DENVER (AP) – Colorado’s recent fires and floods are dominating lawmakers’ attention in the early days of the legislative session – and so far, measures addressing natural disasters seem to be uniting the parties.
The Senate Local Government Committee voted 7-0 Tuesday in favor of a bill to make it easier for counties to pay for road and bridge repairs after a disaster.
And the full House could vote as soon as Wednesday to re-organize state disaster planning.
Even in an election year marked by partisan sniping, the disaster bills seem to be winning broad support.
Colorado had at least four wildfires last summer, including the most destructive in history, the Black Forest Fire in El Paso County.
Then, in mid-September, floods in northern and eastern Colorado killed nine people and damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 homes.
State lawmakers from both parties have said all year that disaster response is a top priority. They’re holding to their word in the early days in the lawmaking session, putting several proposals on a fast track to the governor’s desk.
The measure approved in the Senate committee Tuesday would give counties new power to spend on road and bridge repairs when there has been an officially declared emergency. Right now, counties are limited to road and bridge funds for that spending and can’t use general tax dollars for that purpose.
“Counties may have the money to fix their roads and bridges, but the money’s in the wrong account,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Fort Collins.
His co-sponsor, Democratic Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville, said funding restrictions are important but should be waived in emergencies.
“The flood waters don’t care, or the fires,” Jones said.
The bill before the House Wednesday would eliminate the Governor’s Disaster Emergency Council and authorize the governor to award aid before waiting for a presidential declaration of a disaster emergency.
Several more measures aimed at helping disaster responders and victims are pending in the Legislature and look to have broad bipartisan support.
Other bills offer tax exemptions to property owners, business owners and disaster-relief workers affected by flooding.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
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