May 3, 2022

WILDFIRE MITIGATION, BACKCOUNTRY SEARCH AND RESCUE, AND WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTIONS BILLS PASS HOUSE

DENVER, CO – The House today passed legislation to direct funding to local governments for wildfire mitigation efforts, extend whistleblower protections and improve backcountry search and rescue operations.


“I’m proud that we took action today to help local governments better mitigate the risks of wildfire by providing $10 million in state matching funds for these critical efforts,” said Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County. “With climate change causing increasingly devastating wildfires, it’s paramount that we take aggressive action. This program will ensure state and local government are working together to address the threat of wildfire and better leverage state funding.”

“Local governments are on the frontlines of our state’s efforts to prevent and mitigate the risk of wildfires, which is why we are dedicating $10 million to local governments to incentivize them to establish dedicated wildfire mitigation funding,” said Rep. Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs. “This legislation will direct additional and badly needed resources to local governments to protect properties and lives.”

Wildfire Mitigation Incentives For Local Governments: HB22-1011, sponsored by Representatives Lisa Cutter and Marc Snyder, passed by a vote of 48-16 and would leverage local and private funds through a matching grant program to provide resources to local governments for forest management and wildfire mitigation efforts. By incentivizing local governments to identify dedicated long-term funding for wildfire mitigation, the bill makes smart investments to maximize state resources and encourage sustainable local and state funding for wildfire mitigation efforts.

“Each year, we are seeing more and more tragic avalanche deaths and backcountry rescues, and I stand in awe of the brave men and women who work in these dangerous situations to save people’s lives,” said Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon. “The legislation we passed today will improve backcountry search and rescue operations and help ensure that these critical programs have the resources they need.”

Backcountry Search and Rescue: SB22-168, sponsored by Representatives Julie McCluskie and Perry Will, passed by a vote of 57-8. The bill will improve backcountry search and rescue operations in Colorado by moving these responsibilities to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife within the Department of Natural Resources and boosting funding by $1 million to support search and rescue efforts. The bill also establishes a sustainable funding stream for search and rescue efforts and makes the dependent of a person who died or was permanently disabled while conducting rescue efforts eligible for free tuition at state higher education institutions.

“The whistleblower protections we created during the pandemic have allowed workers to raise critical concerns without the fear of retaliation,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver. “No one should ever be afraid to stand up for their health and safety or the health and safety of their colleagues. Today, the House continued these important protections to ensure that workers are aware of their rights and can continue to speak out when they need to.”

“The legislation we passed today will protect workers from retaliation when they raise concerns about workplace health and safety,” said Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial. “No one should be fired or retaliated against because they raised the alarm about dangerous conditions or unfair practices. Workers need these protections, and I’m proud we’re making them permanent in Colorado.”

Whistleblower Protections: In 2020, the legislature passed legislation establishing protections for whistleblowers during a public health emergency. SB22-097, sponsored by Representatives Leslie Herod and Tom Sullivan, passed by a vote of 41 to 24. It would make these protections permanent. The bill protects workers in the public and private sectors by ensuring that all workers have the same protections, including the ability to raise concerns about workplace health and safety practices or hazards to their employer, other workers, the public or government agencies. The legislation also protects workers from retaliation, discrimination, or adverse action, allows workers to wear personal protective equipment while at work without fear of discrimination, and requires employers to notify employees of their rights.

When employees do raise concerns, various remedy options are included under the bill including filing a claim with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) or bringing an action in court. The legislation also gives CDLE the authority to enforce and investigate claims.