Colorado legislators lay out very different priorities for 2016 session

Legislative Democrats and Republicans began laying out their agendas Monday for the upcoming session, and their priorities once again are worlds apart on business issues — particularly on the long-running matter of construction defects reform.

House Republicans said they will seek for a fourth time to pass a bill making it harder for small numbers of condominium owners to file class-action construction-defects lawsuits against builders when the session begins on Jan. 13.

Col Dem leadershipSenate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman lays out Democrats’ legislative agenda


And they will make a fifth-straight effort to pass a bill that would require the state to warn, rather than fine, small businesses that commit first-time offenses of new rules that do not endanger public safety.

House Democrats, meanwhile, said they will look at ways to ensure that men and women receive equal pay for doing the same jobs at private businesses and will try for a second time to require international companies that hold some of their profits in offshore tax havens to include that revenue when calculating Colorado taxes.

And Senate Democrats will seek to increase broadband access across Colorado and will try to set up a fund to help rural areas affected by the closure of a mine or a hospital be able to recover economically.

Democratic leaders of both chambers added they also would like to address the issue of affordable housing by setting up tax-free savings accounts that people can use to buy a first home, and by setting up some rental-assistance fund.

But when asked whether they would be willing to address the issue of construction-defects reform — an issue that got some bipartisan support in the Senate last year before dying in a committee of the Democratic-led House — Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, said she would be willing to discuss the issue, but doesn’t believe a lawsuit-focused bill would do anything to bringing down the skyrocketing cost of housing.

“We are talking about that along with what we consider a very important policy on affordable housing,” Hullinghorst said. “But I don’t believe that the bill that was proposed last year on construction defects did a lot for affordable housing.”

The differences in the agenda — unveiled by Democrats at a news conference and by House Republicans in a news release — were not surprising, as they mirrored the differences on a multitude of subjects that led to an unusually large percentage of bills getting through either the Democratic House or the Republican Senate last year only to die in the other chamber of the Legislature. Senate Republicans are not laying out priorities until Wednesday.

But they illustrated why many view the 2016 session as a potential redux of 2015, with few differences in outcome.

House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, noted that 12 cities have passed local construction-defects reform ordinances to try and jump-start a largely defunct condominium market and offer more affordable options for Coloradans who seek to stop paying skyrocketing rent prices and own their own properties.

“The growing number of municipalities that have passed some form of construction defect legislation shows the groundswell of support for this type of affordable housing remedy, and that a statewide law is needed now more than ever to ensure parity and inclusivity for all Coloradans,” DelGrosso said.

Hullinghorst also emphasized that Democrats will seek to make the hospital provider fee — a per-patient fee that hospitals assess on themselves to draw more federal Medicaid funding — into an enterprise. Doing so would free up more money under the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights revenue cap to go to transportation, education and other needs, and business groups have asked legislative leaders to support the effort.

Republicans, however, killed the bill last year because they viewed it as an end-run on TABOR and have not shown any desire to move their position on the matter yet in 2016.

Ed Sealover covers government, health care, tourism, airlines, hospitality and restaurants for the Denver Business Journal and writes for the “Capitol Business” blog. Phone: 303-803-9229.

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