Gov. John Hickenlooper today thanked the General Assembly for using the special session to successfully address unfinished business that died last week without debate or consideration by the House of Representatives.
Lawmakers this week passed a water projects bill that will create jobs in communities across Colorado and an Unemployment Insurance bill that will assist business in saving money and improving the program. Lawmakers also passed a law to cut red tape for businesses, and they appropriately had the opportunity to fully consider other important legislation.
"It was important for the General Assembly to finish consideration of important bills that died last week when the House recessed to avoid voting on civil unions," Hickenlooper said. "With the exception of civil unions, each of the bills we put on the special session call received an open debate and a final vote just like they deserved."
Three important pieces of legislation were approved this week by the General Assembly:
A water projects bill
The legislation will create jobs and protect water supplies for towns and agriculture through $61 million worth of loans and grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).
"These projects are critical to communities and regions across the state, and we commend lawmakers for their broad support," Hickenlooper said. "This bill pays for a variety of projects that improve existing reservoirs, secure and protect water rights for Colorado and assist in flood prevention, among other important work. The measure also translates to good jobs in many rural communities."
The measure appropriates $6.6 million for grants to 11 programs and studies affecting water supplies and flood prevention statewide and $55 million for water infrastructure projects and water purchases in the San Luis Valley, the Animas-La Plata project near Durango and at Chatfield Reservoir southwest of Denver. Passage of the bill also leverages additional funds from water providers and other organizations necessary for completion of the projects.
Dollars granted for programs and studies in the bill account for nearly 50 jobs, while more than 100 additional jobs are tied to the water infrastructure projects.
"Passage of the water projects bill was imperative for Colorado. Sustenance of our diverse economy and growing population depends on our ability to continue addressing our needs for water, whether it be for our strong agricultural sector, our world-renowned environment and wildlife or for our vibrant cities and towns," said CWCB board chairman John McClow. "We thank state lawmakers and Governor Hickenlooper for ensuring the success of this bill, and the investment of severance tax and Construction Fund dollars in these absolutely vital areas."
"It is extremely important to the water community that the projects bill passed, because of the various components of the bill and their importance to so many stakeholders," said Eric Wilkinson, General Manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. "Those include, among others, the restoration of the various operating funds for flood monitoring and stream gauging, and the landmark cooperation between Colorado Parks and Wildlife and private reservoir owners to better manage the water supplies in the San Luis Valley."
One major piece of the projects bill includes funds for rehabilitation of the Rio Grande and Beaver Park reservoirs in the San Luis Valley. Travis Smith, a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Superintendent of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, said passage of the bill was "essential" in acquiring the funding that solidifies a partnership between the irrigation district, which owns the Rio Grande Reservoir, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which owns Beaver Park Reservoir.
"It's the model of the public-private partnership in getting existing reservoirs rehabilitated for multiple beneficiaries," Smith said. "It maintains compliance with the Rio Grande Compact, helps the agricultural communities and the water users and has benefits for recreation, the environment and sportsmen."
An unemployment insurance bill
The legislation will help return Colorado's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to solvency by allowing employers to receive credit within their individual accounts for repayment of principal-related bonding amounts. The rationale for proceeding with this bond issue is that the state stands to benefit financially from the favorable differential between the low interest rates which would be paid on the bonds and current federal rates.
"The people of Colorado, employers and employees alike, expect an efficient, well run, and dependable Unemployment Insurance program," Hickenlooper said. "While more remains to be done to improve the UI program overall, passage of HB 112S-1002 is a key first step in ensuring that Colorado employers receive the benefit of positive experience rating and premium rates for pitching in to return the UI Trust Fund to financial solvency."
This legislation was supported by the business community.
"HB 1002 will ensure that bond repayments will be reflected on an employers' experience rating to allow for lower premiums. It is important to CACI that Colorado employers see relief in their UI premiums based on the huge increases they have experienced during the last 3 years. This bill will provide some much needed relief," said Loren Furman, senior vice president of state and federal relations for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry.
"Passage of this bill ensures the state can maintain solvency of the unemployment insurance trust fund in the most cost effective fashion for Colorado employers," said Kelly J. Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
"We are pleased that the administration and legislators are working with the business community to save Colorado employers millions of dollars in aggregate through prudent management of the unemployment insurance trust fund," said Sara Cassidy, director of the Colorado Competitive Council.
A bill dealing with Special Mobile Machinery Fleets
The law changes registration procedures for Special Mobile Machinery Fleets to allow owners of 10 or more pieces of rental special mobile machinery to register their fleet once per year.
"This legislation cuts red tape for business by creating a streamlined collection process for counties," Hickenlooper said.
The General Assembly also rejected some bills after finally being able to fully debate and vote on the proposed legislation, specifically: penalties for persons who drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs; creating "benefit corporations" in Colorado; and submitting to the registered electors of the State of Colorado an amendment to the Colorado Constitution repealing provisions deemed obsolete.
The bill to authorize civil unions died again without debate or vote in the full House, despite clear indications that a majority of state Representatives supported the measure.
"We wanted to see a debate about civil unions on the floor of the House and a vote by all the legislators," Hickenlooper said. "That's what Coloradans deserved and would have kept faith with our constitutional obligation to support equal rights. We are disappointed that didn't happen.
"It is also perplexing that a simple measure to clean up language in the Constitution died in the House after receiving a two-thirds vote in the Senate."
The special session was paid for with General Fund dollars. In the current fiscal year, the Legislature had set aside approximately $350,000 for 15 days of special session if needed. A bill that originated in the House this year (HB 12-1301) sends any unspent and unencumbered General Fund dollars appropriated to the Legislature to a Legislative Department Cash Fund. This cash fund can be used only for general expenses of the Legislature, as well as for redistricting purposes.