Local legislators praise positive, productive 2013 session

Beyond the hot issues such as civil unions, firearms regulation and recreational marijuana standards, the Larimer County statehouse contingent took the lead on plenty of important but less high-profile legislation in the just-completed session of the Colorado General Assembly.

That’s not surprising Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins said. Considering that 613 bills were introduced during the 2013 session, “a lot didn’t get talked about,” she said.

Just the same, Ginal called the session a great and historic one for lawmakers’ willingness to take on the bigger issues as well as a multitude of other matters directly benefiting Colorado residents.

With her background in health care, Ginal said she takes particular pride in a couple of pieces of successful legislation she sponsored.

One will hasten the process for patients needing new prescription authorizations when changing insurance plans. Now a standard two-page authorization form will be used to reduce doctors’ administrative costs and ensure patients get the medications they need more quickly.

The other bill would create regulatory standards for naturopathic doctors, enabling them to practice collaboratively with medical doctors.

Further, in concert with Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, she carried legislation enabling older residents to renew identity cards online.

Representative Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, was similarly pleased. He said the session proved much more productive than previous ones with issues debated on their merits rather than politics. Before Democrats gained majorities in both the state House and Senate, Fischer noted that he was prime sponsor of but two bills in two years.

Fischer said he sponsored 22 bills this year. Chief among them was legislation aimed at encouraging greater water conservation, in keeping with Fischer’s priorities as chair of the House Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee.

Perhaps most prominent was a bill permitting recycling of so-called “gray water.” Colorado State University engineering professors and internationally recognized water experts Larry Roesner and Sybil Sharvell helped draft the bill and lobby for the issue.

It allows for reuse of lightly used water from baths, showers, washing machines and bathroom and laundry sinks only. That water can be used only for filling toilets and watering lawns in single-and multi-family dwellings. The Colorado Water Control Commission will develop statewide standards for gray water systems.

Fischer called the legislation a “no-brainer” given that Colorado was the only western state without provision for gray water recycling. CSU estimates the practice could reduce demand 30 percent by 2020, resulting in an annual savings of more than 10 billion gallons of water.

Fischer also carried a bill enabling farmers to fallow their fields without facing legal challenges alleging abandonment of their water rights. Complementary legislation authorized a pilot project to examine the possibilities of allowing farmers to share their water with municipalities instead of being forced to sell it.

Three bills carried by Fischer were aimed at bringing greater transparency to what he characterized as the often stealthy and arbitrary actions of homeowner associations. “HOAs are one of the most common complaints of my constituents,” he said.

Other legislation carried by Fischer prohibited use of consumer credit information for employment screening.

Kefalas was similarly enthusiastic about the session, calling it unprecedented in addressing serious policy issues. But he was a bit more reserved, contending that the progress came at cost of great conflict toward the end.

While 91 percent of the bills forwarded to the governor for his consideration were passed with bipartisan support, according to Kefalas, the remainder surrounding the hot-button issues created often-bitter clashes.

The Legislature got a break this year with the recovering economy, Kefalas said. The resulting increased revenues were applied to bolstering the reserve fund while making more money available for priorities such as education and others.

Kefalas was most excited about the Working Families Opportunity Act, the first bill to be introduced in the Senate by him and a host of co-sponsors.

The act, according to Kefalas, is similar to the federal Earned Income Tax Credit program. When state revenues are sufficient, tax credits would become available to low-and moderate-income families. The act also would establish a separate tax credit for those families with children 6 and younger.

Kefalas said the act is a form of economic development, putting millions of dollars in the pockets of as many as 500,000 Coloradans who need it to spend on their needs.

Both he and Ginal also carried legislation providing greater rights and protections in dealing with insurance companies for those whose properties were damaged or destroyed in the High Park Fire.

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