Saturday, March 15, 2008

Turtle Bill Clears Senate

The bill that would designate the Western painted turtle (Chrysemis picta bellii) as Colorado's official reptile passed the Senate this week.

HB 1017 arose from interest expressed by some Adams County children who discovered the state has no official reptile.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, and Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, awaits Gov. Bill Ritter's signature.

State Newspapers Speculate About Fate of HB 1208

The Grand Junction Sentinel's "Political Notebook" speculated this week about the fate of HB 1208, the bill that would eliminate district attorneys' ability to file felony charges against 14- and 15-year olds in adult court without judicial approval. The Sentinel blog reported that Ritter may be inclined to veto the bill.

Mike Saccone, the Sentinel's political reporter, wrote that Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, voted "no" on the bill after discussing it with Gov. Bill Ritter, a former Denver DA.

The Denver Post also published an article this week speculating that Ritter may plan to veto the bill.

However, according to an email message from Evan Dreyer, the governor's chief spokesman, received by Colorado Capitol Journal on Mar. 13, the Governor has not decided what he would do with HB 1208 if it reached his desk.

"Bills very often change and are amended as go through committee hearings and move from chamber to chamber, so we generally do not weigh in until and if a bill arrives on the Governor's desk," Dreyer wrote. "If a bill does make it, it will get a thorough review from the Governor before a decision is made."

The Post story also quoted Dreyer as saying Ritter has not made up his mind.

Correction: Colorado Ranks Second in Percentage of Female Legislators

In a Feb. 12 article this journal reported that the swearing-in of Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, would mean that 37.9% of Colorado legislators are women.

That is not accurate. The correct percentage, following Middleton's joining the House, is 36%.

That figure does not, as the Feb. 12 article said, lead the nation. Vermont leads with 37.8% female legislators. Colorado ranks second.

We apologize for the mistake.

Friday, March 14, 2008

US Highway 285 Designated "Ralph Carr Memorial Highway"

Both chambers of the General Assembly approved Friday a resolution designating the portion of U.S. Highway 285 from its intersection with Colorado Highway 470 in Jefferson County to the New Mexico state line as the "Ralph Carr Memorial Highway."

The designation honors the late former Republican governor known for his opposition to interning Japanese-Americans during World War II.

A recent book by local reporter Adam Schrager details the impact Carr's stance on the question of imprisoning Americans of Japanese descent had on his political career.

Carr, a former Conejos County attorney, assistant attorney general and United States attorney, sought a U.S. Senate seat in 1942. He lost to incumbent Democrat Edwin Johnson, in part because of his opposition to federal efforts to detain Japanese-Americans at the Ameche relocation camp in eastern Colorado during his term as the state's 29th governor between 1939-1943.

Carr (Dec. 11, 1887-Sept. 22, 1950) grew up in Cripple Creek. He was an opponent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" program but generally supported FDR's foreign policies.

He was nominated by the GOP for another term as governor in 1950 but died before the general election. He was replaced as the Republican candidate 20 days before the election by Daniel I.J. Thornton, who went on to beat the favored incumbent, Walter W. Johnson. Ironically, Thornton was succeeded by the man who beat Carr for the U.S. Senate seat in 1942, Edwin Johnson.

Carr is buried in Denver's Fairmount Cemetery.

The resolution re-naming U.S. Highway 285 was sponsored by Reps. Rob Witwer, R-Genesee, and Rafael Lorenzo Gallegos, D-Antonito, and Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

College Textbook Affordability Act Heads to Ritter's Desk

The Senate approved Friday an amended version of SB 73, the proposed "College Textbook Affordability Act," and sent the bill to Gov. Ritter.

The bill aims to ensure that students are provided with more information about the textbooks required in classes, in order to be able to compare previous editions with the current edition specified by the course instructor, and prevents publishers from requiring that textbooks be purchased in a bundle with other media items such as DVDs.

To accomplish the information objective, the bill requires textbook publishers to post on their websites the prices of textbooks, history of substantive revisions to textbooks, and estimated length of time the publisher intends to keep such textbooks on the market.

The Senate sponsor is Democrat Ron Tupa of Boulder. The measure was sponsored in the House by Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins.

There was no opposition to passage of the amended bill by the Senate Friday.

Romanoff's "B.E.S.T." Bill Clears House

The House gave final approval Friday to a bill that would dedicate about $1 billion derived from state school trust lands toward school facilities construction and renovation.

HB 1335, the "Building Excellent Schools Today (B.E.S.T.)" bill sponsored by speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, was approved 63-1. Rep. Douglas Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, was the only "no" vote.

Fifty-three members of the House, including representatives from both parties, signed on as co-sponsors.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

LTC Rice & Col. Ward, Together in Baghdad

This photo of LTC Joe Rice, U.S. Army (a.k.a. Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton), and Col. Steve Ward, U.S. Marine Corps (a.k.a. Sen. Steve Ward, R-Littleton) was taken last November and posted on Rice's blog.

Both men are in safer surroundings these days, back at home on the Front Range and at work in the General Assembly.

Rocky: Senate Republican Leader Wants Tolls on I-70 to Pay for New Lanes

According to a report in today's Rocky Mountain News, Sen. Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, plans to propose that a toll be charged on I-70. The purpose would be to widen the highway.

According to the article by Rocky reporter Chris Barge, the toll would be collected at the Eisenhower Tunnel and would be used to pay for the improvements between there and Denver.

The proposal, if made, is similar to one suggested by Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver. He has said he'll ask his colleagues to authorize HOV lanes on I-70 and charge fees to vehicles that have less than three occupants. The charges would apply during ski season and on Sunday afternoons all year.

The Rocky story says that McElhany's proposal contemplates collection of tolls every day throughout the year.

Senate Clears Computer-Assisted Hunting Ban

The Senate cleared Thursday a bill that would ban computer-assisted hunting in Colorado.

HB 1200 would criminalize the use of such technology to aid in finding or killing wildlife. It does, however, allow accommodations required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The bill was amended in the Senate and so now must return to the House for a determination as to whether the amendment will be accepted there or if a conference committee will be requested.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. John Soper, D-Thornton, and Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton.

B.E.S.T. Bill Gets Preliminary OK in House

A much-anticipated bill that would dedicate a portion of the revenues generated by the state's school trust lands to pay for new and renovated public school facilities gained preliminary approval in the House Thursday.

The proposed "Building Excellent Schools Today Act," or "B.E.S.T." bill, was approved by voice vote after a parade of legislators from both parties praised it as a necessary, innovative, and financially wise way of helping impoverished school districts build and maintain needed facilities.

Only one representative, Douglas Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, spoke against the measure. He said it would reward school districts that failed to plan for the future because they preferred to spend money granting over-generous pensions to employees. Bruce also sought to amend the bill to remove its "emergency" clause, which would allow it to go into effect immediately upon receiving the governor's signature, but his motion gained no traction.

The measure would allow the state to borrow money pursuant to "certificates of public participation" and then repay the debt by means of the school trust land revenues. It would dedicate about $1 billion to school districts around the state and set up an evaluation process by which to prioritize needs.

School districts would be expected to contribute about $400 million, according to sponsor Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver.

A 2003 report by the state auditor said that Colorado had about $4.7 billion worth of backlogged public school facility upgrade and maintenance needs.

HB 1335 is sponsored by Speaker Romanoff along with Senate president Peter Groff, D-Denver, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. It arose out of a tour of the state's rural schools by Romanoff and others last year and was boosted by a proposal by state treasurer Cary Kennedy to devote trust land revenues to the state's school capital needs.

PUC Overhaul and Reauthorization Heads to Senate

The House cleared a bill that reauthorizes the Public Utilities Commission and makes some important changes in its mission Thursday, but not without a long debate the day before.

HB 1227 has gained attention because it includes provisions aimed at increasing the likelihood that additional taxicab companies will enter the market in the state's cities. However, the bill also broadens the function of the state's Office of Consumer Counsel. It requires the OCC to consider social and environmental factors, as well as the economic interests of consumers and business interests, when formulating and presenting a position on proposed rate increases or decreases to the PUC.

That provision drew controversy, with Republicans arguing that it would inevitably lead to higher utility bills. But Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, pointed out that a failure by the PUC to consider the social and environmental impacts inherent in public utilities' choice of fuels for power generation could actually result in increased costs to consumers.

The bill also authorizes the PUC to impose administrative fines against public utilities, an authority the agency currently has with respect to motor carriers, and subjects investor-owned water and sewer companies to PUC regulation.

The measure is sponsored by majority leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, and Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo.

It cleared the House on a near-party line 41-24 vote, with only Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, voting with the Democrats in support of the measure.

House Makes Threats to Judges a Crime

The House gave final approval Thursday to a bill that would make it a crime to threaten a judge.

HB 1115 provides that a person who threatens bodily harm or death to a judge, or to a member of a judge's family or a person who lives in the same house as a judge, can be guilty of a class 4 felony if the threat is made knowingly or intentionally.

Criminal liability would attach even if the threat is not communicated directly to the judge. A violation would occur if "the individual intended that the communication would be relayed to the judge [or] if the other person is required by statute or ethical rule to report the communication to the judge."

The bill passed 59-6 after Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, warned that it might, in some circumstances, result in infringement of a person's constitutional right of free speech.

Sponsored by legislators of both parties, the bill now heads to the Senate.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

House Kills Proposal to Elect PUC Members

The House defeated a proposal to require members of the Public Utilities Commission to be elected Wednesday, rejecting an amendment by Rep. Paul Weissman, D-Louisville, that would have expanded that body's membership from three members to seven and placing those positions on the ballot for the fall 2008 election.

House Committee Postpones Vote on Medical Malpractice Bill

The House Judiciary Committee postponed Wednesday a vote on a controversial bill that would increase the maximum of amount of money a malpractice plaintiff can recover and authorize damages for disfigurement.

The hearing on SB 164 drew a large crowd to the Old Supreme Court Chambers at the Capitol. Dozens of people in support of the bill wore yellow shirts, while several dozen physicians in opposition wore white lab coats.

The committee's decision to postpone consideration of the bill came after two Democrats indicated they were not inclined to support the bill. Given that the commitee's four Republicans were likely to vote "no," those two additional possible "no" votes would have been enough to kill the bill.

SB 164 is sponsored by Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, and Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bill Expanding Ban on Discrimination Against Gays Introduced

A bill that would expand the state's ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual preference has been introduced in the Senate.

SB 200, by Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, would mandate equal treatment in housing, public accommodations, credit decisions and many other areas, including:

* Membership in labor organizations;
* Inclusion in public works projects;
* Issuance of a license to practice law;
* Sales of cemetery plots
* Determination of whether expenses paid at or to a club that
has a policy to restrict membership are tax deductible;
* The provision of funeral services;
* Enrollment or classification of students at private
occupational schools;
* Eligibility for jury service;
* Enrollment in a charter school, institute charter school,
public school, or pilot school for expelled students;
* Written local school boards of education policies regarding
employment, promotion, and dismissal;
* The assignment or transfer of a public school teacher;
* Leasing portions of the grounds of or improvements on the
grounds of the Colorado state university - Pueblo and the
Colorado school of mines;
* Employment in state personnel system;
* The provision of adequate hospital facilities;
* Availability of family planning services;
* Employment practices of county departments of social
services involving selection, retention, and promotion of
* Participation in the managed care program under the
children’s basic health plan;
* Making or committing to make a housing facility loan by
the Colorado housing and finance authority; and
* Imposition of a discriminatory occupancy requirement on
charitable property for which the owner is claiming an
exemption from property taxes based on the charitable use
of the property.

The bill would apply to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans-gendered individuals. It also extends the provisions summarized above to other categories, including sex,
marital status, disability, age, national origin, ancestry, and religion.

Last year the General Assembly approved, and Gov. Bill Ritter signed, a bill that prohibits discrimination against people in those categories in employment decisions.

Limit on Prosecutors' Power to File Adult Charges Against Kids Heads to Senate

After a second lengthy and sometimes emotional debate, the House gave final approval Tuesday to a controversial bill that would force prosecutors to obtain a judge's permission before charging 14- and 15-year old children with crimes in adult court.

HB 1208 would not impose a similar limit with regard to 16- and 17-year old children charged with crimes. However, the bill establishes a "reverse transfer" process by which a judge could order a case filed directly in adult court back to the juvenile justice system.

Opponents of the measure argued, as they had Friday, that the bill creates the possibility that children charged with serious crimes would not serve enough time to be rehabilitated or properly punished. They also forcefully asserted that taking away district attorneys' authority to "direct file" a criminal charge against young teenagers in adult courts would disrespect victims and encourage more juvenile crime.

"I want to remind you that the law is what it is in Colorado today is in response, a reasoned response, to a summer of violence in 1993. The idea of directg filing on juveniles for serious crimes was an effort to end gang violence. It did so," Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said. "The juveniles who are particularly violent do receive the rehabilitation treatment they need."

But the bill's backers, including Rep. Liane "Buffie" McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, said opponents were overreacting.

"I believe all of us care about victims," McFadyen said. "But this bill doesn't necessarily change an outcome. It doesn't change sentencing."

McFadyen said the issue addressed by the bill is whether it should be easy for a prosecutor to sentence to life in prison a 14- or 15-year old children.

"That should not be an easy process," McFadyen said.

But Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, argued that the creation of direct-file authority for district attorneys in 1993 was essential to reducing crime.

"When we are tough on crime, we reduce the numbers of crime," Gardner said. "Prior to direct file, gangs would often have a 14- or 15-year old member perform drive-by shootings or killings as part of initiation knowing that sentences for a juvenile would be minimal. We should not be encouraging any age group or part of our society to be part of a crime."

Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, responded that the issue is not whether violence is tolerated. "With or without this bill, as long as things can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, these folks will be punished," she said. "The question we have to ask ourselves is, 'is there a reason to treat juveniles different from adults?' If not, let's just get away from the pretense of having a juvenile justice system and treat them all as adults."

Carroll argued that the real issue before the House was how to decide whether to try a juvenile as an adult.

"The real process question is, 'How do we decide if a juvenile should be tried as an adult?'", she said. "You can either have one of the parties in an adversarial system have unilateral, unchecked ability, unappealable decision, to put juveniles in an adult system or you can actually put the same question to an impartial factfinder, a judge, and give due process to juveniles on the question as to wehther they should be tried as a juvenile or as an adult. The question is who should be making the decision."

Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver, disputed a statement by Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, that taking away direct-file authority is a mistake that will embolden gangs.

"Taking away direct file is not a mistake," McGihon said. "Forty-six other states seem to function very well without direct file against juvenile defendants."

Rep. Douglas Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, disputed in turn McGihon's argument that the the U.S. Constitution requires a hearing before a juvenile can be charged in adult court.

"It's important to understand that nobody has a right to have a hearing before charges are filed against them," Bruce said.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in a 1966 case called Kent v. United States that the due process clause of the 14th amendment does require a hearing, at which a juvenile is represented by counsel, before a criminal case against that juvenile is transferred to adult court.

The bill, which cleared the House on a 34-30 vote, now moves to the Senate.

If approved there, prospects for approval by Gov. Bill Ritter are uncertain.

"I think there's a serious question whether, if this bill makes it to the governor's desk, it will be signed," Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said.

According to sponsor Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, Ritter told her during a conversation last year that he was not in favor of a bill that would entirely eliminate district attorneys' ability to direct-file against a juvenile in adult court.

But Levy says she does not believe Ritter has ruled out signing a bill that limits that authority to 16- and 17-year olds.

"I've talked to him since then about this more modest change to the direct-file statute," Levy said. "He's still not comfortable with it. I did not take his comments that he would close the door on signing a bill that deals with direct filing."

Spokespersons for Denver district attorney Mitch Morrissey and 18th judicial district attorney Carole Chambers declined to comment on final House passage of HB 1208.

Juvenile Justice Bill Advances

The House, after a lengthy and often emotional debate, gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill that would take away the power of district attorneys to charge 14- and 15-year olds with crimes as adults.

Sponsor Claire Levy, D-Boulder, opened the debate by pointing out that a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case, Kent v. United State, held that the U.S. constitution requires that a hearing be provided to a child before he or she is subjected to the possibility of adult punishment.

"The current law in Colorado is even more egregious than what the Supreme Court struck down in 1966," Levy said.

Rep. Liane "Buffie" McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, argued that HB 1208 is necessary to allow a child offender a realistic chance to be rehabilitated. "All we're asking in this very modest piece of legislation is give a child a chance to make it," McFadyen said. "This bill does nothing to change the outcome of court cases."

Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver, broke down in tears as she pleaded with her colleagues to pass the bill.

The bill passed on a voice vote, but Republican opponents then mounted an effort to reverse that approval. An amendment to the Committee of the Whole report aimed at blocking the bill failed on a 34-29 vote. Six Democrats voted with all but one Republican to kill the bill. They included Speaker Andrew Romanoff of Denver, Appropriations Committee chair Bernie Buescher of Grand Junction, Jerry Frangas of Denver, Sara Gagliardi of Arvada, Christine Scanlan of Dillon, and John Soper of Thornton. Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, was the only Republican to vote against the effort to overturn the voice-vote approval of the bill.