Flooding legislation begins to emerge
December 27, 2013
DENVER — Destruction from September's Colorado floods is prompting proposals that state lawmakers say are aimed at removing bureaucratic obstacles to expedite rebuilding efforts.
Some of the proposals haven't been finalized, but the legislative session that begins next month could see several bills in reaction to one of the worst disasters in state history.
"We're going to learn more things as we go along. For some people, it's going to take years to recover," said Sen. Matt Jones, a Democrat on a bipartisan committee formed to study the impacts of the floods and come up with legislation.
A bill that Jones plans to introduce would allow counties to shift some their general fund dollars to their road and bridge funds for infrastructure repair — a transfer that current law forbids. The Colorado Department of Transportation already has made repairs to state highways to reopen damaged roads before a Dec. 1 goal. But local governments are still repairing roads and bridges, and they're facing cash flow problems while they wait for reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Jones said.
Letting counties use their general fund money for road and bridge repair would allow them to speed up work, he said.
Another proposal addresses the damage to irrigation ditches that farmers rely on. In some cases, the point of diversion for rivers and ditches is not the same as it was before the floods, lawmakers said. A bill would allow changes to the point of diversion without going through the lengthy administrative process of water court.
The goal is to allow farmers to continue producing their crops as soon as possible, said Republican Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, who is sponsoring the bill.
Rep. Brian DelGrosso, the Republican leader in the House and a member of the flood committee, said the irrigation measure tackles a problem that's not immediately visible to many.
"Everybody always sees the roads, they see the bridges, they see everything else that's affected," he said. "But it's really hard to see some of the water infrastructure needs."
The September floods damaged parts of northern Colorado, starting in the foothills and spreading onto the plains. Nine people were killed, nearly 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and hundreds of miles of roads were washed out.
Other legislative ideas that are being considered but are not yet finalized:
— Giving schools impacted by flooding priority for grants under a capital construction program called Building Excellent Schools Today.
— Waiving or reimbursing property taxes for people who had their property destroyed.
— Not requiring out-of-state disaster workers to file or pay Colorado income taxes if they travel to the state to help.