Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. 

(Megan Verlee/CPR News)

In Colorado Matters' regular discussion with Governor John Hickenlooper, he addressed several hot topics in Colorado, many related to the final week of the legislative session. The General Assembly wraps up on May 7.

  • The Assembly is pushing through a bill to establish an aerial firefighting fleet that's a combination of leasing and owning aircraft. About $20 million has been set aside to fund it. The bill is expected to reach the governor's desk this week. While he was originally cool to the idea of paying for aerial resources to help fight wildfires, the governor says he now supports the proposal.
  • There are several initiatives proposed for the 2014 ballot in Colorado that would allow local communities to restrict oil and gas drilling. Gov. Hickenlooper has been very vocal that he doesn't support putting control of oil and gas regulation in the hands of local communities. But, he says, the legislature can take specific actions to give local communities more of a voice in the discussion over drilling – and there are several angles he hopes the Assembly will take up in the remaining days of the session.
  • It looks like the state will spend about $20 million less of the new tax revenue from recreational marijuana than the governor had requested in his earlier budget proposals. Gov. Hickenlooper talks about what that means for public health and safety initiatives related to marijuana that he's advocated for in the past.

  • State lawmakers are drafting a bill that deals with past convictions for marijuana possession or use. The proposal is to seal any past conviction that would now be legal under Amendment 64. While he hasn't seen the details of the proposal, he has reservations about what it could mean.

  • Gov. Hickenlooper has talked with officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture about loosening restrictions on hemp cultivation, since while it's legal in Colorado, it's still illegal federally under most circumstances. But he's skeptical about just how deep the market is for hemp.

  • Gov. Hickenlooper says one issue that's been dogging him is the number of people who are still long-term unemployed in Colorado. He says he'd like to do more to help people get back to work.


Full transcript:

Ryan Warner: Lawmakers are pushing through a bill to establish an aerial firefighting fleet a combination of leasing and owning aircraft. About $20 million has been set aside to fund it. It’s expected the bill will land on your desk this week. When the idea was proposed last year, you were a bit cool to it. I wonder what changed to make you think this is worth $20 million of state money.

Gov. Jon Hickenlooper: Well, what we said last year was that we wanted to do an objective study and get the facts and see can these resources, these aerial assets make a difference? So the study came back saying that this is a good use of money. We also have the consequences of last summer, of the droughts and the fires we had. The loss of property and people’s homes was abnormally high these last two years. If we can demonstrate that $20 million a year actually saves people’s homes, saves people’s property, it’s probably been a good investment.

Ryan Warner: Where do you think the biggest impact will be from this fleet?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: The key is to try to get resources– water, retardant– on that fire in the first 30-60 minutes. The entire focus of all these expenditures or the vast majority of these expenditures is to increase our ability to get on the fire in that first 30-45 to 60 minutes.

Ryan Warner: What we’re hearing is that it’s often difficult for these aircraft to fly when there’s a lot of wind which are the conditions that create—

Gov. John Hickenlooper: Sometimes.

Ryan Warner: These crazy wildfires. They certainly have their limitations.

Gov. John Hickenlooper: They certainly do. We believe now that the – a majority of these fires, and perhaps a significant majority, smolder for a half a day so that High Park fire – they believe it smoldered for a day and a half. They could not track it, and then when the wind came up a day and a half later all of a sudden it burst into fire. Waldo Canyon – if they could have gotten resources up there before the winds started blowing, they think might have gotten those fires out. Just pick those two fires – I mean $20 million looks like a bargain.

Ryan Warner: There are several initiatives proposed for the 2014 ballot in Colorado that would allow local communities to restrict oil and gas drilling. Supporters of more local control include Congressman Jared Polis who has some very deep pockets. You’ve been very vocal that you don’t support putting these types of decisions in the hands of local communities. Are you doing anything to preempt these types of ballot measures?

Gov. John Hikenlooper: No. I think what we’re looking at is trying to find a legislative solution that would allow local communities to have more control.

Ryan Warner: With a week left in session, is that likely this session?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: I don’t know. We’re going to do everything we can to get it done this session. I think there’s a great sense of urgency. You know, the bottom line is ultimately our split estate – the system we have where someone who owns the land, the meadow behind their home, whatever, their old farm, their old homestead – they don’t own the mineral rights. Somebody else does. And our constitution guarantees people the right to access those minerals. If we’re going to deny them that right, whether we do it legislatively or through some sort of initiative through the voters, we have to figure out how to compensate the people that we’re taking something from them. In fairness, how do we compensate them? That’s the part I’ve been wrestling with. I do think it’s legitimate that we should be looking at giving communities a stronger voice. I’m not sure they can ban oil and gas in their community. Again, that’s taking something away from someone, but I do think we should be looking at what kinds of noise mitigation, the range of conditions should be some part of that landscape.

Ryan Warner: What are you imagining could be accomplished this session then? So you’ve talked about noise mitigation. What could be addressed legislatively?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: I think a significant issue is that people want to have a voice when this change is happening. So all kinds of things. So allowing them to assess various fees to make sure that they can enforce existing laws. Allowing local communities to enforce some of the existing environmental laws that they think aren’t getting sufficiently or as well enforced. Those kinds of possibilities are being discussed.

Ryan Warner: For this session?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: For this session, yeah.

Ryan Warner: For what remains of it. You know, a few of the proposed initiatives – and they’ll presumably be whittled down as time goes on – deal with setbacks, how close a well can be to a home for example. If there’s an appetite out there for bigger setbacks, is that something you can get behind?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: I think that – again it’s a negotiation of if you push the setbacks too far – let’s say you want to do three football fields or four football fields, right? Right now, it’s about almost two football fields is what the setback is – 500 feet. People want it to go further than that. You begin to limit—whoever owns those mineral rights, you begin to take away their private property. How close should it be? Certainly in denser neighborhoods we’ve looked at trying to figure out some sort of variation that would allow citizens to have a voice, but when we increased the setback from 350-500 feet, there was huge uproar from people that felt that something of theirs was being taken away.

Ryan Warner: Do you think that setbacks could be further in places?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: One way to look at this is to look at incentives. So that where, in those places where oil and gas companies can do maximum setbacks oftentimes they have some flexibility – how do we provide them incentives so that there would be a larger setback? In places where there isn’t the flexibility, it gets more difficult because then if you’re telling them you’ve got to go further back and they say, “Then we can’t drill this well,” then who’s going to compensate the private property owner?

Ryan Warner: You’re listening to Colorado Matters. I’m Ryan Warner, and we’re at the State Capitol with Governor John Hickenlooper for our regular conversation. It appears that the state will spend less of the new tax revenue from recreational marijuana than you’d requested in your budget proposal. The Assembly is approving spending about $20 million less of these taxes than you’d requested. Is that smaller amount enough to address the public health and safety needs that you’ve talked about in the past?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: We’re not sure how much money the revenue is going to be. We didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew and commit to programs where we might not have enough resources. So I think the notion to scale things back probably makes a lot of sense. Certainly we’ll have sufficient money to do the regulatory and educational programs that we need. They might not be as robust, certainly the educational. There are some programs that we think we’ll need down the road, too – if people suffer undue consequences, especially young people, right. If a kid is bipolar or has ADHD and marijuana makes them slip off the tracks, they all of a sudden start hanging out in the basement all day – next thing you know they’ve dropped out of school. We’ve heard those anecdotal stories. If that turns out to be a significant problem, that’s going to take resources.

Ryan Warner: You say that the educational outreach, for instance, might not be as robust with less money going towards this.

Gov. John Hickenlooper: Yeah, but I think we’re still going to have over $5 million to do outreach. That’s a significant amount of money.

Ryan Warner: What will that outreach look like?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: I think we’ll probably do an array of some social media – Twitter, Facebook, that kind of stuff. Some traditional television ads, radio ads. Just try to get out and really attack the notion and make sure people are aware of some of the basic rules that are in the law. You can’t smoke pot out in public. Kids under 21 are not allowed to smoke it. You cannot drive high. We want to make sure everyone is aware of what the rules are and that we’re going to be very serious in enforcing them.

Ryan Warner: And $5 million you think will make a dent?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: Oh yeah. $5 million for a program like this, that’s a pretty healthy start. Again, I’d rather have $10, maybe even $12 or $15, but $5 million is a good start.

Ryan Warner: There’s a bill being drafted in the final days of session that deals with past convictions for marijuana possession or use. The proposal is to seal any past conviction that would now be legal under Amendment 64. Sealing a conviction doesn’t mean eliminating it. It’s not totally wiped from a person’s record, but it does mean that it’s no longer public information. That could help people applying for jobs or loans. This could affect thousands of people in the state. Do you support the idea of sealing convictions that happened prior to Amendment 64?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: You know that’s the – I think Senator Ulibarri is working on that, and I haven’t had a chance to talk to him.

Ryan Warner: This is Democratic Senator Jessie Ulibarri.

Gov. John Hickenlooper: Yeah, and I want to sit down with him and make sure that I understand exactly what he’s saying because clearly when this was the law, when these offenses were committed, when they were, whether they were tried or negotiated a settlement or a plea. So you certainly wouldn’t want them to have a blanket amnesty because back then that was the law. Now sealing it – I’m not quite clear exactly what that means and what the legal ramifications are so I’d want to talk to both the senator and also I’d like to talk to the attorney general. As I’ve been told, he’s not wildly enthusiastic—

Ryan Warner: He’s expressed concern for sure.

Gov. John Hickenlooper: So I think I’ll reserve opinion until next month just for when we can get more facts on it.

Ryan Warner: Hemp cultivation is now legal in Colorado though it remains illegal federally under most circumstances. Among other things, that means that growers can’t import seeds from other countries. Recently you encouraged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change that policy. How is that encouragement received at USDA?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: I think that they’re going to look at it. We’ll see how far we get. Certainly this is a place – I mean Canada. You can grow hemp there all day long, and they do. But it’s a fairly small industry, right? The use is for fabric, sackcloth –

Ryan Warner: Uses as food.

Gov. John Hickenlooper: Sometimes for food, but not a lot for food. Some rope. But even if we got the seeds, even if everything goes our way, it’s not a huge economic generator, but it’s something that farmers want to do. It’s another choice that they can use and we’d like to provide another tool for our farmers and ranchers to utilize.

Ryan Warner: I think if you talked to a hemp farmer they’d say, “Gosh, the promise of this industry is huge. The potential is huge in Colorado.” It sounds like you’re not– shall I say betting the farm on this crop.

Gov. John Hickenlooper: I don’t want to hemp and haw and about this but it is...

Ryan Warner: Ouch.

Gov. John Hickenlooper: Again it’s a great – I’m sorry. It’s a great crop, right? But it’s not huge. Again, it’s legal in Canada, and they’re not – you don’t see vast tracks of hemp in Canada. I think it’s a niche crop. I think you can get a good price for it, but I think the market – the depth of the market – isn’t as large as what we might hope.

Ryan Warner: You know before these interviews, we certainly look at the headlines. We look at the movement of bills to determine what we’re going to ask you about. But it occurred to me to ask you this time if there’s an issue, perhaps it has been occupying your thoughts recently, something you woke up thinking about, go to bed thinking about. Have you – share that with us. Something of statewide importance perhaps.

Gov. John Hickenlooper: You know the thing that I keep coming back to, and we’ve done so great on – our unemployment rate has come down more than 40 percent in the last three years, but I still hear stories when I’m out in the suburbs of Denver, in Fort Collins or Colorado Springs or Durango or Grand Junction – you hear stories of people being out of work for 12 and 18 and even 24 months. It is hard on a person in terms of how you relate to your family, to your neighbors, your friends and how you look in the mirror. You begin to have self-doubts. I think that’s something that we’ve obviously worked on it, but I’m trying to put together – figure out exactly how we will address that on a much larger scale. Same thing with youth. This is the hardest time in 30 years for someone getting their first job. I think we need to put more effort towards facilitating that and encouraging companies. Take a chance on somebody who is just out of high school or just out of college.

Ryan Warner: Do these people hold you responsible in part for their plight?

Gov.John Hickenlooper: I don’t know. I don’t think they do. I think generally Coloradans are pretty much – take responsibility for their own lives, on their own shoulders. I do think it’s part of the role of government to try and find a way of convening and bringing the business community together and say, “This is a real problem, right, that having this many people who have been out of work this long is not good for our communities.” If we all work together on this – I’m not going to force anyone to hire one, someone, but I talked to the Chamber of Commerce and I threw out there’s just something to consider: What if the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and the Metro-Denver Chamber of Commerce and the other chambers all agreed that their membership would try, would have a goal, if they’re going to hire 10 people next year, hire one person who’s been out of work for over 12 months?

Ryan Warner: Governor, thank you.