Fast and furious: An update on Colorado legislation
In an abbreviated and tumultuous session back at the Capitol, the Colorado Legislative session is moving forward minus bills that are deemed non-essential or that would have major budget implications.
According to Terry Fankhauser, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association executive vice president, Senate Bill 20-121, the Management of Gray Wolves, was killed. This bill is one that was opposed by all major agriculture trade groups and would have authorized the management of and the reintroduction of gray wolves pursuant to a plan adopted by the parks and wildlife commission. Although this bill has been laid over, Colorado voters will still vote on whether or not they support forced wolf reintroduction, a project that has an estimated price tag of over $6 million in new spending.
Senate Bill 20-189 that would have allowed local governments to regulate pesticide use and application, also opposed by the major trade groups, was also killed.
In the House, HB 20-1403 has been passed and will move forward. Fankhauser said this bill is important to Colorado water. The project bill will allow the work of the Colorado water conservation board to continue. HB 20-1334, which CCA supported, will not move forward. This bill would have directed the Colorado water conservation board to conduct a study of artificial recharge to maximize the beneficial use of water. Similarly, SB 20-048, concerning a study to consider strengthening of the prohibition on speculative appropriations of water, will also not move forward.
Fankhauser said one of the bills that has had a great deal of attention from agriculture trade organizations is SB 20-104, powers of animal protection agents.
Fankhauser said the Department of Agriculture certifies animal protection agents, often individuals who work for the Dumb Friends League, the Colorado Humane Society, and other nonprofit organizations. This bill would allow these agents to investigate animal mistreatment cases and grant them the power to seize animals. Though he said there were some exemptions for livestock, the bill did include horses, and this was a point of concern for CCA and others.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the bill was amended to remove the agents’ ability to access private property to seize animals without a court order.
“This was a very important bill for us as we begin to see more animal activism in Colorado, not that these bureau agents were doing that, but we don’t want to see people come into harm’s way or be used by those animal activists and we certainly don’t believe agriculture producers should bear the brunt of these issues,” he said.
House Bill 20-1343 Egg-Laying Hen Confinement Standards was passed and is one CCA opposed due to the inclusion of language limiting the products sold in Colorado. These limitations on interstate commerce, he said, was the main point of contention. Emily Ibach, Colorado Farm Bureau, director of state affairs, said she expects it to pass the Senate in the coming days, despite opposition from CFB.
A similar bill in California that mandates additional space per hen has affected egg prices nationwide, according to a paper entitled “Piecemeal Farm Regulation and the U.S. Commerce Clause. According to Jayson Lusk, a Purdue agriculture economist, attorneys general from other states have, on several occasions, sued the state of California on the basis that they violated the U.S. Interstate Commerce Clause. Lusk said the suits failed, not necessarily based upon the merit but rather because the attorneys general lack what he calls the “standing” of being egg producers. The authors of the paper, Colin Carter, Aleks Schaefer and Daniel Scheitrum, said the current food movement in America “has generated piecemeal state laws that — in effect (and possibly by design) — influence how farms in other states operate.” The group also said the laws have made it impossible for many small producers to sell in the California market and the laws have led to more concentrated interstate trade. From January 2015 to December of 2017, California hen housing requirements, according to the summary, have cost consumers across the U.S. nearly $2.7 billion, with $1.98 billion of those costs shouldered outside of California.
HB 20-1213, Commodity Handlers, supported by CCA appears to be moving forward. The Stockwater Bill, HB 20-1159, has been signed by the governor and allows ranchers and other water users to maintain historical water use when dry conditions trigger cutbacks to protect streamflows.
HB 20-1117, which would have reenacted mCOOL labeling, was laid over once again as well. HB 20-1115, Sales Tax Exemption for Farm Fencing Material was also laid over though Fankhauser said he believes this exemption is covered in current law. HB 20-1226 Food Safety and Quality Labeling will not move on. This bill was opposed by CCA as it would encourage each food manufacturer to affix a label indicating an elevated risk date on each product that poses a high level of risk to consumers. Fankhauser said the bill was misguided and provided little meaningful information, save for confusing labeling and additional red tape for producers.
Conservation Easement Recommendations, SB 20-135, will also be laid over though Fankhauser said he anticipates that next session will bring additional discussion about the proposal.
Bills still being closely monitored include HB 20-1134, the Environmental Justice Bill, which he said is problematic and would usher in legislation similar to the New Green Deal seen at the national level.
Additionally, Fankhauser said discussions surrounding the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment concerns agriculture producers who support property tax calculations based upon the value of the crops produced rather than the market value of the property. A Constitutional measure that would be on the ballot in November if it received a two-thirds vote out of the House and Senate does not include anything associated with nuisance taxes that reference agriculture, nor does it deal with or remove from the constitution the ability to tax ag land on production value.
“What this bill will do in Colorado is strikes the sections of the constitution that talk about the valuation of your home, your personal dwelling, currently valued at 21 percent of the actual value, it adjusts, and there’s a 29 percent piece on commercial property,” he said.
If passed and is then met with voter approval, a new taxation structure would be implemented.
The general assembly is currently working through the budget with an estimated $3 billion deficit prompting cuts including a proposed elimination of the general fund allocation to the state fair, which did fail. Fankhauser said CCA is tracking those cuts as they are discussed. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 768-0024.