Legislative Update: It’s a Wrap!

The 74th General Assembly adjourned sine die around 8 pm on May 8. They will return as a body on January 8, 2025, with some new faces following the November elections.

The session seemed busier than usual, with 705 bills introduced plus additional resolutions and procedural measures. Of those, only 180 were killed outright or allowed to die “on the calendar” by failing to receive final approval by the deadline. Of note were five bills introduced in the final seven days of the session including a property tax measure that reflected a compromise among the Governor’s office, major Colorado business interests, the Bell Policy Center, Realtors, and Colorado Counties, Inc. No bill could pass both chambers if it were introduced after May 6; a bill requires a minimum of three legislative days for passage.

The Year of the Deal

The 2024 legislative session was marked by several “grand compromises” in addition to the last-minute introduction of SB24-233 – the property tax bill.

In part, SB24-233 does the following: it establishes a 5.5% annual cap on the increase in statewide property-tax revenues. It also decouples assessments for school districts and for all other governments, so that cities and counties choosing to offer property-tax relief can do so without cutting into educational budgets.

It establishes a 6.7% local-government assessment rate on residential property this year and a 6.4% rate next year before permanently putting in place a 6.95% rate in 2026 that will be calculated only after homeowners subtract 10% of their home value, up to $70,000.

For the 2024 property tax year, the bill carries over the temporary assessment rates and actual value subtractions so that they apply to improved commercial property for the 2023 property tax year. This includes a 27.9 percent assessment rate applied to the actual value of the property minus $30,000 or the amount that reduces assessed value to $1,000, down from 29 percent with no subtraction under current law. Beginning with the 2025 property tax year, the assessment rate for improved commercial property is reduced from 29 percent under current law to 27 percent, then further each year until reaching a 25 percent rate in 2027.

It does NOT address Mining or Oil and Gas properties. For a more thorough discussion, see https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2024A/bills/fn/2024a_sb233_r2.pdf

The bill was amended to provide that it will not take effect if (a) An initiative that reduces valuations for assessment is approved by the people at the general election held on November 5, 2024; (b) An initiative that requires voter approval for retaining property tax revenue that exceeds a limit is approved by the people at the general election held on November 5, 2024.

Air Emissions and Oil and Gas

With the Northern Front Range facing designation as a severe non-attainment region for ozone pollution, several bills had been introduced focusing on emissions from oil and gas operations, transportation, and industry with their impact on disproportionately impacted communities. With authority derived from HB 21-1266 (Environmental Justice) these bills would have established new permitting requirements including modeling, required more stringent standards that could be demanded by local communities, strengthened enforcement, and established standards for indirect sources of pollution such as facilities generating transportation emissions. CMA, along with others in the business community, opposed these bills throughout the session, speaking in opposition. Certain provisions of the legislation would have impacted not only oil and gas emissions, but other industries state-wide. When the Governor’s Office entered the fray and negotiated a compromise with a handful of oil and gas producers, there was an audible sigh of relief in the Capitol.

HB24-1330, HB24-1339, SB24-165. SB24-166 were killed, along with HB24-1367 which would have repealed a severance tax exemption for stripper wells. In exchange, two new bills were enacted: SB24-229 “Ozone Mitigation” and SB24-230 “Oil and Gas Production Fees” which created yet another enterprise to collect the fees which will be directed to rapid transit in the Front Range. The hope is that increased transit will reduce precursors of ozone pollution from single-occupancy vehicles. Money will also be directed to CPW to support wildlife habitat lost to oil and gas operations. The understanding had been that enactment of SB24-229 and SB24-230 would also result in certain ballot initiatives being withdrawn and that there would be a hiatus in the introduction of anti-oil/gas bills for a period of time; however, at least one group stated publicly that it had not been party to the compromise and would not forego pushing future legislation.

Dredge and Fill

Yet another example of negotiation and compromise is HB24-1379, with bill sponsors Representatives Julie McCluskie and Karen McCormick and Senators Dylan Roberts and Barbara Kirkmeyer working with environmental groups and industry stakeholders to achieve a consensus bill. Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. EPA in May 2023, the state was faced with various water segments including wetlands no longer regulated under the Clean Water Act as “waters of the U.S.” HB24-1379 establishes a new dredge and fill permit program at CDPHE to protect “waters of the state.” CMA members worked closely with the water community to merge provisions of SB24-127 (an early dredge and fill bill) into HB24-1379. Both bills were highly technical and drew upon existing provisions in the Federal 404 program from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as addressing state-specific concerns.

The bill, as passed by the General Assembly, applies to all state waters subject to exclusions and exemptions. Some (but not all) of the key provisions addressed through negotiations include incorporation of nationwide general permits, isolated waters, ditches, areas for rulemakings, federal 404 guidelines, and trigger for additional funding, The bill, which received final approval on May 6, was signed by Governor Jared Polis on May 29, 2024. Thanks to CMA Government Affairs Vice-Chair Jim Sanderson for his expertise and drafting skills on this issue! He and CMA President & CEO Adam Eckman both testified on the dredge and fill legislation both in House and Senate committees.

Tort Reform

A fourth last-minute compromise is the bi-partisan tort reform bill, HB24-1472. Introduced on May 5 (just in time for passage), the bill raises the limits on damages in civil case and makes other changes, specifically by:

  • increasing the total amount of damages for noneconomic loss or injury in non-medical malpractice cases to $1.5 million and adjusting the cap by inflation every 2 years after starting in 2028;
  • allowing siblings of a person whose death was caused by certain negligence to sue and recover damages if the deceased had no surviving spouse, heirs, or designated beneficiary, or if the deceased was unmarried without descendants, and had no mother or no father;
  • setting a wrongful death cap for damages at $2.125 million;
  • setting the cap for noneconomic loss in and injury in wrongful death medical malpractice cases to $550,000 in 2025, $810,000 in 2026, $1.065 million in 2027, $1.320 million in 2028, $1.575 million in 2029; and adjusted for inflation in 2030 and every two years after;
  • setting the cap for damages for course of care in medical malpractice cases to the greater of $1.0 million present value patient or 125 percent of the noneconomic damages limitations effective at the time of the acts occurred present value per patient;
  • increases the cap of noneconomic loss or injury in medical malpractice cases to $415,000 in 2025, $530,000 in 2026, $645,000 in 2027, $760,000 in 2028, $875,000 in 2029, and then adjusted for inflation in 2030 and every two years after.

The final days of the second regular session of the 74th General Assembly were marked by tributes to departing members, long waits for conference committees and amendments being drafted, followed by a determined push to complete final votes. During the last week of the session, the body met late into the evenings as well as on Saturday and Sunday, voting on as many as sixty bills per day. And the good news is… It will start all over again in 223 days!

Dianna Orf
CMA Lobbyist