Legislative Update: Winding Down the Clock

Lawmakers worked furiously over this past weekend to pass as many bills as possible before the clock struck midnight on May 8. Both chambers debated late into the night to clear the final fifty-plus bills from their desks, although some bills did not make it before the deadline, midnight on May 8.

Over six hundred bills were introduced and acted upon since January 9; only 133 have been killed along the way. CMA’s Government Affairs committee met weekly during the legislative session to identify and discuss the ramifications of these bills for potential impact on the mining industry. The examples below highlight but a few of the most notable efforts.

We speculated in previous newsletters about the Governor’s promise to provide property tax relief, while no bills materialized. That changed on Monday, May 1, a scant 10 days before adjournment sine die. SB23-303 was introduced but not made publicly available until late that evening. The fifty-eight-page bill left everyone scrambling to read and understand the measure as it hastily moved through Appropriations committee the next morning, was debated on the floor that evening, with a final Senate vote the next day before moving swiftly to the House. The speed of introduction and the inability to read and understand the measure along with limits on debate resulted in House Republicans walking off the floor during the final vote May 8. A counterproposal by Senate Republicans to form a Property Tax Task Force was killed in Finance committee shortly after introduction. A companion bill, SB 23-304, provided direction to assessors to use additional factors in determining actual value of properties, including current use; existing zoning or government land use, or environmental regulations and restrictions; multiyear leases or other contractual agreements affecting the use of or income from the property; easements and reservations of record; and covenants, conditions, and restrictions of record.

Touted as a ten billion dollar cut in property taxes over the next ten years, the “relief” in SB23-303 is funded by using the excess TABOR refund that would have otherwise been refunded to taxpayers. Some local governments such as school districts, fire districts, and library districts will be protected from lost revenue due to the reduced assessment rates. Nevertheless, debate revealed a smoke and mirrors effort that makes a small reduction in property tax impact while raising the state revenue cap into the future, which could effectively eliminate TABOR refunds. A second measure, HB 23-1311, provides relief for renters if SB 303 is adopted as a statutory referred measure by voters in November.

Major bills crossing the finish line include a measure to turn water quality fees at CDPHE over to the Water Quality Control Commission (SB23-274) following stakeholder meetings which will begin once the bill becomes law. Another bill receiving final legislative approval is designed to tackle Colorado’s failure to comply with the federal ozone standard. HB23-1294 was significantly amended throughout the session in the Senate. More limited than its introduced version, it now includes a legislative interim committee to study causes and potential solutions to improve air quality. The bill also changes the complaint process at the Air Pollution Control division and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (OGCC) as well as providing a private right of action if the OGCC fails to act on a complaint. CMA opposed both bills.

The Colorado River Drought Task Force (SB23-295) focuses on threats to Colorado River users from drought and over-use by the lower basin states and brings together a diverse array of stakeholders to consider potential recommendations for legislation in 2024 to protect Colorado’s interest against potential allocation of shortages by the federal government to ensure compact compliance. Those meetings will begin no later than July 31 and must conclude by December 15. CMA will closely monitor the work of this body.

Also receiving final approval is HB23-1210, which instructs two state agencies (CDPHE and OEDIT) to collaborate and hire a qualified organization to develop a carbon management roadmap for the state to evaluate opportunities in carbon management. Management includes CO2 removal from the atmosphere, carbon capture, sequestration, and utilization. Various economic sectors to be included in the roadmap as well as for project prioritization include mine reclamation. This bill compliments SB23-285. These two bills are the result of a report presented by the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission at the behest of the Governor to develop legislative recommendations to establish a framework for carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) in Colorado, including state primacy to regulate Class VI injection wells. Although the carbon program has been eliminated from this session’s legislation, we anticipate Its return in the future.

No session would be complete without a major environmental bill to address climate. This year’s contribution is SB23-016 which provides tax incentives for electric lawn and garden equipment. It also includes a requirement that insurance companies complete a climate risk survey, requires that PERA assess climate risks in its investment portfolio, directs a study on the need for expanded transmission capacity, and authorizes the Department of Natural to regulate Class VI injection wells.

In conjunction with SB 285, it gives authority over Class VI injection wells to the Carbon and Energy Management Commission at DNR after receiving primacy from EPA and a state study on safety has been completed.

Controversial topics grabbing headlines in the final weeks of the session include a top-down Land Use bill from the Governor’s office which continued to morph with each group of amendments. SB23-213 focused on increasing the number of housing units available in the state and supporting climate goals through increasing housing density and use of transit, but the centralization of planning and removal of local control from traditional planning bodies at counties and municipalities generated a huge backlash. The bill included a Task Force to study affordable housing and homelessness.

The 150-plus page bill eroded trust between the Governor’s office and local governments which may continue into the future. On the final night of session, SB23-213 was killed in the Senate when the two chambers could not agree on amendments. Since the bill did not pass, there remains the potential for a special session to resolve the matter.

As usual, much legislation is formulated by small groups of advocates working during the interim with a friendly legislator, then presented as if fully discussed with affected parties. An increasing trend, however, is for difficult policy questions to be handed off by the legislature to various committees and task forces, sometimes under the umbrella of a regulatory agency or state office. These may be technically open to the public under Open Meetings laws but are not highly publicized or visible to the public without significant research. These behind-the-scenes efforts result in bills being introduced with a “consensus” among advocates bearing the imprimatur of state approval before ever seeing a legislative vote.

Over the next several months prior to January 2024 additional discussion and recommendations for new legislation will occur as interim committees, task forces, and stakeholder meetings are convened. Hence, the work during the 120-day legislative session presents only the most visible piece of a complex puzzle which seldom displays all its pieces.