State Policy Update
As we mentioned in our last policy update, one of the highest priority issues for the legislature this session is transportation funding. House Bill 17-1242, is sponsored by Speaker Duran and House Transportation Committee Chair Representative Mitsch Bush and President Grantham and Senate Transportation Committee Chair Senator Baumgardner. This bipartisan legislation is a well thought out compromise that provides long overdue funding for Colorado’s transportation system throughout the state – rural, suburban and urban – as well as for all users – motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and those who depend on public transportation.
House Bill 1242 is a comprehensive, statewide transportation measure. If passed by the legislature, the bill will refer a measure to the ballot asking voters to raise the state sales tax from 2.9% to 3.52%. At the same time, the bill cuts the FASTER Road Safety surcharge, saving Coloradans money on their vehicle registration fees. The revenues generated by the measure would allow the state to leverage up to $3.5 billion in bonds to accelerate the construction of several critically important projects across the state. Most importantly for our work, the bill creates the Multimodal Transportation Options Fund for multimodal projects statewide. The fund will be administered by CDOT and overseen by a, 11 member committee, appointed by the Governor and made up of representatives from transit agencies, local governments, regional transportation organizations and an advocate for affordable transportation options.
While being heard in the House Transportation Committee, the bill faced fierce opposition from conservatives who argued the state needed to trim spending elsewhere and make room for transportation improvements within the existing budget. The bill none-the-less passed the Democratically controlled committee and moved to the floor of the House where it passed with 4 Republican lawmakers breaking with their party.
The bill is currently in stand-by as lawmakers rush to finalize the state’s budget, a process that will conclude by Friday of this week if everything stays on schedule. While the bill is expected to pass the Senate, the Democrats would need at least one Republican vote and the bill has two Republican Senators on board, it is expected to meet fierce resistance from conservatives in committee. The bill must pass both the Senate’s transportation and appropriation committees.
HB1192 – COFSAC
The COFSAC bill came out of the House Agriculture committee on a bi-partisan 10-3 vote. Because the bill requires funding for the staff position, it was referred to the House Appropriations committee, where it will wait until the state budget is finished. The budget is halfway through the legislative process. The House approved the budget on Friday and it now goes to the Senate for consideration next week. Once the budget is finalized, all the bills waiting in Appropriations will get their hearings. Whether and how many of those bills receive funding is directly related to the results of the budget (and possibly the transportation and hospital provider fee bills). Stay tuned…
Testing Lead in School Water
We are following a soon to be introduced bill that will take existing CDPHE grant dollars and create a grant program in which schools or school districts can draw out funding to test for lead in schools. The program will prioritize older schools and funding will be drawn from existing CDPHE grant money that does not get awarded. Questions remain moving forward around how useful this information will be for schools that may have the resources to use relatively inexpensive tests to confirm the presence of lead in their drinking water but do not have the resources to fix lead related problems. On the same coin, schools may not take advantage of this funding if they know they don’t have the resources to fix the problem and fear the liability they will incur if their drinking water tests positive.
Federal Policy Update
Farm Bill Listening Sessions with Senator Bennet! RSVP required – link included.
Senator Michael Bennett, who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, will have his staff out across the state holding listening sessions through mid-April. Senator Bennet said: “The previous listening sessions we held across Colorado helped guide our priorities for the 2014 Farm Bill. I look forward to hearing again from Colorado farmers and ranchers – from the Eastern Plains to the Western Slope to the San Luis Valley – as we build upon our previous work. The experiences and ideas from Coloradans are crucial to crafting legislation that will support our state’s agriculture and rural communities.” Space is limited at the listening sessions. The schedule and required registration are here.