by Rachel Zatterstrom, WCC Organizer
While the 2015 state legislative session, which ended on May 6, was not one of the Colorado General Assembly’s more productive performances, it was an exciting time for Western Colorado Congress.
The members who make up our legislative committee tracked and weighed in on dozens of bills, and worked with our legislative liaison in Denver to ensure that Western Slope residents’ voices were heard.
WCC’s 2015 People’s Lobby trip in early March was our best yet (ask anyone who went!), and three members returned to the Capitol in April to testify on behalf of our cottage foods expansion bill (which is awaiting the Governor’s signature as this newsletter goes to press).
It was heartwarming to see WCC members wielding real political power, developing skills and making a difference through the democratic process. And while this year’s session is now over, our legislative team is already starting to think about what we can accomplish in 2016. If you’re interested in participating in our democracy from the grassroots up, please consider getting involved!
Thanks to the grassroots organizing efforts of WCC members and allies, small farmers and home canners will soon be able to make and sell homemade pickled vegetables under Colorado’s Cottage Foods Act. Teamwork and compromise led to the successful passage of House Bill 1102 with just days left in the session.
In a legislature that often seemed like a “house divided,” HB 1102 proved to be a bipartisan bill with strong support in both chambers. Reps. Millie Hamner (D-District 61) and Yeulin Willett (R-District 54) championed the measure in the House, and Sens. Kerry Donovan (D-District 5) and Kevin Grantham (R-District 2) carried it home in the Senate.
Expanding the Cottage Foods program in Colorado has been a priority for WCC since 2012, when we helped pass the original law. We heard from hundreds of small producers and other rural residents that expanding the law to allow pickled vegetables would help them start or grow their businesses. We also recognized that any expansion of the law would need to address food safety concerns, which is why we worked closely with the state and local health departments to draft bill language and amendments.
As a result, HB 1102 creates two tiers of products that are allowed under the law. The first tier includes all non-potentially hazardous foods allowed under the original law, including candies, honey, jams, jellies, dehydrated fruits and veggies, spices, certain baked goods and farm-fresh eggs. In addition, we clarified the law to ensure that flour, fruit empanadas and tortillas are allowed as tier one products.
Tier two products will include “pickled vegetables,” and HB 1102 instructs the State Board of Health to establish rules for the safe production and sale of these products. The rulemaking process is expected to take six to nine months, and WCC will lead efforts to ensure that the final rules work for small farmers and food entrepreneurs.
WCC will be involved every step of the way to ensure that the final rules work for small farmers and food entrepreneurs. So, although folks won’t be able to add these products to their sales roster this season, we are confident that the stakeholder process will create an expanded cottage foods program that works for everyone.
Also affecting cottage food producers was Senate Bill 85. This bill, signed by the Governor on May 1, increases the net sales cap for eligible products to $10,000 per year, per product.
The bill also expands the definition of “producer” to include Colorado LLC’s with two or fewer members.
The 2015 session saw very little in the way of oil and gas legislation, largely because those issues were being considered by a special task force convened by the Governor.
WCC did help kill two bad bills that would have required municipalities to compensate mineral owners for financial losses due to local regulations that limit or ban oil and gas development. Senate Bill 93 and House Bill 1119 were punitive and unnecessary because mineral owners’ rights are already protected under Colorado law.
The big news in renewable energy this session was a successful compromise bill to make it easier for Rural Electric Associations (REAs) to meet Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard. Senate Bill 46, introduced by Sen. Kevin Grantham (R-District 2), initially included language that would have simply held the REAs to a lower standard; we advocated for an amendment that allows REAs to use community solar gardens to meet the requirements.
We weren’t successful in our support of House Bill 1132, carried by Rep. Don Coram and Sen. Ray Scott, which would have incentivized energy efficiency efforts. Although this bill had strong bipartisan sponsorship and made it through the House, it ultimately met its demise in the Senate Finance Committee. We encourage bill sponsors to consider similar efforts in future sessions.
This session also saw an attack on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan with Senate Bill 258, which would have required a lengthy and unnecessary review process before any state rules related to the Clean Power Plan could be adopted. We and our allies successfully worked to defeat the measure,
WCC joined a broad coalition of hunters, anglers and conservationists to defeat two bills that threatened our public lands. Senate Bill 39 called for “concurrent jurisdiction” with the state over federally managed lands – a first step toward the transfer of control over federal lands to the state. After making it through the Senate, the bill died in the House Agriculture Committee.
Senate Bill 232, also part of this fringe effort to transfer federal public lands to the state, would have created a commission to study the issue. After a major push by the coalition and following a non-party-line vote from Sen. Crowder, the bill died on the Senate floor.
This session saw two efforts to make changes to the state ballot initiative process. Believing that this process should remain accessible to citizens, we opposed both measures; unfortunately, one of them passed.
House Bill 1057 will require that a preliminary fiscal note be prepared before any measure is approved by the state title board and that both proponents listed on the measure must appear in Denver at the title board hearing. This will make it more difficult for citizens who work full-time or live on the other side of the state to meaningfully participate in the process. Despite a valiant effort from a coalition of good-government, labor and conservation groups, this bill ultimately passed by a one-vote margin in the Senate.