DENVER — After several days of laying over a conference committee amendment to House Bill 23-1101 in the state Senate that had some rural lawmakers up in arms, the amendment was rejected unanimously on Thursday and a new conference committee was appointed.
The controversial amendment is to a bill ostensibly about expanding a fully taxpayer-subsidized transit program.
Opponents of the amendment say it will severely hurt transportation funding for rural Colorado and small metropolitan planning areas.
HB-1101 started off with the goal of expanding a grant program that offers free transit vouchers, but when it hit the Senate, Adams County Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, slapped an amendment on the bill that lawmakers from rural Colorado in the House didn’t like and refused to concur with.
That amendment requires that no later than July 1, 2024, Colorado’s transportation commission update its rules governing the statewide transportation process and transportation planning regions to “adjust the boundaries of the transportation planning regions in a manner that ensures that the state’s population is proportionally and equitably represented on the transportation advisory committee.”
A conference committee, which is a process in which members of both the Senate and the House work together to come to a consensus on a topic that the two chambers disagree on, was formed. Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, R-Brighton, who was on that committee, said the language of the amendment was not acceptable for her, and many other rural Colorado lawmakers.
“The equitable language in this bill still leaves me to believe, and members of the state transportation advisory committee (STAC) to believe, that CDOT (the Colorado Department of Transportation) is working to lessen the vote of the rural transportation regions and thereby lessening and silencing as best as they can the voice of rural Colorado, when it comes to transportation,” Kirkmeyer said.
Kirkmeyer initially proposed killing the amendment and forming a new committee a week ago, but that proposal ended in a 17-17 tie vote (with one member excused), with Democrat Sen. Kevin Priola bucking his fellow Weld County legislators, as well as his rural constituents, in supporting the amendment.
“This is about trying to lessen the voice of rural Colorado on transportation because the executive director of transportation — who is appointed by the governor — and her staff thought it was a great idea to sneak an amendment into a bill,” Kirkmeyer said. “They are either going to lessen the vote or put in a weighted voting mechanism, which will hurt rural Colorado, which will hurt those small MPOs. I know because I sat on the STAC for 20 years. I chaired it for eight years. Every opportunity they had, the larger MPOs would always try to outvote or outwork with the department the rest of the state transportation advisory committee.”
She and Winter have been working since to find a compromise.
On Thursday, Winter called for killing the amendment and starting over. That proposal passed unanimously. Sen. Winter, along with the bill’s c0-sponsor Sen. Nick Hinrichsen and Sen. Kirkmeyer were appointed to the new conference committee.
“After conversations with (Sen. Kirkmeyer), we feel we are in agreement on where this conference committee report should be,” Winter said.
“I appreciate the ability to work with (Winter and Hinrichsen),” Kirkmeyer said. “I think this will be a very short conference committee because we are in agreement with regards to amendments.”
Complete Colorado will continue to follow these developments.
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