Getting down to business at this year’s legislature

The Colorado Statesman

Affordable housing, workers’ compensation, construction defect law, oil and gas regulations, and business personal property tax relief are on the minds of business people who heard from legislative leaders Jan. 7.

The business legislative preview breakfast gave lawmakers an opportunity to discuss their legislative agendas and some of the business bills that could show up during the 2014 session. The Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Competitive Council hosted the morning event, held at the History Colorado Center.

Hosts and sponsors said they hope this first-of-a-kind preview on business issues will become an annual event. The meeting started with brief remarks from the legislative leadership, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, told the 200-plus attending the breakfast that her caucus is interested in making the session about creating well-paying jobs as well as flood and wildfire recovery.

Former Rep. Joe Rice and Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, attended Tuesday’s business legislative preview. The breakfast session, featuring Senate and House leadership, was held at the History Colorado Center.
Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman

They’re also interested in restoring some of the cuts made to higher education over the past several years. Senate Bill 1 will seek $100 million for higher education, with $40 million going into need-based merit aid and a 6 percent cap on tuition rates. “Higher ed is an economic engine,” Carroll said, adding that “70 percent of new, good-paying jobs, will require advanced degrees. This bill is important to the business community.”

She said she hopes the bill will draw bipartisan support.

Carroll said there is interest in working on job areas such as information technology and hospitality, and continuing some of the work done last year on the state’s procurement system, to make it easier for small business. She also wants to increase investment in child care programs, where cost increases have outpaced tuition.

Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, said House Democrats have a similar agenda. They also will be focused on flood recovery and how the Legislature helps businesses and people impacted by the September floods. He also said he hopes to set a tone for bipartisanship with their legislative agenda.

Ferrandino discussed the budget and the state’s general fund reserve. Democrats and Republicans have passed fiscally prudent budgets, with investments that have made the budget better rather than bigger, he explained. The general fund reserve is now at 5 percent, and the governor has asked that it go to 6.5 percent this year. Ferrandino said he’d like to see it at 10 percent, a reserve that would create a cushion for the next recession.

The first question from the audience dealt with a bill in the works on the workers’ compensation system, and they asked where the system needs reform. Carroll replied that the Senate’s role is to facilitate discussion on this issue, but there has been progress in the past on injury prevention and safety programs. “It’s early for me to know where this conversation ends up,” Carroll said.

Ferrandino hinted that it’s far from certain that there will be a bill on the issue. He noted the discussions between business and labor that took place during the summer and fall. Once those discussions were over, Ferrandino asked Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, to facilitate a conversation within the House on legislation. While there is a draft bill in the works, “it’s too early to say there will definitely be a bill,” Ferrandino said.

The audience also asked how the Democrats view affordable housing as well as changes to the state’s construction defect law. Carroll said the Senate will take a different approach to the issue than was included in the 2013 legislation, with transit-oriented and mixed-use development. “We’re backing away from promoting defective construction as an incentive” and looking at what barriers exist to development of affordable housing, she explained.

The 2013 bill would have exempted developers from construction defects for any development that was 1,000 feet or closer to transit, Ferrandino said. That would have covered the whole state.

A bill on penalties for violations of oil and gas rules is likely this session, Ferrandino said. There are continued conversations going on about local control on this issue, and Ferrandino said he hopes for a broad stakeholder process. Carroll added that an effort also may come up on split-estate law, which is when mineral rights under a property are owned by one entity, while the home may be owned by someone else.

House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, said his caucus will continue to work on business-friendly bills. He noted that Republicans have put forth four to six bills per year to reduce business personal property taxes.

Republicans also will look at regulatory reform and an effort to deal with SB 13-252, the renewable energy bill for rural co-ops. The economy is doing better on the Front Range, but rural areas are still struggling economically, and they don’t need higher utility costs, DelGrosso said.

DelGrosso said business owners know how to run business better than anyone under the gold dome. “Our agenda is to get out of your way,” he added.

His Senate counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said regulatory reform also is important to Senate Republicans. They intend to work on a business incentive agreement proposal, fixes to HB 13-1136 (the employment discrimination law), and an exemption on business personal property taxes for aerospace and the space flight industry that he hopes will draw bipartisan support.

On the regulatory reform issue, Cadman said it’s usually one impediment at a time. He pointed to child care regulations, which he said went from 35 pages to 105 pages after its last sunset review. Those regulations included specific colors of crayons and the gender of the dolls in the facility. “If you have an issue, bring it to me,” he told the audience.

Both addressed the affordable housing issue. DelGrosso said that the lack of affordable housing is a statewide issue. In his area, the September floods wiped out homes and people are looking for affordable housing. However, the construction defect law makes developers leery of building condos and other affordable housing, he said. “We’ll take a bipartisanship approach” on this, added Cadman, who pointed out that affordable housing is a top priority for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com