by Rachel Zatterstrom, WCC Organizer
The 2015 Legislative Session is in full swing in Denver and WCC is organizing grassroots voices to participate in the state lawmaking process.
The 70th General Assembly convened after tight November elections changed the balance of power at the Capital. With a Democratic House and a Republican Senate, we can expect that only legislation with support on both sides of the aisle will reach the Governor’s desk this year.
This gives WCC a chance to flex our bipartisan muscles and stay on top of legislation that affects our quality of life here in western Colorado.
Throughout the 2015 session, from January through May, WCC members will track bills, develop positions, talk with lawmakers, and stay engaged in legislation related to food & agriculture, renewable energy, oil & gas, uranium, forest management and more.
We’ve already been hard at work and successfully introduced House Bill 1102 to expand the Colorado Cottage Foods Act in 2015!
Rep. Millie Hamner (D, District 61), who sponsored our 2013 bill, and newly-elected Rep. Yeulin Willet (R, District 54) agreed to carry this year’s bill. The 700+ petition signatures gathered by WCC members in 2014 in support of an expanded Cottage Foods law made it bill easy for Western Slope lawmakers to lend their support.
Our bill will allow farmers and food entrepreneurs to make and sell pickled vegetables under the Cottage Foods Act. WCC’s campaign team stayed busy in the off season, and the hard work paid off. Although we didn’t get everything we wanted (salsas and fermented foods are still off the table) this is a great first step toward making it easier for small farmers to add value to surplus veggie crops during the height of the season and diversify their income streams in lean winter months.
WCC is also tracking House Bill 1088. Brought forward by the Colorado Farm to School Task Force, the bill establishes a grant program for farmers and ranchers to offset food safety and other costs associated with selling their products to school districts. The pilot program would sunset in 2020.
WCC continues our work this session to defend the Rural Renewable Energy Standards established by Senate Bill 252 in 2013. So far, we have our eyes on Senate Bill 46 which would allow Rural Electric Associations (REAs) to combine retail and commercial distributed generation to help them meet the new standards. WCC is committed to efforts that truly incentivize REAs to obtain power from more renewable energy sources without diluting the standards established with Senate Bill 252 so we’re tracking this bill closely with an eye on forthcoming amendments.
We also expect some more “rollback” bills, like Senate Bill 44, to find their way into the session this year. WCC is committed to protecting the 20% renewable energy requirement for rural Colorado and will work hard to defeat bills meant to weaken the standards we fought so hard to establish.
Oil & gas continues to be a high priority for WCC and other groups across Colorado. Things have been relatively quiet for oil & gas bills so far this session, in part because Gov. Hickenlooper’s Blue Ribbon Oil & Gas Task Force is still deliberating on recommendations for the state legislature. We can expect more oil & gas legislation after the Task Force submits its recommendations in late February.
Meanwhile, WCC is tracking House Bill 1119 and Senate Bill 93. Both bills look to hold local governments financially responsible to royalty owners for losses due to local government regulations, rules or ordinances that ban or otherwise limit oil & gas exploration.
WCC continues to work hard to make sure that state regulations for this toxic, radioactive material are updated and remain strong.
This session, we will be tracking a bill from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) that updates Colorado’s compliance with the Radiation Control Act (RCA). WCC members participated in a stakeholder process in 2014 leading up to the introduction of this bill. Although there are still no rules for ablation, a new technique that melds conventional mining with newer methods, the bill does address our stated top-line concerns of protecting groundwater standards and updating definitions of low-level radioactive waste.
This year forest health and wildfire legislation are on our list of issues to track. So far we’ve already seen Senate Bill 09 come and go, which would have promoted the use of woody biomass as a fuel source for public buildings. We expect several more forest health bills in the coming weeks and will track them closely.
Bills governing access of Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) to certain roadways are back this session. WCC has been skeptical of this idea for safety reasons but also because of the chance for uncontrolled access (and damage) to lands. We are tracking House Bill 1054 and Senate Bill 23 and weighing in on proposed amendments.
WCC is again reaching out to Colorado’s Latino caucus and other community organizations with similar goals for social justice and protections for democracy. We look forward to continuing our collaborative conversations with these organizations and weighing in on bills that advance or threaten our goals.