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A group of people standing in a large building.
Lawmakers and lobbyists at the Capitol on Jan. 12, 2022, at the start of Colorado’s General Assembly’s session. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Nearly $32 million was spent lobbying the Colorado legislature and state government from July 1 through Feb. 28, a Colorado Sun analysis of data from the Secretary of State’s Office shows, a big increase over the $29 million spent during the same period the prior year. 

Much of the $32 million was spent by businesses attempting to shape bills being considered by the legislature. In fact, almost all of the top 10 lobbying spenders through the end of February were businesses.

Here are more takeaways from The Sun’s analysis.

Top spenders are similar to past years

More than 1,000 businesses, government agencies, nonprofits and other organizations employed more than 600 lobbying firms and individual lobbyists between July and the end of February.

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Xcel Energy topped the list of spenders during that span, as it has most years in the past, at nearly $296,000 through the end of February. The company reported lobbying on 19 bills through the end of February. It employed at least eight lobbyists.

Biotech company Sage Therapeutics spent $230,000 employing four lobbyists to work on eight bills. The Massachusetts-based company said in a statement that it is trying to take a more active role in how states deal with mental health care.

“The standard of care for mental illness has been largely unchanged for decades despite the acute and devastating consequences of our nation’s mental health crisis,” the statement said. “Therapeutic innovation must be paired with a fresh review of how patients gain access to treatments. We are working across the ecosystem with a broad group of likeminded stakeholders to update the current one-size-fits-all approach to care, ensuring treatment optionality for health care providers and patients.”

Two tobacco companies, RAI Services and Altria Client Services, each reported lobbying on a measure that would affect tobacco taxes. RAI spent $133,000, while Altria reported spending nearly $130,000.

Several other top lobbying spenders between July and April were also on last year’s top list, including COPIC, a medical liability insurer that spent $150,000; the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which spent nearly $144,000; the Colorado Contractors Association, which spent $133,000; and the Colorado Association of Home Builders, which spent $126,000.

Employment and housing issues dominated the list of the 10 most-lobbied bills through April 11. 

More than 160 clients employed 200 lobbyists to lobby House Bill 1118, a measure that would have required businesses, including restaurants, to set more consistent schedules for their employees. Of those clients, 85 opposed the measure and only 28 supported it.

The legislation, known as the Fair Workweek Employment Standards Act, was voted down in a committee in early March. 

The land use bill championed by Gov. Jared Polis and some Democrats in the legislature that was introduced in the Senate two weeks ago quickly soared to be the second-most lobbied measure in terms of clients and the third in number of lobbyists.

Senate Bill 213 drew hours of public debate last week. The Senate Local Government and Housing Committee has yet to schedule a vote on the bill, which is expected to be heavily amended.

Also high on the list of the most-lobbied bills this year is a climate measure aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Senate Bill 16 awaits action on the Senate floor, with 136 clients employing 166 lobbyists to influence the legislation. Many of those lobbying are monitoring the bill or seeking to amend it.

While bills about guns and abortion took center stage at the legislature in March, they didn’t get as much lobbying attention.

Senate Bill 170, expanding Colorado’s red flag law, drew the most lobbying activity of the nine gun or abortion bills considered by the legislature thus far, with 67 clients employing 93 lobbyists on the measure.

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Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette