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The 2014 legislature's lesser-known successes 

Bill me up, buttercup

The Colorado legislature has wrapped up another session, and lawmakers are celebrating wins and licking wounds.

The legislature didn't pass a felony DUI law this year, or a ban on abortions, or a repeal of the controversial gun-control laws from last session. Bills aimed at curtailing the use of red-light cameras and letting bars stay open later also failed to make the cut. And discussions of possible controls on fracking stalled — though a special session on that issue is possible.

Despite those failures — or in some cases because of them — Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, seemed upbeat in a press release at the session's close. "Our session was defined by the voices of Coloradans," she stated. "We listened, we set goals, and then we accomplished nearly every one of those goals this year."

Some of those successes included bills aimed at making child care and college more affordable. Another restored some funding to K-12 education. The legislature approved many bills aimed at the economy, and at wildfire and flood issues. Then there was a slew of others: regulation of new cab-like services, more money for school counselors, and changes to the recall election laws (see Noted). The legislature even approved a state cactus.

With hundreds of bills passed, it's impossible for us to detail every one of them. But we thought we'd try to illuminate some of those that didn't get much time in the spotlight. They may not be the headline-grabbers, but they could impact your life.

Mineral estate disclosure

As noted above, the legislature was never able to negotiate a compromise to give local governments the right to limit fracking. Though related, Senate Bill 009 didn't face similar setbacks — it was signed by the governor in March.

When it goes into effect (by January 2016), it will ensure home-buyers get fair warning about mineral estates prior to purchase. The bill requires the contract of sale or seller's property disclosure to include language stating that a subsurface mineral estate could be separately owned. Should the owners of those minerals choose to harvest them, the notice states, they may be able to use the above-ground property to access them. In other words, if someone owns natural gas rights under your home, they could erect a drilling rig on your property.

The required notice advises home buyers to learn more about the mineral rights on the property.

Animals

Senators wrote two bills that tied into animal rights. The first, Senate Bill 039, already signed into law, allows emergency medical service providers to give emergency care to house pets. So long as they aren't neglecting a person in need, a firefighter or paramedic can now save a pet dog or cat's life with no risk of liability. The law only allows emergency first responders to provide oxygen, fluids, medication or bandaging, and it only allows those services for dogs and cats.

Senate Bill 118, which has passed the legislature but has not yet been signed by the governor, creates greater protections for people with disabilities. Among the wide-ranging bill's provisions: A person with a service animal, or a person training a service animal, can take that animal into work, on public transit, or to any public space or event without a surcharge. Landlords also cannot charge extra for these animals. If a person or a pet injures a service animal, the person or pet owner can be held liable for three times the amount of actual damages.

Lobbyists

The session was a mixed bag for the state's lobbyists.

On one hand, the governor has signed Senate Bill 119, which decriminalizes certain prohibited practices by lobbyists. The bipartisan bill removes the punishment for a long list of wrong-doings that generally revolve around lying and other deception, threatening or using money to illegally influence votes, and having conflicts of interest. Previously, lobbyists who violated these rules could be convicted of a misdemeanor, and face up to 12 months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

But Luis Toro, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog Colorado Ethics Watch, says 119 isn't as sinister as it looks. Lobbyists, he says, were never charged criminally anyway, and having criminal penalties made it more difficult to prosecute them for civil violations.

Less confusing is Senate Bill 217. Should the governor sign it, the bill will change language to a law requiring disclosures from lobbyists to the Secretary of State. Kjersten Forseth, chief of staff for Senate President Carroll, who sponsored the bill, said 217 is meant to close a loophole in the existing law, ensuring that lobbyists disclose who they are working for. "It's a way of tracing the money back to its original source," she says.

Mental health

House Bill 1271, signed into law April 7, expands a mental health provider's duty to report on potentially violent patients. Now, if a patient credibly threatens violence against an entity, such as a theater, the healthcare provider also must notify police and the target of the threat.

Senate Bill 064, sent to the governor May 7, would form and fund a work group to limit how long a mental health patient in prison can be held in solitary confinement. The original bill, introduced in January, set a hard limit of 30 days. The nine-member work group would have a budget of $1,565,025 for fiscal year 2014.

Plumbing fixtures

Instead of encouraging low-flow toilets, bathroom faucets, showerheads, and urinals, and requiring them for certain construction and remodels as it has in the past, the state legislature plans to simply phase out the sale of such inefficient plumbing fixtures entirely.

Senate Bill 103, which awaits the governor's signature, repeals previous laws concerning when low-flow fixtures must be used, and states that after September 2016 no one in the state can sell "a new low-efficiency plumbing fixture." All plumbing fixtures will now have to be tested and certified by third-party accrediting agencies to ensure they don't waste water.

Manufacturers of plumbing fixtures sold in the state will be required to file a report in March 2017 detailing their sales.

Safe Routes to School

The Safe Routes to School grant will soon be no more. If signed, House Bill 1301 will replace expiring federal funding with a $3 million general fund for creating and improving routes for children to walk or bike to school. The bill gives priority to schools in which at least half of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

This bill addresses childhood obesity first and foremost. In Colorado, 15 percent of all children are obese, better than the national stats — 18 percent for ages 6 to 11, and 21 percent for 12 to 19 — but still alarming. Since the Safe Routes program began in 2005, a March Colorado Department of Transportation press release notes, it has distributed $15.4 million through 175 grants, benefiting 60 to 100 schools a year. Of Colorado schools that have received funding, 96 percent have reported more students biking or walking to school.

Charter schools

House Bill 1314, which was sent to the governor April 30, increases charter schools' presence and influence in their governing school district boards. In short, the bill requires charter schools have a seat at the table when school district boards are talking money. This does not mean charter schools will get a piece of every mill levy that those boards get on a ballot. It does mean, though, that a charter school can present its operating budget needs to the relevant district school board, and if the board decides not to send the school taxpayer money, the board has to send the school notice of that decision before the election.

The bill does require charter schools to take part in funding any ballot measures from which they will receive funding. If a charter school asks the district board to submit a measure that benefits only the charter school, then it must back the whole cost of the bill and the process.

Black-footed ferrets

House Bill 1267, sent to the governor April 30, allows the endangered black-footed ferret to be reintroduced on public land. The black-footed ferret is the only American species of ferret, and for a long time it was extinct in the wild.

It lives on a diet that almost entirely consists of prairie dogs. Due to agricultural expansion and the introduction of plague, 98 percent of America's prairie dogs have been killed off, and with them, so went the ferret. However, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, one of only five in the nation, has been breeding them since 1990. This bill will open up more viable ferret territory.

Broadband industry

The governor has signed five bills related to broadband data services. Two are major deregulation bills.

House Bill 1329 makes it so the Public Utilities Commission doesn't oversee voice over IP (VoIP) services or broadband Internet services, wired or mobile. House Bill 1331 removes most of the state regulation of landlines, except for emergency services or in the absence of effective competition — e.g., unreasonably high prices or single-service situations. The bills' sponsor, Democratic Rep. Angela Williams, says regulations still can be imposed in the future.

House bills 1327 and 1328 both make it easier to add broadband infrastructure in rural parts of the state. House Bill 1327 removes sales tax for broadband equipment and reduces local power to surcharge these things. House Bill 1328 moves money from existing landline subsidies to fund broadband networks. House Bill 1330 updates telecom laws from 1994 to acknowledge Internet services.

Hit-and-runs

The legislature is cracking down on hit-and-runs. House Bill 1191, signed into law March 25, implements the Medina Alert. Much like the Amber Alert, the Medina Alert is a mass notification used to help apprehend criminals after an incident. In a Medina case, the alert is sent out after a hit-and-run accident in which someone is killed or seriously injured. The alert system described in the bill, named for a 21-year-old Denver valet killed in a hit-and-run, is already in effect.

Just in case the Medina Alert isn't enough, Senate Bill 213 doubles the statute of limitations for vehicular homicide, but only if the driver leaves the scene. A hit-and-run vehicular homicide would have a limitation of 10 years. The civil limitation for a vehicular homicide/hit-and-run would be four years. This bill was passed unamended by the House, but has not been signed yet.

newsroom@csindy.com

  • Bill me up, buttercup

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