Legislature adjourns: Bills with local impact altered

Democratic House Speaker Rep. Mark Ferrandino, right, hugs his Republican colleague Rep. Bob Gardner after a tribute to Gardner’s service during the last day of the 2014 session of the Colorado Legislature.

DENVER — The Colorado Legislature ended the 2014 session Wednesday amid some rancor, only some of which was between political parties.

Because time had run out, Rep. Jared Wright was dismayed that he was forced to recede from changes the Fruita Republican and Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, had made to their uranium mill regulations bill.

The two, who jointly sponsored SB193 with Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, had amended the bill to require that all uranium and thorium mines not using conventional open or underground techniques obtain a radioactive materials license.

But the two representatives had little choice but to agree to a weaker measure that merely requires mines to restore any contamination of groundwater to the quality it was at before mining began.

While that change won more Republican support and ended a battle between the House and Senate, it didn’t exactly sit well with Wright, who gave an impassioned speech on the issue before the full House earlier this week.

“Every time a new technology has been developed in the history of uranium extraction, such as in-situ leach, we in government were told that it was safe and new and improved, and would result in little or no contamination, and yet, guess what?” Wright said. “It resulted in devastating contamination depending on its use. Don’t believe me? Just ask the people with contaminated groundwater wells who came to testify in front of our committees.”

Wright said changing the measure back to how it appeared when it left the Senate last month, which passed on an overwhelming 31-4 vote, took out deadlines that the uranium mining industry wanted that helped ensure permitting wouldn’t take too long.

With the change, the bill passed 63-2, earning 20 more supporters than it got when it passed the House on Monday.

In other matters, the Senate approved a bill that would give the all-powerful Joint Budget Committee more cover when it comes to doling out capital construction money.

Earlier in the session, the JBC was highly criticized when it cherry-picked some university construction projects, including one at Colorado Mesa University, over other statewide projects that landed lower on the priority list from the Legislature’s Capital Development Committee.

The CDC’s job is to prioritize such projects, and recommend funding based on what money is available. As it has done several times in years past, the JBC this year altered that list, saying some of those statewide computer projects, such as an updated computer system for the Division of Motor Vehicles, deserved funding.

But two JBC members, Democratic Rep. Crisanta Duran of Denver and Republican Rep. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs, were criticized when two university projects in their districts also were funded even though they were lower on the list than others that weren’t.

As a result of that public backlash, the JBC got the Legislature to divide brick-and-mortar projects from IT projects. They got fellow lawmakers to approve a bill that gives a little-known committee, the Joint Technology Committee, the authority to prioritize computer projects, leaving the CDC to oversee construction projects.

That leaves the JBC to decide what ultimately will be funded.

The measure heads to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his approval.


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