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Aspen setting its own legislative agenda

As the Colorado House of Representatives convene for the 72nd General Assembly on Wednesday, the city of Aspen is developing a legislative policy agenda to track bills and proposed laws that would impact the area.

Aspen City Council will consider the policy agenda as soon as next week.

Tara Nelson, who works in the city attorney’s office and is acting as the liaison between lawmakers, city staff and council, said the agenda is designed to act as the cornerstone for elected officials to make informed decisions on policy matters.

“This policy agenda is the general foundation for the city and council,” she said. “It’s a collaborative approach to carry forward and unify everyone’s policies and agendas.”

Those policies are matched up with stated principles and priorities that council agrees on, like land and natural resources, climate action and affordable housing, to name a few.

“It serves as a filter for getting involved in state, regional and national politics,” Mayor Torre said.

One of those state issues is a bill introduced by State Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) that seeks to repeal a statewide ban on local government regulation of plastics.

Nelson said she has been in contact with Donovan and offered support and thanks this past fall for introducing the bill.

Currently, local governments do not have any control over plastic regulations in their cities or towns.

Repealing the statute will place control back into the hands of local governments, allowing municipalities to respond directly to local needs regarding plastics, according to Donovan.

“Our state has a shared value of environmental stewardship,” she said in a prepared statement. “Repealing the ban on local government regulations of plastics would be a great step forward so that individual communities can create policy around plastics and waste that local leaders see as being in their communities best interest.”

Torre, who led the plastic bag ban at Aspen’s grocery stores, which was passed by council in 2011, said he hopes the repeal passes this legislative session.

“A lot of people are supporting it,” he said. “Most people don’t think it’s going to pass this round but to be honest, if we continue our full court press, it’s not impossible.

“What we need is for them to say municipalities have the ability. … We’re just looking for local control of that issue.”

Aspen did take control to some extent eight years ago when council passed the ordinance dropping the use of plastic grocery bags and requiring shoppers to pay 20 cents for a paper bag supplied by Aspen’s two grocers, City Market and Clark’s Market.

Council reasoned at the time of the ordinance’s passage that the charge would discourage consumers from using paper bags in order to reduce waste, while encouraging them to take reusable bags with them while shopping for groceries.

The state’s preemption law never came up during the debate, but City Attorney Jim True said he was prepared to successfully argue that eliminating plastic bags from grocery stores was allowable under the statute, which focuses on recycling products and reducing waste.

“We had a legal argument that justified our position,” he said, adding that plastic bags in grocery stores are not for sale and are not recyclable. “But nobody raised it. … The legislature may fix the issue.”

Donovan said on Tuesday that when the law was written in the 1990s, industries were moving from glass bottles to plastics. The statute was designed to manage waste.

“It had unintended consequences,” she said.

Nelson will participate in a webinar hosted by the Colorado Municipal League on Wednesday that will serve as a kickoff to the start of the assembly.

She noted that there is an internal think tank within City Hall that includes department heads who may have interest in particular movements in the state capitol.

“I facilitate that,” Nelson said. “I’m the eyes and ears and send things on to others; that’s the collaboration.”

Torre said the city’s 2020 policy agenda proposal can be used as a reference when considering decisions that impact the city and surrounding jurisdictional boundaries.

“It will help us with our visioning efforts,” he said. “Aspen has a stated desire to have an influence on state, regional and national politics.”

Councilman Ward Hauenstein said he supports the city’s outward focus and monitoring what’s being introduced in the 2020 legislative session, particularly Donovan’s bill.

“I want to reduce single-use plastics,” he said. “I don’t like being told by the state what we can and can’t do.”

Neither does Donovan.

“I hope people will see this as empowering communities to find the right fit” in reducing single-use plastic as it relates to a town’s values. “Local communities are better suited to walk a tighter line.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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