The Senate gave initial backing to a measure (Senate Bill 75) that would allow the cars on state highways with speed limits of 35 mph or less. Currently the cars, which can go up to 25 mph, are allowed on roads that aren't state highways or don't cross one.
The bill would allow the vehicles to cross state highways with speed limits above 35 mph.
Bill sponsor Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, said some citizens in her town use the cars, equipped with snow tires, for errands and to take their children to school. She said families could use the cars, which start at $9,000, as an alternative to a traditional second car.
"Why drive 5,000 pounds to the grocery store for some milk?" Schwartz asked.
The vehicles would have to meet federal safety standards. Owners would have to pay to register them, including increased fees signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter.
Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said electric cars were getting a free ride because owners don't pay gasoline taxes that help fund road construction and maintenance. He proposed imposing a surcharge for all electric cars, including upcoming, faster models like the Chevy Volt, based on estimates of how many miles they'll be driven.
Revenue from the state gas tax, last raised in 1991, hasn't kept up with the cost of road repairs partly because cars are more fuel efficient.
Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the state needs to find an alternative to the gas tax but should still promote electric cars as a way to reduce reliance on foreign oil. He said one possibility is to swap the gas tax for a state sales tax, an idea proposed by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez.
Meanwhile, Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, said she planned to reintroduce an alternative charging people based on how many miles they drive.
The idea originally was included in the bill that raised car registration fees and opened the door to tolling on existing roads. It was yanked following opposition from rural lawmakers. They said their constituents would pay more because they drive longer distances.
Williams said a pilot program would track how many miles people drive but not where they're driving.