Bob's Thoughts

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The second regular session of Colorado’s 74th General Assembly began on January 10, 2024. For the next 120 days, my colleagues and I will be working hard for our constituents, and passing bipartisan legislation to make a better Colorado for all. I have been assigned to the Finance Committee. Every legislator is allowed to introduce five “individual” bills. During this next legislative session, three of my bills have been introduced:

Purple Star Program (HB24-1076):

Already passed this extraordinarily popular bill out of the Education Committee 11-0. Lots of DoD personnel, families, and “military brats” showed up to testify in favor of it. 42 states have a version of this program to help integrate the children of active duty military families more seamlessly into local schools when they constantly move. Yet Colorado with the 10th largest active duty military population per capita does not. When Senator Fields, who has Buckley Space Force Base in her district, asked if I would sponsor this bill for her in the House, I already had more bills to run than my quota allowed. But I told her I would find a GOP colleague to sponsor it and let them have an easy “win” and not just run another “messaging” bill that dies in committee. Shockingly, I could not find anyone who wanted to sponsor it. So I looked in the mirror and said: “Someone needs to do something about this.” And the voice in the head retorts back: “You are someone. Do something.” We did something about it . . .

Commissioner Elections (HB24-1177):

I filed a proposed version of the County Commissioner Elections bill that I ran last year which failed in committee 5-5. It is an acute issue in Douglas County as Highlands Ranch with Lone Tree makes up around 28% of the population of Douglas County, and the northwest corner of the county is undeniably a suburb of Metro Denver. The rest of the County, however, is not, and does not want to be a Metro Denver suburb. Furthermore, Highlands Ranch is unincorporated, therefore, it is totally reliant on the County for local government services. Currently, our “representation” is dominated by interests from the rest of the county because we elect our commissioners “at large” (i.e., everyone in the county votes for all three commissioners; Highlands Ranch does not have a commissioner that represents solely our interests). I truly believe that local government should not be a partisan issue. And this is simply “the right thing” to do for better representation and governance for the larger and more diverse counties with various interests. Last year, the only people who testified against the bill were County Commissioners who were going to be personally impacted by the bill. So this year, we set the bill’s implementation to 2032, 8 years out, so that people can try and look at it from a good governance perspective and not simply how it impacts personal or partisan interests today. That will also be right after the next census for apportionment purposes.

Attorney General Authority to Operate DA Offices (HB24-1118):

This is a simple “good governance” bill for which I am developing a reputation. Currently, if a DA office becomes vacant, the Attorney General takes it over during the interim until a new DA can take over to continue prosecuting crimes and bringing and defending actions for the state. The law, however, did not allow the AG to spend the office’s money, hire/fire staff or have any actual ability/authority to operate the office. This bill corrects that significant oversight which became an acute issue in a couple rural Judicial Districts that had DA offices become vacant.

I have also “pulled” the bill titles for the following bills that will be introduced:

Teacher Tax Credit (will be HB24-0300):

I am running the teacher tax credit bill I proposed last session which made it out of the Education and Finance committees, but was not brought up for a vote in the appropriations committee. The bill would provide a $1000/academic year or $500/semester refundable tax credit to offset the out of pocket expenses of teachers who use their own funds for educational supplies, supplemental materials etc. to teach our children. I have been hearing about this issue since I was in Kindergarten five decades ago and it still does not seem to be addressed. The GOP ran a version of this multiple times but could never get it out of the first committee as they insisted on including teachers at all schools, which include private and religious schools. Mine limits it to the four licensed teacher categories teaching in public schools, which include charter schools. I had bipartisan sponsorship last year and moved it farther than it ever had gone before. And I have bipartisan sponsorship this year. The biggest drawback is the fiscal note, i.e., cost, which is around $35 million. But it is a $35M expense that the state should bear for educating our children, not the teachers.

Grant Clearinghouse w/Assistance to Rural Communities (will be HB24-0941):

This bill will require state agencies to make their grant opportunities accessible on a central clearinghouse website. Currently, agencies often have all their opportunities “stove-piped” internally so that it often becomes a “who do you know” process to find out about and take advantage of opportunities. The initial impetus for the bill was to help rural communities that have less access to these opportunities than those in the Denver Metro area. But I also had a strong positive response to the idea from the small business community for which there are lots of grants . . . that no one knows about. I have been told, however, that it likely will have a gigantic fiscal note which may sink the bill. I do not understand why it is so difficult and expensive to simply have a central website with all the opportunities linked to the state agencies, but supposedly the cost is astronomical. So I may have to scale it back to simply educational opportunities or some smaller universe.

But the concept is sound and something that should have been done a long time ago.

I was also “tapped” by the Tax Oversight Committee to be the prime sponsor for three of the five bills that the interim committee proposed. It is extra work. But it shows the faith and confidence colleagues have in my legislative ability and knowledge in this area that I was asked to prime sponsor more than half the bills proposed by the committee, including:

Issuance of Treasurers’ Deeds (Tyler v. Hennepin County Foreclosure Issue) (HB24-1056):

One of the most important bills no one likely has heard of for this entire session. This past year, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 9-0 decision declared Minnesota’s foreclosure process unconstitutional for violating the 5th Amendment against taking private property without just compensation. An elderly woman had her condo foreclosed on for tax delinquency and at the resulting tax foreclosure auction the state collected more than the owed taxes and expenses to collect the taxes. Furthermore, the state kept the excess rather than giving it back to the property owner. Unfortunately, Colorado is one of 12 states where this illegal taking of personal property may be a possibility. It is unlikely to happen with how Colorado’s tax foreclosure system works, but it is a possibility. So we are running a bill to revise the tax foreclosure process to ensure no foreclosure in Colorado will ever fall out of compliance with the 5th Amendment. We also reached out to the organization that brought the MN lawsuit to review our proposed legislation and were very pleased when they informed us that our reforms were the best they had seen since the decision.

Tax Policy Analysis (HB24-1053):

A bill to provide direction and guidance to the Department of Revenue on process and procedures.

Senior Rental Housing Credit (HB24-1052):

An “equity” bill to provide a tax credit to seniors who rent their housing. Colorado has the Senior Homestead property tax exemption for seniors who own their homes. But for those who rent, they likely have experienced higher increases in housing costs than those who own their own home, but no provision or consideration is made in the law for them. This seeks to correct that.

I have let a couple bills that were in my initial “prime” five lineup go away in favor of trying to put language in other bills that will accomplish the purpose of those bills. No need for an entire bill to be used if the same objective can be accomplished by amending/adjusting another bill.

COLORADO AUTO THEFTS DECREASED TWENTY-ONE PERCENT IN 2023!

This decrease is directly attributed to legislation we passed last session. Not only was I one of only 5 House Democrats who cosponsored this legislation, I pulled the original bill title for it as one of my first bills as a new legislator to write and prime sponsor the legislation. But I had to give it up to a senior member who had pulled the same title (and which caused me to lose one of my 5 bill titles). I mention this because, politics being what it is, several people have put out the falsehood that I voted against this bill. Not only is that false, I was a prime force behind this important legislation that made all auto theft a felony. Previously, auto theft was treated as any other property crime with the vehicle’s value determining the level of the offense. But a vehicle is not like a watch or lawn gnome. It is how people function and live in society getting to work, to medical appointments, transporting their kids/parents etc. It’s why horse thievery was considered particularly devastating 150 years ago. Such a crime goes to one’s whole livelihood and ability to function/survive, and is particularly devastating to those of lower means who cannot simply rent or replace a vehicle immediately. So I am very proud to have been one of only 5 House Democrats to have helped push this bill through and only regret that seniority took away the opportunity to have been the bill’s prime sponsor.

PROPERTY TAXES

As many know, this is an acute issue. And one I tried to address when I came to the legislature despite being a first term member. Like the auto theft bill, however, politics has been dishonestly portraying what happened. I do not think anyone is happy with what was a one year “stop-gap” measure in the Special Session where we increased the exemption for residential property $55K (for $70K total) and reduced the assessment rate from 6.765% to 6.7%. And used $200M of GENERAL NOT TABOR funds to backfill schools and first responders in multiple communities. This approximately reduces the statewide median property value increase from 40% to 28% on a $500K home. With national core inflation over the past two year assessment cycle at 13%, an increase of 15-20% over the upcoming 2 year cycle would seem appropriate simply to stay in line with inflation over the coming years. And as people should know, property taxes are controlled by local jurisdictions NOT THE STATE. The State ensures, as the Colorado Constitution requires, that property valuations are equalized across the state. This is needed to ensure that tax districts that straddle multiple counties do not have counties engaging in “beggar thy neighbor” policies where they artificially depress their valuation assessments to pay less tax than their neighbors on an ad valorem basis.

During the Special Session we set up a Commission on Property Tax which is holding hearings and traveling the state for feedback on a long-term solution to the shock of property tax spikes like experienced over the past couple years. I encourage people to engage with that commission to ensure your views are heard. https://leg.colorado.gov/committees/commission-property-tax/2023-regular-session

HOUSE RULE 24(a) PROTEST LETTER On the last day of the 2023 Session, in one of the last acts of the entire session, I lodged an official (Rule 24(a)) protest into the record on the process used in the last few days of session. See below. This was prompted by the process used to pass a bill that would have allowed casinos to lend money directly to gamblers within the casinos. SB23-259. This Senate bill was initially voted down by the House in a surprise, and shocking, 32-33 vote. But it was then revived on a motion for reconsideration after intense lobbying (while we were supposed to be sitting solely in isolation for final votes on “Third Reading”). Three legislators then switched their “no” vote to a “yes” in a concerning manner that led me to take to the well and comment that what occurred is the kind of behavior which leads to distrust in government. I then put in my Rule 24(a) Protest into the record on the final day regarding the arbitrary and capricious manner of the process used in the final days of session. And in another huge surprise, the Governor vetoed the bill after the session ended, in large part I think due to the concerning issues I highlighted.

At the start of this session, the House passed new rules to govern the end of session in HR24-0004 (Rules Regarding Reading Bills & End of Session Procedures). I have no doubt that my protest and highlighting the arbitrary and capricious nature of the “custom and practice” of decades long House procedures led to the promulgation of this resolution and written rules. Many GOP colleagues were not happy with the rules. But at least we now have known written rules rather than some unknown malleable “custom”. This is the type of work that never makes me popular in the Capitol (i.e., challenging decades long practices that favors the party in power). But I consider it important for The Rule of Law and for trust in our government entities.

My comments on the floor regarding this issue can be found here.

“NO ONE ROLLS THE JBC!”

On February 7, we had supplemental appropriations for this fiscal year. Not one single amendment to the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) Budget passed. Last year during supplemental appropriations, only one amendment from more than a dozen passed. It was an amendment that I drafted and offered to ensure that there were funds available to provide stipends for Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs - VFW, Legion etc.) to attend the funerals of veterans who honorably served our nation to present a flag and thanks to the deceased veteran’s family. The DoD traditionally performs this duty. But no longer has the manpower to honor all requests given the large number of veterans passing on. Particularly in rural areas. Colorado set up a fund to pay a small stipend to VSOs who perform the duty. But the 2023 appropriation to the fund had run out by January. And no additional funds had been appropriated for the following years. I was able to fight to appropriate money into the fund for the out years. But I was told nothing could be budgeted for the current fiscal year. That all I could do was offer an amendment, which had to be drafted within two hours, to offer the next day during supplemental requests (and that the amendment would be summarily denied but it would “look good” that I was fighting for veterans).

Instead, I was able to convince every veteran in the state house to stand behind me when I offered the amendment. And explain its importance. When a voice vote was called, there was a thunderous “aye” from the chamber, and only a delayed and meek “no” from a single JBC member. Leadership knew they had to let the amendment pass. And additional funds were added to ensure the families of deceased military veterans would receive a visit on behalf of the government to offer their final thanks and respect to the veteran and their family.

As a first year legislator who had no experience in the state house, I did not realize what a big deal it was to amend the JBC’s negotiated budget. One of the whips flashed a huge smile at me as I left the house floor and said I would receive a large “gold star” for having passed such an amendment. I later found out that it is almost unheard of for anyone to amend the JBC budget on the floor; and unknown for a first year to accomplish it. Weeks later, a lobbyist with decades of experience in the state house upon hearing the story exclaimed in surprise: “NO ONE ROLLS THE JBC!” I mention it now in this newsletter because having just sat through a second year of passing supplemental budget requests where not a single amendment passed, I realize what an accomplishment it really was. But it was for a worthy cause that no one could deny in the end.

First Tuesday Club Meeting

I believe in accessible, transparent and accountable governing, and I try to practice what I preach. I was invited by the outstanding Everett Brinson to talk at the "First Tuesday" function in Aurora. Although not my district, I believe that it is important to build bridges across the metro area. It was great being on the stomping grounds in Aurora and seeing some of their constituents and "elder statesmen" along with other elected officials. State of the State Governor Polis gave his state of the state to a joint session of the House and Senate. To hear more or read the transcript, click here. Douglas County Business Alliance I’m a strong believer that small business drives our economy. I spoke to the Douglas County Business Alliance members at Sky Ridge Medical Center before the start of the session. I appreciate hearing concerns regarding upcoming legislation from business leaders in our county. I am keenly aware of how economic development of our county will continue to drive collective prosperity and a stronger community.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Even snow and cold temperatures couldn’t keep us away as I joined Colorado Democratic Party Chair, Shad Murib, and my colleague Representative Javier Mabrey, and many others on the annual Marade in Denver on Martin Luther King, Jr. day. The Colorado Legislature also passed a Joint Resolution in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Alert

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office and surrounding jurisdictions have seen an increase in the Jury Duty Scam. Sadly, we have taken several reports from older citizens who have fallen victim to this scam, some losing thousands of dollars.

Please be aware that scammers are fraudulently using the names of Douglas County Sheriff's Office command staff and deputies. These sheriff's office members are public figures; their names are of public record, and they are on our website.

The Sheriff's Office will NEVER ask you to pay a fine for missing jury service, bond/bail, a charge for an arrest warrant, or a fee for civil service, with gift cards, wire transfers, Bitcoin, Green Dot cards, MoneyPak cards, Zelle or Venmo transfers, or ATM deposits.

Government agencies and legitimate organizations such as law enforcement, the IRS, Social Security, Xcel Energy, Apple, Best Buy, and anti-virus companies will NEVER request those forms of payment either.

  • DO NOT allow strangers remote access to your computer or bank accounts.
  • DO NOT trust caller ID. Local phone numbers are easily spoofed.
  • Please call the DCSO immediately at (303) 660-7500 if anyone asks you to send money to someone you don't know personally.
  • Please share this information with your friends, family, or anyone else needing it. Many of the victims report that they were unaware of this scam as they don't follow social media, where most of these alerts are posted.

Highlands Ranch Tornado Update

End of Year Tax Planning: If you had unreimbursed losses from the Highlands Ranch Tornado, review IRS Publication 547 (Casualties, Disasters, Thefts) AND consult your tax advisor. The HR Tornado FEMA Disaster code is DR-4731-CO For more information, visit https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-publication-547 and https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4731

Indian Republic Day Event

Along with many of my colleagues, I was invited to celebrate the Indian Republic Day at the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of the Rockies. It was my second year at the event. I am always impressed with the excitement in the room as people celebrate the largest democracy in the world. The ceremony was incredibly moving, and I especially enjoyed the performances by the children. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to celebrate this important day with such a vibrant and welcoming community.

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