Parks and Wildlife fees bill among those killed
DENVER — With only three working days left in the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers have been busy killing some measures, trying to keep others alive, while others appear poised to get through.
On top of the list of what was killed in the past few days was a measure to give the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission the authority to raise fees and fines.
That measure, HB1321, cleared the House in April on a bipartisan vote.
But when it came before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, Republicans who have a majority voted to kill it on a 3-2 party-line vote.
The bill would have allowed the commission discretion on increasing virtually all fees and fines over the next few years, most by as much as 50 percent.
Officials with Colorado Parks and Wildlife said they were dismayed at the vote, saying it needs the increases to fund several vital programs, including one to inspect invasive species in the state’s rivers and lakes.
“We built a coalition of conservationists who came together on diverse issues and spoke as one,” said Bob Broscheid, director of the agency that gets its funding primarily through user fees.
Broscheid said that the agency hasn’t seen fee increases for more than a decade, and inflation since then has cut its spending power by nearly 25 percent.
On life support is a bill introduced by Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction.
His measure, SB301, would rescue and refocus the Colorado Energy Office, which is set to be defunded by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.
Democrats have a major issue with the bill, in part, because it includes a vaguely related issue: It attempts to give public utilities the authority to have natural gas reserves, meaning they could drill their own wells.
Scott also gave the office “a haircut” in its funding, lowering its operating budget by $1 million, to $2.1 million.
While the bill stripped out references that appeared to allow the utilities to pass on drilling costs to consumers, Democrats aren’t satisfied it offers enough protections.
The bill still requires votes in the full Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, before it can head to the House, where Democrats have the majority.
Meanwhile, a bill that supporters say could help the state better budget its programs in coming years appears poised to get through.
That measure, SB267, would turn the state’s hospital provider fee program, used to fund health care for the poor, into a stand-alone government business. Doing that would free up millions of dollars under state revenue caps.
The measure also would allow for bonds to be used to fund major transportation projects.
The bill requires a final Senate vote, and will have three days to get through the House. By law, the Legislature must adjourn by midnight on Wednesday.