By Marianne Goodland
State Capitol Correspondent
The 2024 General Assembly session began on Wednesday, Jan. 10, with an election looming just 10 months away that could determine whether Republicans gain lost ground in the House or keep Democrats from a super majority in the Senate.
The two Republican lawmakers who represent northeastern Colorado have their first bills ready to go and their priorities set for the next 120 days.
Sen. Byron Pelton of Sterling is entering his second session as a state senator. He intends to run legislation on sex trafficking, a bill he has been working on with Denver District Attorney Beth McCann.
Pelton has also garnered a Democratic co-sponsor, Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora. That’s a must-have for Republicans who want to get their bills through the Democratic-controlled legislature.
During a recent showing of the movie “Sound of Freedom,” Pelton said, the Sterling Police Department did a presentation on sex trafficking. That prompted Pelton to work with McCann to increase the statute of limitations from five years to 20 years.
He also plans to work on educating his fellow lawmakers on agriculture, and that’s prompted by a ballot measure in Denver for 2024 that would ban fur sales within the city and close any slaughterhouse. So far, only one has been identified, a Globeville facility that processes lamb.
Pelton bristles at calling the facility a slaughterhouse; he said it’s a processing plant. Closing it would not only be a huge hit to the ag economy, it would hurt the employees because it’s an employee-owned facility. Pelton also believes the ballot measure would hurt the National Western Stock Show, which is going on this week in Denver.
He’s planning to take some of his colleagues to the stock show and show how young people treat their animals. “It makes our future leaders in Colorado,” he said.
Another bill on Pelton’s list for 2024 is on telehealth for veterinarians, a bill coming out of the Water Resources and Agriculture Review Committee.
That measure, which he will sponsor with Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont, a former veterinarian, will require veterinarians to establish a client-patient relationship, based on an initial in-person physical exam. The bill also extends that relationship to other licensed vets in the same practice.
A bill to authorize the sale of raw milk to consumers is also on Pelton’s plate for 2024, another bill from the ag and water review committee.
Pelton said he wants to be sure dairy producers are not harmed by the bill, but also said he wants to make sure “the governor doesn’t stick his nose into this bill” because the governor has shown an interest in a raw milk bill.
But based on how the governor has treated agriculture in the past, Pelton said, “he has no business telling agriculture what they can and can’t do with a product like raw milk. He needs to stay out of it.”
One concern Pelton already has is that the bill puts the regulatory authority on raw milk under the department of agriculture. Pelton said that bothers him because of the relationship between the ag department and the ag community in northeastern Colorado. “There’s trust issues,” Pelton said.
Pelton is working on a measure on broadband that deals with right of way access through the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The last of his first bills is on energy codes, requiring some proof that changes in energy codes as it pertains to affordable housing doesn’t drive up the cost of housing. Pelton believes that bill will have bipartisan sponsorship as well.
Rep. Richard Holtorf of Akron is in his final year of representing northeastern Colorado, as he is also in the hunt for the Fourth Congressional District seat held by the retiring U.S. Rep. Ken Buck.
He said people have asked him about whether he intends to keep representing his state House district while he’s on the campaign for CD4.
“Those are fair questions,” Holtorf said. While the seven counties in House District 63 are part of CD4, the jobs of representing those citizens are vastly different, he explained.
The 2024 session of the Colorado legislature will be the sixth straight year that both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office are in the hands of the Democratic Party, he explained.“They have what is called a ‘Trifecta,’ meaning majority control of the entire legislative process, including a two-thirds majority in the Joint Budget Committee which writes 99% percent of the $40 billion state budget.” That means Democrats can pass any bill and have it signed into law by a Democrat Governor without a single Republican vote.Political reality shapes and overshadows the goals and plans of each of the elected Republican members of the legislature, Holtorf, who is the House Minority Whip said.
Being one of 19 Republicans in the House, or the 12 Republicans in the Senate, means Republicans must choose between two basic kinds of bills: measure that propose a much-needed reform in state government but has no chance of passage in a Democratic-controlled committee. Or a Republican can propose a bill to makes changes in state government that can win Democratic votes and maybe even a Democratic cosponsor, he said.
That’s meant that most Republican-sponsored bills that win a majority vote and get enacted and signed into law are bills that have Democratic cosponsors.
Holtorf said a state lawmaker has a responsibility to run both kinds of bills: working on bipartisan solutions to real problems in state government, as a well as “message” or “statement” bills that address a dire need to fix a program or policy that is doing real damage.
Holtorf’s first bill will be to work on extending the reimbursement formula that affects “safety net” hospitals, including rural hospitals. The formula is due to expire at the end of 2024, but Holtorf would like to see it extended indefinitely. He’s hoping for Democratic sponsorship.
Gov. Jared Polis gave his sixth State of the State address on Thursday, Jan. 11.