2015 Mid-Session Report

Helping the Middle Class & Small Business

This session we are continuing our work to strengthen and expand the middle class, to grow small business, and to help build a Colorado where everyone has a fair shot at success.

We are also helping to prepare our citizens for the jobs of the 21st century with the Colorado Ready to Work Package.

Economic Gardening Pilot Project (HB15-1002) – Rep. Lee
House Bill 15-1002 extends the state’s successful economic gardening pilot program through 2018. The program has already provided specialized advice on effective business strategies to 13 Colorado companies including companies dealing in robotics, advanced manufacturing, IT and software design businesses. Extending the program will ensure that more small businesses receive valuable support to find new markets, expand, and create more good-paying jobs for hardworking Coloradans.

Prohibited Communications Concerning Patents (HB15-1063) – Rep. Pabon
This bill will protect small businesses in Colorado from patent trolling, which is extortion or blackmail. Many small businesses have received letters claiming patent infringement and threatening litigation or asking for compensation from individuals who do not hold or represent the patent. House Bill 15-1063 gives the Colorado Attorney General’s office authority to prosecute individuals who send a letter in bad faith while ensuring that legitimate patent infringement cases can proceed to court. This legislation will stop con artists from preying on Colorado’s small businesses. Entrepreneurs who create new, exciting products and innovative technologies should be protected from blackmail.

Cottage Foods Act Expansion (HB15-1102) – Reps. Hamner & Wilson
Homemade foods for sale at farmers markets are a fast growing segment of our economy. All across Colorado, tourists and locals alike flock to farmers markets for a farm to table experience that they cannot get anywhere else. Locally produced homemade food items are a source of agro-tourism dollars for the State of Colorado. The Cottage Foods Act exempts sellers of certain foods from state inspection standards. This bill expands the permitted foods to include flour and pickle products. The purpose of this bill is to support local farmers and growers by expanding the offerings at farmers markets and for sale from home kitchens.

Rural Economic Development Grant Program (HB15-1177) – Reps. Becker & Willett
This bill creates the rural economic development initiative grant program to grow the economies of highly distressed rural counties. HB15-1177 specifies economic factors to determine the distressed rural counties in the state and then requires Office of Economic Development and International Trade to determine which of those distressed rural counties are eligible for the grants by reviewing and ranking those counties based on economic indicators. Local governments and private employers in up to 30 highly distressed rural counties may apply for grants, on a reimbursement basis that may attract new jobs or encourage private capital investment. This bill does require applicants to provide matching funds.

Colorado Retirement Security Task Force (HB15-1235) – Reps. Buckner & Pettersen
In the wake of the Great Recession, far too many Coloradans are nearing retirement age with inadequate savings. The PERA retirement program is in place for public employees, but the same support services are unavailable for individuals in the private sector. These hard-working Coloradans currently lack the resources to plan for a secure retirement. This bill creates a retirement security task force to study, assess, and report on factors that affect Coloradans’ ability to save for a secure retirement, and to make recommendations on the feasibility of creating a retirement savings plan for private sector employees. This bill will help Coloradans in the private sector enjoy the high quality of life they deserve in retirement.

Crowdfunding of Intrastate Securities (HB15-1246) – Reps. Pabon & Lee
Current law restricts Coloradan businesses from raising capital via “Crowdfunding,” or using a website to raise money via small contributions from a large amount of donors. This bill will enact the “Colorado Crowdfunding Act,” which will facilitate crowdfunding by authorizing online intermediaries to carry out crowdfunding services on the behalf of Colorado businesses.

 

Building a World-Class Education for All Colorado Kids

Every Colorado kid deserves access to a high-quality education system, from preschool through post-secondary and beyond. We are continuing our work to expand funding for Colorado schools and ensure that our education and workforce programs are preparing kids for success in their chosen fields.

Early Childhood Educator Development Scholarships (HB15-1001)  Reps. Pettersen & Garnett
House Bill 15-1001 creates a scholarship program for early childhood educators to continue their education and improve their teaching skills. This will make it more affordable for early childhood educators to improve their classroom skills and provide a better education to the children of Colorado. These scholarships will help train and retain more teachers and help the state meet it’s goal of offering a high-quality early childhood education to all Colorado kids.

Increasing Number Of Preschool Program Students (HB15-1024) – Rep. Pettersen
Preschool and other early childhood education programs are critical for preparing children to be successful later in school and beyond. Only 1 in 5 Colorado four year-olds are currently supported through the Colorado Preschool Program (CPP), and as of 2014 an estimated 16,588 at-risk four year-olds had no access to preschool through CPP or Head Start. This legislation creates an additional 3,000 slots in Colorado’s preschool program for half-day or full-day preschool students. A quality education is linked to reductions in crime, drug use and drop outs across all demographics. An investment in preschool now will yield dividends for the state down the road.

Interagency Farm-to-school Grant Program (HB15-1088) – Rep. Winter
Colorado farmers and ranchers currently face barriers to providing schools with local farm fresh foods and small producers struggle to be cost competitive with large out-of-state vendors. This bill creates a grant program to help farmers and ranchers provide healthy, locally grown food to local schools and school districts. The grants created by House Bill 15-1088 must be used for investments that help producers meet existing standards or reduce the cost of selling to schools. It will make it easier for Colorado farmers and ranchers to sell their produce and livestock to Colorado schools, offering students healthier meal choices.

Improving Charter Schools (HB15-1184) – Rep. Lontine
This bill, by establishing “charter school networks” that can have multiple charter schools under the same statutory authority, will allow charter schools to consolidate under a network if they so choose, allowing for easier oversight and governance. At the same time, it establishes rules to require independent assessment of each school. Thereby making it so that each school autonomously meets the necessary standards. Thus, this bill will create simpler but just as rigorous schools for our state’s children.

BOCES & Centralized Operating Services Grants (HB15-1201) – Reps. Buckner & Rankin
House Bill 15-1201 creates a grant program in the Colorado Department of Education to enable Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to provide operating services to rural school districts and charter schools. The grant program will help reduce operating overhead costs for rural school districts and charter schools that use the BOCES to deliver services. This legislation will help increase the amount of time available to schools to support instruction.

Employee Leave Attend Child’s Academic Activities (HB15-1221) – Reps. Buckner & Fields
This bill allows parents to take time off from work to attend their child’s school activities to increase parental involvement in their kids’ education, which has a direct correlation to future academic success. A parent may take up to 6 hours of a leave a month, but not more than 18 hours of leave per academic year and must provide their employer with a week’s notice except in cases of emergency. Historically, educators have been concerned about the lack of parent engagement with minority and low-income students. The bill will reduce barriers and make it easier for parents to actively participate in their child’s education.

 

Equality for All, Opportunity for All

Everyone deserves a fair shot at success. We are committed to building a Colorado in which every person has the opportunity to succeed.

Continue Colorado Pay Equity Commission (HB15-1133) – Rep. Danielson
For hundreds of thousands of Colorado women and their families, pay inequality is a threat to economic security and membership in the middle class. House Bill 15-1133 will restore and strengthen the Pay Equity Commission. A 50-state federal report found that the pay of Colorado women compared to men in the same jobs has fallen by 2 cents, to78 cents for every dollar made by men. Colorado lags below the national average, which is 82 cents. Ignoring the problem of pay inequity will not make it go away. Colorado is relying on the State Legislature and commissions like this to find solutions that will help grow the middle class so families can pay their bills, send their kids to college, and save for the future.

Prohibit Conversion Therapy (HB15-1175) – Rep. Rosenthal
Conversion Therapy, which attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation, should not be practiced on anyone who is not a consenting adult. HB15-1175 prohibits registered psychiatrists and other registered mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy on patients under 18 years of age. By eliminating this controversial therapy for minors, we can protect our Coloradan youth from unproven and potentially dangerous methods.

Fund Dollars for LARC Services (HB15-1194) – Reps. Becker & Coram
House Bill 15-1194 will provide funding for Colorado’s already successful family planning program. The program provides long acting reversible contraception (LARC) like IUDs to clinics across the state. The program is designed to prevent low-income women from having unintended pregnancies because women who have a planned pregnancy are more likely to be economically independent and less likely to be reliant on public assistance. Since 2009, there has been a 37 percent decrease in the birth rate for unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school and a 42 percent reduction in the abortion rate among women ages 15 to 19.

Campus Sexual Assault Victim Medical Care (HB15-1220) – Reps. Danielson & Ryden
House Bill 15-1220 will ensure that public and private universities have the resources and training to adequately respond to cases of sexual assault on their campuses. The bill will require that all public and private institutions of higher education that enter into a performance contract have posted information about where victims can obtain a medical exam, that staff have sexual assault training, and that transportation be available for victims of sexual assault. The universities and colleges must also provide referrals for students who wish to meet with victim advocates.

Protecting Human Trafficking Victims (SB15-030) – Rep. Foote
Current law allows victims of human trafficking to be culpable for prostitution charges. This commonsense bill removes this provision so that our State will stop punishing victims who have been forced to do unlawful acts. We hope this bill will make it easier to identify, assist, and ultimate pull victims of human trafficking out of the terrible situation in which they have been put.

 

Protecting Our Land, Air, and Water

We are blessed in Colorado with one of the most beautiful, most unique states in the Union. We must continue to protect this one-of-a-kind place through legislation that encourages protection, efficiency, and the re-use of resources. Our families deserve to live in play in beautiful, healthy state.

Agriculture Land Destroyed By Natural Causes (HB15-1008) – Rep. Hamner
Under current law, if land is not suitable for agricultural production, the land is classified as vacant and is assessed at a higher tax rate, even if the land is not producing because it was damaged by a natural disaster. This bill aims to help agricultural producers whose land has been damaged by a flood, fire or other natural disaster. House Bill 15-1008 allows county assessors to continue to assess damaged land at the agricultural rate if the owner is making a good faith effort to restore the damaged areas. Farmers and ranchers should not be punished by increasing taxes after they have already suffered property damage. The right thing to do is give them the time they need to get their production back on track.

Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit (HB15-1132) – Reps. Becker & Coram
House Bill 15-1132 incentivizes and promotes energy efficiency by providing an income tax credit for approved improvements that will increase the energy efficiency of a residence. Taxpayers will receive a certificate to claim the credit through the Colorado Energy Office and they will submit the certificate when they file their taxes. The credit will be redeemable for any year up until January 1, 2020.

Instream Flow Incentive Tax Credit (HB15-1159) – Rep. Arndt
The Instream Flow Incentive Tax Credit was initially created in 2009 to encourage Colorado’s water rights holders to voluntarily donate their water to the State in order to preserve Colorado’s bodies of water. The 2009 bill included a limit of when the inventive could be received, as well as a review of the policy after five years. HB 1159 will renew the Instream Flow Incentive Tax Credit for an additional five years. It will also remove the limitations on when the incentive can be received.

Tax Refunds for Recycling Equipment (HB15-1206) – Rep. Singer
HB15-1206 sets out to promote recycling by incentivizing the purchase of recycling equipment. This bill creates a refund for sales and use taxes paid on machinery and equipment used for recycling or reprocessing of waste products. This refund, if enacted, will cover purchases from 2015-2019 and must be collected before April of the next year. 

Wildlife Preservation Trust Fund (HB15-1243) – Rep. Vigil
Under current law, the wildlife for future generations trust fund has no dedicated revenue source, and the interest from the fund is continuously appropriated. This seems extremely unfair for a state with such expansive and varied nature. HB15-1243 will create this fund so that Colorado’s environment can get the attention it deserves through this generation and beyond. This bill also established basic rules for this fund.

Residential Precipitation Collection in Rain Barrels (HB15-1259)  Reps. Esgar & Danielson
This bill will let someone collect the rain off their roof in up to two rain barrels. The water can be used to maintain a small garden or water flowers and cannot be collected in barrels larger than 5 gallons or be used for indoor household purposes. It is designed to increase awareness of water conservation especially in urban and suburban areas. This is a good way to encourage residents to practice water conservation.

 

Expanding Voting Rights

Democracy works best when everyone can participate. We will continue to fight to ensure that every eligible voter has their voice heard.

Prepay Postage For Mail Ballots (HB15-1237) – Rep. Ryden
As stated above, democracy works best when everyone can participate. This piece of legislation will ensure that every voter has their voice heard by providing prepaid postage on ballots. It requires that a return envelope with prepaid postage be sent to eligible voters for any mail ballot election. The bill also requires that the Secretary of State reimburse designated election officials and municipal clerks for the costs of providing postage prepaid return envelopes.

Overseas Citizens Municipal Election Voting Access (HB15-1130)  Reps. Ryden & Nordberg
This bipartisan bill will help active-duty military deployed overseas and other overseas citizens vote in local municipal elections. Federal, state and county elections are currently coordinated for overseas voting. House Bill 15-1130 updates municipal election code to bring it in line with federal, state and county election codes so overseas Coloradans can have their ballots counted in municipal elections. Active-duty military overseas and other citizens abroad deserve to have their voices heard in every election.