All party rifts are local
In a surprise move that veteran GOP Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen called, “an embarrassment,” Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker called a House GOP caucus this morning in an effort to replace Minority Whip Rep. Kevin Priola of Henderson with Rep. Polly Lawrence of Centennial.
The move followed a lengthy debate around school finance on the House floor yesterday in which Priola vocally disagreed with an amendment offered by GOP Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, which was otherwise popular among the caucus.
However, the attempt to flip Whips mid-session reflects much deeper personal and political divisions in a caucus where conservative and tea party members don’t hold as much power as establishment Republicans.
After a 30 minute meeting, caucus chair Rep. Kathleen Conti of Littleton decided the effort to replace Priola as whip was out of order because Majority Leader Brian DelGrosso hadn’t accepted Priola’s resignation and so the position wasn’t vacant.
Firefighting fleet almost, nearly ready for liftoff
Senate President Morgan Carroll said today that lawmakers are looking to invest close to $20 million in a much-discussed arial firefighting fleet. This figure is down from previous estimates of $34-$36 million.
Her bill to establish the fleet, SB 164, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Steve King of Grand Junction, came before the Senate Finance committee today. Carroll said that because the measure was drafted before a report from the Governor’s office on best arial firefighting practices and resources, she and King will be offering some amendments to refocus the scope of the original proposal.
As it stands, it looks like the state will buy two fire-spotting planes and then lease as many as four fire-dousing helicopters as well as four air tankers.
“The thinking is this is an investment in something that’s particularly useful for early detection,” said Carroll, noting that $20 million today could save many millions in public damages and billions in private claims come fire season this summer.
Said Carroll: “We hope this sparks a bigger conversation overall about how we do smart forest health and watershed management to prevent catastrophic fires.”
Senate approves foreclosure mitigation bills
Two bills aimed at curbing Colorado’s foreclosure rate got initial approval in the Senate today.
Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Westminster, the measures’ sponsor, says foreclosures continue at about 800 a month even as the Great Recession recedes.
HB 1295 deals specifically with home mortgages. It passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and mirrors federal foreclosure protections by entitling a homeowner to a single point of contact at their lending agency with whom to negotiate a modified loan that would allow them to stay in their home. The bill also prohibits lending companies, many of which are huge multi-state affairs, from foreclosing on someone while they’re in that negotiation process.
“If you’re making a good faith effort to get a loan modification with your mortgage company, they shouldn’t be foreclosing you at the same time,” Ulibarri said.
Ultimately, both homeowner rights groups and the lenders themselves came out in support of the measure, which they say benefits communities and companies.
HB 1312 extends a successful recession-era program that allows qualifying homeowners to delay their foreclosure up to 90 days while they work with their lender and the Department of Housing to figure out how to keep their home.
In order to qualify, a homeowner can’t be carrying more than $500,000 in debt and has to be able to demonstrate that he or she has the financial means and security to meet the terms of a modified loan repayment.
That measure also is supported by both industry and homeowner protection groups.
Both bills will likely come up for a final vote tomorrow.
House debates online sales tax
While generally considered a federal issue, more than 30 states have established policies allowing their local revenue departments to collect sales and use tax from online vendors such as warehouses and shipping facilites that have a demonstrable physical presence in the state.
HB 1269, sponsored by Reps. Lois Court and Angela Williams of Denver, uses the same legal definitions already in statute when deciding if a company has a big enough physical presence in the state that it should be paying sales tax. It also gives authority to the Department of Revenue to approach those companies and ask, essentially, that they figure out a way to pay up.
Court said current tax policy makes for an uneven playing field, particularly for Colorado’s small businesses.
“Members, as much as $67.7 million in uncollected sales taxes may be effected by this bill,” Williams added.
Rep. Amy Stephens of Monument opposed the measure, calling it a cash grab on Colorado’s mid-sized online retailers.
Rep. Ray Scott of Grand Junction agreed, saying that the bill gives too much power to the Department of Revenue to come banging on business owners’ doors demanding uncollected sales tax. In fact, Scott said he’d had an experience just like that with his own small business involving a purchased product shipped into Denver from Canada. When the department arrived saying Scott owed state sales tax, he ended up spending $2,000 in legal fees to prove that he didn’t.
“Brick and mortar stores figures out how to do sales tax,” pointed out Rep. Daniel Kagan of Denver. “All this bill says is if you want to sell in Colorado and you have a physical presence here, you must abide by the same.”
The measure got initial approval today and may see a final vote in the House tomorrow.