Hits, misses the theme of 2011 session
DENVER—When Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper gave his first State of the State speech at the start of 2011 legislative session in January, he said a lot of things Republican lawmakers liked.
Boost oil and gas development, reduce government bureaucracy and know what impact state regulations will have on businesses before enacting new laws were some of the things he mentioned.
But when it came time to passing measures to do that, some of those GOP lawmakers and the governor’s office couldn’t quite see eye to eye.
Take Rep. Ray Scott, for instance. To the Grand Junction Republican, what the Democratic governor meant about helping the oil and gas industry centered on remaking the state panel that regulates it.
Four years ago, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was mostly made up of industry experts. Now that’s reversed, with surface and environmental experts having a greater voice. As a result, the commission approved sweeping new rules last year designed to protect the environment.
Though few still hold the belief those changes had a devastating impact on the industry, Scott argues it did, and he introduced a bill early in the session to add two more industry experts to the panel.
His bill languished in the GOP-controlled House for nearly three months, and it wasn’t sent to the Democratic-controlled Senate until three days before the session ended last week.
“We negotiated with the governor’s office for over 30 days, and they would not budge,” Scott said. “I didn’t think we were asking for that much.”
The governor said they were.
“I don’t think there are very many people that want to completely reopen the rule-making process on oil and gas,” Hickenlooper said. “I think most people are willing to look at the composition of the oil and gas commission, but I don’t think people want to reopen that can of worms, either. People want to make sure the oil and gas commission is balanced.”
The governor said he wants the commission to reduce red tape for drillers, but make sure oil and gas production doesn’t harm the environment.
Sen. Shawn Mitchell said he had similar problems working with the governor’s office.
The Broomfield Republican introduced a measure that was exactly what the governor brought up in his speech: require all bills to include an analysis of their regulatory impact on businesses before passing them.
It died, too, but for different reasons. It would have required the Legislature to hire six more workers to do those analyses at a time when the state is cutting government spending, something else Republicans and the governor want.
Despite those attempts, Republicans said they still support the governor, but they had hoped for more.
“Having a new governor that had a more jobs-friendly outlook than the previous administration did help,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton. “The governor has it right at the 30,000-foot-level when it comes to jobs and the economy. Governor Hickenlooper needed to step in and be stronger in helping us advance the agenda items that would have positioned his own policies.”