force is set forth in SB 24-197. The bill makes several changes to existing law: 1) allowing owners of decreed storage water rights to loan water to the CWCB where the CWCB does not hold instream water rights; 2) expands the use of agricultural water protection statewide; and 3) permits electric utilities that own water rights in Water Division 6 to decrease or halt their use of the water without the rights being deemed to be abandoned. The period of non-use would continue until 2050 to allow for future use of that water in clean energy generation. The bill is scheduled for floor debate.

Air Quality Measures Hanging on Budget

CMA joins the business community in opposing several overreaching air quality bills which are sitting in the Appropriations committee of both House and Senate. All except one (24-1339) carry heavy price tags. Examples include SB 24-166 (air quality enforcement with an initial estimate of $18 million) and HB 24-1330 (air quality permitting costing $2.8 million). With only $22 million left to cover legislative proposals from both chambers, their fate is uncertain unless more “budget balancing” mechanics can be devised. A new consideration is how bills with General Fund requests were scored using the new priority voting system to indicate legislator preferences for funding (a legislative beauty contest, so to speak). The previous quadratic voting scheme to determine the relative popularity of bills for funding was tossed by a district court, leading to a newly devised Google poll which was released to the public this week. The spreadsheet divided bills into those with GF impact under $200,000; those over $200,000; and tax credits. It is unclear how the votes and the points awarded will be weighed in final funding decisions. Other bills going before Appropriations have seen their requests cut back; the next week and a half will tell whether these ambitious proposals must wait until next year.

New Property Tax Proposal

What would the end of session be without a new property tax proposal? This referred measure, HCR 24-1006 by Rep. Bob Marshall, would create a new annual property tax revenue growth limit (district limit) for each jurisdiction that levies property tax (district) Of note is a provision considering newly taxed property that includes whether increased amounts attributable to increased production of a producing mine whether wholly or partially within a taxing district causes an increase in the amount of services provided by the district. If approved by 2/3 of each chamber, the constitutional change would go before voters on the November 2024 ballot. As a constitutional measure, 55% of the voters would need to approve the measure for it to be adopted.

And speaking of property taxes, the Property Tax Commission continues to meet following delivery of its initial report on March 15. The group will continue to refine recommendations for a final report in December 2024.

Discharge Fee Increases on the Horizon

CMA is a party to a rulemaking in May that will increase fees for NPDES permits under the state’s Clean Water Act program. The rulemaking, set for May 13, seeks to increase costs for inflation experienced by the water quality control division in administering the permit program. CMA has participated in stakeholder meetings since the passage of SB 23-274 which authorized the Water Quality Control Commission to set fees following stakeholder engagement. The current proposal is for a 13% fee increase. A subsequent rulemaking in May 2025 will address fee increases necessary to stabilize the Clean Water Program, reduce the current backlog to 25% (currently at 66%), and potentially add new services. Resource needs for operating the Clean Water Program can be found https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1tsg38AbIxH6pWs9oTBiC1nQ7gXy10KgqrTK-iTthmyg/edit#lide=id.g26cf433f273_1_116

Dianna Orf
CMA Lobbyist