By Marianne Goodland
Legislative reporter 

Pelton wins approval for National Guard members


February 1, 2023

Members of the Colorado National Guard, who are called out by the governor to help with natural disasters, should not have to use vacation time from their jobs when they’re out for longer periods of time, under a bill approved by the General Assembly’s House State, Civil, Military and Veterans Committee on Jan. 26.

Senator Byron Pelton, R-Sterling, is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 1045, which won unanimous approval from the committee and now awaits action from the full House. 

The bill would require employers to grant up to three weeks of leave, paid or unpaid, for members of the Guard. Previously, State law said the service member could take up to 15 days. The bill clarifies that the three weeks are calculated on the employee’s regular work schedule.

The National Guard is the only component that can perform both Federal and State missions, said House sponsor Representative Gabe Evans, R-Fort Lupton. When they’re on federal missions, which is 90 percent of the time, members are covered under Federal law, which offers “robust” protections that ensure a member has a job to go back to when the Guard service is over.

When on State duties, however, they are no longer covered under the reemployment protections provided by Federal law.

In State law, National Guard members are granted 15 days of leave for military duties. But many National Guard members don’t work the traditional eight to five jobs, Evans said. Firefighters, for example, may work 24-hour shifts, and that could equal as much as six weeks of leave. The bill clarifies that the member is entitled to three weeks of leave, based on the member’s regular work schedule. 

State law is also unclear about what happens when the leave is exhausted, Evans said. Some employers require that paid leave must be used up before granting unpaid leave, a situation that could arise during lengthy time spent away from the job fighting wildfires, for example. That could force a member to take vacation time while out on duty, Evans said. The bill would allow the service member to take either unpaid or paid leave from the employer to do their Guard duty, at the member’s choice.

Pelton is working on another issue with several House members: property taxes. 

Lawmakers and Governor Jared Polis have been talking about a big bump in property taxes, expected in the 2023 and 2024 property tax years. In his state of the state address, Polis said residential property values have grown by more than 26 percent over the last two years, far exceeding the increase in people’s incomes.

Lawmakers set aside $700 million in tax credits during the 2022 session to cover a portion of that increase for 2023 and 2024. Polis is seeking another $200 million in the 2023-24 State budget. 

But the Governor also said the State needs long-term property tax relief, to protect people from being priced out of their homes and at the same time protect school funding, which relies heavily on property taxes.

Property taxes are calculated by multiplying the property value times the valuation rate (set by the State) and then times the mill levy set by each county. 

Phillips County Assessor Doug Kamery told this reporter that assessment rates dropped from 29 percent to 26.4 percent for agricultural and multifamily properties in 2022. The residential rate also decreased from 7.5 percent to 6.95 percent, Kamery said.

The tax credit will cover the property taxes for the first $15,000 of assessed value for taxes assessed in 2023 and payable in 2024. 

Assessment values, however, will be going up substantially in 2023, since that’s an assessment year, Kamery said. For example, a home assessed at $100,000 value in 2021 could be valued at $120,000 in 2023. The State is expected to lower the residential assessment rate from 6.95 percent to 6.76 percent. Then, based on the 2022 legislation, $15,000 of that valuation will be taken off, he explained.

Yes, homeowners and ag property owners will pay less taxes than they would because of the lower assessed rate and the credit, but likely will be paying more taxes than in 2021, Kamery said.

The proposal that Pelton and State Reps. Lisa Frizell, R-Castle Rock, and Rose Pugliese, R-Colorado Springs, are working on is to solve the long-term problem. All three come with local government experience: Pelton and Pugliese are former county commissioners; Frizell served as Douglas County assessor. 

They want to come up with a task force, modeled after the one that lawmakers set up to deal with the State’s behavioral health crisis. That 2021 task force was made up of State lawmakers as well as state agency experts in behavioral health, plus a subcommittee of more than two dozen local government and community-based experts. Pelton was on the subcommittee when he was a county commissioner.

He envisions a task force made up of representatives from local governments, commissioners, the state property tax administrator, as well as school, special and metro districts. “I want to make sure rural Colorado is protected,” Pelton said.

“We bring everyone to the table who relies on property taxes,” Pelton said. “I want to make sure that rural Colorado can provide its services” without residents having to pay much higher property taxes. “We have a lot of really good minds at the local level to come up with a sustainable solution,” and one where the legislature is no longer able to mess around with property taxes. 

“We do want to work with the Governor on his ideas around property taxes as well, as a very bipartisan solution,” Pugliese said. They’ve had one meeting so far with several members of his staff, she added.

A second Frizell-Pelton bill would suspend the 2023 re-valuation. That measure, House Bill 1054, has been assigned to the House Finance Committee. In addition to suspending the 2023 valuation, it would change the assessment cycle from two years to four years and caps growth in valuations to five percent for 2022 through 2025, unless an unusual change in condition takes place (such as an addition to the home, for example). 

The bill would also free up the $700 million pledged by the legislature for property tax credits, Frizell explained. 


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