CO legislature evaluates ag bills | TheFencePost.com

CO legislature evaluates ag bills

Story & Photos by Robyn Scherer, M.Agr.
Kiowa, Colo.

This year has been a busy year for the Colorado legislature, and there have been many agricultural bills that have been introduced this year. These bills affect many sectors of agriculture.

"Legislative decisions that involve agriculture not only affect farms and ranches but have an impact on consumer's pocketbooks, the environment, our scenic vistas and Colorado's economy," said Don Shawcroft, President of Colorado Farm Bureau.

The drought this year has brought on a slew of water bills: more than a dozen in all. One of these bills, SB13-041, would protect water storage for long term use. The summary of the bill states, "In the case of Upper Yampa Water Conservancy Dist. v. Wolfe, 255 P.3d 1108 (Colo. 2011), the Colorado supreme court held that storage of water is not a beneficial use, at least where flood control and fire or drought protection are not the stated uses of the water, and that to perfect a conditional storage right, the water must be released from storage and put to beneficial use. Further, an applicant must show that it has exhausted its absolute storage rights before its conditional storage rights can be perfected."

This bill would reverse those holdings, and would expand the definition of beneficial use to include the impoundment of water for firefighting, or storage for a decreed purpose. Nick Colglazier, the Director of State Affairs for the Colorado Farm Bureau, said, "In Colorado, there is no natural resource more precious than water. In our semi-arid state, water holds significant importance to agriculture. The agricultural sector still owns and uses approximately 86 percent of the water rights in the state of Colorado. To make the most of the water that we have, water storage is essential. Storage allows us to capture water in times of plenty and hold it until there are times of need, whether that be thirsty crops late in the summer or times of extreme drought like we are experiencing now."

This bill was assigned to the house committee on agriculture, livestock and natural resources. It was passed out of committee, and has moved to the house floor.

Wildlife issues impact agriculture and landowners who provide habitat and open space, and there are two bills pertaining to this issue this year: the Habitat Stamp Program, which is up for renewal, and updating the Landowner Voucher Program.

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The habitat stamp bill, SB13-175, renews the program. The summary of this bill states, "The bill continues the wildlife habitat stamp committee indefinitely by deleting its repeal scheduled for December 31, 2013. The bill eliminates the Colorado wildlife passport and the Colorado wildlife passport fund. The parks and wildlife commission is directed to use revenues from the wildlife habitat stamp to give sufficient priority to conserve and protect winter range and vital habitats, including migration corridors, for deer, elk, and other big game wildlife species; to improve public access for hunting, access for anglers to the waters of the state, and access for other wildlife-related recreation; to protect habitat for species of concern; and to preserve the diversity of wildlife."

The bill has been passed in the Senate, and will now move to the house.

The Landowner Voucher Program bill, SB13-188, is one has taken several years to update. "This legislation is a compromise that came from a two years effort of landowners, outfitters, sportsmen and Division of Parks and Wildlife representatives. The update will provide a benefit to wildlife management as well as landowners and sportsmen," said Shawcroft.

The landowner voucher bill is awaiting passage in the Senate.

Another wildlife related bill is SB-13-169, reintroduce black-footed ferret landowners consent. This bill summary states, "Current law, enacted in 2000, requires legislative approval for the introduction or reintroduction of a threatened or endangered species that is not present in Colorado. Since then, the federal fish and wildlife service has authorized a new tool for endangered species reintroductions based on a programmatic safe harbor agreement between the federal government and a consenting landowner and enhancement-of-survival permits under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. The bill authorizes the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets in Colorado pursuant to programmatic safe harbor agreements and enhancement-of-survival permits without further legislative approval."

This bill, which is still in committee, would allow landowners to reintroduce the ferret. "It provides an opportunity for landowners to work with the U.S. fish and wildlife service to reintroduce an endangered species. It protects landowners, and allows landowners to opt out of the program if they deem it necessary," said Colglazier. "It could be used as a model for reintroduction of other species across the country and how you can work with landowners."

There is one bill that pertains to livestock, and was just passed out of committee on March 14, which will affect the dairy producers of Colorado. HB13-1231 would prohibit routine docking of dairy cattle, except when done by veterinarian, for a therapeutic purpose, with anesthesia and done in a manner that minimizes long term pain and suffering.

"Colorado's farmers and ranchers are constantly evolving their practices to improve livestock handling and care. Putting livestock practices into law does not improve animal welfare and could hinder innovation and the adoption of improved methods," said Chad Vorthmann, Executive Vice President of Colorado Farm Bureau in testimony in front of the committee.

He continued, "We believe that the passage of this bill could create an atmosphere that Colorado is unfriendly to the dairy business. This is a growing industry in the state, and we know that we need more dairies in Colorado. Our fear is that passing bills like this could cause dairies looking to move here, to instead choose neighboring states, negating the economic stimulus, tax base and potential for job growth vital to the Colorado economy," he stated.

There are two bills relating to agriculture that were introduced earlier in the session, and both were postponed indefinitely. The house introduced a bill that would have required the labeling of some genetically engineered food. "This bill would increase the cost of food for every citizen of Colorado," said Shawcroft.

Charlie Talbott, a fifth generation peach grower from Palisade, gave the following testimony. "We, all food producers in this state, are committed to providing safe, healthy, wholesome and nutritious food products for consumers throughout our state, our marketing regions and for our own families. Our very livelihood depends upon the consistent delivery of safe wholesome products," he said.

The house also introduced a bill that would mandate the use of E-verify in Colorado. "Current law requires employers in Colorado to examine the legal work status of newly hired employees, within 20 days after hiring, using paper-based forms of identification. The bill will instead require all employers, upon hiring a new employee on or after January 1, 2014, to participate in the federal electronic verification program (e-verify program) to determine the work eligibility status of newly hired employees," the summary stated.

The Colorado Legislative Session lasts for 120 days from January to May, and there is a little less than 60 days remaining in the 2013 session. ❖