by OLLS Staff
The 2013 legislative interim has kept several interim committees busy considering myriad issues ranging from wildfires to the legal representation of juveniles to the treatment of mentally ill offenders to transportation to water to early childhood education. Colorado LegiSource will be summarizing the activities and bills of each committee that is recommending bills. The Legislative Council met November 14, 2013, to approve the interim committee bills that will be introduced during the 2014 legislative session. All bills presented at the meeting were approved.
This week’s article discusses the remaining four of the eight committees that are recommending bills. For the previous article discussing interim committees, please click here.
Wildfire Matters Review Committee
In 2013, the General Assembly created a new permanent interim committee to review and propose legislation or other policy changes pertaining to wildfire prevention, mitigation, and other related issues. Senate Bill 13-082, the bill creating the committee, was recommended by the 2012 Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission, which transferred its remaining powers and duties to the new committee. In recognition of the statewide impact of wildfires, the new Wildfire Matters Review Committee (WMRC) is endowed with a broader scope of review than that of its predecessor.
In its inaugural year, the WMRC met five times between August and October. It also conducted a joint hearing with the Water Resources Review Committee regarding the deleterious effects of wildfire on watersheds. The briefings made to the WMRC covered a wide range of topics associated with wildfire, including: land management practices, aerial firefighting capabilities, insurance, emergency communications, and analyses of recently enacted legislation.
At its final meeting for the 2013 interim, the WMRC voted to recommend eight bills (designated Bills “A” through “H”, below) and two joint resolutions. In a somewhat unusual turn of events, no committee member stepped forward to be the prime sponsor of Bill A. Under the legislative rules, each interim committee bill must have a named sponsor before the Legislative Council can approve it for introduction. The committee therefore voted to recommend Bill I to replace Bill A, if Bill A does not have a prime sponsor by the time the Legislative Council meets. At the meeting on November 14, Bill A was not considered by the committee.
In brief, the WMRC recommends the following legislation:
- Bill A — Removal of Trees by Local Governments to Reduce Fire Risk. Current law authorizes counties and municipal governments to compel the removal of weeds and brush from private property and to recover the cost of removal through an assessment on the property owner. Bill A extends local government authority to abate nuisance vegetation to specifically include trees upon a finding that the trees to be removed are a fire hazard.
- Bill B — Prohibit Agricultural Burning Fire Danger and Restrict Fireworks. Bill B allows county governments to prohibit or restrict the ability of agricultural producers to conduct burning on their properties during periods when the National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings or fire weather watches. The bill further strikes an existing provision in state law that limits the ability of county governments to prohibit or restrict the sale, use, and possession of fireworks between May 31 and July 5 of each year.
- Bill C — Allow CWRPDA Private Entity Forest Health Loans. Current law authorizes the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWRPDA) to issue bonds and use the proceeds for loans to governmental agencies for certain forest health projects. Bill C extends CWRPDA authority to allow forest health project loans to private entities.
- Bill D — Change Wildfire Mitigation Tax Deduction to Credit. For tax years 2015 through 2024, Bill D repeals the income tax deduction for taxpayers who have undertaken wildfire mitigation measures on their property and creates an income tax credit of up to $2,500 for half the cost of wildfire mitigation measures. The bill limits eligibility for the credit to taxpayers who own and perform mitigation work on property in the wildland-urban interface.
- Bill E — Local Firefighter Safety Grant Program. Bill E creates the Local Firefighter Safety and Disease Prevention Fund for use in making need-based grants to local governing bodies for equipment and training designed to increase firefighter safety and prevent occupation-related diseases. The bill requires the director of the Division of Fire Prevention and Control in the Department of Public Safety (DFPC) to promulgate rules for awarding the grants, and the bill transfers $3.25 million annually for five fiscal years to the new fund from the Mineral Leasing Fund in lieu of transferring the moneys to the Wildfire Preparedness Fund.
- Bill F — Wildland Firefighters Death Benefit Payments. Bill F directs the DFPC to make a lump-sum payment of $10,000 to the survivors of a seasonal wildland firefighter who is employed by the state or a local government and who is killed in the line of duty. The bill authorizes the director of the DFPC to adopt rules as necessary to administer and fund the death benefits.
- Bill G — Immunity for Public Agencies from Insurance Wildfire Mitigation. Under current law, emergency responders, including governmental agencies involved in wildfire response, are generally immune from civil liability for emergency-related deaths or injuries. Bill G extends this immunity to protect governmental agencies against the acts of insurance companies and their contractors engaged in the protection of private property. The bill specifies that insurance companies and their contractors are not eligible for governmental immunity or volunteer immunity under Colorado law. The bill also authorizes an insurer to provide services protecting the property of its policyholders in the course of an emergency.
- Bill H — Wildfire Information and Resource Center. Bill H creates the Wildfire Information and Resource Center in the DFPC. The bill states that the center will improve protection of the public by enhancing access to information by homeowners, wildland fire professionals, the media, and educators.
- Bill I — Corrections to Prescribed Burning Program Laws. Bill I makes technical changes to the prescribed burning program created under Senate Bill 13-083, including changing certain terminology and stipulating that, under prescribed burning standards promulgated by the director of the DFPC, only a person qualified under National Wildfire Coordinating Group standards can satisfy the requirement that a qualified person be present at a prescribed burn site.
- Resolution A — Honor Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshots. Joint Resolution A honors the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot firefighting crew based in Prescott, Arizona, which lost 19 of its 20 members while battling the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in June 2013. The crew has a history of responding to wildfires in Colorado.
- Resolution B — Honor Colorado National Guard. Joint Resolution B honors the Colorado Army National Guard and Air National Guard for their wildfire response efforts.
Draft bills can be read in their entirety here.
The Police Officers’ and Firefighters’ Pension Reform Commission (Commission) met once during the 2013 interim for an annual briefing from the Fire and Police Pension Association (FPPA) and to consider two bills recommended by the FPPA Board of Directors (Board) for introduction during the 2014 legislative session.
The Commission, composed of five Senators appointed by the President of the Senate and 10 Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, studies and develops proposed legislation relating to the funding of police officers’ and firefighters’ pensions in Colorado and the benefits administered by those pension plans. (Section 31-31-1001 (2), C.R.S.)
Dan Slack, Chief Executive Officer of the FPPA, Kevin Lindahl, General Counsel of the FPPA, and Kim Collins, Chief Operations Officer of the FPPA, testified before the Commission. Mr. Slack gave the Commission an overview of FPPA board of directors and the Comprehensive Annual Report for the fiscal year that ended December 31, 2012. In addition, Mr. Slack summarized the various pension plans and assets administered by the FPPA, discussed the statutorily required actuarial studies of those plans, and talked about the impact of the financial downturn on the plans. In addition, he notified the Commission of an upcoming FPPA election to increase employee contributions to the pension plans.
Ms. Collins discussed the current accounting standards that the FPPA is required to follow and the changes implemented by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board. Mr. Lindahl discussed the current volunteer firefighter pension plans and the need for the legislature to look into some of the issues and concerns associated with those plans and consider different options for how to address them.
In addition, Mr. Lindahl discussed, and the Commission approved, both of the Board’s proposed bills.
Bill 1 modifies the administration of volunteer firefighter pension plans that are affiliated with the FPPA (volunteer firefighter pension plans). Specifically, the bill directs the Department of Local Affairs to distribute state moneys that it receives for the volunteer firefighter pension plans to the FPPA to be credited to the appropriate plan, specifies the responsibilities of both the governing body of a volunteer firefighter pension plan and the FPPA in connection with the plan’s affiliation with the FPPA, and explains the process by which either entity may terminate the affiliation between the volunteer firefighter pension plan and the FPPA.
Bill 2 modifies the administration of an employer’s old hire police officers’ and firefighters’ pension plan (old hire plan) as follows:
- Clarifies the acceptable use of old hire plan moneys when none of the members of an old hire plan are active participants in the plan;
- Specifies that annual contributions to state-assisted old hire plans must be made in an amount necessary to fully fund the plan over a specified amortization period;
- Modifies the actuarial study requirements;
- Clarifies that an employer’s resolution to affiliate an old hire plan with the FPPA must be in a form approved by the FPPA; and
- Specifies the responsibilities of both the FPPA and old hire plan’s board when the old hire plan is affiliated with the FPPA.
The FPPA’s meeting minutes, annual report, bill drafts, and other meeting materials are available here.
Water Resources Review Committee
During the 2013 interim, the Water Resources Review Committee (WRRC) heard presentations from a variety of stakeholders interested in maintaining the quality and quantity of Colorado’s water supply, including water providers, administrators, water users, and water law experts. The Committee approved five bills and one resolution to recommend for introduction in the 2014 legislative session.
The WRRC was created by statute in 2001 to “review the administration and monitoring of Colorado’s water resources … to vigorously protect and defend Colorado’s finite supply of water.” Section 37-98-101, C.R.S. The Committee is specifically charged with “contributing to and monitoring the conservation, use, development, and financing of the water resources of Colorado for the general welfare of its inhabitants and to review and propose water resources legislation.” Section 37-98-102 (1), C.R.S.
Although the WRRC considered a wide range of topics during its eight meetings this interim, three issues dominated the WRRC’s focus and discussions. Foremost on the minds of the Committee members, the water community, and Coloradoans in general, was the devastation caused by the September 2013 floods. The WRRC heard a number of presentations from representatives of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association on their extensive work to evaluate the impact that the floods had on the state’s water, water infrastructure, and water and wastewater treatment systems and their agencies’ continuing efforts to mitigate any damage caused to these resources.
The second major issue that caught the WRRC’s attention this interim was Governor Hickenlooper’s executive order directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to develop a statewide water plan to address some of Colorado’s major water issues, including the increasing gap between the state’s water supply and water demand, the difficulty of meeting the state’s own water needs in light of interstate compacts to deliver water to other states, and the economic and environmental impacts facing rural Colorado as a result of the increased practice of transferring water rights from irrigated agriculture. The Committee heard from representatives of the DNR, the CWCB, and the Governor’s Office about how the idea for the plan evolved from the basin roundtables, which are statutorily created mechanisms for fostering community discussion and local solutions about water issues within Colorado’s eight water basins. The Committee asked the representatives questions inquiring into the process for developing the state water plan and the role the public and the legislature would play in that process.
Finally, the WRRC focused its attention on the many Colorado wildfires of 2012 and the more recent Black Forest fire of June 2013. With presentations from representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the Rio Grande Irrigation District, the Water Quality Control Division of the CDPHE, the Colorado State Forest Service, and the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, the WRRC explored the negative impacts these catastrophic fires have had and will continue to have on Colorado’s watersheds. Given the importance of this issue, the WRRC participated in a first-ever joint meeting with the Wildfire Matters Review Committee on October 30. In a packed committee room, the joint committee heard a presentation on federal initiatives concerning watershed protection and wildfire mitigation and a discussion about forest management practices.
During the eight committee hearings, the Committee listened to presentations on a variety of other water topics, including finance mechanisms for water, wastewater, and water infrastructure projects; methods for transferring water used for irrigating agricultural land to other beneficial uses; issues concerning the administration and adjudication of water rights throughout the state; water conservation and efficiency efforts; and the potential impacts that proposed federal rules by the U.S. Forest Service and the Food and Drug Administration to regulate certain water users would have on Colorado’s water rights.
In addition to the eight committee hearings, members of the WRRC participated in a three-day water workshop in Gunnison, where they learned about the “new normal” brought about by climate change’s impact on water supplies, and attended the annual summer conference of the Colorado Water Congress, http://www.cowatercongress.org/, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established to provide leadership and a voice to Colorado’s water community.
The Committee concluded its work on October 30 by considering a number of proposed measures to recommend to the Legislative Council. The WRRC will recommend the following legislation to Legislative Council:
- Bill A — Bill A promotes the construction and operation of hydroelectric energy facilities in Colorado by providing incentives for the development of hydroelectric energy in Colorado.
- Bill B — Under the anti-speculation doctrine, current water court proceedings governing an application to change the beneficial use of an irrigation water right require the applicant to designate a specific alternative beneficial use identified at the time of the application. Bill B creates a more flexible change-in-use system by allowing an applicant to apply for a change in use to any beneficial use, without designating the specific beneficial use to which the water will be applied.
- Bill C — Bill C clarifies that severance tax dollars credited to the small communities water and wastewater grant fund may be used for domestic wastewater treatment works.
- Bill D — The state engineer and the division engineers throughout the state are required to make a number of reports, tabulations, and other written materials available to the public. Bill D updates certain statutes by allowing some of these written materials to be disseminated electronically instead of requiring printed copies.
- Bill E — To address anticipated U.S. Forest Service special use permit terms that would require new water rights acquired by a permit holder for use on the permitted land to be held jointly in the permittee’s and United States’ names, Bill E specifies that water rights acquired by the United States pursuant to such terms are presumed to be held by the United States for speculative purposes and are forfeited by the United States.
- Resolution A — Resolution A urges Congress to pass legislation creating a special exemption from the federal maximum weight limit on interstate highways for forest product industries in order to facilitate the use of forest product industries to help our state recover from the devastation caused by wildfires, floods, and pine beetle infestations.
Meeting agendas and summaries of the 2013 interim meetings are available here.
Created in 2009 as a multi-year study committee, the Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force met formally in its first year and during the 2013 interim, and informally in 2011 and 2012, with the overriding goal of reducing poverty in Colorado.
During the 2013 interim, the Task Force met six times as a whole, with subcommittees of the Task Force meeting several additional times during the interim. Among other activities, the Task Force reviewed the changes to poverty rates since 2009 and the impact of poverty on different populations in the state and heard presentations on different measures of poverty and well-being. Further, the Task Force discussed the Property Tax, Rent, and Heat Rebate program and toured Warren Village, a transitional housing facility for young mothers and their children.
The Task Force considered 11 Task Force bill requests, formally recommending the following seven Task Force bills to the Legislative Council:
- Bill A — Property Tax Rent, Heat, Fuel Grants for Low Income. This bill modifies the PTC rebate program by increasing the grant amount, raising income eligibility limits, and establishing flat minimum grant amounts for the real property tax expense assistance grant and the heat or fuel expenses assistance grant. The bill also makes changes to program administrative requirements and outreach.
- Bill B — Identification Card Issuance Standards. This bill requires the Department of Revenue to issue identification cards using U.S. government documents to prove lawful presence and creates a simplified process for a person to change his or her name if the person is at least 70 years old or at least 50 years old and a veteran of the armed forces. The identification card would be available to Colorado residents who cannot produce a birth certificate or other documents required to receive existing forms of state identification.
- Bill C — Aid to the Needy Disabled Program. Bill C ties the assistance payment under the Aid to the Needy Disabled program to an amount equal to a certain percentage of monthly income under the federal poverty guidelines. The amount will be adjusted as the federal poverty guidelines are adjusted.
- Bill D — Adult Education and Literacy Program. This bill creates the Adult Education and Literacy Grant Program, which replaces the Family Education Grant Program, effective July 1, 2014. The Department of Education will administer the program. The new Adult Education and Literacy Grant Program will fund local programs that provide adult literacy and numeracy skills programs and that are members of workforce development partnerships that provide additional education to enable students to achieve a postsecondary credential and employment.
- Bill E — Community Development Financial Institutions. This bill allows the state to invest public funds in general obligation bonds issued by community development financial institutions registered to operate and in good standing with the Secretary of State. The bill also broadens the definition of “qualified holder” to include more entities, and allows those entities to present a request for full or partial release of collateral pledged without presentation of the original promissory note.
- Bill F — Income Tax Credit for Child Care Expenses. This bill creates a refundable tax credit that is independent of any tax credit received on the federal level. A resident taxpayer with a federal adjusted gross income under a certain level may claim the credit for the care of any dependent child under the age of 13 as long as the taxpayer falls under the proper expenses and tax liability to claim the credit on the federal level. The maximum tax credit is $500 for a single dependent or $1,000 for two or more dependents.
- Bill G — Colorado Child Care Assistance Program. This bill changes the existing Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) cliff effect pilot program by extending the length of the pilot program. The bill also creates more flexibility in defining the program and clarifies the data collection and reporting responsibilities of the Department of Human Services and the counties. The bill also creates a grant program to encourage counties to undertake activities that promote access to child care and increase the quality of childcare providers that accept CCAP.