It’s too early to know the makeup of all legislation that will pass under the gold dome this year, but we do know that hundreds of bills will be on the docket—including a few that are sure to inspire spirited debate.

We’ll get into several of those below. But first, the basics: The Colorado General Assembly—made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate—officially convened on Wednesday, January 10, to begin a 120-day session that adjourns on May 8. Democrats are the controlling party in both the Colorado House of Representatives, where they hold a 46-19 supermajority, and in the Senate, where they outnumber Republicans 23-12. Given their extreme advantage, Democratic lawmakers will set the agenda for this year’s session—just as they’ve done for the past five years. Now, here’s a look at some of the biggest issues state legislators will confront.

Taxing Short-Term Rentals Like Hotels

Thanks to interim committee work at the end of 2023, we have insight into several bills set to be introduced, including legislation aimed at raising the tax on properties that are used as short-term rentals (bookings that are less than a month long) for more than 90 days each year. Sponsored by Denver Democrat Chris Hansen, the bill would classify certain short-term rentals as lodging properties—the same as hotels and motels—which pay a property tax rate of 27.9 percent. The state residential property tax is 6.765 percent—meaning taxes would quadruple for some property owners.

The proposed law would not apply to all short-term rentals. For instance, people who have accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in their primary residences, or who rent out their vacation homes infrequently, are not the target of this legislation. Rather, the law is aimed at taxing investors who buy large portions of the housing stock in communities, rent them on a short-term basis, and leave them otherwise vacant—essentially hotel rooms in disguise. “This is not a money grab,” says Senate President Steve Fenberg. “It’s that some communities have been completely transformed by short-term rentals.”

If the bill passes, it will likely do so without much Republican support. “It’s a clear attack on the free market,” says House Minority Leader Mike Lynch. “If people want to use their property to rent it out, why should they be punished for that?”

On the other hand, tax relief is also on the mind of almost all state legislators and the governor’s office after Proposition HH, which would have reduced residential property taxes, was rejected by voters statewide in November 2023. You can expect a hearty debate—and plenty of disagreement—this session about how to lower residential property taxes in Colorado.

Fully Funding Education

Tyree Howard, 5, gets help with his shapes during kindergarten class at Westgate Elementary School in Lakewood, Colorado. Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

One area with bipartisan support in the 2024 session will involve fully funding Colorado’s schools and eliminating the budget stabilization (BS) factor, which the legislature passed in 2009 during the Great Recession. That legislation reduced state funding to school districts by about $10 billion over the past 14 years, essentially allowing the state to not increase school funding in line with the rate of inflation.

That’s finally coming to an end thanks to the 2023 School Finance Act, which was signed into law last year and repeals the BS factor by July 1, 2024. Governor Jared Polis’ proposed budget for the 2024–’25 fiscal year calls for an additional $564 million to pay off the BS factor deficit and fully fund public and charter schools—but lawmakers will need to pass a budget that supports this additional funding for education. “For an entire generation, we’ve underfunded education,” Fenberg says. “This is the year we will finally pay that off.”

The Land-Use Debate is Coming Back to the Capitol

The biggest story of last year’s legislative session was a massive land-use bill presented by Governor Polis, aimed at creating statewide affordable housing. That legislation, which died in the Senate on the final day of the session, sought to reduce barriers to building ADUs and ban single-family zoning statewide (thus allowing denser housing to be built), but it met immediate pushback in the legislature and beyond as local governments—including Denver—argued the state was overstepping.

This year, all indications point to the bill returning—just in smaller, separate chunks. “Democrats are very good at incrementally getting to a destination one step at a time,” Lynch says. “They’re going to dice that bill up and try to get as much of it passed as they can.”

Fenberg agrees that many aspects of that bill will likely be introduced as separate legislation this session, but he notes that the ban on single-family zoning may not reappear given the pushback it received in 2023. “That bill didn’t get across the finish line but it was a really important conversation to have,” Fenberg says. “It was hard, but it needed to happen.”

Smaller bills this year may include removing minimum parking requirements on new construction, removing occupancy limits on some residences, incentivizing new ADUs, and creating plans for every region of the state to evaluate the most urgent housing needs. One bill that is expected to have bipartisan support involves the “construction defect” laws, which make condo developers vulnerable to costly lawsuits. It’s part of the reason very few condos have been built recently in Colorado, which has hurt the affordable housing market. Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers want to solve the issue.

Getting One Step Closer to a Front Range Rail

Moving people around Colorado’s Front Range on trains has been a conversation for decades, but Fenberg, who represents Boulder County, hasn’t forgotten that a rail line from Denver to Boulder was promised and never built. Now, he’s introducing a bill that will better position Colorado to receive federal dollars to create a long-awaited rail system along the Front Range of Colorado—from Pueblo to Fort Collins. “We need to do everything we can as a state to position ourselves to be a no-brainer for federal funding,” he says.

Already, Colorado has been accepted into the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor Identification and Development Program, which gives the state a leg up on other states seeking federal funding to build a rail line. With the bill Fenberg is sponsoring this session, he hopes to conduct more research and move one step closer to what he describes as a visionary project.

Another transportation bill expected to be introduced involves increasing vehicle registration fees for cars over 3,500 pounds—primarily SUVs and trucks—and using that additional revenue to fund multimodal safety projects. The legislation would only apply to Colorado’s 12 largest counties.

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.