Saturday, April 5, 2008

School Nutrition Bill Hits Ritter's Desk

The Senate re-approved a bill requiring public schools, including charter schools, to avoid making soft drinks and other heavily sugared drinks available to students in vending machines, cafeterias and at on-campus events, sending the measure to Gov. Bill Ritter.

SB 129 directs school districts and the charter school institute to write policies limiting students' choice to milk, flavored milk, juices, sports drinks and water.

The Senate took the measure up again because it had been amended in the House. The final vote was 21-14.

Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins, was the only Republican senator to support the bill, which had the support of all the chamber's Democrats.

Democrat Dan Gibbs of Silverthorne carried the bill in the Senate.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

State Employee Strike Ban Gets Guv's OK

A bill that would make clear that state employees are not allowed to strike won Gov. Bill Ritter's approval Thursday.

HB 1189 provides that a state employee or a labor organization commits a misdemeanor by inciting, encouraging, aiding or participating in a "strike, stoppage of work, slowdown or interruption of operations."

Ritter issued an executive order allowing state employees to form collective bargaining organizations for limited purposes last year.

His order purported to prohibit strikes by state employees.

However, Republicans, spurred on by an opinion by Attorney General John Suthers, had argued that Ritter's executive order opened the door to public employee strikes because Colorado had no law prohibiting them.

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, and Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne.

HB 1189 goes into effect immediately because the bill has an "emergency clause."

Ritter Signs Eagle Hunting and Computer-Based Hunting Bans

Gov. Bill Ritter signed Thursday a bill that increases the penalties for poaching eagles in Colorado, as well as a measure that forbids the use of remote computer facilities to assist in hunting.

HB 1304 increases the fine applicable to illegal hunting of a bald eagle to $10,000 to $100,000 and specifies that a person convicted of such poaching will be assessed 20 suspension points against their hunting license.

The measure provides to bald eagles the same level of protection against poaching as exists for golden eagles, American peregrine falcon, desert bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and Rocky Mountain goat.

The state has 42 breeding pairs of bald eagles. The species was removed from the list of those protected as endangered or threatened under federal law last year.

The new bald eagle protection law was sponsored by Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village.

Ritter also signed HB 1200, which makes remote hunting by means of a computer a crime. The measure is intended to prevent hunters from killing wildlife without being present in the general physical proximity of their prey.

Rep. John Soper, D-Thornton, and Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, were the sponsors of the remote hunting ban bill.

PHOTO: Gov. Ritter signs House Bill 1304 into law while Sigrid Noll Ueblacker of the Broomfield-based Birds of Prey Foundation, state Rep. Judy Solano (far left), Sen. Gail Schwartz – and an eagle – look on.

Spam Reduction Bill Heads to Ritter

A bill that would markedly toughen penalties for sending unsolicited commercial email messages, and give the state maximum ability to enforce the federal CAN-Spam Act as well as consumers education needed to fight spam, is on its way to Gov. Ritter.

HB 1178, sponsored by Reps. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, and John Soper, D-Thornton, as well as Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, cleared the House a second time Thursday morning. The House had to take up the bill again, after initially giving it final clearance in February, because the Senate amended it before giving a final nod last week.

Carroll lauded the measure as an essential tool to fight a growing economic burden on business.

"Today the legislature sent a strong bi-partisan message – enough!” Carroll said. "Colorado companies and average citizens spend too much time, energy and money sifting through ridiculous claims of million dollar paydays, ads for E.D. medications and various other schemes -- just to get to their personal emails. This will not do."

According to a report issued by the University of Maryland, spam cost U.S. business about $22 billion in lost productivity in 2005. Another report, released by Nucleus Research in April 2007, says the lost productivity value is now about $70 billion.

Hagedorn said the bill is also aimed at helping the elderly, who are increasingly targets of computer crime.

"Spammers are using increasingly more sophisticated methods to target elderly folks and those with less computer know-how, conning them out of money and personal information like credit and social security numbers,” he said.

The average American receives, on average, at least 2,200 spam email messages each year, according to

The proposed Spam Reduction Act of 2008 will become law in August if signed by Ritter.

Ritter, Legislators Announce Plan to Use Mineral Royalties To Create Rainy Day Reserve, Fund Higher Ed Capital Projects, Assist Local Communities

Gov. Bill Ritter and a bipartisan group of legislators announced Thursday morning a landmark bill to use the state's share of federal mineral royalties to fund higher education capital projects, assist local communities affected by energy development activities, and establish a reserve fund that would stabilize higher education funding.

About $1 billion of the expected royalty revenues would be directed to affected communities over the next decade. Another $650 million would be alloated toward capital construction projects at colleges and universities around the state.

The proposal would also direct three-quarters of a billion dollars into public education over the next ten years and dedicate $150 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Any bonus payments received by the state, in addition to royalties, would be used to fund the new rainy day reserve dedicated to higher education maintenance and appropriations stabilization. Another portion of those bonus payments would go into a "local government permanent fund" to help communities affected by energy extraction activities.

The U.S. government receives royalties on minerals, except for those governed by the General Mining Law of 1872, extracted from federal public lands. Colorado, like all other states, receives a share of the royalties attributable to extraction activities within its borders.

Forecasts say that Colorado can expect to receive about $2.7 billion in royalty payments between 2008 and 2018.

The bipartisan sponsors of the historic legislation spoke of its importance to assuring Colorado's fiscal stability as the bill was released this morning.

"The real legacy of this bi-partisan legislation is that when the drilling stops, Colorado will have a substantial permanent fund to take care of the state's colleges, universities and impacted communities,” Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, said.

Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, noted that the proposal, if enacted into law, would be Colorado's first effort to tap energy extraction as a means of funding basic needs in over 100 years of mining history.

"We’ve had repeated booms from mineral and energy development in this state for over 100 years,” Buescher said. “This will be the first time we put something away for our children.”

SB 218 will make its first legislative stop in the Senate Education Committee. The measure is sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, along with Penry and Buescher.

House Ag Committee Kills Mining Regulation Bill

A House committee killed Wednesday a bill that would have expanded the regulatory authority and size of the state's Mined Land Reclamation Board.

HB 1165 aimed to expand the state's ability to assure that all kinds of mining operations are conducted in a manner compatible with environmental concerns. A primary goal of the bill was to strengthen reclamation standards applicable to mine sites and assure that permittees have the resources needed to finance restoration of the mine site.

It also would have given local governments an effective veto over permits for a mine, including the ability to require conditions for approval.

The measure also would have added the director of the Department of Public Health and Environment and a local government representative to the board.

HB 1165 died by a one-vote margin. Democrats Mary Hodge of Brighton and Wes McKinley of Walsh joined all of the panel's Republicans in opposition.

The bill was sponsored by Fort Collins Democrats Randy Fischer and John Kefalas.

Colorado is in the midst of a mining boom. According to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times, Colorado and Utah have had the fastest growth in mining claims in the nation since 2003. The Environmental Working Group says that active claims in the Centennial state have more than quadrupled since then.

A 1992 accident at the Summitville mine in the Rio Grande National Forest killed all aquatic life in a 17-mile stretch of the Alamosa River. Costs to remedy the environmental damage exceeded $150 million. The mining company paid about one-fifth of that expense.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bipartisan Effort to Create Rainy Day Fund Breaks Down After Ritter Says "No"

A bipartisan effort to create and fund a larger financial reserve for the state, conducted against the backdrop of the Senate's debate over the budget, ran into a big roadblock Wednesday after Gov. Bill Ritter's office said he opposed the compromise proposal.

Republican senators, including Greg Brophy of Wray and Josh Penry of Fruita, approached Senate Democrats about shifting about $30 million into a fund to cope with the possible effects of economic recession.

According to a Rocky Mountain News report, talks between the two parties hit a snag after Ritter's spokesman said the governor did not favor the particular cuts suggested as a way to get the $30 million.

"The budget amendments proposed by Republican senators to create a rainy day fund would have cut into public safety, prisons, criminal justice, health care, education and clean energy," Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said in a statement sent to Colorado Capitol Journal and other media entities. "Gov. Ritter is committed to saving taxpayer dollars and running state government as cost-effectively as possible - especially when the economy is in a precarious condition. But those were bad ideas."

The Senate later passed HB 1375, the so-called "long bill," on second reading after fending off a number of Republican amendments.

The Rocky article quotes Penry as saying discussions about how to fund a "rainy day" reserve will continue through third reading debate tomorrow.

In fact, according to another Rocky article posted this evening, Ritter will announce Thursday, along with a group of bipartisan legislators, a bill that taps into the state's share of federal mineral leasing revenue to create a rainy-day fund.

According to the article, the state's share of those revenues - about $671 million over the next ten years - will be used to increase higher education capital funding, build or improve roads, and create the new reserve.

Colorado does currently save some money. By law, the state must balance its budget each year and also has two reserve funds already in place.

The Taxpayers Bill of Rights requires the legislature to set aside three percent of revenues each year for "declared emergencies." However, TABOR specifies that economic conditions and revenue shortfalls do not qualify as "declared emergencies" justifying use of the funds in the reserve it created.

The other set-aside is the so-called "statutory reserve," which obligates the General Assembly to save four percent of annual appropriations. This fund is replenished each year because, practically speaking, it operates as a short-term cash kitty.

In addition to the two reserves already in place, the so-called Arveschoug-Bird law limits growth in general fund spending to a maximum of six percent per year.

According to a 2002 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Colorado is one of nine states that lack a reserve specifically created to help the state weather economic recession and associated revenue declines.

More recent data gathered by the same organization indicates that Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas and Montana are the only four states that have no money set aside in a "rainy day" fund.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hagedorn Introduces Broad Healthcare Reform Legislation

A bill that aims to get health insurance coverage into the hands of 800,000 Colorado residents who don't currently have it was introduced in the Senate March 28.

SB 217 would allow health insurers to provide the state with plans to expand coverage. A commission to study ways of making participation in those plans available to people who don't have health insurance would be created and would have to report to the General Assembly in 2009.

The measure would call for the use of federal block grant funds provided Colorado for health and other purposes to subsidize the premiums needed to secure the participation in the private sector health plans by uninsured individuals.

A commission appointed last year issued a report in January that concluded that extending coverage to all of the state's uninsured could cost as much as $1.5 billion.

The measure also includes a coverage mandate. All residents of the state would be required by law, if the bill is enacted, to obtain private health insurance coverage. In exchange, health insurance providers would be required to issue a policy to anyone who applies for one.

In a report published in the Denver Business Journal, sponsor Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, said that the approach proposed by his bill is the only practical alternative to a single-payer, government-run health care system.

The report also quoted Hagedorn as saying he has secured bipartisan support for the measure, including from Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins, and Reps. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.

Massachusetts imposed a coverage mandate on its residents in 2007. According to a recent Boston Globe article, the program in that state is expected to cost $1.35 billion per year by 2011, up from $158 million in the first year of the program's life.

Vermont and Maine have also launched efforts at achieving universal private health insurance coverage in those states.

Solar Energy Financing Bill Leaps First Hurdle

A bill that would make low- or no-interest loans available to homeowners and businesses who want to install solar energy collectors cleared a House committee today.

Under HB 1350, the state government, as well as local and county governments, would be given permission to lend money for investment in solar panels and other renewable energy technology.

According to a report in today's Denver Post, the cost of a solar system can average about $25,000. Some electric utilities offer rebates and there are tax incentives to assist with the purchase price. However, according to the Post report, such assistance defrays only about one-half of the purchase price of the system.

"Right now, even with the rebates and knowing it will save you money in the long run, many homeowners don't even consider putting solar on their house," said Rep. Alice Madden, D-Boulder, the bill sponsor. "They know they're going to have to come up with some up-front payment."

The bill would also make the loans available for improvements to a structure aimed at lowering energy use.

The measure is similar to a separate bill moving in the Senate. SB 184, sponsored by Democrat Chris Romer of Denver, would create a fund for loans to homeowners interested in doing smaller-scale energy efficiency improvements to their homes.

The committee vote to send HB 1350 to the House floor was unanimous.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Senate Gives Final OK to Ban on CCR Provisions Affecting Renewable Energy Equipment

The Senate gave final approval Monday to a bill that would forbid homeowner associations from prohibiting renewable energy devices and certain other items that can save energy.

HB 1270 allows HOA regulations included in covenants to regulate such devices only if they do not raise the cost or practical obstacles to the point of making installation impractical or impossible.

The Senate adopted an amendment by Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, on second reading that would grant HOAs further latitude to regulate wind turbines. The amendment is aimed at allowing HOAs to take account of the noise created by those devices.

The bill now heads back to the House for consideration of the Senate amendments. It is sponsored by Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and Tupa.

Colorado has had a ban on enforcement of covenants that unreasonably restrict solar energy devices since 1979.

School Nutrition Bill Gets Preliminary House OK

The House has given preliminary approval to a bill that would limit the kinds of beverages that can be sold to students at public schools and at charter schools.

SB 129 does not specifically ban the sale of soft drinks and other heavily sugar-laden beverages on school campuses. Instead, it would require school districts and the charter school institute to write policies that forbid the sale of beverages that do not meet minimum nutritional standards.

The bill would apply to sales in cafeterias, from vending machines and school stores, and at fundraising events held on campuses.

The House sponsor is Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley. It was carried in the Senate by Democrat Dan Gibbs of Silverthorne.

The measure faces one more vote in the House. If it passes on third reading, it will go to Gov. Bill Ritter.

House Passes Mortician Licensure Bill

If a bill given final passage in the House Monday survives its next test in the Senate, Colorado may soon become the last of the fifty states to require morticians to be licensed.

HB 1123 would return the state's law on the licensure of people who prepare dead human bodies for burial or cremation to it's pre-1982 condition.

In 1977 the legislature passed a bill terminating funeral director licensing requirements, but ultimately delayed the end of the state's licensing program through 1981.

The measure would also establish standards of practice for cremation and require registration with the department of regulatory agencies of funeral directors, embalmers, cremationists and interns.

It also imposes training requirements for these categories of funeral industry workers and requires DORA to track and monitor funeral homes, crematories, embalmers, funeral arrangement services and entities that transport dead human bodies.

The final House vote on the bill was marked by a strong partisan divide. Reps. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, and Victor Mitchell, R-Castle Pines Village, were the only GOP members of the chamber to support HB 1123. Democrats Dorothy Butcher of Pueblo, Joel Judd of Denver and Paul Weissman of Louisville joined all of the other House Republicans in voting "no."

The General Assembly had passed a bill re-instituting mortician licensure in 2006, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Bill Owens.

HB 1123 is sponsored by Rep. Debbie Stafford, D-Aurora. It now moves on to the Senate.