Friday, February 22, 2008

Cap on Municipal Solar Facility Fees Gets Senate Nod

A bill that would cap the fees that can be charged by municipalities for approval of solar energy systems was given preliminary approval by the Senate Thursday.

SB 117 would limit the amount that could be assessed to $300 for a residential permit and $1,000 for a non-residential permit. Currently, fees vary widely around the state. In Denver, the fee for approval of a solar energy system is $59, while in Aurora it is nearly $1,000.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, is the sponsor of the bill. He told fellow Senators during debate on the measure that fee caps would eliminate a large obstacle to the proliferation of solar energy generation facilities and more renewable energy use.

Proponents of the bill said in committee hearings that, in some cases under current law, the permit fees can be equivalent to ten percent of the total cost of the system.

An industry advocate argued in a recent Rocky Mountain News editorial column that high municipal solar permit fees can also offset several years worth of energy bill savings to the consumer.

Breastfeeding Accommodation Bill Approved by Committee

A bill requiring employers to set aside space for nursing mothers to breastfeed their infants, or pump milk for storage, was overwhelmingly approved by the House Business Affairs & Labor Committee Thursday.

HB 1276 would impose on private businesses a "reasonable accommodation" standard, requiring the employer to provide time and space for breastfeeding.

The proposed "Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act" does not require employers to pay female employees for the time taken to nurse an infant or expel milk. The bill would allow employers to designate established break and meal interludes as periods available for nursing, so long as they are sufficiently numerous to be the necessary reasonable accommodation.

The bill also requires that the employer provide space other than a toilet stall for nursing purposes.

HB 1276 is sponsored by Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne.

Dyslexia Assistance Bill Gets Okay From House Committee

A bill that would provide resources to help teachers identify dyslexic students, and to teach them to read, passed the House Education Committee Thursday.

HB 1223, sponsored by Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, requires the state's Department of Education to provide technical assistance and training to school districts, local educational facilities and other school units.

“Effectively addressing dyslexia is one of the keys to reaching Governor Ritter’s goals of increasing the literacy rate and cutting our drop-out rate in half in the next 10 years,” Merrifield said in a news release issued by the House Democratic Caucus. “If we are serious about developing a well-educated workforce in Colorado for strong economic development in the 21st century, we must attend to the needs of our many dyslexic students.”

Merrifield also said that estimates indicate about 100,000 Colorado children are dyslexic, which adds up to about one of every five kids in each classroom.

The bill also applies to other conditions that cause children to have difficulty learning to read.

GOP English Proficiency Bill Gets Education Committee Approval

A Republican bill requiring all students in Colorado to demonstrate proficiency in written and spoken English before graduation from high school won endorsement by the Senate Education Committee Thursday.

SB 98 drew opposition from several Democrats on the committee, who argued that a forthcoming curriculum standards proposal would include English language requirements.

However, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said he would withdraw his bill if that proposal does include standards requiring high school seniors to demonstrate the ability to speak and write English before graduation.

Two Democrats on the committee voted "yes." They were Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora. Democrats Sue Windels of Arvada and Ron Tupa of Boulder were the only "no" votes.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Teen Tobacco Use Ban Passes Senate

The Senate passed Wednesday a bill that would ban minors from possessing tobacco.

SB 88, which its sponsor calls the "Teen Tobacco Use Prevention Act," does not criminalize the possession or use of tobacco by children under the age of 18. Instead, the bill authorizes law enforcement officers to confiscate cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco or any other tobacco product found in a minor's possession.

The bill also forbids tobacco retailers and others from selling or otherwise providing minors with cigarettes or other tobacco products. Violation of those provisions is made a petty offense subject to a fine for each violation. The bill would require tobacco merchants to ask for identification before selling tobacco products.

SB 88 also preserves the right of Colorado municipalities to enact criminal prohibitions against possession of tobacco products by minors.

Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, sponsored the bill in the Senate, while the House sponsor is Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

Senate Passes "Textbook Affordability Act"

The Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would require the state's colleges to provide students information about the price of required textbooks and the amount of time expected to go by before the publisher revises the textbook.

SB 73 was approved on a 31-4 vote, with Republicans Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs, Nancy Spence of Centennial, and Tom Wiens of Castle Rock and Democrat Suzanne Williams of Aurora opposing it.

The measure now moves over to the House, where it is sponsored by Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins.

The Senate sponsor is Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder.

Sex Offender Monitoring Bill Gets Committee Okay

A House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would require all violent sex offenders to wear a monitoring bracelet allowing the state to keep track of their whereabouts.

HB 1219, sponsored by Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, would apply to about 400 people in Colorado who have been convicted of such violent sex crimes as rape, sexual assault of a child or unlawful sexual contact with a child. The House Judiciary Committee approved the measure after narrowing its introduced scope, which would have reached anyone convicted of any crime considered sexual in nature.

The bill's supporters got help at the hearing from the father of a Florida girl who was murdered after being abducted and assaulted by a sex offender in 2005.

Mark Lunsford told the committee that the cost of the bracelets and monitoring is less than that of re-incarcerating offenders or of losing more children to violent predators.

The monitoring devices would allow law enforcement authorities to track convicted violent sex offenders' movements via satellite.

The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to refer the bill to the House Appropriations Committee.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

House Committee Approves Interest Rate Caps on Payday Loans

A House committee approved Tuesday a bill that would cap the amount of interest that can be charged on short-term loans by "payday lenders."

The bill, sponsored by rookie Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, caps interest rates at a 45% annual rate. Under current law payday lenders can charge as much as 350% per year interest.

HB 1310 also limits the amount of fees a payday lender can charge to $60 per twelve-month period.

The bill now moves to the House floor.

Democratic Bill Raising Personal Property Tax Exemption Passes House Committee

A bill that would increase the amount of business assets exempt from paying the state's personal property tax was approved by a House committee Tuesday.

HB 1225 would raise from $2,500 to $7,500 the amount of assets owned by a business that are exempt from the personal property tax, which is levied against the value of any item used in a business that is not a fixture.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, now moves to the House floor.

According to a news release issued by the House Democratic Caucus, the bill would relieve 30,000 businesses of the obligation to file personal property tax returns.

New State Board of Ed Member Goff To Be Sworn In Mar. 5

Newly-appointed state School Board member Jane Goff will be sworn in on March 5, says the Department of Education.

Goff, a 34-year veteran of the classroom, was appointed by a Congressional District 7 vacancy committee last week to replace Karen Middleton, who was appointed to the District 42 seat in the House vacated earlier in the session by Michael Garcia, D-Aurora.

Goff will have to stand for election to the Board of Education this autumn if she wishes to remain in the seat.

McElhany Criticizes PUC Reauthorization as "Trojan Horse" for "Extreme Green Agenda"

The Senate minority leader attacked Tuesday a bill to reauthorize the state's Public Utilities Commission, labeling it a "trojan horse" for the Democratic majority's "extreme green agenda."

HB 1227 would authorize the PUC to consider "social, economic and environmental" factors in determining rates that can be charged by utilities subject to its regulatory authority. Those factors would be in addition to the mandates to consider the impact on consumer prices and access to utility services imposed by current law.

The bill, sponsored by House majority leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, would also allow the PUC to impose fines on public utilities and give the agency control over litigation filed by the Attorney General on its behalf.

The controversy surrounding the alleged change to the agency's mission arises from sections 6 and 7 of the bill. Those provisions authorize the Department of Public Health and Environment to notify the PUC of its concerns about matters before the rate-setting body and require the Office of Consumer Counsel, which advocates for ratepayers before the PUC, to consider "social, economic and environmental" impacts of utility rate proposals when developing arguments to be presented. Another section requires the PUC to consider information provided by DPHE, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Local Government and the Governor's Energy Office in rate cases.

The omnibus bill includes several other contentious issues, including the regulation of taxis and a provision allowing ex parte communication between the Office of Consumer Counsel and the PUC on rulemaking matters.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Levy's Judge Bill Moves On

A bill by Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, to prevent judges on county courts from hearing cases in which a party is a current or former judge of the same court was approved by a House committee last week.

HB 1193, which the sponsor said is an effort to further bolster public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, was unanimously approved by the House Judiciary Committee Feb. 15.

Levy had been criticized last autumn after a Boulder judge awarded title to land owned by Don and Susie Kirlin to a former judge of the same court and his wife.

Levy has said that she introduced HB 1193 to reassure the public that all means reasonably available to assure judicial neutrality are made available by the law.