State lawmakers: Regulatory relief on session agenda

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Call them variations on a theme. Grand Valley lawmakers plan to propose a number of measures during the state legislative session that offer regulatory relief.

State Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction)

Among the proposed bills from State Sen. Steve King, and State Reps. Laura Bradford and Ray Scott are efforts to postpone new state rules on wastewater treatment, limit fines on minor violations, allow home-based businesses to sell baked goods and expand the ability of businesses to join improvement districts.

The added benefits to helping businesses include job growth and economic recovery, the three said.

“Jobs and the economy are obviously No. 1,” said Scott, R-Grand Junction. “We’ve got to get pressure off the small business people.”

King, R-Grand Junction, has proposed a three-year moratorium on new state regulations on wastewater treatment he said would impose an estimated $2 billion in costs statewide. The measure would prevent the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) from implementing changes in regulations that require reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus discharged from wastewater treatment plants, so-called nutrients that promote algae growth in rivers and lakes.

King said small and medium-sized municipalities and water districts can’t afford to make changes to comply with the rules. The moratorium would offer time to further consider the rules and perhaps modify them, he said. “I’m hoping we can find some compromise.”

King also plans to carry legislation  in the State Senate that would limit state agency fines for minor violations, including those imposed against businesses. In addition, the measure would allow violators opportunities to correct violations before fines are imposed. State Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, will serve as prime sponsor of the measure in the House.

Laura Bradford
St. Rep. Laura Bradford

State Rep. Bradford, R-Collbran, expects to continue work on what she considers incremental changes to legislation.

She’s been working with the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration to implement uniform compensation policies for state employees, including policies regulating accumulated unused sick leave.  Bradford said the state paid $62,000 to one retiring employee for unused sick leave and by one estimate could owe a total of  $367 million to current employees.

The legislation would implement over time caps on how much unused sick leave could accumulate.

An additional review of compensation policies also will be needed in the future to look into how the state pays its employees overtime, Bradford said. In some cases, it might be less expensive to hire additional staff than pay large amounts of overtime. “It’s  a tool. Is the state using that tool to its maximum efficiency and fairness?”

Bradford also hopes to change legislation to allow home-based businesses to sell cakes and other baked goods. The measure would prevent counties from prohibiting such businesses as well as set up a state registry for those operations.

Ray Scott
St. Rep. Ray Scott

Another measure would change state legislation to expand the ability of businesses to voluntarily join improvement districts, Bradford said. The measure would expand eligibility to join districts beyond the contiguous geographic area to include nearby businesses.

Still another measure would extend the state tax exemption on beetle-killed timber to include timber killed by both pine beetles and spruce beetles. Bradford said the distinction is important in avoiding barriers to harvesting and using that wood.

Among the measures Scott is considering is a measure to reinstate the property tax exemption for qualifying homeowners over age 65. The exemption was suspended to address state budget deficits.

“Colorado can’t balance its budget on the backs of seniors,” Scott said. “If it means less government, then that’s what we’re going to do.”

While projections for an improving economy and increasing tax revenues bode well, Scott said he hopes the Legislature will set aside some of those revenues in preparation for the next downturn rather than increase spending. “We should be trying to save now.”