2017 Legislative Session in Retrospect

When the 120-day legislative session concluded on May 10, a lot of legislators and lobbyists wrote their “session in review” blogs to declare whether or not the session was an overall success. In reality, the legislative session often is not officially over until the governor takes action on the last bill, which can come thirty days after the session ends – as it did this year on June 9.

The League was pleased to report to our 269 member municipalities that, as of May 10, 61 percent of the bills CML supported passed and expected to be signed into law.  Now, on June 21, we can look to the entirety of the session and the impacts of the actions taken by Gov. John Hickenlooper between May 10 and June 9.

By the numbers

During the 2017 session of the Colorado General Assembly, CML tracked 257 of the 684 bills and concurrent resolutions introduced. Of the 41 bills that CML supported, nearly 61 percent passed. Of the 29 bills CML opposed, 93 percent either were defeated or were amended such that the League dropped its opposition.

Those numbers remained unchanged after May 10, but the League was hoping for the defeat of one oppose bill, HB 17-1313, via the governor’s veto pen. We were extraordinarily disappointed that didn’t happen.  More on that below.

CML’s advocacy team places our primary emphasis on defeating legislation that harms municipal operations or contradicts municipal priorities.  We strive for 100% and are disappointed with anything less than that. Legislation supported by CML is important, but it is always harder to pass a bill than to defeat one. The team is very proud of the 61% success rate in the 2017 session.

How did municipalities fare?

Prior to the commencement of the session, the League published its “2017 Legislative Priorities of Colorado Cities and Towns.” The League was largely successful in meeting the goals established by these priorities.

  1. Affordable Housing: CML supported the preservation of the Affordable Housing Grants and Loans line items within the Division of Housing in the Department of Local Affairs. Outcome: The division received $8 million in the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1.

  2. Broadband: CML supported legislation that would have repealed the unnecessary hurdle of the election required by SB 05-152, given 68 consecutive successful municipal elections by voters wanting fast, reliable broadband service. Outcome: The bill was defeated, primarily due to opposition from broadband providers, many of which later proposed legislation that would have made it more difficult for local governments to meet the needs of their communities. CML’s opposition helped prevent that legislation from ever being introduced.

  3. Construction defects: CML supported legislation to provide a statewide solution for the issue of construction defects promote the construction of owner-occupied attached housing, while maintaining the local control of municipalities that have adopted their own ordinances. Outcome: Out of the various legislative proposals, one bill passed that met these goals. More progress is needed in this area, but this outcome was a major success for Colorado municipalities.
  4. Marijuana: The League initiated legislation to establish a statewide minimum definition of “open & public consumption” to effectively address the failure of the state to clarify where marijuana consumption can occur and where it is prohibited. CML advocated for maximum local control of medical and recreational marijuana issues, and argued for additional state resources and personnel are needed to mitigate the impact on local law enforcement of gray and black market marijuana activity. Outcome: Defining a standard “open and public consumption” continues to be elusive. The limits of “private” consumption divided the legislature and CML’s bill died on the last day of the session. The League was successful in defending local control and supporting additional resources and changes intended reduce gray and black market activity.

  5. Municipal courts: In order to force the state to back up the unfunded mandate it created by enacting HB 16-1309, CML advocated for a program for municipalities to utilize the state public defender at local discretion. The League also supported state assistance for municipal courts to expand their use of restorative justice. Outcome: For a variety of reasons, collaborating with the state public defender would be problematic, and the League changed course to support a delay of HB 16-1309 to 2018 so that a plan to directly reimburse municipal courts for the cost of the mandate can be developed. Municipal courts are now part of the state restorative justice council and can apply for grants for local programs.

  6. Oil & gas: CML advocates for the legislature to resist preemptions upon traditional municipal authority – and where such authority may need clarification, advocating for the state to work collaboratively with municipalities. Outcome: The League supported legislation that would have increased setbacks from schools. Other issues arose during the session, particularly after the explosion in Firestone, and the League maintained its position that any legislation should respect traditional municipal authority.

  7. Public safety: CML supported retention of the Wildfire Risk Reduction Grant Program, as well as defended traditional municipal authority in local public safety issues. Outcome: The state used $2.5 million of its share of severance tax dollars to continue the grant program. Other than the setback of enactment of HB 17-1313, municipal authority over public safety issues was successfully defended.
  8. Severance tax and federal mineral lease (FML): CML opposed the governor’s proposed transfer of severance tax to backfill the General Fund or finance state programs and administrative costs of state government. Outcome: The Joint Budget Committee proposed a balanced budget that did not include reductions in local government severance tax revenue available to local governments.
  9. Tax authority: CML advocated against state sales tax exemptions that negatively impact statutory municipalities. CML advocated for legislative restraint in simplification efforts, reminding the legislature that efforts to simplify local sales tax cannot be addressed by state legislation and cannot undermine constitutionally granted municipal home rule authority. CML opposed business personal property tax reductions/exemptions that did not backfill reductions to municipalities. Outcome: An interim committee created to study simplification efforts will have local government representation and its members are fully aware of limitations on the state to interfere with home rule authority. Business personal property tax legislation negatively impacting municipalities was defeated.

  10. Transportation: CML supported the concept of increased state transportation and transit funding that includes the return of an equitable portion of new revenue to cities, towns, and counties – and including a statewide solution with funding for all public roads, not just state highways. Outcome: Legislation that would have allowed voters to decide on a statewide sales tax increase that would have fairly distributed revenue was defeated, and the state continues without a comprehensive statewide solution to address the billions of dollars of need.

  11. Urban renewal and downtown development: CML supported repair of ambiguous 2015 legislation impairing urban renewal. CML opposed legislation that would similarly do damage to the ability of downtown development authorities to function properly. Outcome: Collaboration led to passage of a bill that addresses urban renewal statutory problems. The League opposed and defeated legislation that would have violated the will of voters directing their property taxes be used for downtown development authorities.

  12. Workers’ Compensation: CML supported reasonable reform to the workers compensation statutes to address issues of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in public safety employees. CML supported the notion of development of a statewide employee assistance program (EAP) for public safety employees that do not otherwise have access to one. Outcome: Legislation that creates uniform definitions of “psychologically traumatic event” universally applicable passed overwhelmingly. A second bill creates a grant program law enforcement agencies may use for mental health assistance for personnel.

The last bill

The last legislative action of the 2017 session was the enactment of HB 17-1313 concerning civil asset forfeiture. CML – joined by a coalition of counties, sheriffs, police chiefs, and law enforcement organizations – requested Gov. John Hickenlooper’s veto of the bill.  HB 1313 was a haphazard bill pitched as consensus by proponents that agreed with themselves and with no basis in fact in Colorado. The gist of the bill is that it is intended to reform the manner in which law enforcement agencies seize assets related to criminal enterprises and use those assets to backfill the cost of complicated and costly enforcement efforts. Proponents argued – without offering any proof – that the assets of innocent people were seized…that local law enforcement was violating the rights of honest citizens.

The arguments against the bill are clear and well-founded – the arguments for it much less so. However, the final vote of the session was cast by the governor, who chose to sign the bill, and the League and our members must now grapple its impacts and also with a task force that will be created that appears to be charged with a potential expansion of the legislation.

While it is always disappointing to lose the last bill of the session, municipalities fared very well in the 2017 session. It is a continued point of pride to defeat detrimental legislation (or keep it from being introduced at all), as well as passing legislation that will help municipal officials govern locally.  Despite the battles that are often fought in the Statehouse, we continue to view the General Assembly as an essential partner for good state-local governance.

And on January 10, 2018, we will roll up our sleeves and do it all over again.

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