From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed several bills into law Tuesday, including one that GOP Sens. Ray Scott and Don Coram have been working on for a few years now.
That measure, SB36, is designed to make it harder for land developers to drag farmers and ranchers through years of court proceedings over groundwater rights disputes.
Under current law, such disputes are handled by the Colorado Groundwater Commission, but appeals to district court can include new evidence not seen by the commission.
The bill gives district judges more discretion to decide what new evidence can be heard in those appeals.
Some opposition to the bill fell away when it was amended to include language that allowed new evidence to be included in an appeal if that evidence was wrongly excluded or could not “in good faith” be presented to the commission.
Scott of Grand Junction and Coram of Montrose said they don’t buy opponents’ contention that the definition of “in good faith” is so broad that it opens the door to any evidence being presented, as is the case now.
“It’s held to a higher legal standard,” Coram said.
“The rules of evidence are very tough,” Scott added. “If they can prove evidence was stuffed in a box somewhere in the basement for the last 50 years and was just found or something like that, it’s still a high bar to reach.”
The two lawmakers said the bill fixes a long-standing problem for poorer ranchers and farmers who found themselves spending more time in court battling well-heeled developers over those water rights.
The Colorado Farm Bureau said the bill will help ensure a fairer and more equitable appeals process.