2024 Leg Session, Exclusives, Gold Dome, Jake Fogleman, Local Gun Rights, Politics, Uncategorized

Fogleman: The good, the bad and the ugly of the legislative session

The Colorado General Assembly officially adjourned for the year last Wednesday after weighing more than 700 bills in 120 days.

Perennial issues like taxes, guns, and the future of Colorado’s oil and gas industry once again loomed large, and the ascendant progressive wing of the state’s Democratic majority attempted to flex its muscles against more moderate and conservative lawmakers with mixed results.

While it was by no means a banner year for liberty-minded Coloradans under the gold dome, they did manage to score a few wins as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) spending limits did their job in constraining lawmakers’ profligate appetites. Meanwhile, many of the most extreme pieces of legislation dealing with issues like gun rights, charter schools, and oil and gas drilling were either substantially watered down or killed decisively.

Here’s a look at some of the notable bills Independence Institute followed closely this session and how they ultimately fared as the session wrapped up.

Fiscal Policy

SB24-228: This bill would reinstate income tax rate reductions as a viable TABOR refund mechanism for the next ten years. The measure has the backing of Governor Polis, and it enjoyed bipartisan sponsorship on its way out of the legislature.

The size of the tax cuts would vary based on the state’s TABOR surplus totals from year to year, but it is projected to effectively cut the income tax rate from 4.4% to 4.25% when the surplus is greater than $1.5 billion, as it is currently. That translates into a tax cut of more than $480 million in the 2025 tax year.

While it would not create a permanent tax cut of the kind Independence Institute has successfully achieved at the ballot in past years, its basic mechanism of using the TABOR surplus to buy down the income tax rate is one the Institute has championed for years. It is a good step in the right direction on the state’s eventual path to zero income tax.

Unfortunately, SB 228 was not passed in a vacuum. Lawmakers also passed a slew of additional bills that will draw substantially from the TABOR surplus each year to create new tax credits.

For example, House Bills 1311 and 1134 alone are projected to draw nearly $1 billion per year from future surplus dollars to fund a new Family Affordability Tax Credit and expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, respectively. The amount of TABOR money that would be diverted for these and similar measures will significantly reduce, or even entirely cancel out, the broad-based tax cuts created by SB 228.

SB24-233: This last-minute measure was the long-awaited legislative “solution” to spiking property tax bills. Introduced with just three days left in the session (the bare minimum allowed for it to pass), this bipartisan bill was quickly rammed through before adjournment with minimal opportunity for public oversight or participation.

Importantly, the bill offers no relief in the form of lower property taxes from current levels. Instead, it seeks to prevent future acute spikes in property tax bills like those voters have been plagued by over the last several years, resulting from rising home values and the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment.

It aims to accomplish this by setting newly bifurcated residential assessment rates (7.15 percent for school districts and 6.7 percent for all other governments), a new 10 percent value deduction capped at $70,000, and a 5.5 percent growth cap on local government property tax revenue that simultaneously does not apply to school districts and home rule governments, and can be overridden by voters.

Finally, in keeping with the trend in past sessions, fee-raising bills again featured prominently this year. The state’s Democratic lawmakers introduced a litany of bills to raise taxes on Coloradans disguised as “fees” to increase state revenue without the voter consent required under TABOR. One of the most controversial fee bills to pass, SB24-184, will impose a $3 per day fee on all car rentals in the state to help fund Governor Polis’ aspirations of Front Range Passenger Rail.

Gun Policy

As in past sessions, gun bills featured prominently this year. The state’s Democrat-controlled legislature looked to expand upon its growing list of gun rights restrictions, introducing 10 separate gun control measures in the process.

Though many made it across the finish line, several did so with substantial amendments, and some of the most controversial proposals were left on the cutting room floor before adjournment.

HB24-1292: This bill sought to ban the manufacture, sale, and transfer of many types of common semi-automatic firearms deemed “assault weapons” under its broad definitions. The bill passed in the House, a first for a so-called assault weapon ban in Colorado history, but it died in the Senate State Affairs Committee after facing bipartisan opposition. More detailed analysis of the bill can be found here.

HB24-1270: This proposal would have forced all Colorado gun owners to obtain “firearm liability insurance” or face an escalating series of civil fines. It passed the House but died in the Senate without being brought up for a floor vote. More detailed analysis of the bill can be found here.

HB24-1310: This bill took direct aim at successful school safety programs like FASTER Colorado by attempting to ban school employees, including those who are trained and designated as school security personnel, from carrying firearms on school grounds. It was killed in its first hearing in the House Education Committee. More detailed analysis of the bill can be found here.

SB24-131: This bill would expand Colorado’s gun-free zones by deeming them “sensitive spaces” where both open and licensed concealed carry is a crime. As originally introduced, the bill attempted to apply this designation to nearly all publicly accessible property across the state, in line with similar measures passed in states like California and New York that have fared poorly in court. However, the bill was substantially amended to only include the Capitol, courthouses, childcare facilities, K-12 schools, colleges, and polling locations to garner enough support for passage. It currently awaits Governor Polis’ signature.

SB24-066: This bill remains the only gun measure signed into law so far. It will require credit card payment processors to apply a specialty merchant category code to firearm retailers with the goal of tracking firearm, accessory, and ammunition purchases. Colorado is now only the second state in the country, behind California, to adopt such a law. Further analysis of the bill can be found here.

HB24-1349: If signed by the Governor, this bill would place a measure on the ballot this November asking voters to approve an excise tax on gun and ammunition sales to fund services for crime victims. As introduced, the bill proposed an 11 percent tax but was amended to 6.5 percent to secure final passage. If approved by the voters this fall, Colorado would become just the second state (behind California) to impose a state-level excise tax on gun and ammo sales.

Additionally, bills increasing the training requirements to obtain a concealed carry permit, mandating safe gun storage in vehicles, creating a state licensing regime for gun retailers in addition to federal licensure requirements, and directing the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to enforce the state’s gun restrictions all passed as well and are awaiting final action from the Governor.

Energy Policy

SB24-159: The most egregious energy bill considered this session, SB 159 would have “phased out” Colorado’s $48 billion oil and gas industry by directing the state Energy and Carbon Management Commission to begin phasing down approvals for new wells in 2028 and completely halt any new permit issuance on January 1, 2030. The bill died in its first hearing following a bipartisan 5-2 vote in the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee. More detailed analysis of the bill can be found here.

SB24-229/SB24-230: This pair of bills was introduced in the waning days of the session at the behest of Governor Polis. They are the result of backroom negotiations between special interests, including large oil and gas companies, environmental NGOs, and Democratic lawmakers. Pitched as a truce to the state’s reignited oil and gas wars, the bills replaced competing ballot measures and more draconian environmental bills that sought to impose a seasonal oil and gas ban, cap vehicle miles traveled in gas cars, and substantially increase fines for air quality violators.

SB 229 will require state regulators to adopt new rules by 2026 requiring the oil and gas industry to slash nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions—a precursor to ozone formation—50 percent from 2017 levels by the end of the decade.

Meanwhile, SB 230 will levy new fees on oil and gas production beginning in 2025. The fee amounts are set to fluctuate based on the spot price of oil and natural gas each quarter, but the bill’s fiscal note estimates it will raise more than $175 million per year. That revenue, which the state will receive without the consent of Colorado voters, is primarily earmarked to help fund the Governor’s preferred “clean transit” projects, with some money set aside for land remediation in areas affected by drilling.

SB24-218: This bill directs utilities like Xcel Energy to invest heavily in new upgrades to their distribution grid to support “the state’s beneficial and transportation electrification and decarbonization goals.” The costs for doing so will likely be substantial, though the bill sponsors offered no estimates of what it will cost to build the distribution grid to accommodate their policy goals. The bill will, however, automatically allow those costs to be recovered by Xcel from a new charge on captive ratepayers’ monthly energy bills. Further analysis of the bill can be found here.

Education Policy

HB24-1363: This bill threatened to drastically upend the status quo for Colorado’s extensive network of successful charter schools. Under the auspices of “accountability” and “transparency,” this bill would have allowed public school districts with declining enrollment to revoke a charter school’s charter even if it outperforms other district schools.

It would also have given local school districts the ultimate authority over whether new charter schools may open, or existing charters get renewed, by removing an appeal option to the Colorado Board of Education. The bill was killed in its first hearing after a bipartisan 8-3 vote in the House Education Committee. More detailed analysis of the bill can be found here.

HB24-1394: Signed into law by Governor Polis last month, this bipartisan measure will provide state funds to equalize the local property tax mill-levy funding for Charter School Institute schools that traditional public and district charter schools already receive.

Privacy/Civil Liberties

SB24-129: This bipartisan bill will prohibit state and local governments from obtaining and disclosing membership data, volunteer lists, and donation histories from non-profit organizations, with limited exceptions as required by law. It will also give non-profit organizations and their individual donors a powerful tool to combat government intrusion by allowing them to sue for damages to enforce this prohibition if necessary. It passed the legislature with unanimous support in a big win for freedom of expression, association, and privacy rights. It now awaits action from Governor Polis. Additional analysis of the bill can be found here.

SB24-158: While introduced with the admirable goal of protecting minors, multiple provisions of this social media “age verification” bill raised serious free speech and privacy concerns and threatened to potentially upend the free and open internet as Coloradans currently know it. The bill failed in the House after clearing the Senate, but its sponsors have pledged to bring the bill back next year.

SB24-157: This Democrat-sponsored bill, which was rapidly signed into law by Governor Polis, allowed lawmakers to exempt themselves from the more than 50-year-old, citizen-initiated Colorado Open Meetings Law after members of the majority were sued for violating its transparency provisions multiple times in recent years. Lawmakers can now shield their communications on important legislation from public oversight. Further analysis of the bill can be found here. Fortunately, the citizens of Colorado may once again get the last word on the matter if a proposed initiative repealing SB 157 can gather enough steam.

Jake Fogleman is director of policy at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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