Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rep. Morgan Carroll Is New Majority Caucus Chair

The House Majority Caucus recently appointed Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, as its caucus chair.

Carroll, 36, was first elected to the House in 2004.

A Snapshot of Notable House Bills Introduced This Week

Here are some of the notable bills introduced in the House this week:

HB 1001 (Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins) - Authorizes "early stage bioscience companies" to receive funding from the Bioscience Discovery Evaluation Grant Program.

HB 1003 (Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, and Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder) - Requires "special Congressional vacancy election" to be held if speaker of U.S. House of Representatives declares that more than 100 vacancies exist in that body of Congress and at least one of those vacancies is in a Colorado district.

HB 1004 (Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita) - Authorizes law enforcement officers to arrest truant children subject to mandatory school attendance laws for purpose of returning children to school; bans transport of child arrested for truancy to juvenile detention facility or jail.

HB 1006 (Rep. Cheri Jahn, D-Golden) - Requires county social services departments to arrange visits between children in foster care and their siblings if such visit is requested by foster child or siblings and if department does not conclude visit would not be in best interests of child or sibling.

HB 1010 (Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, and Sen. Stephanie Takis, D-Aurora) - Raises minimum fines from class 2 traffic misdemeanors from $10 to $150, for class 1 traffic misdemeanors from $100 to $300, doubles minimum fine for driving under the influence of alcohol, driving with excessive alcohol content, and driving while impaired, and doubles minimum fine for vehicular eluding of a law enforcement officer; also reduces portion of fine local government can collect from citation for driving without required restraint on state or federal highway if local law enforcement officer writes citation.

HB 1011 (Rep. Gwyn Green, D-Golden) - Eliminates statute of limitations applicable to civil lawsuits based on sexual assault of a child if lawsuit is against perpetrator or third party who had control over the perpetrator, knew perpetrator had previously committed unlawful sexual misconduct and failed to prevent additional incidents; creates two-year window for filing civil actions based on childhood sexual assault in cases where existing limitations period has expired; repeals language in current law limiting damages plaintiff may collect in civil action based on sexual assault of a child.

HB 1012 (Rep. Glenn Vaad, R-Mead, and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial) - Requires state Transportation Commission to evaluate state highway system and remove roads from that system if it determines it is appropriate and feasible to do so; road to be determined eligible for removal from list of state highways if it meets only local or regional transportation demands or provides minimal statewide or multi-regional benefits.

HB 1017 (Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, and Sen. Jennifer Viega, D-Denver) - Designates western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) as Colorado's state reptile.

HB 1021 (Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster) - Specifies that four-year olds can be considered "gifted children" and allows school districts to permit gifted four-year olds to attend kindergarten or first grade; requires school districts to extend services to gifted five-year old children.

HB 1035 (Reps. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, and Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, and Sen. John P. Morse, D-Colorado Springs) - Extends period in which taxpayers may make voluntary contribution to military family relief fund to 2011.

HB 1039 (Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, and Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley) - Requires identification used for election-related purposes to contain photograph of eligible elector.

A Snapshot of Notable Senate Bills Introduced This Week

Dozens of bills were introduced during the first two days of the 2008 legislative session, including 48 in the Senate and more than 100 in the House. Among them are proposals to implement some of Gov. Bill Ritter's priorities and a number of competing ideas from the General Assembly's Republican minority.

Here are some of the notable bills introduced in the Senate this week:

SB 1 (Sen. John P. Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument) - Creates a "school safety resource center" within the Department of Public Safety to help school s prevent and prepare for violent incidents.

SB 4 (Sen. Moe Keller, D-Arvada, and Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs) - Creates a state employment program for persons with developmental disabilities

SB 11 (Sen. John P. Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs) - Creates an "emergency responders and trauma care reimbursement fund" to be paid for from an increase in motor vehicle registration fees and requires all auto insurance policies issued in Colorado to include at least $15,000 in emergency care coverage

SB 13 (Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins) - Authorizes use of oil and gas severance tax revenues to fund mitigation of production impacts by the Division of Wildlife and improvements to state parks.

SB 18 (Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada, and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs) - Requires Department of Higher Education approval for any new academic, career or technical education program at any state-supported institution of higher learning.

SB 21 (Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, and Rep. Edward Casso, D-Commerce City) - Creates a pilot English language competency program to help students who primarily speak another language to achieve English competency prior to high school graduation.

SB 23 (Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, and Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Evergreen) - Requires State Board of Education to establish uniform minimum high school graduation standards, to include four years of mathematics, four years of English, three years of science, three years of social studies, two years of foreign language or American sign language, one year of physical education or health education and oneyear of visual, performance or applied fine arts.

SB 24 (Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton) - Prohibits ticket sellers, such as professional athletic teams, from limiting the resale of event tickets, requires ticket seller to guarantee ticket refund in case event is cancelled and prohibits denial of access to event to person who purchased ticket from re-seller.

SB 25 (Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, and Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada) - Transfers regulatory authority regarding safety of retail foods to State Board of Health from Department of Public Health and Environment and requiring creation of a Uniform Code of Sanitary Rules.

SB 26 (Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora) - Requires all cigarettes sold in the state after July 31, 2009 to be tested for, and to meet, standards assuring a lower risk that lit cigarettes can ignite a fire.

SB 40 (Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver) - Allows a person qualified to vote to register to vote online if that person's signature is stored in digital form in one of several state-maintained databases.

SB 43 (Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver) - Requires each school district to adopt minimum nutritional standards for food and drinks sold "a la carte" or in vending machines or school stores on school campuses and requires compliance with the nutritional standards for accreditation of school districts; also creates "healthy school foods and drinks grant program," paid for from lottery revenues, to assist school districts in complying with the obligation to provide food and drinks that meet the nutritional standards.

SB 48 (Sen. Moe Keller, D-Arvada, and Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction) - Prohibits political telephone solicitations made by automatic dialing machines or paid political solicitors to anyone in Colorado or registered to vote in Colorado unless the person being called had a pre-existing relationship with the caller; exempts calls made by candidates, public officials and political parties made for the purpose of announcing town meetings, fundraisers, and "other events of interest to existing constituents and supporters;" also exempts calls from professional polling organizations.

Profiles of Legislators Coming

Starting next week Colorado Capitol Journal will publish profiles of individual legislators from both chambers of the General Assembly. The series will continue at a rate of about two per week for the remainder of the session.

If you have any preferences about who you'd like to see profiled, please post a comment to let us know what they are.

Ritter Calls for Education Reforms, More Efforts on Renewable Energy in State of State Address

Gov. Bill Ritter delivered his second State of the State address today, using the occasion to call for an intensive effort to reform and improve the state's public education system and continue development of a "new energy economy."

Ritter's speech, delivered to a joint session of the house and senate, reprised the governor's commitment to a "Colorado promise." He asked legislators to eliminate preschool waiting lists, expand access to kindergarten, raise funding for higher education, begin implementation of a health care study commission's recommendations, resolve the uncertainties surrounding the use of electronic voting machines in this year's elections, and simplify the personal property tax.

He also urged legislators to avoid partisan entrenchment.

"The people elected us to solve problems, to get results and to make a difference," said Ritter. "They did not elect us to wage partisan warfare or to lock down and refuse to engage in productive dialogue. We must never mistake sound bites for sound public policy."

The governor's speech focused on health care reform. He told legislators that the state should add 17,000 more children to the Children's Health Insurance Plus (CHIP) program and streamline eligibility for Medicaid.

Ritter also spoke at length about education. He emphasized the need to move more children into preschool and kindergarten programs and announced creation of a "counselor corps" that would provide services to middle and high schools with low rates of graduates attending college.

He also endorsed a bill containing a series of reforms, called the "Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids," which would raise graduation standards, impose skills testing and assure that high school graduates are prepared for college.

"I am proposing a seamless system of expectations, policies and tools that thread their way from pre-school to college," said Ritter. "We must ensure that every classroom in Colorado is providing a rigorous and relevant education, and that students are learning skills that effectively prepare them for success in the 21st century."

Ritter also argued for an increase in the severance taxes applicable to oil and gas exploration, implored legislators to work across the aisle on "contentious funding issues" related to transportation and expressed support for the creation of a "school safety resource center" that would help schools develop and implement plans and programs for preventing violence.

Ritter closed his speech by quoting an early 20th century governor, Henry Augustus Buchtel.

"Give these precious days to making wise laws which will be a blessing to the millions of future citizens of Colorado," said Ritter. "That is what we are here for: to make the State."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Groff Announces Select Committee to Consider Constitutional Reform

New senate president Peter Groff, D-Denver, announced today that he has formed and appointed a select committee to study ways to reform the state's constitution.

In the announcement, which was made during Groff's opening address to the senate on the first day of the legislative session, Groff said that all reasonable options would be open for discussion at the capitol.

He also said that former U.S. Sen. and current University of Colorado president Hank Brown and former state Sens. Stan Matsunaka, Penfield Tate and Norma Anderson had agreed to serve as senior advisors to the committee.

A University of Denver research panel recently released a set of recommended improvements in the process for citizen-driven constitutional amendments. House speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, is also advancing a plan for a one-time suspension of the constitution's one-subject rule in order to allow referral of an amendment aimed at clarifying conflicting fiscal constraints on the legislature.

Groff's Election Marks Historic Day at Capitol

Colorado experienced a historic "first" this morning as Peter Groff became the first African-American to be elected president of the state senate.

Groff, 44, was unanimously elected to the post by colleagues of both parties at 10:12am. The gallery, with many of Groff's friends and family members present, erupted in sustained applause as the Denver Democrat waved the ceremonial gavel.

Former Sen. Regis Groff, who served in the senate for 20 years, could be seen wiping away tears as his son acknowledged his election to the third highest position in the state government.

Meanwhile, the new president's sister, Traci Jones, said her brother's political rise is a result of his ability to focus on the needs of the public instead of exclusively partisan concerns. "I think what Peter realizes is, we all want what's best for our state," said Jones. "His strength is that he doesn't care about the glory."

Jones was accompanied by Groff's seven-year old son, Malachi, and five-year old daughter, Moriah. Both said they were proud of their daddy and enjoyed watching him swing the gavel, though they denied having to call him "Mr. President" at home.

Herman Malone, a longtime Denver resident and friend of the Groff family, said that Groff's ascension to presiding officer of the senate owes more to his skill as a legislator than to his race. "We're extremely proud because he's done a tremendous job and is continuing the legacy of his dad," said Malone. "He is senate president for a reason, and that is because his colleagues recognize his leadership abilities."

During his address to start the 2008 session, Groff paid tribute to his ancestors who were slaves in Georgia.

"I understand that it is not just my hand that takes the gavel today," said Groff. "I understand that it is the hands of my relatives who toiled under the overseer's whip on the red clay of Georgia that take this gavel today on the red carpet of the Colorado Senate."

He went on to quote the Book of Isaiah in encouraging his colleagues to tackle problems in education, healthcare, transportation, economic development and constitutional reform.

"You shall be called the repairer of the breach and the restorer of pathways to dwell," said Groff, who then encouraged his colleagues to adopt "the long view and the pathway to a greater Colorado."

During his address Groff urged the legislature to pass legislation assuring insurance coverage for all children in Colorado.

"It is the morally right and responsible thing to do," said Groff. "While adults can make decisions about whether they accept coverage, our most precious and vulnerable resource cannot make those decisions."

Groff also made the case for continued improvements and reforms to the state's public education system.

Malone agreed that Groff is right to focus on educational reform. "I'm a business owner, and have been for over 30 years here in the city," said Malone. "Education is the key. As a state, if we going to move forward in business, in economic development, in social achievement, we've got to have an educated workforce. That's the only way, so his priorities are right on time."

Senate minority leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, also indicated sympathy for Groff's decision to focus on educational improvements while offering mild criticism of proposals to fundamentally re-structure the state's healthcare system and seek more funding for transportation.

Former Denver mayor Wellington Webb and his wife Wilma were among the many admirers of Groff present in the chamber today. Both are also former legislators.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Preview of the 2008 Session of the Colorado General Assembly

The Colorado General Assembly opens its 2008 session on Wednesday, January 9. There will be some new faces this year, but the Democratic majority is as firm as it has been for the past three sessions.

One of the biggest issues before the legislature, and the one that will get the spotlight earliest, is fixing the state's election system. Secretary of State Mike Coffman (R) announced Dec. 17 that he was de-certifying electronic voting machines used in many counties around the state. Legislators will have to decide whether to conduct the 2008 general election as a traditional paper-based, polling place affair, as an all-mail election, or by means of some combination of those methods.

Another huge issue facing the legislature will be the decision as to which major state financial need - highways, higher education, health care, and K-12 education - justifies a request for a tax increase to be sent to the voters next fall.

There is more to do on Gov. Bill Ritter's "new energy economy." You can expect to see a net-metering bill get a fair amount of attention. A similar bill, which allows electricity users to sell excess power back to their utility, was considered last year.

Senate and House Democrats are certainly going to focus on health care this year. In addition, the majority party is likely to try to give small businesss tax breaks and work on reforms to the public education system, including shortening or eliminating preschool and kindergarten waiting lists, developing a teacher "pay for performance" system and to upgrade school facilities in disrepair.

The "208 Commission," named for the bill that created it, is expected to announce its recommendations for improving health care availability and cost reduction in the state soon.

The GOP minority can be expected to push a bill reversing Gov. Ritter's executive order granting state employees collective bargaining rights. Ritter has said he will sign a bill making it clear that state employees are forbidden to go on strike.

The environmental community will push a "net metering" bill as well as legislation that would require utilities to give homeowners and businesses that install solar power generation equipment a rebate.

DU Panel Recommends Constitutional Review Commissions Every Ten Years

The University of Denver's Colorado Constitution Panel issued its report Jan. 3.

The report, entitled "Foundation of a Great State: The Future of Colorado's Constitution," includes a number of recommendations.

These include:

Preserve and Strengthen the Right of Citizen Initiative

The panel recommended that the right of citizen initiative be retained and improved with modifications to the processes for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments and special protections for citizen-initiated statutes.

In an effort to encourage statutory rather than constitutional initiatives, the panel recommended that initiated statutes not be subject to any amendments by the legislature for 10 years without a two-thirds vote by both chambers of the General Assembly and that there be no increase in the required number of signatures to place a statutory initiative on the ballot or any change in the current law requiring that a simple majority of those voting approve the initiative.

The panel recommended that Colorado require proponents of initiated constitutional amendments to discuss their proposal with elected representatives but also retain the absolute right to have the public vote on the initiative. The panel calls this the "Colorado Legislative Engagement and Referral" (CLEAR) process.

The CLEAR process would require proponents of constitutional amendments to secure signatures from a majority of the state's congressional districts. The report did not specify an exact suggested formula or requirement.

The panel also suggested that a "fiscal impact statement" be required of every proposed constitutional amendment.

Call for a Constitutional Convention Unnecessary

The panel recommended against convening a constitutional convention at this time. However, it suggested instead that necessary revisions be addressed via regular constitutional review proceedings.

Establish a Constitutional Revision Commission

To achieve its recommendation that a process for periodic review of the constitution be established, the panel suggested the creation of a Constitutional Revision Commission that would automatically come into existence every 10 years. It would have the authority to place on the ballot its recommended changes to the constitution. The proposed commission would have 33 members.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Kopp is New Senate GOP Caucus Chair

The Senate minority caucus recently announced that Sen. Mike Kopp (R-Littleton) will be its chair for the 2008 session. He replaces Ron May, who resigned his seat in October.

Stephens is New House GOP Caucus Chair

The House minority caucus has selected Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, as its caucus chair for the 2008 session. She replaces Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, who moved over to the Senate as a replacement for Ron May.

Last Session Looms For Some Legislators

Colorado's term limits law will mean that several veteran legislators will be spending their last session at the Capitol this winter and spring. Colorado's 1990 term limits law, which is part of the state constitution (Art. 5, Section 3), gives members of the House of Representatives a maximum of four two-year terms and members of the Senate a maximum of two four-year terms.

Among the senators of both parties who will finish their final terms this session are:

Sen. Ken Gordon (D-Denver)
Sen. Bob Hagedorn (D-Aurora)
Sen. Stephanie Takis (D-Aurora)
Sen. Sue Windels (D-Arvada)
Sen. Ron Tupa (D-Boulder)
Sen. Andy McElhany (R-Colorado Springs)
Sen. Jack Taylor (R-Steamboat Springs)

In addition, Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch) and Sen. Steve Ward (R-Littleton) are running for Congress in District 6.

Over in the House, these are the members that will be done when the 2008 session adjourns in May:

Rep. Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver)
Rep. Alice Madden (D-Boulder)
Rep. Michael Garcia (D-Aurora)
Rep. Rosemary Marshall (D-Denver)
Rep. Debbie Stafford (D-Aurora)
Rep. Cheri Jahn (D-Golden)
Rep. Alice Borodkin (D-Denver)
Rep. Mary Hodge (D-Brighton)
Rep. Al White (R-Winter Park)

In addition, Rep. Stella Garza-Hicks (R-Colorado Springs), Rep. Rob Witwer (R-Evergreen) and Rep. Ray Rose (R-Montrose) have said they won't seek re-election in the fall. Rep. Dorothy Butcher, D-Pueblo, is also likely serving in her last session at the Capitol, having announced plans to run for a county commission post in the fall instead of for re-election to the House.

White has announced his plans to seek election to the Senate seat held by Taylor, while Borodkin is presumed to be a candidate for the Senate seat now held by Gordon and Garcia is expected to run for the Senate seat now held by Hagedorn.

Romanoff Announces New Committee Assignments

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver) announced new assignments to committees Sunday, including giving a convert from the GOP an important vice-chair slot.

Rep. Debbie Stafford (D-Aurora), who switched parties after last year's session, will be the new vice-chair of the Judiciary committee. She replaces Rep. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora), who is replacing former Rep. Mike Cerbo as chair of the House majority caucus.

Rep. Stafford will also continue to sit on the Health and Human Services committee.

Romanoff also gave committee assignments to the chamber's two Democratic newcomers, Christine Scanlan and Mark Ferrandino.

Ferrandino, who replaced Cerbo, will sit on the Business Affairs and Labor committee and the State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee.

Scanlan, who replaced Sen. Dan Gibbs when he took the seat formerly occupied by Joan Fitz-Gerald, will sit on Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources committee and the Transportation and Energy committee.

Romanoff also announced that Rep. Cheri Jahn (D-Wheat Ridge) will replace Cerbo on the Judiciary committee and that Rep. Gwyn Green (D-Golden) will replace Gibbs as vice-chair of the Transportation and Energy committee.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

General Assembly Opens 2008 Session Jan. 9

The second regular session of the 66th Colorado General Assembly will open Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008.

Senate president Peter Groff (D-Denver), Senate minority leader Andy McElhany (R-Colorado Springs), House speaker Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver) and House minority leader Mike May (R-Parker) are expected to deliver opening day addresses.

Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to address the legislature on Thursday, Jan. 10.


Thank you for visiting Colorado Capitol Journal. Here we hope to give all those interested in the doings of the Centennial State's General Assembly, as well as its Governor and other executive branch officials, one place to keep up with the bills, debates, controversies, politics and votes.

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