The final countdown: State legislators scramble to finish 2023 session

The California legislature is still working on three controversial bills regarding housing density, air quality, and property-tax reduction.

The final countdown: State legislators scramble to finish 2023 session

Colorado lawmakers are beginning to show signs of fatigue as they try to get the buzzer to go off before the end of the session.

Over the last month, legislators have worked through the night and on weekends to process more than 600 bills. Many of these still need to heard and approved by May 8, when the session is due to adjourn.

Senators were chatting freely on the Senate floor about the renovations needed for the Capitol building in the wake of the pandemic. At the House, however, a Republican legislator requested that Senate Bill 23-213, a 213-page piece of land-use legislation heavily modified, be read in full. This was done to speed up the process before the final and third reading.

The committee meetings have been delayed and rescheduled. Several bills need to be heard again before they can be approved, defeated, or postponed for an indefinite period of time before the deadline.

As of May 5, 1:30 pm, here are the bills that were awaiting approval:

Senate Bill 23-213, backed by Gov. Jared Polis is still hearing this highly amended and contested bill on the House floor. The bill will be sent to the governor for his final approval if it is approved.

The bill, which Polis refers to as the "More Housing Now" bill, is designed to help address the housing shortage in the state by declaring that land-use policies and accessory dwelling unit regulations around transit corridors fall under the jurisdiction of both the state and local governments.

The sprawling bill, which was introduced just three weeks back, aims to help local governments plan denser housing and less auto-focused development in places that are or can become transit corridors with lots of jobs or potential for job creation.

A bill sponsor in Senate changed the measure last week to remove the state's preemption over local land use decisions made in Front Range metro areas, mountain resorts and other regions.

Municipalities and neighborhood groups oppose the bill, fearing a loss of control over local zoning laws and an inadequate infrastructure to develop higher-density homes. However, a surprising coalition of developers and advocacy groups favors the legislation.

House Bill 23-1294- This bill is facing opposition from business and energy groups despite being heavily modified. The bill aims to tackle Colorado's air quality problems, which have recently been downgraded to severe.

The measure, which was originally backed by 30 Democratic co-sponsors, would have required computer modeling and potential pollution offsets, as well as other measures, to be taken, in order to build or modify minor nonresidential pollution sources.

Energy industry officials are concerned that the measure will require businesses of all types -- hotels, bakeries, dry-cleaners, etc. -- to meet increased permitting requirements by a state agency, which is already overloaded and takes more than 18 months for it to review applications to reduce air pollution.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimates that it will need an additional $31.7 million in funding, if the original bill is adopted. This money would be used to hire more staff for the investigations.

The head of CDPHE, which enforces air quality rules, opposed the bill at a House Energy and Environment Committee hearing on Thursday. He said that even the amended version had unrealistic timelines for responding to complaints given the complexity of air pollution enforcement.

The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee passed the measure just after midnight and referred it to the Senate Appropriations Committee, with some new amendments. It remains to be determined if sponsors will be able to shoehorn through the legislation and get a second reading under special orders today, and if a third reading can happen before the session ends.

Senate Bill 23-305 - Introduced this week, the bill seeks to lower assessment rates for property taxes on residential and commercial properties. Polis announced the measure earlier this month. It would achieve this by reducing refunds under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which Colorado voters approved to limit government expenditures in 1992.

Colorado voters are expected to vote in favor of the proposal if Senate Bill 23 303 is passed, which is likely because Democrats control the statehouse.

The state would reimburse local governments, including school districts, for the money that they would lose due to the reduction in property taxes. The proposal would also raise TABOR’s limit on government spending an additional 1%. This would allow the state to keep more revenue. For the tax year 2023, residential property owners can also exempt the first $40,000 in value of their homes from taxation. The exemption will remain in place until 2032.

As of yet, the support for this legislation is purely partisan. Democrats have emphasized the economic benefits that come from using refunds to reduce the tax burden for homeowners and small businesses. Republicans have called the legislation a "smoke and mirrors" approach that won't do much to address rising taxes and property values. Renters will also lose out on the economic benefits, as their TABOR refunds will be greatly reduced.

Special districts are reportedly concerned about the bill. It will have to be heard in the House Appropriations Committee, before it can move to the House Floor and the Governor's desk.

Even though the session was supposed to end on 6 May, it is increasingly likely that legislators will continue to work on bills through the weekend and Monday.

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce took positions on over 70 bills during this session. These included those that had an impact on affordable housing, worker issues like equal pay for equal labor and others.

Greg Avery is the author of this article.