Colorado Springs gears up for legislative season

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When the Colorado legislature convened this week, local organizations were already keeping an eye on possible new requirements for Realtors, regulations affecting small businesses, policy that seeks to mitigate foreclosures and the privatization of the state’s workers’ compensation provider Pinnacol Assurance.

Here’s a summary of local priorities:

Small Business

Tony Gagliardi, Colorado director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said he’s watching to make sure legislators focus on creating jobs rather than adding more of the regulatory red tape that stymies businesses.

It’s what small business advocates watch for every legislative season, and this year is no different.

Gov. John Hickenlooper released a report this week called “Cutting Red Tape in Colorado State Government,” and last year, the Department of Regulatory Agencies launched the “Pits and Peeves” Roundtable Initiative, meeting with business leaders, local government officials, nonprofit organizations and public policy groups about what grips them about government regulations. The report identifies systematic problems and calls for the need for greater coordination among agencies.

Gagliardi said he expects lawmakers to introduce bills that are in line with the governor’s desires to examine reform and regulatory structure,”

“The governor is aware of the unnecessary and duplicative regulations,” he said.

For example, Gagliardi said, a contractor who works in multiple municipalities has to register multiple times.

He said a firm that wants to do business with the government completes a major application to get on the list of approved vendors. Now, that business would complete the same application at the federal level and the state level, Gagliardi said. It’s a waste of time.

“If you are qualified at one level, you should be qualified at both,” he said. “We can’t dictate to the federal government, so the state needs to look at this.”

Small businesses also will have a big stake in the Pinnacol Assurance, the quasi-governmental workers compensation insurance fund, debate over whether it should become a private company.

About 80 percent of the Colorado NFIB’s 7,500 members use Pinnacol and would be affected by the decision.

Gagliardi said he will survey the NFIB membership in the coming weeks to come up with a pro/con response for a statewide taskforce looking at the issue.

“We don’t want any changes to the Colorado workers compensation process,” he said. “We have very good reforms in place for the last 15 years and we don’t want anything to jeopardize that.”

Independent Electrical Contractors are closely monitoring a proposal that would direct state agencies to give preference to Colorado companies bidding on state government contracts. At first blush it seems like a good idea, said Spenser Villwock, IEC executive director. The association, which has a Colorado Springs chapter, represents about 180 companies.

Villwock said such a law could backfire on Colorado construction and electrical companies that are doing a great deal of business out of the state because states tend to have a reciprocity agreements. A handful of states already have preference laws in place, Villwock said. And, instead of helping local firms, it has hurt them, he said.

“In the current downturn in construction, the name of the game is you go where the work is,” he said. “People rally around supporting the local economy — that’s what we want to do to — but, we need to be pragmatic and real.”

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, is the Senate sponsor of the local preference bill which is expected to be officially introduced in January.

NFIB also questions the preference bill, Gagliardi said. He said the government does not need to make new rules.

“The bottom line is getting people back to work and we don’t need new legislative programs,” Gagliardi said. “The best way to create jobs is for government to get out of the way — preference programs can add additional costs.”

Tourism

Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau will keep a close eye on the state’s tourism budget.

Colorado Springs depends on the Colorado Tourism Office to help market the Springs as a destination, said Doug Price, Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO.

“The No. 1 issue is to maintain and eventually grow the tourism funding,” he said.

The current state budget is $15 million and the goal is to grow it to $20 million. “With the budget shortfall, everything is in play,” Price said.

Research shows spending money on tourism gets a return on investment, he said. Last year, Longwoods International, a firm commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association, reported that reducing state spending on tourism directly affects economic growth.

Last January, the Colorado Tourism Office fended off proposed cuts and received $15 million. In 2010, Colorado’s tourism industry had record gains, according to the Longwoods report. Colorado ranked 8th out of the 50 states in 2010 for its share of all overnight outdoor trips.

Price said Colorado Springs depends on the state advertising on its behalf.

“When people are thinking about going on vacation, they tend to think about a state first — Colorado absolutely has to build its brand and image to say ‘Come to Colorado’ then, each of us in the state get our fair share.”

Real estate

With 2012 being an election year, real estate lobbyists are prepared to spend most of their time playing defense, said Clarissa Arellano, government affairs director for the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors.

She said it’s difficult to get anything passed in an election year and PPAR and state real estate lobbyists will be focusing on evaluating politicians and defending the industry against any added regulation.

“It’s usually all politics and no policy,” she said. “Anything that carries a fiscal note will be dead in the water.”

Ralph Braden, public policy chairman for the Colorado Springs Home Builders Association, said he expects the same. He has not heard any rumblings of significant legislation that would impact the building industry.

There are a few legislative issues that PPAR is poised to fight if they come up.

“We’re one of the most heavily regulated industries there is,” Arellano said. “We don’t need any more.”

Issues the association would fight include possible proposals for required radon testing and mitigation, a bill that would allow energy efficiency loans to attach to the property rather than the borrower, and landlord and tenant relations bills.

Ed Kahn, special counsel at the Colorado Center for Law and Policy in Denver, said a landlord and tenant relations bill could come up in this legislative session that would propose a broadening of tenant rights.

Arellano said PPAR typically defends landlord rights.

A radon testing bill, if introduced, would require sellers to pay for radon testing and mitigation where buyers are currently able to elect for the test or not during their inspections and can make mitigation a term in their negotiations if levels are high. Arellano said PPAR would fight any measure to require sellers to take on the burden.

Arellano said it’s also possible legislators will introduce bills to manage relations between mineral rights and real property owners. Property owners often don’t own their mineral rights and don’t know who does.

“Disclosure would probably be the focus in that kind of legislation,” Arellano said.

She said PPAR will be actively pursuing one piece of legislation and is currently looking for sponsors for a bill that would create rules and regulations for the new appraisal management companies that have entered the real estate industry in recent years.

The management companies are a new industry that emerged after federal regulations barred real estate agents and mortgage brokers from organizing real estate appraisals.

Foreclosures

Foreclosures are expected to be a prime target for new legislation in this session. There were already three draft bills being prepped for introduction on the House floor early this week, Kahn said.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of discussion about foreclosures in this session,” Kahn said. “How it’s going to manifest, it’s hard to say.”

Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, is expected to introduce a loan modification bill that will make it easier for Colorado borrowers to modify their loans in efforts to avoid foreclosure, Khan said.

Rep. Angela Williams, D_Denver, is expected to introduce a bill that will fund housing counselors for those in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure and may include even those who are not in danger of losing their homes.

The third bill to address foreclosures will be introduced by Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver. That bill, if it passes, will require lenders to produce documents proving they have the right to initiate foreclosure proceedings, that they are the owner of the debt and that the debt is overdue.

The mission of that bill is near to the heart for Gasper Law Group real estate attorney Stephen Brunette. He helped to author the bill and is involved in several lawsuits around the state dealing with that issue.

“I do expect there to be a lot of discussion about foreclosure,” Kahn said. “I’m kind of surprised it’s continuing at this pace.”