The 2nd General Session of the 72nd General Assembly began its work at 10 am on Wednesday, January 8, 2020. Colorado Farm Bureau staff was at the Capitol and ready to represent Colorado agriculture in the coming 120 days of the session that is already looking to be busy and full.

“We are already tracking dozens of bills,” said Emily Ibach, Director of State Affairs for Colorado Farm Bureau.

The interim calendar was very crowded, resulting in many bill proposals that were forwarded before the general session even began. Staff has heard some of the ideas coming forward from legislators, but there will be many more that come as a surprise.

The Democrats have the majority in both the House and the Senate. While many of the party’s priority issues were passed last year, there are still plenty of new priority issues in the hopper.

What to expect 

Instream flow (ISF) program expansion was hotly debated over the interim and several stakeholder meetings were held to discuss problematic aspects of the bill, including a public forum discussion on the agenda of the interim Water Resources Review Committee in Steamboat Springs. Vice President Carlyle Currier participated in that discussion. While not a direct result of the WRRC, expect to see a compromise bill that will expand the ISF program with important sideboards in place to be introduced early in the session.

Pesticides are a hot topic. Two measures are expected to arrive early in the session. The first will ban consumer, over-the-counter sale of products that contain neonics and require a pesticide applicators license to purchase any of those products. The second will eliminate the state preemption over the regulation of pesticides which would allow local governments to make their own rules.

Animal welfare will also be a primary issue area as the legislative session gets going. One measure will further limit and regulate “puppy mills” across the state for those who are breeding large numbers of dogs in kennel facilities. Another will propose changing the regulations and requirements for housing laying hens in egg production, requiring cage-free systems to be adopted over the next few years. There is also an expected bill addressing the transport of exotic animals that staff is monitoring closely for unintended impacts to the agricultural community.

Other things to look out for include another attempt at passing a Colorado Family Paid Medical Leave program, a uniform mill levy across the state for education funding, legislation to address lingering conservation easement program concerns, and various other priority area bills.

Local Control

While the legislature is busy crafting laws that cover the entire state, they are also working to boost the power of counties and municipalities to regulate various aspects of public policy. The idea of local control most recently manifested itself in the regulation and operation of oil and gas drilling, with legislation passed in the 2019 legislative session that gave increased control to counties and towns to regulate the activity.

Additional pieces of legislation in the 2020 session dealing with small business and pesticide regulation are also in the works. The trend is expected to continue into other areas of policy as the session progresses.

“Voters should get used to the idea that their town council or county commissioner is going to have even more control over the character of their communities,” said CFB vice president of advocacy, Shawn Martini in a story for the news outlet, Colorado Politics. “If you hadn’t paid much attention to who’s standing for local office in the past you should make time to do so in 2020 and beyond. It will impact you on a daily basis far more than what happens in Washington.”

Martini says that engaging at the local level will be increasingly important for the county Farm Bureaus in the coming years. That engagement will help to ensure that local decision-makers hear every side of an issue from constituents before making a decision.

Back at the Capitol

In the meantime, legislators will continue to have a big impact on Coloradans at the state level. The CFB Board of Directors will use the 2020 CFB Policy Book to inform their decisions on how to address each measure that could impact agriculture. The board also assesses legislation using the list of Priority Issues set by the executive committee at the start of every year.