Guv signs groundwater, broadband bills into law

DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper signed several bills into law Tuesday, including one that GOP Sens. Ray Scott and Don Coram have been working on for a few years now.

That measure, SB36, is designed to make it harder for land developers to drag farmers and ranchers through years of court proceedings over groundwater rights disputes.

Under current law, such disputes are handled by the Colorado Groundwater Commission, but appeals to district court can include new evidence not seen by the commission.

The bill gives district judges more discretion to decide what new evidence can be heard in those appeals.

Some opposition to the bill fell away when it was amended to include language that allowed new evidence to be included in an appeal if that evidence was wrongly excluded or could not “in good faith” be presented to the commission.

Scott of Grand Junction and Coram of Montrose said they don’t buy opponents’ contention that the definition of “in good faith” is so broad that it opens the door to any evidence being presented, as is the case now.

“It’s held to a higher legal standard,” Coram said.

“The rules of evidence are very tough,” Scott added. “If they can prove evidence was stuffed in a box somewhere in the basement for the last 50 years and was just found or something like that, it’s still a high bar to reach.”

The two lawmakers said the bill fixes a long-standing problem for poorer ranchers and farmers who found themselves spending more time in court battling well-heeled developers over those water rights.

The Colorado Farm Bureau said the bill will help ensure a fairer and more equitable appeals process.

RURAL BROADBAND

Hickenlooper also signed a bill into law Tuesday that its sponsors hope will help lead to more high-speed internet for people who live in rural parts of the state.

That measure, HB1174, allows local improvement districts to be formed for the sole purpose of installing the needed infrastructure to bring broadband to hard-to-reach areas of Colorado.

Under it, the special taxing districts can be created voluntarily by businesses and residents who need that infrastructure, much as they do now for other utility services such as water and sewer.

Its sponsors — ­Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver — said the measure isn’t a panacea to fixing rural Colorado’s broadband issues, but can help lead the way to installing the last mile.

Other measures signed by the governor Tuesday include:

■ SB88 would prevent a health care insurer from creating a tiered provider network that attempts to exclude high-risk populations, or providers that service that community.

■ HB1138 requires the Colorado Department of Public Safety to report to the Legislature details of bias-motivated crimes from law enforcement agencies statewide.

■ HB1012 creates a new specialized motor vehicle license plate, this one honoring the Pueblo chile.


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