Friday, May 2, 2008

Bill to Fund New State Courts Building, History Museum Clears House

The dangerous and aging state courts building west of the Capitol will be replaced if a bill given final clearance by the House Wednesday is signed into law.

The current state judicial building, located across Lincoln Avenue from the Capitol at the south end of Civic Center park, has been plagued by structural problems, persistent water leaks and vulnerability to terrorist or criminal attacks.

Once built, the new judicial complex will be named the "Ralph L. Carr Judicial Complex."

It will house the state supreme court and court of appeals, as well as agencies of the supreme court, and the Department of Law (attorney general), state public defender, Office of the Child's Representative and Alternate Defense Counsel.

Currently most of those court agencies and other state prosecution and public defender agencies are housed in private office buildings leased by the state.

House debate on the measure focused on the debt the state will assume to build it and the assertions by one Republican that the building is not in need of replacement due to its relatively young age.

Rep. Douglas Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, argued that TABOR requires voter approval of the proposal, despite state supreme court precedent holding that lease-purchase agreements of the type to be used to build the new court complex aren't subject to that constitutional provision. He also said the building shouldn't be replaced since it is only about 40 years old.

"This is a momentous bill," Bruce said. "On average, according to the sponsor, court costs for having your day in court are going to go up about 37 percent. This is $633 million in debt the people won't be able to vote on."

Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, pointed out that the design of the currrent building is not amenable to safety.

"It's not a building worth keeping," McFadyen said. "Building on the cheap is not saving any taxpayer any money."

Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, also pointed out that the current building is unsafe.

"Our courts are targets," Carroll said. "I think it's necessary. Our court [building], right now, is grossly insufficient in the level of security it has."

Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, said the measure protects the state against inflation in construction costs and reminded legislators that the bill contemplates that the judicial department would purchase the site now occupied by the history museum.

The third reading vote in the House on SB 206 was 50-14. It gained final approval in the Senate April 14 by a 22-12 vote. The bill now moves back to the Senate for consideration of amendments added by the House.

Construction on the new museum would commence in the second quarter of 2009, with completion by 2011, while the new Ralph L. Carr Judicial Complex would be built between 2012 and 2014.