What a year. Throughout the session, CFB took positions on 62 bills covering a wide range of issues. Below are some of the highlights from this year:
The most impactful and difficult bill that CFB dealt with this session was SB21-087 (Agricultural Workers’ Rights). As introduced, this bill created major implications for agriculture employers by address topics such as:
- Allowed agricultural employees to organize in labor unions
- Increased minimum wages
- Created an overtime threshold of 40 hour per week and 12 hours per day
- Established burdensome meal and rest breaks, transportation and housing requirements
- Prohibited the use of short-handled and long-handled hoes
- Opened up opportunities for lawsuits against employers from whistleblowers
- Allowed key service providers to visit employees anywhere on the employers’ property
- Created an agricultural work advisory committee to study and analyze wages and working conditions.
Throughout this process, CFB worked with a number of other state agriculture associations to combat this bill. There is no doubt that this bill is a huge change in labor law for Colorado agriculture, but we were able to come out with the best version of the bill considering the current make-up of the Colorado legislature because of our relationships with legislators and leadership.
How the Bill Changed:
Many of the most devastating amendments were moved to rulemaking, giving the industry a better chance to have a voice, including: access by key service providers to rulemaking; moved rest breaks, meal breaks, and other working condition regulations, and overtime. Also, organic farmers were exempted from the short-handled hoe provisions.
In the House, the agriculture coalition was required to prioritize any remaining amendments and leveraging CFB’s relationship with House leadership, four amendments were introduced and passed:
- Provided more protections for employers from lawsuits and provided multiple paths for complaints (court or administrative process).
- Lowered the proposed minimum wage for range workers significantly to $515.00 per week (adjusted for inflation annually)
- Provided a case-by-base variance exemption from hand-weeding restrictions.
- Exempted livestock haulers and “combine or harvester operators” from the meal and rest break requirements.
Looking forward, the team at Colorado Farm Bureau will continue to work diligently on this issue as we prepare to engage in the future rulemaking process that will follow this bill. We will also continue to work on all the needed fixes to this bill in response to the inevitable consequences of its enactment.
New to CDA
There are two new additions to the Colorado Department of Agriculture:
- HB21-1181 (Agricultural Soil Health Program) creates a voluntary soil health program within the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) authorizing the department to provide grants and loans, establishes a monitoring system that analyzes environmental and economic benefits of soil health practices, and establish a soil health testing program. This bill also creates a nine-member soil health advisory committee made up of conservation district board members and agricultural producers from around the state. Additionally, this office would pull federal dollars to the state earmarked for soil health programs.
- Next, HB21-1242 (Create Agricultural Drought And Climate Resilience Office) creates the Agricultural Drought and Climate Resilience Office within CDA to advise the Commissioner of Agriculture, the Colorado Agricultural Value-Added Development Board, other state agencies, and the Governor on the impact to agriculture of drought and climate policies and programs and resources to make farmers and ranchers more resilient.
Wolf Introduction Funding
The 2021 session was on the heels of Initiative 114 narrowly passing in the 2020 election. In response, a number of bills were introduced to ensure there is funding to mitigate the consequences of introducing wolves in Colorado.
SB21-105 (Implement and Finance Gray Wolf Reintroduction), a bill that CFB supported, would have outlined the public hearing process for the Parks and Wildlife Commission to follow. This bill was indefinitely postponed by the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
HB21-1243 (Wolf Reintroduction Funding With No License Fees), a revamped version of a previous bill, provides funding through both the General Fund and a number of other wildlife funds to fund the wolf program and give ranchers a reliable fund to pay for the consequences (i.e. loss of livestock) of introducing wolves.
In addition to HB21-1243, Representative Jeni Arndt and Perry Will successfully tacked a wolf funding bill to this year’s Budget bill. This amendment allocated $1.1 million from the general fund to be used to implement and manage the wolf reintroduction program.
The perennial issue of conservation easements was a hot topic during this year’s legislative session. SB21-033 (Conservation Easement Working Group Proposals) was introduced early on to address problems around disallowed conservation easement tax credits in the past. This bill would have made changes to the Conservation Easement Tax Credit program to create a new transferable tax credit for previously disallowed tax credits and an ombudsman and arbitration process to resolve disputes concerning the distribution of the credit among affected parties. This bill made it through the Senate but was killed at the House Appropriations Committee in the waning days of the session.
HB21-1233 (Conservation Easement Tax Credit Modifications) was a forward-looking bill, introduced to fix issues with the current conservation easement program. This bill makes modifications to the conservation easement tax credit program by increasing credit amounts, changing how transferred credits are tracked and verified, and broadening the entities that can donate or accept donations of easements. This bill passed both chambers and has been sent to the Governor’s desk to be signed.
After a better than expected year following the COVID pandemic, Colorado had $800 million left over to pump into the state’s economy. The legislature passed a number of bills to distribute this stimulus money. Many benefited the agricultural industry and rural areas of Colorado. Below are links to each of these bills.
- HB21-1260 (General Fund Transfer Implement State Water Plan)
- HB21-1262 (Money Support Agricultural Events Organization)
- SB21-203 (Funding For Colorado Proud)
- SB21-234 (General Fund Transfer Agriculture And Drought Resiliency)
- SB21-235 (Stimulus Funding Department Of Agriculture Efficiency Programs)
- SB21-240 (Watershed Restoration Grant Program Stimulus)
- SB21-248 (Loan Program For Colorado Agriculture)
- SB21-204 (Rural Economic Development Initiative Grant Program Funding)
- SB21-229 (Rural Jump-start Zone Grant Program)
If you or your local community want to apply for these programs, please reach out to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, your local extension office or your local county government.