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Legislature Hones In on Affordable Housing Efforts 🏡

Access to affordable housing has been a growing issue for the Denver area, with metro Denver now being named the fifth least affordable housing market in the country by OJO labs. The lack of available affordable and workforce housing is an issue that needs immediate attention and action.

The Chamber and its Prosper Colorado initiative support efforts to increase the availability of affordable workforce housing. We understand that our city cannot continue to grow and develop without housing options for the talent that we are working so hard to attract. With the median home price for the metro Denver area rising more than 23% in the past year to 6.6 times the median household income, it’s no surprise that those moving to Colorado often rely on renting rather than buying.

Colorado cannot postpone addressing its need for affordable housing options, and the General Assembly has proposed a slew of bills to address affordable and workforce housing.

Many of the bills create effective tools to increase affordable housing in Denver, such as House Bill 1051, which extends the affordable housing tax credit for another 10 years after it’s set to expire in 2024. Senate Bill 146 also aides affordable housing efforts by transferring $25 million to expand the middle-income access program through the department of local affairs, and Senate Bill 159 creates the transformational affordable housing revolving loan fund program.

The Chamber supports House Bill 1051, Senate Bill 146 and Senate Bill 159 as effective first steps to addressing the multifaceted issue. These bills actively provide favorable tax credits, create programs that support developers and incentivize increasing the availability of affordable workforce housing.

Simultaneously however, the legislature is proposing legislation that will undermine affordable housing efforts. We see this with Senate Bill 136, which would change disclosure requirements for special district board meetings and would terminate developer-affiliated positions; House Bill 1218, which requires 10% of parking spaces for commercial and multifamily residential buildings be equipped for electric vehicle charging; House Bill 1346, which changes the ratio of supervisors to apprentices for the electrical, plumbing and construction industry; House Bill 1362, which authorizes the Colorado energy office to create three new sets of model code language around building greenhouse gas emissions; and House Bill 1363, which modifies statues around special district governance to increase taxpayer oversight.

The Chamber has opposed each of these bills because they create roadblocks in the housing supply chain and actually serve as a deterrent for businesses that might otherwise build here. It is essential that the legislature realize the affordable housing crisis did not develop in a vacuum. Rather, the steady and persistent increases in regulation, oversight and bureaucracy have helped to create our housing deficit.

To read more about these bills and the Chamber’s stances on them, visit our current legislation page.

Potential Ballot Initiatives Focus on Taxes and Medical Psilocybin Use

The nation is holding its general election in November of this year. During this election, all of Colorado’s executive offices, seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and a seat in the U.S. Senate are up for election. The November ballot will also feature a variety of ballot initiatives, which provide Colorado citizens with another avenue to impact statue for the state.

In Colorado, citizens have the powers of initiative, both statute and constitutional, and veto referendum. To get an initiated state statute or initiated constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2022, proponents need to collect 124,632 valid signatures. Petitioners have six months to circulate signature petitions, and the deadline for submitting signatures is set by the state constitution three months before the election.

So far, only one initiative has been verified for the ballot on Nov. 18, 2021, covering the reduction of the state income tax rate from 4.55% to 4.40%. Numerous other ballot proposals are currently making their way through the title setting process. From 2000-2018, an average of about nine measures appeared on the statewide ballot during even-numbered years, and the approval rate for measures on the ballot in those years was about 41%.

While only one initiative is certain to be on the November ballot at this point, there are several other initiatives that are under review, including:

🗳️ Allowing legal access to currently controlled substances under Colorado law, including certain plants and fungi, for medicinal purposes

🗳️Decriminalizing the personal use of entheogenic plants and fungi, such as psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline and dimethyltryptamine for people over 21

🗳️ Proposing any citizen-initiative measure to change property tax be decided through a local election, eliminating its inclusion on the statewide ballot

🗳️ Reducing sales tax from 2.9% to 2.89%

🗳️ Temporarily reducing state sales tax from 2.9% to 2.89% between different time periods

🗳️ Changing the state and local process for petition, fining people who interfere with petitions, giving authority to local governments to run initiatives and referenda

🗳️Criminalizing abortion by making penalties similar to murder of an adult

The Chamber will be keeping a close eye on initiatives that impact the business community or Colorado’s economy. Our annual Chamber Ballot Guide will be circulated in late summer for the community to dig deeper into the proposals certain to be on the November ballot.

House Bill 1244 Passes First Committee Hearing

House Bill 1244 was in the House Committee on Energy and Environment this previous week. This bill creates a new program to regulate a subset of air pollutants which are defined as hazardous air pollutants, covered air toxics and all other air pollutants that the Air Quality Control Commission designates by rule as a toxic air contaminant based on its adverse health effects.

In implementing the program, the commission has the authority to adopt rules that are more stringent than the corresponding requirements of the federal Clean Air Act. The bill also sets specified new deadlines and requirements that relate to new reporting and rules around toxic air contaminants.

The Chamber has concerns that this bill continues to expand the authority of an unelected group by giving the Air Quality Control Commission the ability to regulate air pollutants that have not been identified as problematic by the Environmental Protection Agency. Additionally, this law makes Colorado more aggressive than other states and creates a new implementation burden for businesses who have industrial needs for certain chemical compounds.

The Chamber delivered oppositional testimony on House Bill 1244 along with other community and business members standing in opposition to this bill. Included in this group was the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), who surprisingly testified that this bill cannot be effectively administered.

With so many business leaders and community voices expressing their opposition to House Bill 1244, it is surprising that it passed out of the House Energy and Environment Committee by a vote of 8-4, and it will now be passed onto the Committee on Appropriations. Despite the significant objections from the business community and even the agency that would be the program’s administrator, the legislature is continuing to advance a piece of legislation that bears the brunt of community opposition.

While the Chamber understands it is a strategic imperative to maintain a high quality of life for our residents, this bill creates a nightmare for our businesses. This bill would make Colorado a national outlier by divorcing our state from the federal Clean Air Act, and by being more aggressive on air quality enforcements, we put every Colorado business at a disadvantage compared to their national counterparts operating on a different set of rules.

We will continue to monitor this bill and be active in our opposition.

New Study on Fentanyl Impact Enforces Chamber’s Stance on Possession

In this past week, new research on the impact of fentanyl on Colorado’s economy has come forward from the Common Sense Institute.

Some of the key findings from this research include:

  • In 2020, Colorado experienced 540 fentanyl related deaths, an increase of 143% from 2019. In 2021, there were over 800 fentanyl related deaths, a 260% increase from 2019.
  • The total lifetime cost of 1,104 opioid related deaths in Colorado in 2021 reached more than $15.2 billion, a 127% increase in costs from the prior 2017 CDC estimates. Since 2017, the share of opioid related deaths attributed to fentanyl grew from 19% to 73%, amounting to an $11.1 billion total lifetime cost in 2021.
  • The full public and societal costs of fentanyl must be weighed against any potential benefits from state and local policy reforms.

With this research in mind, our president and CEO, J. J. Ament, spoke about the impact on fentanyl on Colorado’s economy both in an interview on KOA Colorado and at a roundtable discussion with Colorado business and community leaders on KKTV 11 News.

His message, and the Chamber’s, is clear in each conversation: possession of fentanyl must be criminalized to effectively heal this crisis.

The Chamber has stated its support for the proposed House Bill 1326, Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention. This bill changes criminal penalties for fentanyl possession; requires that, for certain offenses, the court order placement in a residential addiction treatment facility; expands the list of eligible entities that can receive Narcan and fentanyl testing strips to include libraries, colleges, community centers and more; charges the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop and implement a statewide fentanyl prevention and education campaign; and expands the list of entities eligible for harm reduction grants.

While we support this bill and its efforts to lessen the fentanyl crisis, we believe that the possession of fentanyl must be restored to a felony offense. The prevalence of fentanyl in our communities has led to safety concerns that make Colorado a less desirable destination when recruiting businesses, undermines the value of infrastructure investments taxpayers have supported on the promise these improvements will lead to increased economy growth, and prevents metropolitan communities from confidently restoring downtown business activity. We are supportive of this legislation as a necessary first step to address a multifaceted issue.

Amendments were introduced and adopted in committee that would lower the threshold for felony charges of “knowing” possession from four grams down to one gram. While we appreciate this evolution, we remain committed to the belief that possession of fentanyl in any quantity should constitute a felony. District attorneys also testified to that effect, citing the felony classification is a necessary law enforcement tool that allows them to divert people struggling with addiction into treatment programs and require that they complete those programs. We believe it is essential to provide law enforcement with the tools they require to navigate this issue quickly, efficiently and compassionately.

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Here are the bills we took a stance on this week.

Oppose

  • House Bill 1362 requires the Colorado energy office to adopt three sets of model code language: model electric and solar ready code; model low energy and carbon code; and model green code language. Municipalities, counties, the Office of the State Architect and the Division of Fire Prevention and Control must adopt and enforce an energy code that will achieve equivalent or better energy performance than the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code.

Testimony

Read our justifications for these positions and more on our current legislation page.
Have questions or concerns about policy? Contact our Government Affairs team.