UPDATE: After this story was posted, an amendment to the bill was passed in the House Energy and Environment Committee that exempts: “packaging material used for Colorado agricultural products sold under the name of the farmer, grower or grower cooperative.”
GREELEY — Weld County is likely to be one of the hardest hit parts of the state if a bill forcing manufacturers of packaging materials to fund a statewide recycling program gets through the legislature, leading some to question Weld’s future legislative representation after redistricting.
At issue is House Bill 22-1355 “Producer Responsibility Program for Recycling,” which would require “producers of products that are … packaging materials and paper products sold, offered for sale, or distributed in the state” to pay annual “producer responsibility dues.”
The dues would fund a program to “implement and manage a statewide program (program) that provides recycling services to covered entities in the state, which are defined as residences, businesses, schools, government buildings, and public places.”
The costs of the dues will be passed on to consumers at a time when inflation in Colorado is already at one of its highest rates ever (7.5 percent), and higher than the national average.
The bill also creates another appointed bureaucracy via the “statewide recycling advisory board … that consists of members who have expertise in recycling programs and are knowledgeable about recycling services in the different geographic regions of the state.”
For Northern Colorado, and especially Weld County which is a major food producing region, this would impact nearly every farmer and rancher. Weld County is also part of a fast-growing plastics manufacturing sector according to information on the Upstate Colorado Economic Development website.
Upstate Colorado is a public/private non-profit economic development corporation that provides services to all of Weld County.
According to information on the website, the food processing and manufacturing cluster in Northern Colorado experienced a 15 percent growth from 2015-2020, and in 2020 the gross regional product reported was $1.3 billion, another 5 percent increase is expected in the next few years.
Products produced include animal foods, baked goods, candy and chocolate, coffee and tea, dairy products, distilleries, farm wholesalers, glass containers, malt beverages, cereals, sugar, fruits and vegetables, soft drinks, specialty foods, wineries, and meat processing.
The growing plastics sector, which includes companies such as Vestas, OtterBox, JBS and Leprino Cheese, reported more than $200 million in sales in 2020 across 37 employers in Weld and Larimer Counties.
Bill sponsor to represent Weld County by default
Making matters worse, however, is that the prime sponsor of the bill in the Senate is Republican Kevin Priola from Adams County. Priola is set to represent Weld County in Senate District 13 for the 2023 and 2024 sessions by default of new district boundaries. Priola currently represents Senate District 25.
When many of the state’s legislative districts were redrawn as part of the recent redistricting effort, Priola was drawn out of 25 and into 13, which is currently represented by Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, who is term limited at the end of 2022.
However, part of the rules for redistricting is that current legislators could not be drawn out of office, so Priola, who was just re-elected in 2020, will represent SD13 for two years before the seat is back up for election.
Priola has long been known in the Republican Party as often veering into left of center positions in his voting and sponsorship of bills, leaving many in Weld County to wonder if the Adams County resident will vote the ideals of his new constituents or ignore their values.
Priola did not return multiple requests from Complete Colorado for comment.
Colorado Liberty Scorecard, a subjective, conservative organization which ranks legislators based on how they vote on individual rights, free markets and limited government, gave Priola a 29 percent rating for his voting record, lowest of any Republican during the 2021 legislative session and just one percent more than Democrat Senator Kerry Donovan.
Also in 2021, Independence Institute* president Jon Caldara named Priola as one five nominees for his annual “Californian of the Year” award.
.“The Colorado Union of Taxpayers (CUT) rated Kevin the lowest of his Republican colleagues. This is an especially impressive achievement since he is a signer of the CUT pledge to oppose any new net tax increases,” Caldara said. “So, it took real effort to vote for tax increase after tax increase — all without asking for voter consent — on gasoline, delivery services, hospital stays, the TABOR-destroying Prop CC and oh so much more.”
‘Punishing the middle class’
Weld County Commissioner and current Chairman Scott James, said he has yet to meet Priola, so he’s not sure what kind of relationship the board will have with him, but to date — knowing he will soon represent Weld — Priola continues to sponsor or support bills that are not friendly to Weld County, something that does concern James.
“I can’t worry about my relationship with him until I make an effort to sit down and talk to the guy and make sure he understands what Weld County’s concerns are,” James said, adding his relationship with current SD13 Senator John Cooke is very good.
But, James said, Cooke lives in Weld County, so he already knows what’s on the minds of Weld County residents.
“Now I’m going to get an Adams County resident that represents Weld County,” James said. “I want to make sure he knows what Weld County is about. “I want to be able to develop that relationship where I can pick up the phone and express my concern.
However, to date, Priola has not reached out to the Weld County Commissioners to ask to get to know them.
James said HB-1355 is yet one more punitive attack on Weld County’s agriculture.
“Why do we need a governmental solution to this?” James said. “Why do we need more government? Why do we need government to subsidize recycling? If it was truly demanded by the free and fair market, then a solution would present itself.”
James pointed out that in the original legislation newspapers were included in the industries required to pay the annual fee, but they have since been removed from the added liability, adding it feels like Weld County gets punished with every swipe of the pen.
“I find it interesting that newspapers were able to get themselves out of that legislation, but agriculture can’t,” James said. “Weld County is a good, old fashioned, working, producing, essential county. And every bill is hitting us. That goes to show you right there, the tone-deaf attitude the legislature has about rural counties. Basically, every policy that comes out of the gold dome this year is punishing those who are trying to make a living. It’s punishing the middle class.”
James said if he could say one thing to Priola it would be “call Weld County and we’ll show you why you shouldn’t sponsor this piece of legislation.”
This isn’t the first time this year that James has been on the opposite side of legislation with Priola.
House Bill 22-1295, which would offer subsidized preschool to all Colorado children, takes away from county services because of a complicated funding method that merges pools of money. James and several fellow commissioners from across Colorado argued for amendments to make the bill more palatable, including one that created a governance board to oversee the new program, rather than a single director.
James said it appeared commissioners won the battle when Democrat Tammy Story agreed to the amendment; however, Priola flipped the other way, voiding Story’s vote and killing the amendment in committee. Yet more evidence that concerns him.
“That means that Senator Priola thinks that the consent of the governed is not important,” James said. “He thinks the county commissioners, the implementors in the counties, should not have a say in how the new CDEC is set up and run.”
*Independence Institute is the publisher of Complete Colorado.
Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.
CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.