Yesterday, Wednesday May 10th, was the final day of the 2017 Colorado Legislative Session. This session was a successful one for the Colorado Water Congress and Colorado’s water community. We could not have reached our goals without our contract lobbyist Dianna Orf and her firm, Orf & Orf, P.C. A huge thank you for their daily efforts at the Capitol for the past 120 days.
The CWC tracked 34 bills this session, and took positions on 27. Of those 27, the CWC State Affairs Committee voted to support 19, to oppose four, and to monitor four. The bills that we did not take a position on are bills on which we could not reach a 2/3 consensus vote.
Of the 19 bills that the CWC supported, only one did not make it through the legislative process. Of the four bills that CWC opposed, only one, SB17-117, passed through both houses and has been signed by Governor Hickenlooper. For a more comprehensive look at the bills CWC took positions on this session, check out our Bill Status Sheet, which I’ll update as the Governor signs legislation.
HB17-1321, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Financial Sustainability
HB17-1321 was postponed indefinitely, or “killed” on May 4th in the Senate Finance Committee. The CWC State Affairs Committee voted to support the sections of this bill (Sections 19-23) that related to protecting waterways from the spread of aquatic nuisance species. The bill was designed to provide continued and increased funding for the Division of Parks and Wildlife (CPW). It authorized increased fees and licenses issued by CPW and its vendors as set by Commission rules, not to exceed set amounts. It also sought to add a fee for an aquatic nuisance species sticker which would have worked similarly to a boater registration sticker. As introduced, the bill prohibited the use of money from increased fees for acquisition of interests in real property including water. This provision was amended in committee and caused significant controversy during floor debate. The bill also intended to allow CPW to grant up to 25% of funds from the sale of state migratory waterfowl stamps to nonprofit organizations to implement the North American waterfowl management plan. The use of fees to acquire fee title in additional property was a significant issue in the Senate, and ultimately contributed to the downfall of the bill in Senate Finance.
Recognize Industrial Hemp Agricultural Product for Agricultural Water Right, SB17-117. SB17-117,
sponsored by Sen. Coram and Reps Catlin and Valdez, recognizes industrial hemp as part of Colorado’s agricultural production to which an irrigation water right may be applied. The CWC State Affairs Committee voted to oppose the bill based on its contradiction of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA). Regardless of the bill’s passage, a state law cannot override a federal law, and our State Affairs Committee considered the message that supporting this legislation might send to our membership and even the public. Furthermore, the ability to irrigate all crops is already covered in a State Engineer’s policy and written instruction concerning hemp from 2015. Concerns were raised by other entities regarding the impact on other crops if this one crop, hemp, is singled out for specific mention in statute. The bill intended to create a shield for hemp growers to use federally developed water, if they comply with state law; however, this “safety net” is open to question, as a state statute does not supersede the CSA. The State Affairs Committee convened a subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Valdez and CWC vice-chair Bruce Whitehead to address the bill and work with the bill sponsors to consider solutions outside of an addition to statute. CWC hoped to instead help draft a resolution conveying the same message outlined in the bill, however, the sponsors preferred to keep the language in bill form. CWC contacted our congressional delegation and learned that the hemp issue is something they’re aware of and have worked on via Rep. Massie’s (R-KY) 2015 hemp amendment, which passed the US House with bipartisan support. SB17-117 was amended in committee to reference the 2014 Farm Bill and the Omnibus Appropriations Act, which prohibits the use of funds to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale or use of industrial hemp. This issue spreads beyond Colorado and will continue to be on our Federal Affairs Committee radar in the moving forward.
Public Access to Government Files
Of all the bills tracked by CWC this session, one bill stands out that we spent the most energy on. At first glance, the bill doesn’t appear to be a water bill. Stated best by Sen. Kefalas on the final day of the session, SB17-40, can be likened to The Adventures of Milo and Otis, having been through many iterations and challenges along its journey to passage. The bill applies the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requirements to a variety of electronic files retained by governmental entities including state agencies, special districts, institutions of higher education, counties and municipalities. New definitions were added to cover the type of information stored, and requires custodians of records to provide the information to requestors in a searchable format.
When the bill was first introduced, CWC took an oppose position because we felt that water utilities could potentially be left vulnerable to structural and cyber-attacks. However, as the bill continued to move forward in the process, CWC felt that by developing amendment language to protect water utilities from requests of infrastructure security data, our concerns and those of our members could be relieved, and our position changed to “support with CWC language”.
CWC requested an amendment to protect critical infrastructure security data from disclosure to requestors. Although our language was included in the final Senate version, quite a battle ensued in the House to remove our amendment. After hours of stakeholder and subcommittee meetings, CWC and the bill proponents reached accord on infrastructure disclosure language.
Over the life of the bill, there were 58 amendments. The bill passed both houses, was concurred upon on the final day of session, and awaits the Governor’s signature.
CWC’s Executive Director Doug Kemper is grateful to have worked with Dan Hodges of Colorado Springs Utilities, Dianna Orf, Orf & Orf P.C., Greg Romberg representing the Colorado Press Association, and Peg Pearl with Colorado Ethics Watch throughout the stakeholder and amendment processes.
SB17-235, Pilot Project Seaplanes Land in State Parks
Another bill that CWC spent a good deal of energy to defeat was SB17-235 If you’re on the State Affairs Committee, read my previous legislative update, or have heard me speak on legislation at all this session, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the Seaplane bill, so I’ll spare you the aquatic nuisance species details, or you could read about them here. CWC opposed the bill under the rationale that seaplanes have the potential to carry aquatic nuisance species on their pontoons, like boats do. Without proper inspection, the state of Colorado can’t afford to allow seaplanes to land on state park lakes at the risk of contaminating our waterways and delivery systems. The bill was killed on the floor of the senate on April 10th. We saw a similar bill last year, so it’s likely that we haven’t seen the end of the seaplane concept.
HB17-1306, Test Lead in Public Schools’ Drinking Water
After the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, other states have been on high alert regarding water quality. Rep. Barbara McLachlan got the conversation started this session in Colorado with HB17-1306, The bill passed through both houses, the second being on the final day of the session. HB17-1306 establishes a grant program to test lead in the drinking water of public schools that receive their water from a public water supply. Priority is given to the oldest elementary schools. Originally, the bill stated that schools must provide at least a 10% local match. The money would have come from the Water Quality Improvement Fund, the source of which is civil penalties from water quality violations and the interest. Schools receiving the grant are required to sign contracts with CDPHE to follow testing protocol and submit samples to CDPHE or CDPHE-certified labs. The bill was amended in Senate Health & Human Services Committee to remove the requirement for 10% local match. CWC supported this legislation and testified to that end, and was excited for the opportunity to back Rep. McLachlan and Conservation Colorado on this effort.
Sometimes, near the end of the session, legislators like to send “message bills”, bills that likely won’t pass through both houses, especially with the short amount of time allocated to them, but ones that will spark discussion for the interim season and the following legislative session. This year, Reps Jeni Arndt, Faith Winter, and Chris Hansen all ran “message bills” that our State Affairs Committee discussed at our final meeting of the session. HB17-1366, Measurable Goals Deadline Colorado Climate Action Plan, was run by both Reps Arndt and Winter. This bill would have required that the state climate action plan include specific, measurable goals, the achievement of which will both reduce Colorado's greenhouse gas emissions and increase Colorado's adaptive capability to respond to climate change, along with associated near-term, mid-term, and long-term deadlines to achieve the goals; and the annual climate report to the general assembly to include an analysis of the progress made in meeting the measurable goals and deadlines specified in the plan. This bill was postponed indefinitely, or “killed” in the Senate State, Veteran, and Military Affairs Committee. This is a great example of a bill that is ripe for the Interim Water Resources Review Committee process, considering that it is a companion to Colorado’s Water Plan. The deadline for submitting legislation connected to Colorado’s Water Plan is November 14th. The topic of priorities related to the Water Plan will certainly be part of CWC’s Summer Conference.
A similar “message bill”, HB17-1364, Authority Local Government Master Plan Include Water Plan Goal, was run by Reps Arndt and Hansen. The bill was killed during its first committee hearing on May 4th, and CWC did not take a position. This is another bill that we hope to discuss during the Interim Committee process because it directly relates to Colorado’s Water Plan. It stated that local governments are required to adopt a master plan that includes a water supply element. This bill authorized them to include goals from the state water plan and policies to implement those goals which may be conditions of land use approvals. Under the bill, such water conservation policies were required to be adopted by December 31, 2018. According to the fiscal note: “Workload and costs will increase for a local government that chooses to update its master plan to include water conservation goals. This includes staff resources and possible consultant fees to review and update the master plan, posting public notices about proposed changes, and staff time to prepare for and hold public meetings.. Local governments already have the ability to include water supply elements in their master plans and master plans are reviewed and updated on a frequent basis. Therefore, any increase in costs or workload is expected to be minimal and at the discretion of local governments.”
These concepts are ones that legislators along with the water community have discussed before, particularly HB17-1366, which is almost identical to 2016’s HB16-1004, that was killed in last year’s Senate Ag Committee.
CWC members have talked with Legislative Council Staff about potential discussion topics for this summer’s Interim Committee. The Committee plans to meet at CWC’s Summer Conference in Vail on August 23rd. Setting priorities for Colorado’s Water Plan is sure to be a topic at the Summer Conference, so please join the discussion as we continue to consider legislation like the aforementioned bills.
Stay tuned for the Interim Committee’s full schedule and agenda for each meeting.
If you have any questions concerning legislation, especially bills that I haven’t covered in either this post or my prior legislative update, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com