A bipartisan panel of lawmakers charged with reviewing Colorado’s wildfire prevention and mitigation strategies on Tuesday unanimously agreed to move forward with a full slate of bill drafts after its fourth meeting during the interim session.
But the panel faces a problem: they don’t know if the ideas they’re asking legislative staff to draft into bills are duplicates of legislation the General Assembly passed during previous sessions.
The Wildfire Matters Review Committee — a panel chaired by Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Littleton, that features six Democrats and four Republicans — faced a Tuesday deadline of submitting a maximum of ten proposals for bill drafts to the Office of Legislative Legal Services.
After hearing presentations on state wildfire spending and forest carbon, lawmakers spent the back half of Tuesday’s seven-hour meeting trying to meet the 10-bill threshold after initial discussions yielded 20 potential bill drafts. But as those ideas were combined and consolidated, members of the panel began to question how their colleagues’ ideas fit together with past legislation.
That kicked off with Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, who initially called for a bill to remove employment barriers from participants in the Department of Corrections’ State Wildland Inmate Fire Team program who are seeking work as firefighters. Lee was quizzed by Senate colleague Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, on how that idea fit with Senate Bill 12, a measure signed into law in April that largely matches Lee’s concept.
The Colorado Springs Democrat said he didn’t recall the details of that bill and opted to “tentatively withdraw” the proposal after a member of OLLS staff confirmed the purpose of the bill and that it passed.
That interaction led to another Senate Republican, Cleave Simpson of Alamosa, quizzing his colleagues on other bills from the session
“I just did a quick research of bills that were passed last session, just the titles: Wildfire Risk Mitigation, Transfers for Wildfire Mitigation and Response, Natural Disaster Mitigation Enterprise, Forest Health Project Financing, Measures to Increase Biomass Utilization and Watershed Restoration Grant Programs,” he said, highlighting a series of bills passed this year that matched efforts his colleagues initially proposed. “So I'm trying to process through this list to [see] where, if anywhere, some of these already fit in existing legislation.”
Sen. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, reiterated that concern, prompting Cutter to admit she was unaware of the 10-bill limit and “would've thought that through a little before” if she had known. Cutter’s concern centered on “losing” one or more of the bill titles the committee is entitled to if it was later determined those bills were duplicative of previous efforts.
After being told a 20-minute break to check for redundancies wasn’t enough time and that “backup” bill drafts weren’t an option, the panel spent the last hour of the meeting combining their ideas down to 11 proposals.
That was further reduced to the limit of 10 after Coram and Rep. Mike Lynch withdrew a joint idea on right-of-way's for power lines through wildfire areas and a state office that would interact with the federal government on behalf of rural utilities. Coram indicated he would run the bill with Lynch during the next session.
The proposals, backed unanimously by the panel, include:
- An effort from Coram to implement a pilot camera program to monitor wildfires
- A proposal from Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, stemming from a Western Resource Advocates presentation on “right to burn” laws for private landowners
- A joint effort from Cutter and Reps. Marc Snyder, D-Colorado Springs, and Don Valdez, D-La Jara, on reforestation, composting burn waste and biomass utilization
- A combined proposal from Sen. Tammy Story, D-Connifer, on creating an information campaign and website to provide resources and information on healthy forests and mitigation practices
- A proposal from Ginal to boost the forest health workforce, as well as a second from the Fort Collins Democrat to provide compensation for volunteer and seasonal firefighters
- A proposal from Simpson to re-run House Bill 20-1004, legislation from Cutter, Will and Lee on a wildfire mitigation outreach program that died in the House Appropriations Committee in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic
- An effort from Snyder seeking to implement mitigation and evacuation plans at the local level
- A proposal from Cutter to create a grant program to provide a state-funding match for funds local governments put into mitigation efforts
- A proposal from Ginal to boost economic vitality in timber industry
Tuesday's vote locks in those ten topics for bill drafts, but the panel has more work to do. Lawmakers on the Wildfire Matters Review Committee can only pass five bills out of committee and on to the Legislative Council’s Executive Committee for review.
The next meeting on the committee’s schedule is set for Oct. 28.