Jerry Sonnenberg

Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

On quiet streets, in unsuspecting Colorado neighborhoods, among the retirees and young families, illegal activity runs rampant. Operating unchecked, rogue water bandits are the culprits. What’s worse, many of the scofflaws may not even know they’re breaking the law.

The theft takes place in an unlikely location: rain barrels found among backyard flower and vegetable gardens. The problem is so widespread it sparked a big debate at the state capitol.

Update 5.13.2016: Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed legislation finally legalizing rain barrels. Our original story continues below.

Colorado General Assembly

Update 5.13.2016: Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed legislation finally legalizing rain barrels. Our original story continues below.

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A bill that would allow people to collect rain that falls from their rooftops is hung up in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, after the chair said he wasn't comfortable with the measure. It's not clear when the committee will vote on it.

The same thing happened during the 2015 legislative session when the rain barrel bill vote was delayed. While the bill eventually cleared the committee over the objections of the Republican chair, it failed on the final day of the session when time ran out.

"I didn't plan on today being Groundhog Day, I anticipated that the bill would pass," said state Sen. Michael Merrifield (D-Colorado Springs), sponsor of House Bill 16-1005 [.pdf].

Ian Mackenzie / Flickr - Creative Commons

Update 5.13.2016: Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed legislation finally legalizing rain barrels. Our original story continues below.

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Colorado's ban on collecting rain from residential rooftops has been a contentious topic at the statehouse, and a proposed bill for 2016 means it will likely be debated once again.

"Colorado is the only western state where rain barrels are illegal," said Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with the nonprofit Western Resource Advocates.

"Every other western state that has our water laws has them legal, and it has not caused the Earth to come crashing to a halt."

So why is there so much controversy over collecting rainwater? The sticking point is whether doing so impacts downstream water users.

Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

After a federal judge struck down an Idaho law that made it illegal to take undercover video on farms and ranches, animal rights groups say they are primed to challenge similar so-called “ag gag” laws across the country.

Federal judge B. Lynn Winmill said Idaho’s ag gag law infringed on Constitutional free speech rights in an August decision. In wake of the ruling, Matthew Dominguez, a lobbyist with the Humane Society of the United States, says he felt vindicated.

“It has been a shot in the arm,” Dominguez says. He travels across the country attempting to convince lawmakers not to pass ag gag legislation. “We’ve seen ag gag bills be introduced all across the country, from your most ‘red states’ to your most ‘blue states.’”

Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

More than 400 people filled a room at the Fort Collins Hilton Wednesday night. They were waiting to speak their mind about a proposal to build two new reservoirs in Northern Colorado -- a project called the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

Their purpose is to provide water -- about 40,000 acre-feet -- to smaller Front Range communities, towns like Fort Morgan and Frederick, who lack water to supply their fast growing populations.

The water for Glade Reservoir, which at 170,000 acre-feet would be a bit larger than Horsetooth, would come from the Poudre River. Because of this, it has many opponents.  

Morgan County Dairy On Probation After Abuse Allegations

Jun 11, 2015
Mercy For Animals

A Morgan County, Colorado dairy farm is at the center of an animal abuse investigation following the release of a video showing workers punching and stabbing dairy cattle.

Morgan County Sheriff Jim Crone has yet to press criminal charges against workers shown in the video, but says he’s working with the farm’s owners Jim and Marie Goedert to locate current and former employees. In a statement, the Goederts say they’ve taken disciplinary action against the employees involved.

KUNC File Photo

The debate over continuing the Office of Consumer Counsel won't be decided until the final day of the state's annual legislative session. The Office represents taxpayers when utility and telecom companies go to the state to ask for rate hikes. Without Senate Bill 271 [.pdf], the Office of Consumer Counsel would sunset and go away altogether.

Determining the scope of the office's role though has been contentious.

Dan Boyce / Inside Energy

After five months of meetings, and coming up with nine recommendations, the work of Governor John Hickenlooper's Oil and Gas Task Force is getting mixed reviews from lawmakers at the state capitol.

Among the critical voices is Democratic Senator Matt Jones of Longmont.

"What they were charged to come up with is strong community protections, they got an F+, they're talking about how it's really a B, it's not," Jones said.

Jim Hill / KUNC

While oil and gas development is a hot topic, state legislators are waiting for a report from the Governor's Oil and Gas Task Force, mostly holding off on introducing energy related bills. The task force is charged with crafting recommendations to help mitigate the impacts of drilling to communities, and harmonize local and state regulations.

"I have told some members of the task force, you don't have to send something if there's not a problem," said Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling). "I want to know before you send me a solution, the problem we're trying to fix. And if you can't agree on a problem, don't send me legislation just because you're a task force."

Grace Hood

For much of our Government and You series, we’ve discussed the potential impact of budget cuts as state lawmakers worked to fill a projected half-billion dollar shortfall. Now that the legislative session is over, and a budget bill signed, we examine what happens when a tax is repealed. HB 1005 will be signed into law next week. It would eliminate a 2.9 percent sales tax on agricultural pesticides and other products.