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Statehouse Bills Moving through Committees Could Impact the State’s Housing, Water, Transportation, as well as Public Safety

The hyper-busy 2021 legislative session is rolling along at a pace that can make it hard for the general public to keep up, let alone read the dozens of bills passing through committees prior to reaching the floor of the Colorado General Assembly. The activity is partly the result of the COVID-shortened 2020 legislative session. Four bills have come before committees during the first half of this week that could have both statewide and local impact.

It is important to note that bills that pass through the Finance Committee and are assigned a budget line appear to have a better chance of  becoming law.

HB21-1271: Department Of Local Affairs Innovative Affordable Housing Strategies

The Collegiate Commons housing project in Buena Vista, completed in 2019 is a tax-credit project providing affordable housing. Photo by Jan Wondra.

Sponsored by Senator Julie Gonzales, this proposal would allocate $13 million in incentives and technical assistance to local governments for the rapid deployment of affordable housing projects – ensuring local communities have the tools and resources necessary to identify and meet their unique housing needs. It acknowledges that local governments such as Chaffee County, are often at the forefront of affordable housing efforts, but often lack the tools and resources to increase the available housing stock.

The bill creates three different programs in the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) for the purpose of offering grant money and other forms of state assistance to local governments to promote innovative solutions to the development of affordable housing across the state.

A local government affordable housing development incentives grant program would provide grants to local governments that adopt no less than three policy and regulatory tools from among a menu of options that create incentives to promote the development of affordable housing.

A local government that adopts such tools would then be eligible for a grant from the housing development incentives grant program as an incentive to develop one or more affordable housing developments in their community, defined as “liveable, vibrant, and driven by community benefits”.

This bill was heard by the Senate Local Government Committee at 2:00 p.m. today, May 11.

HB21-1260: General Fund Transfer Implement State Water Plan

Sponsored by Senators Kerry Donovan and Cleave Simpson, this bill is focused on allocating $20 million from the general fund to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to be spent to implement the state water plan as follows:

  • $15 million, which is transferred to the water plan implementation cash fund for expenditures and grants administered by the CWCB to implement the state water plan; and
  • $5 million, which is transferred to the water supply reserve fund for CWCB to disperse to the basin roundtables.

Ensuring that Colorado can meet its future water needs is critical to maintaining our state as a competitive place to work, play, and live. Colorado has recently faced some of its worst drought years in the state’s history, and predictions are that the growing water demands will continue to strain our limited resources.

The Colorado Water Plan has been established as the state’s framework for solutions to preserve water values to support a productive economy, healthy agricultural sector, and robust recreation industry. But the bill’s sponsors say the state Water Plan is currently underfunded and needs investments to ensure the state’s long-term economy and protection of our natural resources.

This bill will be heard by the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee upon adjournment of morning floor work on Wednesday, May 12 in the Old Supreme Court Chambers.

SB21-260: Sustainability Of The Transportation System

Colorado Department of Transportation Logo Courtesy of their Website

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg and Senator Faith Winter, this bill seeks to fund Colorado’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure.

Supporters of the bill say infrastructure is critically important to the economic vitality of the state; from access to bring agricultural products to market, support our entrepreneurial and manufacturing vitality, and allow tourism to reach the far corners of a state with a bounty of natural beauty.

This proposal would provide $5.268 billion in funding to fix roads and bridges, improve transit options, meet Colorado’s climate goals, and future-proof the state’s transportation system. The bill’s sponsors say that the funding will come from a fair and responsible mix of state, federal, and user-generated fee revenue. Those against the bill say that any fees assessed to Colorado residents are in effect a tax, and that the effort should go to Colorado voters to decide.

Colorado’s gas tax was created in 1991, as a funding mechanism to support the state’s transportation system. With electric vehicle use on the rise, income from the normal gas tax is likely to fall. Its value has already significantly eroded since 1991, leaving Colorado’s roads and transportation system drastically underfunded to meet the need. It has also fallen significantly behind other state’s funding per road mile of infrastructure, even as the state’s population has grown. Establishing a sustainable funding source for transportation infrastructure would support the economy, improve air quality, create jobs, and ensure Colorado is positioned to compete.

This bill was heard by the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, May 10 in the Old Supreme Court Chambers.

SB21-256: Local Regulation Of Firearms

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Fenberg and Senator Dominick Moreno, the bills would allow local governments to implement laws around gun ownership that are broader than state statutes – granting municipalities the right to decide regulations befitting their community.

Weapons and armament seized June 20, 2020, by Denver Police at protest from ‘Boogaloo Boy’ Chevy McGee and his friend. Courtesy 9news.

The bill declares that the regulation of firearms is a matter of state and local concern. Just ten days before the King Soopers shooting, courts struck down Boulder’s citywide assault weapons ban.  If passed, this bill would give the power back to localities to craft their own tailored, community-based responses to gun violence.

Existing law prohibits a local government from enacting an ordinance, regulation, or other law that prohibits the sale, purchase, or possession of a firearm. Existing law also prohibits a local government from enacting an ordinance or resolution that conflicts with state law regarding concealed carry of handguns.

The bill would permit a local government to enact an ordinance, regulation, or other law governing or prohibiting the sale, purchase, transfer, or possession of a firearm, ammunition, or firearm component or accessory that is not less restrictive than state laws governing the sale, purchase, transfer, or possession of the firearm, ammunition, or firearm component or accessory.

It would also permit a local government, including a special district, and governing board of an institution of higher education to enact ordinances prohibiting a permittee from carrying a concealed handgun in a building or specific area of jurisdiction.

This bill was heard this afternoon by the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee in the Old Supreme Court Chambers