Let me start with an update on the Fiscal Year 2009 budget-balancing bills, one of which relates to important tourism funding.
Last week, I mentioned a couple of the budget balancing bills that we had heard in the Senate. The House has since made some amendments to those bills, so they now come back to the Senate.
We have the option to approve the House’s changes or to form a conference committee to iron out the differences.
In the Senate, we had added an amendment that would have restored funding for tourism promotion (it also included funding for the Council of the Arts, Film Incentives and New Jobs Incentives), but this provision was removed in the House.
When the bill came back our way, a motion was made in the Senate by one of the Joint Budget Committee members that the Senate concur with the House amendment to that particular bill. As a courtesy, the senator who made the motion told me ahead of time that he was going to make that motion. That gave me an opportunity to prepare some arguments and to notify some of my fellow senators. When the motion was made we went to the microphone and argued that we should reject the House amendment and go to a conference committee.
Our arguments were successful and the Senate voted with us. The conference committee, which is composed of the Joint budget Committee members, will take this up along with the other disagreements between the two bodies and report back to the House and Senate. If we don’t agree with the report of the conference committee, we can reject it and a new conference committee could be formed to come up with different recommendations.
Another budget bill I talked about last week was the one proposing to raise fees on a variety of services performed by the Division of Water Resources.
As I mentioned last week, I wasn’t able to amend the bill in the Senate. I was unable in the short amount of time I had to get all of the information necessary to cap the fees and find a source of funds to replace the reduction in revenue from such cap. However when the bill got to the House, Rep. Kathleeen Curry (D-Gunnison) was able to gather to enough opposition to the bill that it probably would have died. To prevent that, a House member of the JBC moved to lay the bill over for a couple of weeks. The next day Rep. Curry was successful in getting the bill referred to the House Agriculture Committee, which she chairs.
That will give us some time to look at what the appropriate fee increases should be and where to find other funds to replace the reduction.
Last week, I had the opportunity to learn about an area of water law that I previously hadn’t worked with, that being Ground Water Management Districts. I had been asked to carry a bill that would allow a director to serve on the board even though he or she didn’t reside within the district so long as they lived within the Designated Ground Water Basin. It’s a simple bill (a rarity in water law) that is necessary, as some of the districts are small and the farmers who farm within them may live outside the boundaries, making it difficult — and in some cases impossible — for the board to meet the residency requirements of the current law.
I also learned that SB 80, the bill I’m carrying to allow for limited precipitation capture, wouldn’t apply in Ground Water Management Districts. When SB 80 was drafted I wasn’t aware that the exempt well statute that we were referencing doesn’t apply to these districts and that they used another section of the law called Small Capacity Wells. So, last Friday (Feb. 27), a group of water lawyers got on a conference call and we worked out the amendments necessary to expand the benefits of the bill to these areas also. This will please the House sponsor, Rep. Marsha Looper, as she has Ground Water Management Districts in her House district. If you get to Denver, please feel free to come by the Capitol to see us in action.