2016 Legislative Session Wrap Up

2016 Legislative Wrap-up


Good News for Farmers, Eaters, Bakers and Home Canners

In one fell swoop, Senate Bill 58 changed two Colorado laws and made it possible for more local products to make it direct from the farm gate to your plate.

The measure will expand opportunities for cottage food producers and opens the door for small and mid-sized poultry producers to take advantage of existing USDA exemptions for on-farm custom processing.

First, the law made some significant changes to the Colorado Cottage Foods Act. At first, we weren’t sure we liked what we saw in the original version of the bill.  It would have restricted the amount of money cottage food producers could earn, made food safety training optional, and included confusing “buyer beware” language that was outside the spirit of the original law. However, we also saw a chance to gain a win for our producer members and expand the availability of farm fresh products in our communities. Sometimes you have to roll with the political punches and take advantage of opportunities when they arise. We were able to work with legislators to offer amendments in both the Senate and the House to ensure the original spirit of the law was upheld. Our amendments restored the full earning capacity for producers and reinstated mandatory safe food handler training.

For those of you who have been following along with our work on Cottage Foods, you will remember that WCC passed a law last year that created a tiered system for cottage food producers. We have since been engaged helping to write rules for cottage food producers who want to make pickled vegetables (as tier 2 products) under the law.  This new version of the law got rid of the tiered system and treats all cottage food producers the same, including those who want to make and sell pickled fruits & veggies!  It also expanded the definition of producer to include a “designated representative.” This provides clarity and flexibility for small farms that can, for example, have an intern or other family member sell their cottage food products at market – even though they did not actually produce the food. As of this writing, we are working with the state health department to develop updated guidance for the new law and will have information on our website as soon as it’s available.

The second part of the bill modified the Custom Processing of Meat Animals Act and opened the door for small and mid-sized poultry producers to take advantage of existing USDA exemptions for on-farm custom processing.  Access to processing has long been a significant barrier for small and mid-scale pastured poultry producers, leaving them unable to meet the growing market demand.

Under the new law, farmers who raise and slaughter less than 1,000 birds per year are exempt from the provisions of the Custom Processing of Meat Animals Act, but must still comply with record keeping and labeling requirements. Producers who want to slaughter more than 1,000 but less than 20,000 birds per year must obtain a license from the Colorado Department of Agriculture.  Both licensed and exempted poultry producers can sell their processed birds direct to individuals.  The bill instructs the CDA to consult with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about labeling for birds sold under the act.  In addition, CDA must convene a stakeholder group to develop the regulatory framework to allow for the retail sale of poultry processed under the act.  Readers who want information about how to participate in the stakeholder group can contact Rachel Zatterstrom at r[email protected] or (970) 409-9820

In the final analysis, this bill shows that scale appropriate food safety regulations make sense for Colorado and contribute to the success of innovative and diverse small farms across Colorado. It is a huge step forward and will lead to more secure and profitable small farm businesses and increased consumer access and options.

Senate Bill 58 was signed by the Governor on May 4, 2016 and took effect immediately.

Legislature fails to protect CO residents from the impacts of oil & gas development

Despite several opportunities this session the legislature failed to enact measures that would level the playing field between impacted residents and the oil & gas industry. One bill would have changed the mandate of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission to “administer” rather than “foster” oil & gas development in Colorado. Other measures would have made it easier for local jurisdictions to work with industry to plan for development in their communities.  WCC supported several bills – two of which were based on recommendations from Hickenlooper’s oil & gas task force. However the political landscape proved too challenging and none of the measures passed.

Climate Action ~ Clean Energy

We saw lots of action related to the Governor’s climate action plan and Colorado’s implementation of the federal clean power plan. With plenty of political posturing from both side of the aisle, the final result was basically a wash.  The session began with House Bill 1004, which would have required the state climate action plan to include specific measurable goals geared to both reduce Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions and increase Colorado’s adaptive capability to respond to climate change. WCC supported the bill. However, after considerable floor debate in the House, the bill ultimately died in the Senate Ag committee.

Also early in the session, a couple of bills were introduced that were designed to slow down and otherwise cripple Colorado’s ability to plan for compliance with the federal clean power plan. However, these bills were pulled from the calendar in February after the US Supreme Court issued a stay on the implementation of the clean power plan. This was followed by the introduction of Senate Bill 157 - with the very literal title, “Don’t Implement the Clean Power Plan” - which instructed the Air Quality Control Commission to cease all state planning related to implementation of the federal plan. At the same time there was an attempt during the state budgeting process by Senate leaders, led by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, to strip $8 million in funding for the air quality enforcement division to make sure the state would not work on the federal clean power plan. Thankfully lawmakers came to their senses and restored most of the funding – apparently remembering that clean air is a priority for Coloradans – regardless of federal mandates.  In the end, Senate Bill 157 died in the House Transportation & Energy Committee.

Despite all the political posturing about the clean power plan, what this really boils down to is a debate about the future of Colorado’s economy. The loss of high paying mining jobs is a stark reality in many of our communities.  WCC looks forward to continuing the conversation about our economic future.

A win and a loss for Immigrant Rights

As a member of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, WCC supported bills to fully implement SB 251, a 2013 law that allows undocumented immigrants in Colorado to obtain drivers’ licenses. Since the bill first passed, Republicans have used the annual budget process to restrict the number of DMV offices offering the licenses. Currently only three offices – in Denver, Fort Collins and Grand Junction – offer appointments for this type of license. Not only does this impose an unnecessary travel burden on many residents, it’s led to months-long waits for appointments and the creation of a black market where appointments were being sold to a vulnerable population.

Gratefully, CIRC successfully passed a bill that fixes one of these problems. HB 1335 will make the selling of drivers license appointments and other public appointments a class 1 misdemeanor and a deceptive trade practice.

Unfortunately, HB 1274 – which would have restored adequate funding so that more DMV offices around the state can serve these residents – died in the Senate State Affairs committee.  CIRC and the I Drive Colorado campaign are committed to keeping up the fight going into 2017 and WCC looks forward to offering our support for this important campaign.

Voter ID Bills down for the count

There is virtually no evidence of voter fraud in Colorado, yet this session saw a couple of bills that threatened to disenfranchise thousands of Coloradans by making it harder to vote, especially for vulnerable populations like seniors, low-income people and people of color. One bill would have required qualified electors in Colorado to submit a government-issued photo ID as a condition of casting a ballot. Another would have referred a measure to Colorado voters to change the state constitution and require photo ID for anyone who registers to vote within 22 days prior to an election or on Election Day. WCC opposed both measures and thankfully the proposed bills failed to make it out of the House.

CO establishes first ever Public Lands Day, finds OHV compromise

On May 17th, Colorado became the first state in the nation to officially recognize the importance of our public lands. Senate Bill 21 establishes a state holiday on the third Saturday in May in celebration of “Public Lands Day.”

Almost five years in the making, a bipartisan bill that increases the flexibility of local governments to regulate OHV use within their jurisdictions is an example of what can be accomplished when all parties to an issue get together, work through differences and find common ground.

House Bill 1030 clarifies that local municipalities have the authority to require OHV operators to have a driver’s license and insurance if that makes sense in their community. This allows flexibility for communities to manage OHV use on a local basis, rather than rely on state mandates that may not make sense everywhere in Colorado. The bill allows for exceptions in case of emergency and for agricultural uses. WCC leaders attended the Senate Committee hearing for this bill and supported the final bill language.

The bill was signed by the Governor and took effect on April 12.

Finally, a win for Rain Barrels!!

After failed attempts in previous legislative sessions, residential rain barrels are finally legal in Colorado. After much negotiation with water rights holders and other parties, the final bill allows for the collection of rooftop rainwater in up to two rain barrels with a combined storage capacity of no more than 110 gallons. The collected water must only be used for outdoor purposes such as watering lawns or gardens and may not be used for drinking water or other indoor purposes.

Much of the controversy surrounding the bill was related to Colorado’s doctrine of prior appropriation or “first in time, first in right,” and the perceived threat to downstream water users. In an arid state where every drop of water is carefully allocated, importance was necessarily placed on understanding the long term potential impacts of the law. For this reason, the bill also instruct the State Engineer to report back to the legislature in 2019 and 2022 on whether the use of residential rain barrels has caused any harm to downstream water users. Until then, collect away!

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