Polis bills

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs bills related to media literacy and SLAPP lawsuits Friday, June 3, 2019, in Conifer. Standing behind him are, from left, state Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, and state Reps. Lisa Cutter, D-Evergreen, and Shannon Bird, D-Westminster.

Gov. Jared Polis signed 25 bills into law Monday on the final day for Colorado's governor to act on bills from the 2019 legislative session.

Polis made stops in Conifer, Salida and Arvada for the signing ceremonies.

In Conifer, which is in the district represented by Democratic Rep. Lisa Cutter of Evergreen, Polis signed five measures, including two Cutter-sponsored bills: House Bill 1110 and House Bill 1324.  

HB 1110 sets up a media literacy task force at the state Department of Education that will come up with curriculum recommendations designed to help students learn about media and the role it plays in society. The taskforce recommendations are due back to the General Assembly's education committees by Jan. 1, 2020.

> RELATED: House panel advances bill to add media literacy to school curriculum

House Bill 1324 would allow Coloradans sued for speaking out to fight back against so-called SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation), which critics say are used to silence people who speak out against business and government.

> RELATED: 40 years in the making: Colorado's anti-SLAPP law protecting those who speak out

“These lawsuits are an abuse of our judicial system -- to threaten people and instill fear in them,” Cutter said in a statement. "We should not be using the court systems against people, especially low-income people, who are simply exercising their right to speak up and this new law ensures that.”

The bill sets up an expedited process for a court to follow in a lawsuit in which a person claims they were exercising their constitutional right to free speech or to petition the government. The defendant also can win attorneys' fees under the law, which goes into effect on July 1.

Among the bills signed at Polis' second stop of the day, in Salida, House Bill 1264, which lawmakers hope will begin to resolve some of the long-standing problems with the state's conservation easement program.

> RELATED: Senate gives preliminary OK to conservation easement reform

The program has been criticized for abuses that landowners claim were committed by the Colorado Department of Revenue, which revoked tax credits awarded to landowners who entered into conservation easements with land trusts, with more than 800 revoked out of the 4,000 granted in the program's first 15 years. 

HB 1264 is intended to make the program more transparent, which would include a warning to landowners that easements are in perpetuity. The bill also requires the Division of Conservation Easements, within the Department of Regulatory Agencies, to set up a committee that will figure out how to repay those tax credits.

The committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing on June 25, an addition to the bill made by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. Committee members are to be appointed by legislative leaders in both parties, and lawmakers have told Colorado Politics they intend the committee to include representation from those who have been denied tax credits as well as other program critics.

Republican Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida was one of the bill's House sponsors. He also was the sponsor of several other measures signed by Polis Monday, including Senate Bill 189, which reauthorizes the state's advisory board on concurrent enrollment, in which high school students take post-secondary courses, and Senate Bill 179, which provides $1.15 million for the state's Enhance School Safety Incident Response Program.

At an Arvada fire station, Polis signed into law House Bill 1279, which bans certain kinds of foam used in firefighting training that contains so-called "forever chemicals" that has contaminated drinking water in El Paso County and elsewhere.

> RELATED: Bill outlawing firefighting foam with 'forever chemicals' passes Colorado Senate

The bill was signed in Arvada and not in El Paso County, much to the consternation of one of its sponsors.

Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf of Colorado Springs pointed out that the measure was sponsored by four El Paso lawmakers: Landgraf, Democrats Sen. Pete Lee and Rep. Tony Exum, both of Colorado Springs, and Republican Sen. Dennis Hisey of Fountain.

Landgraf told Colorado Politics that the Fountain community, the site of the water supply contaminated by the foam, has the largest population in the nation affected by the problem.

The bill has everything to do with water in the Fountain area, Landgraf said. "It's an insult," she added, and questioned whether the governor understands the problem.

The bill would ban Class B firefighting foams that contain “intentionally added” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. Such chemicals were used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base in El Paso County and have been found in the Widefield aquifer, which serves Security, Widefield and Fountain, communities near the base.

The foam was sprayed on the ground and usedin a firefighting training area that was flushed into the Colorado Springs Utilities treatment system, which was ill-equipped to remove the chemicals. The effluent ended up in Fountain Creek, which feeds the Widefield aquifer.

The Air Force has since replaced that foam with a new version that the military says is less toxic and more environmentally friendly, though it still contains perfluorinated chemicals.

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