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Rather than one big fix, state lawmakers focus on 3 housing bills as session starts

January 9, 2024, 10:00 am

The Colorado Capitol in Denver (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline photo).

The Colorado Legislature begins its new 120-day lawmaking term on Wednesday.

Democrats will remain the majority in both chambers, but since adjournment last May, there have been some shake-ups as Democratic lawmakers left office. Sen. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, previously a representative, moved chambers to replace former Sen. Dominick Moreno, Rep. Tim Hernández grabbed the seat of former Rep. Serena Gonzales Gutierrez, Rep. Manny Rutinel replaced Michaelson Jenet in the House, and Rep.-elect Chad Clifford was tapped to replace former Rep. Ruby Dickson. Yet another vacancy committee will pick a replacement for former Rep. Said Sharbini on Jan. 18.

Lawmakers will also be working with the 2024 campaign season in the background. Minority Leader Mike Lynch and Rep. Richard Holtorf are both competing for the Republican nomination for Colorado’s 4th Congressional District, and Republican Rep. Gabe Evans is running for Colorado’s 8th Congressional District. Congressional primaries are on June 25.

The daily schedule for the Legislature, as well as links to floor and committee audio, is available on the General Assembly’s website.

Expected bills on housing

As it was last year, housing will be a policy priority this year in the Capitol. But instead of trying to push through a mammoth, multifaceted bill to address the state’s housing crisis, like last year’s doomed Senate Bill 23-213, Democrats are eyeing at least three separate priority bills.

One bill will likely be about local needs assessments. Last year, one of SB-213’s many iterations was the creation of a state board tasked with helping local governments assess their affordable housing needs and develop long-term plans. Those plans would rely on state-suggested policies such as upzoning land or allowing the construction of accessory dwelling units by right.

“That’s something that is going to provide a roadmap for each individual community and region, to know what the need is, what the progress is in meeting that need and what they need to do from a menu of options to get to the goal,” Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, told Colorado Newsline.

There will also likely be a bill around transit-oriented development that would include incentives for local governments to relax zoning regulations and allow for denser development along transit corridors. Upzoning that land was a provision of SB-213 and an idea Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has championed throughout the legislative interim, with the hope being that Colorado residents can live close to an efficient mode of transportation and rely less on single-occupancy vehicle travel.

Fenberg said the state is also planning to “double down” on transit investment. This would include leveraging federal money available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“A lot of the pushback we got from local communities was that we want them to bring all this housing around transit, but what is the state going to do to provide that transit? We think that’s valid,” he said.

Finally, leadership said another bill would allow property owners to build accessory dwelling units, also known as carriage houses or mother-in-law suites, on their land. That was an idea included in SB-213.

Soaring property tax solution

While those will be the three priority bills from Democrats on housing, there will be many more from individual members.

For example, the Legislature will likely take up another “for cause” eviction bill this year after last year’s version, led by progressive Democrats, died on the calendar. That bill would define when and why a landlord can evict a tenant or decline to renew a lease. Advocates argue that such a law would increase housing stability and reduce the risk of homelessness for a tenant forced to relocate.

A bill developed by an interim committee that will be introduced this session would hike taxes on thousands of short-term rental properties. If approved, it would classify homes that are rented out for at least three months during the year as a lodging property, kicking the property tax up to 27.9%.

Sponsor Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat, said that “significant” amendments are likely.

“The problem we’re trying to solve is that you’ve got properties, in some cases being used virtually the same as lodging properties like a hotel,” Hansen said during a legislative preview hosted by The Colorado Sun on Thursday. “The balance we’re trying to strike is to be able to allow people to own second, third properties and use them on a part-time basis and make sure they’re taxed appropriately for that, but treating that differently than the corporate properties that own thousands of these units across the state that are basically running them as hotels. That’s a very different thing.”

Lawmakers will also consider whether to take on any policy proposals that come out of the Property Tax Commission, which was created during the recent special session to develop a long-term solution for soaring property taxes. The commission will present its findings and make recommendations to the Legislature in March, giving the House and Senate ample time to pass related bills.

On the school finance side, legislators are optimistic they can fully fund public education this year and eliminate the “budget stabilization factor,” which refers to the amount the state falls short of yearly school finance requirements. Last year, the amount was about $140 million. Polis laid out his plan in a budget proposal to completely fund education for the first time since the Great Recession.

“This is an exciting year because we’re finally going to pay off the B.S. factor and hopefully be done with it forever. We’re excited to do it, because we’re finally at a place where we think we can make the promise of of fully-funded education and, even if we hit a recession around the corner, not have to reopen the B.S. factor ever again,” Fenberg said.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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