By Scott Gilbert, Caroline Kipp and June Younger, GREAT 8 NEWSPAPERS
Boilers, builders, babies, beer and the budget are among big topics for Adams County legislators as the Colorado General Assembly prepares to convene on Jan. 12.
Rep. John Soper, a Democrat representing House District 34, has submitted a bill for the state labor department that would create a director for boiler inspections.
“When you get high-pressure steam going, it’s dangerous,” Soper said.
“It’s just been kind of a gray area” about who’s in charge, he said. The bill was in “rough draft” shape last week, Soper said, adding that he thought it would apply to commercial and residential boilers, with reinspection required for commercial uses.
“I’m running my prevailing wage bill again,” he said. He said the bill would mainly affect the construction crafts, and the outcome would be: “When you put state tax dollars into a project, you pay the prevailing wage on it.”
Rep. Kevin Priola, a Republican representing House District 30, wants contractors who build for municipalities and local governments to get relief in how “retainage” money is handled. Retainage is money that is held back to ensure that construction contracts are met.
Priola would like to see payments expedited once a project is being used. He said contractors sometimes are being “strung out for 12 to 16 months” before being paid and “are being asked to act like banks for local municipalities.” Expediting payments would allow the businesses to employ more people, Priola said.
Soper is making a similar proposal to reduce retainage. Like Priola’s, it would cut retainage from 10 percent to 5 percent. Soper would like to see the bill cover the private sector as well as the public sector, but said, “I’m willing to compromise on that if that’s what it takes to get something, and to show bipartisanship.”
Priola also plans a bill that would require people purchasing metal for recycling to secure more documentation than is mandated now. Most buyers already meet that standard, he said, “but there are bad players, buying things that are clearly stolen.”
Sen. Lois Tochtrop, a Democrat representing Senate District 24, is taking up the fight to keep convenience and grocery stores from selling full-strength beer, as a way to protect liquor stores.
“That is going to be a fight,” Tochtrop said. “My line is drawn in the sand.”
She said most liquor stores are “mom and pop” operations that have already been hurt by Sunday sales. “Liquor stores aren’t making more money, they’re just open more,” she said. “Dad’s away from home another day.”
Tochtrop also is pushing a proposal for roofers to be regulated, a “consumer issue” that she says was requested by “good, honest, competent” people in the roofing industry.
“We’re a state that has a lot of hail damage,” she said, adding that homeowners can be victimized by “unscrupulous” people who do shoddy work or simply leave.
Rep. Judy Solano, a Democrat representing House District 31 in Brighton, said the bills she plans to propose are cost-saving measures. One would give judges alternatives to incarceration for truant students. Another would help educate the community about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and explore wheter insurance could cover diagnosis of the disorder.
A third bill takes on renewable energy. Solano, who chaired the 2006 House Select Committee on Strategic Renewable Energy, said she will propose a bill to study distributed generation in hopes of making renewable energy sources such as solar panels more affordable.
Solano said she will again be proposing a CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) Bill. Solano has pushed bills each year to decrease the amount of standardized tests students must take. This year will be no different, she said. This year, she said she wants to return the decision regarding tests to the local school boards. Solano said she isn’t against testing, and schools must be accountable, but that there is a better way to do it.
Also in regard to schools, Rep. Robert Ramirez, a Republican representing House District 29, is sponsoring bills to make schools safer and bring transparency in the budget documentation from school boards.
Although he would not go into detail about the bills he is sponsoring, he did say they were “necessary.”
Rep. Cherylin Peniston, a Democrat representing House District 35 in Westminster, will also propose an education bill – one to separate law language regarding gifted and talented children from that for children with special needs. Currently, both groups of students are under the same “exceptional child statute.” Peniston said the change was to lay some of the foundation for future funding, when funding becomes available.
Big issue: state budget
Lawmakers agreed that the budget, which must be balanced under the Colorado Constitution, will be a challenge this year.
“We’re going to have to make some pretty stiff cuts,” said Soper, who predicted cuts in higher education funding.
“That (federal) stimulus money is what carried the last budget,” he said. “We don’t have that this year.”
“There are a lot of areas that there are going to be cuts in that we’re going to have to figure out ways of refining those entities so that they don’t really take any losses other than the dollar value,” Ramirez added.
Solano agreed the budget would be a challenge, and said she expected more cuts to education, but beyond that, she wasn’t sure where else they would cut.
Tochtrop said that when the budget is being shaped, “we want to protect the folks who need protection” while making sure “we keep Colorado as a business-friendly state.”
Priola said the budget will be “a huge issue” and added that he plans to focus on getting people back to work and improving the economy.
He said he wants to help attract and retain small businesses and “respect the taxpayer in whatever small way I can.”
Ramirez said to support small businesses throughout the state, “we need to try to get as many red-tape regulations out of the way so it will open up opportunities for businesses to open up in Colorado or continue working and take some of the stress off of our small business community, which in turn will start bringing our Coloradoans back to work.”
Rep. Don Beezley, who will be serving his first term this year and representing House District 33, said he ran for the legislature for budgetary reasons. He said some of his bills will focus on fiscal responsibility measures such as limiting general fund growth.
“I do believe that’s been lacking,” he said. “That’s one of the reason we have a budget problem. We’ve passed four record budgets in a row.”
Beyond balancing the budget, Peniston said the Legislature’s assignment to redistrict Colorado’s Congressional representatives will also be a significant issue.
Rep. Edward Casso, a Democrat representing House District 32, had not responded to phone and e-mail messages by presstime.