Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ritter Reverses Course on LEAF Raid

Gov. Bill Ritter said Wednesday that he would not, after all, seek to transfer more than $1 million from the fund to pay law enforcement officers overtime in order to enforce DUI laws on holiday weekends this year.

The governor had said on Tuesday that he would seek to shift the money to drug and alcohol treatment programs. The money in the so-called "LEAF" (for Law Enforcement Assistance Fund) was frozen in an executive order issued by Ritter on Saturday.

Ritter's spokesperson, Evan Dreyer, said the governor has not ruled out asking the legislature to shift LEAF money to drug and alcohol treatment programs in future years.

LEAF was created by the General Assembly in 1983 and is funded by an automatic fine assessed on every person convicted of DUI in the state.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

O'Brien Announces $80 Million in Grants to Cities, Counties, Schools

The Ritter administration announced Wednesday that more than 500 cities, counties and school districts across Colorado will receive about $80 million in grants funded by severance taxes generated from oil and gas extraction.

The purpose of the grants, which were calculated under a more generous allocation formula created by a 2008 law, is to "offset impacts from energy development, strengthen local economies and improve the livability of Colorado communities," according to a press release from Gov. Bill Ritter's office.

“These funds come at a critical time and will help local agencies and schools maintain quality services,” Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien said. “These direct distribution awards will allow local officials to decide how best to invest these funds and make the biggest difference in their communities.”

The amount of the grants is a state record. Prior to the enactment into law of SB 08-218 and HB 08-1083, grants from energy severance taxes and the federal government's mineral lease fund were based on the number of employees an energy company had in a particular community. The 2008 statutes require consideration of the number of drilling permits, amount of production, employee residences, population in the community, and the amount of highway user miles in a community.

The total of the grants last year was about $24 million.

Colorado's severance tax on oil and gas drilling accounted for $44.5 million of this year's grant fund, while the federal mineral lease fund is the source of the remaining $35.9 million.

The largest recipients of grant money from the state's severance tax were Mesa county (about $4.7 million), Garfield county (about $4.6 million), Weld county (about $2.7 million) and the city of Grand Junction (about $2.1 million).

Grants to school districts, and additional grant money for municipalities and counties, come from revenues generated by the federal government's mineral lease fund.

About $2.8 million is being provided to school districts from the federal revenues, with the largest recipients being Garfield School District RE-2 (about $454,000), Roaring Fork School District RE-1 (about $377,000) and Mesa County Valley School District 51 (about $306,000).

A complete list of recipients, and the amounts they received, can be found here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ritter Will Cut 331 Jobs to Balance Budget

Gov. Bill Ritter has increased the number of state jobs he will cut in order to balance the budget.

The governor's office disclosed the higher number when it released documents relating to its financial plan Monday.

The Ritter administration had announced last week that the job losses would total 266.

Not all of the job reductions involve layoffs, since the governor's office is counting vacant positions that would be left unfilled.

The budget cuts announced by Ritter in order to close a budget deficit in excess of $200 million this fiscal year include:

• $25 million less for state prisons, including about $19 million saved by speeding up parole for eligible inmates and shortening parole supervision periods;

• a 1.5 percent reduction in the reimbursements paid to health care providers, which will save Colorado $8.6 million;

• elimination of 59 beds for mental health patients at a facility in Fort Logan and closure of a 32-bed facility for developmentally disabled patients in Grand Junction, which would save about $2.3 million; and

• reduction of $4.5 million from a program that gives $200 monthly stipends to disabled people awaiting federal Social Security benefits.

The governor's office also announced Monday that it would delay an effort to cut more than $475,000 from a program that allows some state employees to use publicly-owned vehicles as a means of transportation to and from work.

Suthers Obtains Guilty Pleas in Medicaid Fraud Cases

Attorney general John Suthers announced today that his office has obtained guilty pleas in two Medicaid fraud cases.

Cortney Ileane Miller, 55, pleaded guilty Aug. 14 to forgery. She was sentenced to five years of probation, with conditions to include 100 hours of useful public service and restitution of more than $23,000.

The state alleged that Miller, who worked in an Adams County wheelchair supply company owned in part by her husband, acquired an invoice from a supplier for an expensive power wheelchair and then modified the invoice and included it in support of several bills that she submitted to the Colorado Medicaid program for other clients. Most of the bills were for much less expensive equipment, but Miller claimed the high price supported by the false invoice, plus profit.

In an unrelated case, Michelle Riley, 41, a former co-worker of Miller, pleaded guilty July 24 to theft, a class-four felony, and forgery, a class-five felony. Her convictions arise from charges that she submitted several false Medicaid bills to the state. Riley received five years probation and was ordered to reimburse teh state more than $63,000.

The state alleged that Riley, who is the owner of a Denver-based wheelchair supply company, submitted bills to Medicaid for three wheelchairs which were never supplied to the recipients, and over-billed three other wheelchairs and one power scooter. Riley also allegedly falsified wheelchair repair records to collect for repairs that did not happen.

Riley and Miller had worked together in the past, but their crimes appeared unrelated.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sen. Johnston Named to Education Commission

Newly-appointed Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, has been named to a prestigious bipartisan panel charged with recommending improvements to the country's most significant public education law.

Johnston, the former principal at Thornton's Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts, will join the Aspen Institute's Commission on No Child Left Behind.

The commission will study how to improve low-performing schools, teacher effectiveness, standards and assessments, and graduation rates.

The panel meets for the first time Sept. 2 at Howard University in Washington, DC.

Other members of the commission include former Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson and former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes.

Ground Broken for New Colorado History Museum

The Centennial state will soon have a new history museum.

About a hundred people gathered at 12th Avenue and Broadway in Denver Wednesday for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Colorado History Museum.

The new museum replaces the facility located adjacent to the state's Judicial Building west of the Capitol.

Construction of the $111 million replacement facility is being financed by certificates of participation. Build America Bonds issued by the federal government will reimburse Colorado for 35 percent of the interest paid by the state on the project.

The result of that federal assistance, made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enacted into law in February, will be that investors in the certificates of participation receive full return on their investment while the state's taxpayers pay an effective interest rate of only 4.24 percent.

State treasurer Cary Kennedy says that the federal help will save Colorado $77 million on the project.

The new museum, which will be about 190,000 square feet in size, is scheduled to open in 2011.

The new judicial complex, which is expected to cost about $250 million, is to open in 2013.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ritter Announces More Budget Cuts for FY 2010

Gov. Bill Ritter said Tuesday he will cut $320 million in state spending this fiscal year by releasing some prisoners and eliminating almost 270 government jobs, among other actions, and that he will seek to raise fees for background checks on those who seek to buy guns.

The announcement came as the governor works to close an expected $318 million shortfall this fiscal year.

The current budget gap follows earlier expected deficits of $1.4 billion, which were eliminated by other spending reductions and transfers from cash funds.

Ritter also plans to attack the current shortfall by relying on federal dollars provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Barack Obama in February. $52.5 million will be provided this year by Washington to pay for Medicaid programs. Ritter is also counting on $80.9 million to replace money Colorado cut from its higher education institutions.

So-called "stimulus" money from the federal government will be reduced next year and then be eliminated in fiscal year 2012.

The governor will also rely on additional transfers from cash funds.

Next year's shortfall could be larger than the one Ritter is currently dealing with under the authority granted him by state law to prevent budget deficits. Some estimates indicate that the state government could be facing an obligation to pay at least $350 million more for prisons, health care and social programs.

The spending reductions from corrections will come, according to Ritter, by releasing some prisoners six months early and by terminating post-release supervision of some convicts on parole.

Ritter also wants to eliminate 59 beds at a Fort Logan mental health facility and close a 32-bed nursing home in Grand Junction.

The plan also eliminates $200 monthly stipends given people who have applied for Social Security Supplemental benefits from the federal government but have not yet started receiving them.

The spending cuts amount to about 3.5 percent of the state's general fund.

The suggested fee increases include a new $10.50 charge for background checks assessed on those who attempt to purchase a firearm and an increase in the current $17.95 fee assessed on new government employees for a criminal background check.

The General Assembly would have to approve the fee increases for them to take effect.

The governor has the authority to execute the spending cuts without legislative approval. Most of them will take effect Sept. 1.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

52 Colorado Swine Flu Cases

The Department of Public Health and Environment, in its last planned daily update of the number of H1N1 cases in the state, said today that it has now confirmed 52 infections.

The cases are from these counties: Adams (8), Arapahoe (13), Boulder (2), Denver (11), Douglas (2), Eagle (3), Fremont (1), Garfield (4), Jefferson (6), La Plata (1), and Morgan (1).

DPHE will continue to publish tables containing information on the number of
confirmed cases of H1N1 virus in the state each afternoon on its website.

Eighth Judicial District Gets New Chief Judge

A veteran trial judge has been appointed by the state's chief justice to serve as the top jurist in the Eighth Judicial District, which includes Jackson and Larimer counties.

Stephen Jon Schapanski of Fort Collins, who has been on the district court bench since 2007, was chosen by chief justice Mary J. Mullarkey to replace retired judge James H. Hiatt as chief judge.

Before taking on his current role as a district court judge, Schapanski was a magistrate for fourteen years in the same district. Before becoming a judge he was in private law practice since 1974. Schapanski's legal expertise was in the areas of domestic relations, civil, juvenile, criminal defense, probate, estate planning, bankruptcy and real estate law.

He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1971 and earned his law degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana in 1974.

Colorado is divided into 22 judicial districts, each with a chief judge. The chief judge serves as the district's senior administrator, responsible for appointing the district administrator, chief probation officer and clerks of the court, assisting in the personnel, financial and case management of the district, and assuring that the business of the courts is conducted efficiently and effectively. A chief judge also makes judicial assignments within the district.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DPHE: H1N1 Cases Now Total 48

The Department of Public Health and Environment reported today that there are now 48 confirmed cases of the swine flu virus in Colorado.

The cases are from the following counties: Adams (6), Arapahoe (13), Boulder (2), Denver (9), Douglas (2), Eagle (3), Fremont (1), Garfield (4), Jefferson (6),
La Plata (1), and Morgan (1).

For general information about H1N1, call CoHELP between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday-Friday at 1-877-462-2911 or visit the DPHE's web site at

Ritter Releases Recovery Act Report

Gov. Bill Ritter has released a report detailing the ways in which Colorado expects to use federal dollars provided by recently-enacted economic stimulus legislation, as well as opportunities for private citizens and business to benefit from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The report, prepared by the governor's economic recovery advisors, is available here.

Educator to Replace Groff in Senate

A charter school principal will replace Peter Groff in the state senate.

A district 33 Democratic party vacancy committee selected Mike Johnston, the principal at Thornton's Mapleton Expeditionary School for the Arts, to complete Groff's term, which ends in January 2013.

Johnston, 34, was chosen on the first ballot. Among the hopefuls he defeated was former Rep. Rosemary Marshall, D-Denver.

Groff, who was originally appointed to the Senate in 2003 and then re-elected in 2004 and 2008, accepted an appointment as a senior advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Education. His resignation from the Senate took effect last Wednesday after the General Assembly adjourned its 2009 session.

Monday, May 11, 2009

H1N1 Infections Now at 43

The Department of Public Health and Environment has now confirmed 43 cases of swine flu infection in Colorado.

The confirmed cases of H1N1 virus are from these counties: Adams (6), Arapahoe (9), Boulder (2), Denver (8), Douglas (2), Eagle (3), Fremont (1), Garfield (4), Jefferson (6), La Plata (1), and Morgan (1).

For general information about the H1N1 virus, call CoHELP between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday-Friday at 1-877-462-2911 or visit the department’s web site at

Friday, May 8, 2009

DPHE Reports 38 H1N1 Cases in Colorado

The Department of Public Health and Environment announced today that there are 38 confirmed cases of H1N1 infection in the state.

The cases come from these counties: Adams (6), Arapahoe (8), Boulder (1), Denver
(7), Douglas (1), Eagle (3), Fremont (1), Garfield (4), Jefferson (5), La Plata (1), and Morgan (1).

None of the cases involved hospitalization. All of the patients are recovering from the swine flu infection.

The public may continue to get general information about H1N1 by calling CoHELP at 1-877-462-2911. CoHELP hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday-Friday. Recorded messages continue to be available at CoHELP 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

People also can find information by visiting DPHE's web site at

Thursday, May 7, 2009

DPHE Reports 25 H1N1 Cases in Colorado

The Department of Public Health and Environment reported today that there are now 25 confirmed cases of H1N1 virus in Colorado.

The infections are in the following counties: Adams (4), Arapahoe (6), Boulder (1), Denver (3), Douglas (1), Eagle (3), Fremont (1), Garfield (2) and Jefferson (4).

None of the patients in these cases were hospitalized, and all are recovering.

The public may continue to get general information about H1N1 by calling CoHELP at 1-877-462-2911. CoHELP hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday-Friday. Recorded messages continue to be available at CoHELP 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

People can also find information about the swine flu virus by visiting DPHE's web site at

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cold Case Funding Bill Again Includes Death Penalty Ban

A conference committee restored this morning to a bill funding investigations of "cold cases" a provision repealing Colorado's death penalty.

The senate had removed the death penalty repeal during debate on HB 1274 earlier in the week, adopting a bipartisan amendment offered by Sens. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Josh Penry, R-Fruita, that would directly appropriate funds for such investigations from a new $2.50 fine applicable to all criminal convictions and traffic infraction verdicts.

The conference committee, which included members of the House of Representatives who had supported the death penalty repeal, returned to the proposal to fund cold case investigations by using money that would otherwise go toward capital punishment.

Both chambers of the General Assembly will consider the conference committee report today before adjourning the session.

Gov. Bill Ritter, a former prosecutor, has not publicly said whether he would sign a bill repealing the state's death penalty.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Former Sen. Grossman Named to Ethics Panel

A former Democratic state legislator has been appointed to one of the five seats on the state's Independent Ethics Commission.

Dan Grossman, who served as a state representative between 1997-2003 and as a state senator from 2003-2007, was nominated by Senate president Peter Groff, D-Denver, to replace Republican Sally Hooper.

Grossman's nomination will have to be confirmed by the state senate. The vote on the nomination is expected to occur Wednesday.

Gov. Bill Ritter will name a replacement for Democratic commission member Nancy Friedman. Ritter is required by law to appoint a Republican to that seat.

The Independent Ethics Commission is responsible for enforcing Amendment 41, the far-reaching anti-corruption initiative approved by voters in 2006.

Ten Colorado H1N1 Cases

The state has used a new laboratory testing procedure to confirm four additional cases of swine flu infection in Colorado, bringing the total to ten.

The new cases reported today are two elementary school-age children, from Adams and Jefferson counties, as well as a college-age man from Adams County and a Fremont County woman.

There were six cases confirmed earlier.

The Department of Public Health and Environment recommends that people who experience influenza symptoms should stay home for seven days after onset of symptoms or at least 24 hours after symptoms have resolved, whichever is longer.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Six H1N1 Cases in Colorado

The Department of Public Health and Environment is now reporting six confirmed cases of H1N1 virus.

The six confirmed cases are in the following counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Eagle and Jefferson (2). Four of the victims are men, one is a woman, and one is a pre-teenage boy.

Only one of the six cases required hospitalization. That patient has been discharged and all who have been confirmed as having contracted the virus are recovering.

There is evidence that the swine flu virus is circulating in the United States and Colorado. Individuals do not need to have traveled to Mexico or another area of the U.S. to have been exposed to the virus.

Local public health agencies are responsible for investigating cases in their communities.

People who experience influenza symptoms should stay home for seven days after onset of symptoms or at least 24 hours after symptoms have resolved, whichever is longer.

The public can obtain general information about H1N1 by calling 1-877-462-2911 between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday and between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Information is also available at DPHE's web site,

Sunday, May 3, 2009

DPHE Announces 2 New Colorado Swine Flu Cases

The Department of Public Health and Environment said today that there are two new cases of swine flu in Colorado.
Both are in Jefferson County and neither patient was hospitalized.

“The new cases are not unexpected, and do not change the state’s
approach to the H1N1 flu outbreak,” the state's chief medical officer, Dr. Ned
Calonge, said at a news conference.

The new cases involve a middle-school aged man who had recently traveled to an affected area in the U.S. and another man in his twenties.

“Of the two new confirmed cases, both had possible exposure to travelers having visited Mexico or a part of the country where H1N1 is known to be circulating,” Calonge said.

DPHE is awaiting confirmation of six additional cases from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colorado has had four confirmed cases of H1N1 infection this year. Other than the two announced today, a person in Arapahoe County and a person in Douglas County have been infected.

Friday, May 1, 2009

State Health Department Distributes H1N1 Vaccine

The Department of Public Health and Environment, which received 167,000 courses of a vaccine for the swine flu virus from the federal government, has distributed the stockpile to 13 locations around Colorado.

The location to which the drugs were transported was based on population density. The goal is to ensure a rapid delivery of medicines to any area of the state in the event of an outbreak of the H1N1 virus this year.

“The highest priority for the antiviral stockpile is to meet unmet needs in communities around Colorado,” the state's chief medical officer, Dr. Ned Calonge, said. “The antiviral drugs are primarily intended for use with severely ill patients in hospitals.”

Calonge said it that the supply provided by the U.S. government is for emergency purposes. Only public health agencies will be able to obtain the anti-viral medication. Individuals cannot have prescriptions for the vaccine filled at those agencies.

Shipments were made to storage facilities in Alamosa, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Eagle, El Paso, Jefferson, La Plata, Larimer, Mesa, Otero, Pueblo and Weld counties.

The vaccine was obtained from the Strategic National Stockpile, which is maintained by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to respond to public health emergencies.

Weissman's University Transparency Bill Gets Initial House OK

A bill that would require the state's colleges and universities to use an open search process before hiring new leaders gained initial approval in the House today.

HB 1369, sponsored by Rep. Paul Weissman, D-Louisville, would require the use of search committees and mandate development and publication of job qualifications before institutions can hire a chancellor or president.

The bill is motivated by concerns over the selection process for a chancellor at Colorado State University.

“I have real concerns about how the search process for new leadership at CSU is progressing," Weissman said. "I want to make sure the decision is made in the light of day, not behind closed doors. It should be made with the input of students, alumni, faculty, and other stakeholders. The era of closed door governing is over.”

The bill must pass third reading in the House before being considered in the Senate.

Ritter Awards Grants for Local Infrastructure Projects

Municipalities and counties around Colorado were awarded Friday more than $23 million from the state's severance tax and mineral lease revenues for a variety of infrastructure projects, according to an announcement issued by Gov. Bill Ritter's office.

“Communities all across Colorado are struggling to cope with the challenges of current economic conditions,” said Ritter. "These grants will allow communities to make key investments in projects that will put people back to work and strengthen local economies in the short-term, while making communities more sustainable and economically healthy in the long-term.”

The 47 funded projects include construction of a library in El Paso county, design of a water treatment plant for Rifle, replacement of a natural gas pipeline in Ignacio, replacement of the Beaver Creek Bridge in La Plata county, construction of a wastewater treatment plant in Fruita and a new police station in Windsor, and provision of digital mammography equipment at the Salida hospital.

Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Grant funds are matched by other private and public funds, which will result in the $23.2 million announced by Ritter being leveraged to $218.5 million for construction and other development activity around the state.

"Projects that meet basic needs like water, sewer, drainage, and local roads received highest priority," Department of Local Affairs director Susan Kirkpatrick said. "Projects that demonstrated a strong energy conservation or renewable energy component also received priority.”

The grant program was created by the General Assembly in 1977.

Ritter Honors Fallen Lawmen

Gov. Bill Ritter led a ceremony commemorating the lives and sacrifices of Colorado peace officers Friday and issued a proclamation in honor of the state's Law Enforcement Memorial Day.

Ritter also laid a wreath at the base of the Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial.

“It is my honor to lay a wreath at the foot of the Law Enforcement Memorial,” Ritter said. “These brave men and women—and their families, deserve every ounce of gratitude we can give. They put their lives on the line to serve and protect us day in and day out, and for that they will forever have our deepest respect and our eternal debt and gratitude.”

This year, the names of Officer Nicholas K. Heine of the Pueblo Police, Alexandar Brighton of the Trinidad Police, and Jesse B. Craig, Sr. and Jacob A. Kipper of the Rocky Ford Police will be added to the memorial.

The ceremony took place at the State Patrol Academy in Golden.

The Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial Day service takes place each year on the first Friday in May.

Ritter to Sign Bills Saturday

Gov. Bill Ritter will sign six bills into law Saturday.

According to a press release issued by spokesperson Evan Dreyer, Ritter will okay SB 126, HB 1059, HB 1237, HB 1213, SB 104 and SB 144 at signing ceremonies in Denver, Arvada and Broomfield.

SB 126 renews the provision of state law allowing taxpayers to donate part of their refund to the multiple sclerosis fund. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, and Rep. Dennis Apuan, D-Colorado Springs.

HB 1059 mandates continuing coverage health insurers when policyholders participate in clinical tests. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, and Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora.

HB 1237 is a measure relating to state payments for the education of disabled youth. It was sponsored by Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, and Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont.

HB 1213, sponsored by Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, creates a state housing development grant fund in order to facilitate construction of additional affordable housing.

SB 104 requires Colorado child welfare regulators to provided foster children being emancipated with relevant and certified identity documents, including birth certificates and social security cards, at state expense. The measure was sponsored by Sen. Paula Sandoval, D-Denver, and Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada.

SB 144 makes changes to the function, composition and procedures of the state Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. It was sponsored by Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, and Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada.

O'Brien to Kick Off "Kids Outdoors" Forum Tomorrow

Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien will launch an initiative aimed at encouraging Colorado kids to get outside and play today.

O'Brien will head to Grand Junction to hear about local projects such as Outdoor Heritage Day and then meet with Mesa County kids to learn their ideas for a "Colorado Kids Outdoor Bill of Rights."

“The importance of connecting kids to the outdoors shouldn’t be trivialized," O'Brien said. "Outdoor activities make children healthier, more focused on learning, and can help some behavior issues. The amount of time kids spend outdoors has been cut in half over the last 20 years, while the obesity rates have doubled.”

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Senate Committee Backs Death Penalty Repeal

A Senate committee approved Wednesday a bill that would repeal Colorado's death penalty.

HB 1274 gained the backing of all three Democrats on the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. Both Republican members voted "no."

The measure, which would re-route money currently appropriated to carry out capital sentences to cold case investigations, has already passed through the House of Representatives.

Colorado voters have twice voted for a state death penalty law, most recently in 1974.

The state has executed one person in the last 40 years.

Proponents of the bill argue that the death penalty does not deter crime and that the state's 1,400 unsolved murder cases cannot be brought to closure without additional funds.

Senate sponsor Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said at the hearing on the bill Wednesday that she thinks it would save the state about $1 million per year. Most of that money would be appropriated to the Cold Case Investigation unit at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

The final vote on HB 1274 in the House was very close, with a 33-32 tally moving it over to the Senate.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Senate Approves Bill Discouraging School District "Re-Brucing"

The Senate approved Tuesday a bill that would discourage voters that have previously exempted their local school districts from Taxpayer Bill of Rights revenue limits from reimposing those limits.

SB 291 would prevent "re-Bruced" districts from replacing revenue lost by the TABOR caps with state funding.

Several school districts around the state are considering subjecting themselves yet again to revenue limits, despite prior decisions by voters in their boundaries to waive them.

Among the arguments made in support of that idea is a claim that voters' choices to "de-Bruce" were not meant to freeze mill levies at current levels, as a 2007 bill enacted by the General Assembly and upheld against a TABOR challenge by the state supreme court earlier this year requires.

But Democrats, including Gov. Bill Ritter and Senate Education Chairman Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, argue that "re-Brucing" would allow districts to shift responsibility for financing local schools to the state.

SB 291 gained final clearance on a party-line vote, but not without some drama in the final stages of the process.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, staged a one-man, three-hour filibuster against the measure when it came before the chamber on second-reading.

He read state statutes, quoted from supreme court decisions, and otherwise talked in an effort to delay consideration of the bill.

On Tuesday Mitchell made only a short, seven-sentence statement, accentuated by a humorous reference to his filibuster, before SB 291 went to a final vote in the Senate.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Senate Passes DNA Bill

A bill that would allow law enforcement agencies to collect a DNA sample from every person arrested in Colorado cleared the Senate today.

SB 241, sponsored by Sen. John P. Morse, D-Colorado Springs, was approved on a 28-7 vote.

Critics have argued that the bill is unconstitutional because it applies to people arrested, but not necessarily charged with or convicted of a crime.

Defenders say that people arrested but not charged can request deletion of the sample from the database the proposal would create.

Opponents included both Democrats and Republicans.

Rep. Green To Resign

Another legislator has announced her decision to leave the General Assembly in mid-term.

Rep. Gwyn Green, D-Golden, said this morning on the floor that she would leave the House of Representatives to spend more time with her family.

"It is time to leave you and let someone who has the health and the stamina to fill this seat, such an important seat for my district," Green told her colleagues this morning. "There are so many good leaders in my district who could bring so much to this body. It is time to have them called forth."

Green was first elected to the House in 2006. She has been an advocate for public education and renewable energy use.

During her comments this morning she paid tribute to colleagues from both parties.

"Among this gathering of public servants, I have come to know great people, people like our former Speaker Andrew Romanoff and former Majority Leader Alice Madden, people like former Senate President Joan Fitzgerald, people like our present Speaker Terrance Carroll, who rose up from neighborhoods of poverty to his present position, and like our Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, a man of deep dedication and resolve, who stands firm for his beliefs," Green said. "Nor can I forget the Minority Leader, Mike May. Representative May, your loyalty and dedication to your party has won you my admiration and respect."

A Democratic Party District 23 vacancy committee will appoint Green's replacement, to serve through the end of her current term, after her resignation takes effect June 1.

Green is the fourth Democratic legislator to resign this year and she will be the third member of the House to leave since January.

Her decision follows resignations by Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, and Peter Groff, D-Denver, and Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver, and the elevation to the Senate of former Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.

Friday, April 17, 2009

House Gives Final OK to FY 2010 Budget

The House overwhelmingly gave final approval this morning to a bipartisan budget compromise that closes a $300 shortfall in the fiscal year 2010 state spending plan.

Lawmakers agreed to cut spending by about $77 million and raise about $255 million in additional revenue for the state.

Included in the spending cuts are a requirement that many state employees take up to eight unpaid days off in the next fiscal year.

The so-called "Long Bill" also provides that Medicaid fees paid to doctors and hospitals would be reduced by $58 million and transfers about $28 million from K-12 education to higher education.

The measure also authorizes the use of about $35 million in money from the state's tobacco tax revenue, which is ordinarily allocated to health promotion and efforts to prevent smoking, for general fund purposes.

A separate bill closes a property tax exemption applicable to senior citizens for one year. That measure, which would be effective for one year, is expected to raise about $90 million in revenue.

House approval of SB 259 is not the end of the General Assembly's work on next year's budget and other fiscal matters. The "Long Bill" must return to the Senate for consideration.

In addition, Democrats are likely to propose a bill eliminating sales tax exemptions for cigarettes and vending machine sales. That bill, if enacted, would raise about $38 million in revenue each year.

The House-approved budget avoids any additional reductions in higher education spending for next fiscal year.

Gov. Bill Ritter warned earlier in the week that cuts to spending on the state's colleges and universities might place the state at risk of losing access to more than $700 million in federal economic stimulus dollars authorized by the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Shaffer To Be Next Senate President

Senate Democrats elected Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, as the next Senate president this morning.

Shaffer, 38, is in his second and final term as a state senator. He was first elected in 2004.

He will replace Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, as president of the Senate effective May 7, 2009.

Groff has announced his resignation from the Senate in order to accept a position in the office of the U.S. Secretary of Education.

The chamber's majority caucus also chose Sen. John P. Morse, D-Colorado Springs, as the new majority leader.

Morse will replace Shaffer in that role effective May 7, 2009.

The remaining members of the Senate majority's leadership team will remain the same.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Legislature Drops Idea of Tapping Pinnacol Funds to Close Shortfall

The "raid" on assets belonging to Pinnacol Assurance, the quasi-governmental entity that provides workers compensation insurance coverage to private businesses in Colorado, is no longer an available option to close the state's budget shortfall.

Legislative leaders announced the idea would be tabled after Gov. Bill Ritter announced his opposition to it.

"Members of my staff and I have tried in good faith to reach an agreement with Pinnacol," Ritter said. "However, there remain too many unresolved issues and questions for Colorado citizens and Pinnacol shareholders and customers. Therefore, with a budget deadline looming, I have halted negotiations with Pinnacol. Together with my budget office, the JBC and legislative leadership, we are now focusing on a number of other steps to erase the shortfall caused by the economic downturn, without devastating cuts to higher education."

Pinnacol's executives placed a full-page ad in Sunday's Denver Post urging the public to protest the planned seizure of the government-created entity's surpluses.

Pinnacol has about $2 billion in assets. A measure sponsored by Sen. Brandon Shaffer, which cleared the Senate Monday, would have re-directed $500 million from Pinnacol to the state general fund.

Meanwhile legislative leaders also announced that they would not cut $300 million from Colorado's higher education system to close the remaining shortfall in the fiscal year 2010 budget.

Gov. Bill Ritter had said he opposed those cuts, arguing that they would violate the terms of the recently-enacted federal Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act and cost the state about $750 million in stimulus dollars.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Groff Appointment to U.S. Department of Education Post Announced

Senate president Peter Groff, D-Denver, is going to Washington, D.C.

U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan announced Friday that Groff, 45, has been appointed director of the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Center, which is housed in the office of the secretary.

The press release does not indicate when the appointment is expected to take effect.

Senate Decides to Tap Pinnacol Funds to Close Budget Hole

The Senate decided late Thursday night to close a $300 million funding hole for the state's higher education system by transferring $500 billion from Colorado's workers compensation insurer.

The move, which has drawn intense fire from Republicans and from Pinnacol itself, would leave the insurer with a reserve of $200 million.

Some legislators argued that the move, authorized by two Senate bills, would expose the state to a lawsuit and that the money might never be available to help close the state's huge budget shortfall.

The two bills that would open the door to a transfer of Pinnacol assets to the state's general fund are SB 273 and SB 281. The first was preliminarily approved in the Senate Thursday on a 19-14 vote. Two Democrats opposed it, while Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, joined most Democrats in support. The second was gained preliminary approval, also on Thursday, on an 18-15 vote. Three Democrats opposed that bill, while White abandoned his party to support it. Both measures must gain final approval in the Senate before moving over to the House.

Republicans argued that the Pinnacol reserves do not belong to the state, since it represents premiums paid to Pinnacol by private businesses.

"This is Hugo Chavez legislation," Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said on the floor Thursday. "If a company is highly profitable, let's nationalize it."

Mitchell was making reference to the president of Venezuela, who has supported efforts to nationalize certain privately-owned industries in that country.

Pinnacol, which was created by the General Assembly and is chartered by the state, is not private. Its Board of Directors is appointed by the governor.

The move in the Senate, which came late Thursday evening, followed a confusing day of twists and turns in the ongoing budget debate at the Capitol.

For the first time in the state's history the Senate rejected a budget recommended by the Joint Budget Committee. Senate president Peter Groff, after consulting with minority leader Josh Penry, R-Fruita, sent the "long bill" back to the JBC for reconsideration so that the $300 million cut to higher education spending could be avoided.

The members of the JBC promptly sent the "long bill" right back to the Senate, with members of the committee from both parties later making clear that they had considered all reasonable alternatives.

Groff, when he sent the budget back to the JBC, asked the panel to consider whether to recommend repeal of about $2 billion in tax credits.

A state supreme court decision last month indicates that the General Assembly can repeal tax credits without approval of Colorado's electorate as long as that action does not result in revenue growth in excess of the limit specified in the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Meanwhile, Penry's Republicans argued for furloughs and layoffs of state employees and for across-the-board appropriations reductions to all state agencies and departments.

But the JBC rejected those suggestions, with members saying they oppose furloughs and layoffs and that there isn't time to consider either spending reductions or revocation of tax credits before this year's legislative session ends May 6.

Report: Groff to Resign, Accept Post in Obama Administration

Senate president Peter Groff, D-Denver, will resign soon to accept an appointment as an official in the U.S. Department of Education, according to a report in today's Denver Post.

The article, by the Post's veteran capitol reporter Lynn Bartels, says that Groff declined to answer questions about the appointment from President Barack Obama, which Bartels wrote was confirmed by two sources.

The veteran legislator, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2000, was appointed to the Senate in 2003 as a replacement for former Sen. Penfield Tate. He became the first African-American president of the Colorado Senate in 2007 and, this year, joined with Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, as the first African-American team leading both chambers of the General Assembly in the state's history.

Groff is a leading advocate for education reform and a strong supporter of charter schools.

Another Post article says that Sens. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, John P. Morse, D-Colorado Springs, Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, are the leading candidates to replace Groff as Senate president if he does, in fact, resign his seat.

Groff was re-elected to his second full term in the Senate last year. That term is scheduled to expire in January 2013.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ritter Signs HB 1260

A bill that will allow unmarried people to share employee benefits and plan their estates, and which is likely to benefit gay couples, was signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter Thursday.

HB 1260 allows any two adults to enter into "designated beneficiary agreements." Such agreements would allow for one adult to designate a person of their choice, even if that person is not their spouse, as the recipient of property, life insurance proceeds, retirement benefits and other assets of their estate.

It would also allow the designation of any other adult as a person who can make medical decisions on one's behalf.

Republican critics of the measure had criticized it as a back-door attempt to undercut the Colorado electorate's rejection of Referendum I, which would have authorized civil unions in the state.

But Ritter's spokesperson said the governor considers the bill to be an effort to help people get their business and personal affairs in order during a time when they are ill or facing death.

Owens Publishes Editorial Column Critical of Pinnacol Move

Former Gov. Bill Owens is publicly urging the General Assembly to refrain from transferring assets from the state-chartered workers compensation insurer to help close Colorado's budget shortfall.

In an editorial published in this morning's Denver Post, Owens said that the proposal is "stunning in its audacity and brazen in its goal."

Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, has introduced legislation that would amend a 2002 law that protected Pinnacol Assurance's assets from state seizure.

Owens argued that Shaffer's bill would force Pinnacol to raise premiums and lower benefit payments. He also said it backtracks from a bargain made to secure passage of the 2002 legislation, in which Pinnacol agreed the state would not be responsible for its liabilities and the state agreed that Pinnacol's assets would not be subject to transfer to the general fund.

"The legislature shouldn't do it," Owens wrote. "If it does, the governor should veto it."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

House Approves Cell Phone Ban

A bill that would make illegal, at least for the vast majority of motorists, the practice of holding a cell phone to the ear while driving cleared the House this morning.

The vote was 39-25. Six Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while five Democrats opposed it.

HB 1094 would require all drivers to employ hands-free equipment while talking on a wireless telephone.

The measure would also generally prohibit minors and school bus drivers from talking on a wireless telephone, even with a hands free device, while operating a motor vehicle. The only exception to that new statutory rule would be the use of the wireless telephone to contact a law enforcement agency.

The bill flatly prohibits, for all drivers, the practice of 'texting" while driving, as well as the use of electronic mail and Internet web-browsing and other applications requiring the use of a keyboard.

The bill exempts police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and some commercial truck drivers from its strictures.

Drivers would be authorized to use a cell phone without a hands-free device in an emergency situation, such as when a person's life or safety is in danger or a crime is being committed. In addition, use of a wireless telephone would be permitted when necessary to report a "fire, traffic accident in which one or more injuries are apparent, a serious road hazard, a medical or hazardous materials emergency, or a person who is driving in a reckless, careless, or otherwise unsafe manner."

The ban on the use of a wireless telephone while driving would not apply when a vehicle is lawfully parked or when it is stopped on the shoulder of a road or highway.

A first offense would result in a $50 dollar fine. Subsequent offenses would draw a $100 fine. The bill does not authorize law enforcement officers to search or seize a wireless telephone used by a motorist in violation of its provisions.

HB 1094 now heads to the Senate. It is sponsored in that chamber of the General Assembly by Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bill Aimed at Forcing IREA to Expand Programs for Energy Conservation Clears House Committee

A House committee approved Tuesday a measure that would require all rural electric cooperatives with more than 100,000 customers to implement conservation programs.

While the bill does not name any particular rural electric cooperative, it is aimed at the only such entity in Colorado with that many customers - Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA).

IREA, which is based in Sedalia and serves customers in Douglas, El Paso, Park, Teller, Clear Creek, Elbert, Arapahoe and Adams counties, has strongly resisted efforts to strengthen programs aimed at reducing electricity use.

The organization, through a vote of its members, opted out of Amendment 37 in 2005. That vote, in which only a small percentage of the cooperative's members voted, stood in contrast to the vote on Amendment 37 in its service territory. More than 50 percent of the electorate in IREA's service area supported Amendment 37 when it was on the ballot in 2004.

Under current state law rural electric cooperatives who have not opted out of Amendment 37 must generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Under HB 1323, IREA would have to implement conservation and energy efficiency progams that would achieve a use of renewable energy equivalent to two percent of its 2008 sales by 2012 and to ten percent of its 2008 sales by 2020.

The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, and Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, must also be approved by the House Appropriations Committee before it is considered by the full House.

IREA, in addition to opting out of Amendment 37, has also spent large amounts of money on efforts to convince the public that global climate change is not happening or that it is a natural event.

A grass-roots organization called IREA Voices has been organized to advocate for greater use of renewable energy sources and energy conservation programs by the organization.

IREA Voices is sponsoring three candidates for seats on the annual election for seats on the organization's Board of Directors. The election for those seats is to be completed April 18.

Sen. Veiga to Retire at End of Session

A veteran Denver state senator has announced that she will retire at the end of this year's session of the General Assembly.

Sen. Jennifer Veiga, a Democrat who represents downtown and the north-central area of the Mile High City, has been a legislator since 1997.

Veiga, 46, said she would retire so that she could move to Australia with her long-term partner.

She was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1996. She moved to the Senate when a vacancy committee appointed her in 2003 to replace Doug Linkhart, who had been elected to the Denver City Council. Veiga won election to the Senate in 2004 and again in 2008.

Veiga served as House minority leader in 2003 and is currently chair of the Senate Business, Labor & Technology Committee.

She holds a bachelors degree in political science from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a law degree from George Washington University.

A Democratic vacancy committee for Senate District 31 will appoint her replacement.

Veiga has not indicated the specific date on which her resignation from the Senate will take effect.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Immigrant Tuition Bill Dies in Senate

The Senate killed Monday a controversial bill that would have allowed some children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities.

SB 170, which had drawn intense fire from minority Republicans, was defeated 18-16 on second reading.

Five Democrats joined with the chamber's Republicans to block the bill.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Navy SEAL Dietz Honored by General Assembly

A Littleton man who died in Afghanistan while serving as a U.S. Navy SEAL will have a stretch of South Santa Fe Drive named in his honor.

Petty Officer Danny Dietz, who graduated from Heritage High School, died in combat in 2005. He was killed in action while his unit was engaged in a battle with elements of the Taliban.

Dietz, who was a communications specialist, was part of a SEAL team assigned to capture a Taliban leader in the Hindu-Kush mountains on June 28, 2005.

According to a U.S. Navy press release issued after Dietz' death, the members of the SEAL team "were spotted by anti-coalition sympathizers, who immediately reported their position to Taliban fighters. A fierce gun-battle ensued between the four SEALs and a much larger enemy force with superior tactical position."

A Chinook helicopter called in to assist Dietz and three other SEALs was shot down, resulting in the death of eight other SEAL members and eight Army soldiers.

Dietz' hometown erected a statue in his honor in 2007. Dietz was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross in 2006.

The Navy Cross, which along with its counterparts in the Army and Air Force is a medal awarded for "extreme gallantry" in combat with an armed enemy, ranks second in significance to the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The naming of the section of Santa Fe Drive between C-470 and I-25 was authorized by means of a joint resolution. That stretch of the road will be known as Petty Officer Danny Dietz Memorial Highway.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tuition Bill Clears Appropriations Committee

The controversial bill that would allow some children who unlawfully emigrated to the United States with their parents to pay in-state tuition at Colorado universities and colleges cleared a key procedural hurdle this morning.

SB 170 was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and will now go to the floor.

The measure had been expected to run into trouble before the ten-member panel, as one of the six Democrats among the committee members said she would oppose it. But Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, was absent from the committee's meeting today and so the bill was cleared on a 5-4 vote. Democrat Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, joined the Republicans on the panel in opposition.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kagan Replaces McGihon

Denver lawyer Daniel Kagan, who had already indicated his interest in running for the HD-3 seat in 2010, will replace Rep. Anne McGihon as the state representative for that district.

A Democratic party vacancy committee chose Kagan to fill the remainder of McGihon's term Thursday night.

Kagan, 56, emigrated to the United States from England when he was 22. He became an American citizen in 1984.

He holds an undergraduate degree in public affairs from George Washington University and a law degree from Yale University. He has practiced law at a large Washington, D.C. firm and in a partnership with his wife. Kagan was a member of the Teamsters Union in the 1970s.

Kagan, who was a delegate for then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008, is the father of three children.

McGihon Replacement to be Named Tonight

A Democratic party vacancy committee is to name a replacement for Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver, tonight.

The vacancy committee, which has 100 members, will consider ten announced candidates for the appointment.

At least half of the members must be present for the vacancy committee to do business, and in the event of a weather-related cancellation of the meeting the committee would have to provide at least 10 days notice before holding the rescheduled gathering.

The ten announced candidates are:

1. George Brown, who works as curriculum director for a high school leadership development program called Leaders Challenge;

2. Former Lt. Gov. and state Sen. Sam Cassidy, an attorney and faculty member at the University of Denver and Jones International University;

3. Douglas Farquhar, an attorney and program director with the National Council of State Legislatures environmental health program. Farquhar is a member of the University of Denver faculty and teaches environmental policy and management;

4. Judith Judd, an attorney and a member of the board of AAA of Colorado and NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado Foundation;

5. Daniel Kagan, an attorney;

6. Colleen O’Brien, a social studies teacher at Overland High School;

7. Retired Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid, who is also an author, television documentary producer, and former naval officer;

8. Aaron Silverstein, a legislative aide, community organizer and political blogger;

9. Shelley Watters, a former aide to two members of the Denver City Council and a former candidate for a seat on that body; and

10. Stephen White, a clinical social worker employed by Cherry Creek Public School District.

Whoever is appointed will have to stand for election in 2010 if he or she desires to continue as a state representative.

McGihon's resignation from the House of Representatives is effective Friday.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Who's Term Limited at the Capitol?

During each General Assembly session this online news journal specifies the legislators who are not eligible, under Colorado's term limits law, to run for re-election.

The following senators cannot seek re-election:

Sen. Greg Brophy (R-District 1) (term expires January 2013)
Sen. Ken Kester (R-District 2)
Sen. Abel Tapia (D-District 3)
Sen. Jim Isgar (D-District 6)
Sen. Josh Penry (R-District 7) (term expires January 2013)
Sen. Robert L. Bacon (D-District 14) (term expires January 2013)
Sen. Brandon C. Shaffer (D-District 17) (term expires January 2013)
Sen. Maryanne "Moe" Keller (D-District 20)
Sen. Betty Ann Boyd (D-District 21) (term expires January 2013)
Sen. Shawn Mitchell (R-District 23) (term expires January 2013)
Sen. Lois Tochtrop (D-District 24)
Sen. Peter C. Groff (D-District 33) (term expires January 2013)
Sen. Paula Sandoval (D-District 34)

Groff is president of the Senate, Boyd is president pro tempore and chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, and Shaffer is majority leader. Penry is minority leader.

Keller is chair of the Joint Budget Committee and Tapia leads the Appropriations Committee.

Isgar leads the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, Bacon chairs the Education Committee, and Sandoval is in charge of the the Finance Committee.

The following representatives cannot seek re-election:

Rep. Jerry Frangas (D-District 4)
Rep. Joel Judd (D-District 5)
Rep. Terrance Carroll (D-District 7)
Rep. Jack Pommer (D-District 11)
Rep. Paul Weissman (D-District 12)
Rep. Michael Merrifield (D-District 18)
Rep. Michael May (R-District 44)
Rep. Liane "Buffie" McFadyen (D-District 47)

Rep. Anne McGihon (D-District 3) would have been term-limited. However, McGihon resigned her House seat effective March 27, 2009.

Carroll is House speaker, Weissman is majority leader and May is minority leader. Pommer, an influential voice on budget matters, is vice-chair of the Joint Budget Committee and chair of the Appropriations Committee.

Judd leads the Finance Committee, Merrifield has served for several years as chair of the Education Committee, and McFadyen is the veteran leader of the Transportation and Energy Committee.

Senators' terms are four years in duration. Senators can serve a maximum of two terms.

Representatives' terms are two years in duration. Representatives can serve a maximum of four terms.

Under Colorado's term limits law, which is embodied in an amendment to the state constitution approved by the electorate in 1990, a legislator who actually serves at least one-half of a term is deemed to have served a full term.

Senate Passes Parental Leave Bill

A measure that would give parents the right to take time off work to attend meetings with their children's teachers and participate in academic school events gained final Senate approval today.

HB 1057 would allow workers to take 18 hours of unpaid leave during the academic year. The bill would apply only to businesses with 50 or more employees and to businesses in which the leave granted an employee would not endanger the health or safety of another. If the bill becomes law, employees would have to provide their employer with one week advance notice of their intent to take the leave.

Democrats emphasized the importance of parental involvement in improving student academic performance.

"This bill isn’t just about parents, or schools, or kids. This bill is about helping our entire society,” sponsoring Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and a retired educator, said. “We’ve heard in so many places that businesses need to have an educated work force. This is a small step to nurture the education of the youngsters. In addition, smart citizens and an effective work force greatly helps down the road in reducing other costs, like prisons or unemployment.”

Kate Horley, a spokesperson for the Denver Chamber of Commerce, said the state's business community was initially concerned about a lack of "flexibility" in the bill but that amendments in the Senate addressed those worries.

Speaking of her organization, Horley said it would not oppose the measure.

"We’re neutral now because the bill provides the flexibility employers need to ensure that business gets done,” Horley said.

Horley also emphasized that the state's business community recognizes the value in parental involvement in their children's education but said she is skeptical that a mandate will assure that all employers respect the family lives of their employees.

"I understand what Rep. Kerr is trying to do, and while we all applaud the idea that parents should be involved in their children’s lives, legislation will not move bad actors," Horley said.

The party-line vote was 21-13, with only the GOP's Shawn Mitchell of Broomfield absent.

Because the Senate made changes to the bill, the House again considered the measure Wednesday morning. It rejected the Senate amendments and so HB 1057 will now go to a conference committee.

Rule Review Bill Clears Senate, Heads to Ritter

The Senate has given final clearance to the new oil and gas development rules issued by the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the bill formalizing legislative approval is on the way to Gov. Bill Ritter.

HB 1292, which is the vehicle for this year's effort to review and approve all rules issued by state agencies since last year's legislative session, was the subject of a strong effort by Republicans in both chambers of the General Assembly to change the oil and gas rules.

During yesterday's debate in the Senate, after which the rules bill was approved by voice vote, GOP senators offered to triple penalties on some environmental violations in return for a Democratic agreement to weaken certain aspects of the rules, especially those relating to wildlife protection.

"This amendment is an attempt to restore some balances," Senate minority leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said. "Bill Ritter would get 90 percent of what he wants, plus some things he didn't ask for."

But Democrats argued that debate on the rules bill is limited to consideration of whether the agency followed proper procedure and not a time to discuss substantive changes to the regulations.

They also reiterated a view that stronger regulation of the environmental impacts of oil and gas extraction activities is necessary to protect public health and the quality of life on the Western Slope.

"We have been overwhelmed with an industry that has grown very rapidly," Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, said Tuesday. "I think it's time in our state that we have a chance to catch up."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Foreclosure Delay Measure on Way to Ritter

A bill that will impose a 90-day waiting period before mortgage lenders can foreclose on properties in default cleared the Senate this morning and is on the way to Gov. Bill Ritter's desk.

HB 1276, which was approved on a 26-8 vote, requires homeowners to contact a counselor certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development within 20 days of receiving a notice of foreclosure. If the counselor determines, after an examination of the homeowner's finances, that he or she is eligible for participation in the 90-day delay program allowing for negotiation of loan changes.

If the counselor finds that the homeowner is a good candidate for loan modification, the 90-day delay in foreclosure in order to allow for such negotiations kicks in.

“Foreclosures are tearing apart many Colorado neighborhoods and communities,” Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, and the Senate sponsor of the bill, said. “During these times of economic uncertainty, thousands of people in our state are falling behind on payments and losing their homes. This bill will help homeowners negotiate a solution, get back on track and, most importantly, keep families in their homes."

According to the state's Division of Housing, there were almost 40,000 foreclosure filings in Colorado in 2008.

The bill was sponsored in the House by Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.

Carbon Monoxide Bill To Be Signed Into Law Today

Gov. Bill Ritter will sign into law today a bill that requires all homes placed on the market and all apartments to have carbon monoxide detectors installed in them.

HB 1091, which is called "The Lofgren and Johnson Family Carbon Monoxide Safety Act," will be signed at Denver Fire Station No. 10, 3200 Steele St., Denver at 3:30 pm.

The measure was inspired by the deaths last autumn of Parker Lofgren, 39, his wife Caroline Lofgren, 42, and their children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8 in an Aspen-area rental home that was not equipped with carbon monoxide detectors and by the death in January of Lauren Johnson, 23, a University of Denver graduate student, in a rented apartment not equipped with such a device.

Monday, March 23, 2009

House OK's Online Voter Registration

Coloradoans could soon be registering to vote online, at least if a bill approved by the House Monday makes it into law.

Under HB 1160, a qualified elector could register to vote, or make changes in their voter registration, if they have a digital signature on file with one or more state databases, including the driver license and motor vehicle registration databases, the state income tax database, the motorist insurance database, or the state's voter registration database.

The bill would require the secretary of state to create and maintain a "fully secure" website to accommodate the online voter registration system. It would impose a deadline of April 1, 2010 for the online system to be made available.

HB 1160 was approved overwhelmingly on a 60-4 vote. The only opponents were Republicans Cory Gardner of Yuma, Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs, B.J. Nickell of Berthoud and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, and Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins.

It must be approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Bill Ritter before becoming law.

Bill Banning Insurance Company Bonuses for Denial of Claims Advances

A measure that would prohibit insurance companies from paying employees bonuses when they deny claims has been approved by the Senate.

SB 103 also makes illegal the practice of paying bonuses to employees when they cancel insurance policies.

"Colorado consumers are one step closer to getting the quality medical care they’re already insurance companies paying for," bill sponsor Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said. "To tie the denial of insurance coverage to monetary bonuses is not only unethical but unscrupulous. Insurance companies should not be in the practice of lining the pockets of those who deny medical services to their customers."

The bill provides that juries, in lawsuits contesting an insurer's refusal to pay a claim, may consider payment of bonuses for denial of claims or cancellation of policies as evidence of bad faith behavior by the insurer.

Technically, SB 103 defines insurers payment of bonuses in those circumstances as an unfair claim settlement practice.

The bill, which passed on third reading by a 22-11 vote, now moves to the House.

Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, joined all of the chamber's Democrats in support of the measure. Senate minority leader Josh Penry, R-Fruita, and Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, did not vote.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Senate Education Committee Says “No” to School District Financial Accountability Bill

A landmark bill that would have required the state's public school districts to tell the public how they spend taxpayer dollars was killed in the House Education Committee Thursday.

SB 57, which originally would have required all of the state's school districts to post a searchable database of expenditures online, was watered down in the Senate to apply only to districts with existing websites and to permit disclosure in the form of spreadsheets.

Nevertheless, lobbyists for the state's education establishment, along with several district superintendents, objected to the cost and effort the disclosure mandate would have imposed.

Jane Urschel, the executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said the members of her organization were not opposed to the measure but were concerned about its cost given uncertainty about existing and future budgets.

"Right now, it came down to a choice," Urschel said. "Districts don't know how much they have for this year, 08-09. They've been promised a certain amount of money, but here we are this far along in the fiscal year and the state is saying, we're probably going to have to cut your budget.

""They don't know what next year's budget looks like. We don't even have a school finance act yet, and here they are having to plan next year's budget."

Urschel also said she thought the bill reflected a simplistic view of school district finances because it assumed that simple technology could be used to publicize budgets that, in some cases, run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It's not as simple as it was made to sound," Urschel said. "In talking to people who do know these technologies, the idea that you can get a Quicken and apply it to a school district budget is absurd."

She also said that proponents had failed to assure that the bill would allow for disclosure of the context of particular expenditures.

"It's not enough to put the check stubs up," Urschel said. "There has to be some context."

Urschel did not explain why a spreadsheet or accounting program suitable for a school district's finances could not accommodate brief explanations of the purposes of particular expenditures.

A spokesperson for the bill's leading proponent, Golden-based Independence Institute, disputed the notion that the costs of compliance with SB 57 would have been a substantial burden for school districts.

"At the point where the bill was amended to, as considered by the House committee yesterday, it would have essentially required something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or Quickbooks accounting data to be uploaded to the website, which in itself would not have cost any additional money," Ben DeGrow said.

DeGrow also pointed to some studies allegedly showing that the personnel burdens a disclosure mandate would impose on school districts are minimal because district office staff receive fewer calls about receipts and expenses when that information is available online.

Some school districts make some financial information available under current law, but there is no requirement that they disclose all expenditures.

The bill was rejected by the committee on an 8-5 vote, with all of Democrats voting "no" and all Republicans voting "yes."

Education Committee Kills Bus Seat Belt Mandate

A bill that would have required school buses in the state to be equipped with school buses died in the House Education Committee Thursday.

SB 29 was killed on a unanimous vote despite an amendment added in the Senate that removed a provision requiring the retro-fitting of existing buses.

Lobbyists for the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives waged a determined fight against the bill, which they believe would have imposed an unjustified financial burden on the state's school districts.

Under current law the districts are not required to outfit buses with safety restraints. There has been at least one death of a Colorado child due to an absence of seat belts on buses in the last 20 years.

The committee rejected the bill despite pleas from the state's medical community to afford children some protection from the risk of accidents while traveling Colorado roads on school buses.

SB 29 had been sponsored by Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and Rep. Liane "Buffie" McFadyen, D-Pueblo West.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Kefalas Bill To Authorize Study of Single-Payer Health Care System in State Gets Committee Exam Today

A bill that would create a privately-funded review commission to study how a publicly-funded and privately-managed single-payer health system would work in Colorado was approved this evening by a House committee.

HB 1273, which is sponsored by Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, would not create a single-payer health system. The measure does, however, include a schedule under which the legislature would consider whether to create such a delivery system in the state.

“Our objective is to create a more streamlined system that focuses on better-value, quality health care,” Kefalas said. “Almost 800,000 folks in Colorado are uninsured. We have to do better. The Health Care Authority will look for 21st century solutions. Right now, our medical industry is drowning in paperwork. Energy and resources are being wasted on inefficiencies when they ought to be directed toward building a healthy, insured Colorado workforce.”

If the bill becomes law, and the study commission it creates is formed, adequately financed, and prepares its report on time, the General Assembly would take up the question of establishing a single-payer health care system in 2011.

The commission would be made up of 23 members. It would explore how a single-payer system not managed or controlled by the state government would work and how, if the state is not paying for health care services on behalf of Colorado residents, the system could be financed.

The proposed Colorado Health Care Authority would have to raise funds privately to pay for its work. If enough funds were not raised by July 1, 2011, the work of the commission would end.

The cost of the commission's work is estimated to be about $1.4 million.

A commission established in 2007 by Gov. Bill Ritter, which also studied health care delivery in the state, said that a single-payer health care system merited further study but did not include it in a list of recommendations for reform Because members concluded existing federal law does not permit a state to adopt a single-payer delivery system.

A report issued by the Colorado Health Institute in 2006 said that 17 percent of the state's residents do not have health insurance.

The House Business Affairs & Labor Committee sent the bill to the House Appropriations Committee on a 5-4 vote.

With the exceptions of Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, and Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, who were absent, all of the committee's Democrats supported the bill and all of the panel's GOP members opposed it.

Oil & Gas Rules Start Senate Review Process Today

The new regulations affecting the state's oil and gas industry will be considered by a legislative committee today as the Senate starts its review of them.

The rules, which were finalized by the Oil & Gas Conservation Commission under a directive of last year's legislature, have already cleared the House.

They are being considered along with a variety of other new rules and regulations issued by state agencies.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

House Says "Yes" To Bill Requiring Colorado Presidential Electors to Vote For Winner of National Popular Vote

A bill that would require Colorado's presidential electors to cast their votes in the Electoral College in favor of the candidate who won the national popular vote, even if that candidate did not win the most votes in Colorado, gained final approval in the House today.

HB 1299 was approved, 34-29, with three Democrats joining Republicans in opposition.

Proponents of the bill, led by sponsor Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, say it is necessary to ensure that the people in the state who voted for the national popular vote winner have their votes counted.

But opponents say the shift would mean that presidential candidates pay attention only to heavily-populated states, where most of the popular vote needed to win would be likely to be found.

If cleared by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter, HB 1299 would make Colorado the fifth state to join an interstate compact in which member states agree to cast Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey, which together account for 50 electoral votes, are the existing members of the compact.

The compact would go into effect when states with a total of 270 electoral votes - a majority of the Electoral College - agree to join.

Colorado has nine electoral votes.

The General Assembly has debated similar measures in three of the last four sessions.

SB 228 Heads to House

The bill that would repeal the state's general fund growth limit is on the way to the House of Representatives after gaining final approval in the Senate this morning.

SB 228, which would remove the 1991 Arveschoug-Bird law from the state's statute books, was approved 21-14 after senators rejected an effort by Republicans to send the measure to the chamber's Appropriations Committee.

Under current law the state's general fund can increase to the lower of six percent over the previous year or to five percent of the state's personal income. Any tax revenues the state generates in excess of that is dedicated to transportation and capital construction projects. The 1991 statute does not affect the amount of revenue reaching state coffers.

One of the impacts of the law has been a "ratchet-down" of the state's general fund, which pays for K-12 and higher education, human services, corrections, and state agencies, among other things, when economic conditions force state tax receipts down.

GOP critics of the legislation say it violates the 1992 Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which includes a provision specifying that spending limits can be changed only by a vote of the state's electorate.

But Democrats, along with Republican supporters Sen. Al White of Hayden and Rep. Don Marostica of Loveland, point to a legal opinion by former state supreme court justice Jean Dubofsky that says the Arveschoug-Bird law only allocates existing revenues and does not actually limit the total amount of money the state may spend in a given year.

SB 228 must clear the House before heading to the governor's office. Gov. Bill Ritter has not publicly said whether he would sign the measure.

Supreme Court Upholds Mill Levy Freeze

A controversial law that froze mill levies in almost all of the state's 178 public school districts, which allowed the districts to retain about $117 million in property tax revenues that would otherwise have been refunded to taxpayers, was upheld Monday by the state supreme court.

In a 6-1 decision the justices ruled that the 2007 statute, which froze mill levies only in those school districts in which residents had already voted to exempt the district from the revenue limits imposed by the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights, did not contradict TABOR.

The court said that school districts are the government bodies that are assessing the property tax levies at issue, that no second election allowing use of the revenue gained as a result of the first public decision to exempt the districts from TABOR's revenue limits was necessary, and that in any case the mill levy freeze did not amount to a tax increase.

Gov. Bill Ritter welcomed the decision as an affirmation of the Democratic General Assembly's determination to reverse the impacts of a 1994 change to the state's School Finance Act, which limited the amount of money school districts could spend on local schools and raised the percentage of public school budgets paid for by the state.

“The real winners today are Colorado’s children, families and schools," Ritter said. "We took up this fight two years ago because it was the right thing to do for the right reasons: We were leading Colorado forward by removing an obstacle that hurt students, families and this state’s future."

The 1994 change to the School Finance Act forced mill levies downward in school districts with rising property values. As a result, and in order to maintain funding stability, the state's contribution to many school districts' budgets rose.

HB 07-1099 did not have the effect of raising any school district mill levies. The law simply told the districts that, if the voters within their boundaries had agreed to "de-BRUCE," or exempt the district from TABOR revenue limits, that existing mill levies could remain in place even if the revenue they produced rose. The 2007 statute also did not change the statewide maximum mill levy of 27 mills.

The amount of revenue a property tax assessed on a particular parcel of real estate generates for a taxing authority such as a school district is determined by multiplying three factors: the property value, the assessment rate and the mill levy.

House speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, said the legislature's majority considered constitutional objections to the law when it was considered in 2007 and had been confident that TABOR posed no obstacles to it.

"We knew this would pass constitutional muster or we wouldn’t have done it," Carroll said. "The legislation simply stabilizes funding for our kids’ schools so they can get the quality of education they deserve."

Republican critics of the decision, and of the 2007 law, said the supreme court's action was driven by partisan sympathy for the Democratic party.

“It’s fitting that the most partisan court in the land rubber stamped the governor’s property tax increase on exactly the same day Senate Democrats are poised to repeal Colorado’s landmark spending limits, and exactly two weeks after the Governor signed the largest increase in car taxes in a generation," Senate minority leader Josh Penry, R-Fruita, said. "With loyalist Democrats in charge of the Governor’s mansion, the state House, the state Senate, and the Supreme Court, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights is on life support and the principle of fiscal restraint is in full retreat."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rep. Anne McGihon to Leave Legislature Later This Month

Veteran Denver Democrat Anne McGihon has resigned from the House of Representatives.

McGihon, who is in her fourth and last term as a state representative, announced today that the demands of a new position with a national law firm require her to leave public service.

Her resignation will be effective March 27.

McGihon is the chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. She has been a leading voice in efforts to reform health care in Colorado and, this session, has helped drive House approval of a package of state agency regulations including controversial new rules affecting oil and gas drillers on the Western Slope.

In addition to her law degree, McGihon holds a masters degree in social work. She will join Ackerman Senterfitt, a law firm based in Washington, D.C. and Denver, to engage in a law and legislative advocacy practice focused on health care matters.

A District 3 Democratic vacancy committee will appoint a replacement to serve until January 2011.

McGihon herself was first appointed to the House by a vacancy committee in 2003.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Charter Schools May Get Access to School District Bond Proceeds Under Measure Cleared by Senate Ed Committee

The state's 150 charter schools may find it easier to share school district bond proceeds if a bill cleared Thursday by a Senate committee becomes law.

Under current law, public charter schools have no voice in the process by which the state's school districts decide on the facilities priorities to be financed by the issuance of bonds.

SB 176 would change that by requiring school districts to include charter school representatives on facilities planning committees.

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial and the lead sponsor of the bill, says this provision will give charters a "shot at a place in the cue."

"When bond issues are discussed, charter schools aren’t even on the radar screen," she said. "School districts probably have a monthly meeting of the facilities planning committee and charter schools can begin to become aware of the needs of the entire district with regard to buildings, the typical stuff that’s on the bond call."

The measure would also require districts to place charter schools within their boundaries on the priority list for new facility construction or repair or remodeling of existing facilities on the basis of the criteria set forth in state law for traditional public schools.

Stacy Rivera, a spokesperson for the Colorado League of Charter Schools, said the provision requiring that priority be given to charter facilities meeting the criteria of last year's Building Excellent Schools Act might make it hard for some fast-growing, newer charter schoolsto gain access to bond proceeds.

"I think that is a concern, and I’ve heard from some charter school parents that feel that this is not the solution for them," Rivera said.

But Spence thinks the use of the BEST criteria for inclusion in bond offerings is necessary to assure that charters in the most need of improvements to guarantee safe and functional facilities have access to capital.

"Up until now there wasn’t standard criteria for accessing capital money," Spence said. "I know there are charter schools that are in storefronts, sometimes in warehouses, and I think the needs of these charter schools are the same as the districts. It at least gives them some base for explaining their needs.”

Rivera said that one potential continuing concern with SB 176 is that it does not include any incentive that would encourage school districts to include charter facilities in their list of capital projects financed by bond proceeds.

But Spence said she is hopeful that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the massive federal stimulus bill signed into law in Denver by President Barack Obama last month, will provide some money for charter school construction.

"I think we might see that down the road," Spence said. "We’re meeting with the governor on Wednesday to hear what he has in mind for some of that stimulus money."

The Senate Education Committee held the bill over after a Feb. 26 hearing in order to seek greater consensus on its provisions.

Advocates for traditional public schools were uncomfortable with the original version of the bill, which essentially required the districts to include charters in their bond offerings.

Spence decided to change the mandatory nature of the bill into the process-oriented measure that was approved Thursday.

Rivera said that charter school advocates had engaged in lengthy discussions with representatives of school districts and school executives before the first hearing on the measure.

“I got the impression that day that, literally, the different organizations that have been at the table on this bill were making changes up to the eleventh hour,” Rivera said.

Despite those discussions, representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives opposed the bill at the February hearing.

The bill now heads for the Senate floor.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Legal Experts Dispute GOP Claim that Bill Granting In-State Tuition to Undocumented Immigrants Contradicts Federal Law

Keith King is convinced that Colorado cannot make in-state tuition rates at its colleges and universities available to the children who are undocumented immigrants.

In a video released by the Republican senate caucus Wednesday the veteran legislator and first-term senator argued that SB 170 violates federal law.

The Colorado Springs Republican senator is not alone in his view.

Attorney General John Suthers (R) issued a 2006 opinion in which he asserted that the state is forbidden to charge resident tuition to kids brought across an international border by their parents without permission from Congress.

The issue is driving an animated debate at the capitol, as Democratic Sen. Chris Romer of Denver and Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, are sponsoring a measure that would allow some immigrant children who have attended high school in Colorado to pay in-state tuition at any of the state's institutions of higher learning.

Despite GOP certainty on the issue, though, some legal experts believe federal law poses no obstacle at all to the passage of SB 170.

At the core of the dispute is the meaning of two federal statutes enacted in 1996.

The first of those federal laws, called the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, says that undocumented immigrants are ineligible for state-based “public benefits,” including “postsecondary education.”

But the statute also says that “[a] [s]tate may provide that an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States is eligible for any [s]tate or local public benefit for which such alien would otherwise be ineligible . . . only through the enactment of a [s]tate law after August 22, 1996, which affirmatively provides for such eligibility.”

The second, known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, says that “an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a [s]tate . . . for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.”

Suthers said in his 2006 opinion, which was requested by the then-executive director of the state's Commission on Higher Education, Rick O'Donnell, that the first of these two laws means that "aliens are ineligible to receive 'state or local public benefits' unless, through enactment of a state law after August 22, 1996, the state 'affirmatively provides' for such eligibility." The second federal law, according to Suthers, means that "undocumented aliens [are] ineligible for in-state tuition status so long as such status is conferred based on residency in the state."

But Professor Michael A. Olivas, the director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston Law Center, says Suthers' interpretation is incorrect.

"It is a very symmetrical arrangement that the restrictionists have completely ignored," Olivas said. "They say, 'If Congress has said if you give this status to someone who is undocumented you have to give it to everybody.' That is not at all what the statute says."

“What that means is, you may not give an enhanced status to someone who is undocumented with regard to rate duration and time. That means that someone from New Mexico could not be held to a 12-month standard and someone who is undocumented be held to a six-month standard."

The proposed Colorado law would require undocumented immigrants to have lived in the state for at least three years and to have graduated from a Colorado high school or obtained a GED to qualify for in-state tuition. American citizens qualify for in-state tuition rates at Colorado colleges if they can prove they have resided in the state for one year and intend to continue making Colorado their home.

Olivas said that there is no definitive judicial resolution of the argument about the meaning of the two 1996 federal laws available.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which is based in Denver and which has jurisdiction over federal cases arising in Colorado, ruled in 2007 that a group of college students in Kansas could not challenge a Sunshine State law similar to that being considered in the General Assembly.

In that decision, which came in a case known as Day v. Sebelius, the appeals court judges said the students lacked "standing" because they could not prove they were harmed by the law. The U.S. Supreme Court later declined to review that decision.

Olivas says the Tenth Circuit's ruling reflects common sense.

“My getting in-state tuition in Colorado doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t get it," he said. "It’s not like admission.”

There is another case pending in the California supreme court that challenges a similar law in that state, Olivas said, but it would be unlikely to have any impact on a Colorado law because Colorado courts are not bound by the findings of California state court judges and it is probable that the two states' laws would be significantly different.

In that California case, called Martinez v. Regents of the University of California, a state intermediate appeals court reversed the dismissal of a complaint by a college student that the Golden State's law granting undocumented immigrants the right to pay in-state tuition at state colleges. But that California court of appeals ruling was ordered "de-published," or removed from the law books, when the California supreme court decided in December to review the case.

Olivas is not alone in his assessment of the impact of federal immigration law on states' authority to offer resident tuition rates to undocumented immigrants.

In a letter sent to the attorney general of Texas last October, five other law professors took a similar view. In addition, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told the North Carolina Department of Justice in a letter last July that the two 1996 federal immigration statutes have no impact on states' decisions about whether to admit undocumented immigrants to their colleges and universities.

Notwithstanding Olivas' certainty about the impact of federal law on state in-state tuition statutes, there are other authorities on immigration law who insist Congress did indeed mean to forbid access to in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

Ralph Kasarda, a lawyer with Pacific Legal Foundation who has filed an amicus curiae brief arguing on behalf of the college students in the California case, said he is certain the laws similar to SB 170 that have been adopted in ten states are blocked by federal law.

"I believe the federal law preempts all of these state laws," Kasarda said. "The federal law speaks of a post-secondary education benefit and the legislative history behind that certainly indicates that Congress was contemplating in-state tuition. So the law says that states can't grant a post-secondary education benefit to an illegal alien unless that same benefit is granted to out-of-state students without regard to residence."

"I would come down with the appellate court here in California, which said a law like that violates federal law."

Kasarda also dismissed claims that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents Congress from imposing a barrier to state attempts to make in-state tuition available to undocumented immigrants.

"It's illegal to hire an illegal immigrant," Kasarda said. "Just their presence in the united States is illegal, so providing assistance to them is illegal. So, for a state to give assistance to an illegal alien is thwarting federal immigration laws and would be preempted on that basis."

The controversy over SB 170 may be mooted soon in any event.

A proposed federal law known as the DREAM Act, which passed the U.S. Senate in 1996 before dying when a comprehensive immigration reform bill was killed by a filibuster in 2007, would make clear that undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria may pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities.

A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Howard Berman, D-California, who has previously been the prime sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives, said the DREAM Act would be reintroduced in the current Congress "in the next several weeks."

Colorado's 2nd District Congressman, Democrat Jared Polis of Boulder, is expected to be a co-sponsor and leading proponent of that bill.

The states other than California that have laws granting some undocumented immigrants access to in-state college tuition are Washington, Texas, Illinois, Nebraska, New York, Utah, Kansas and New Mexico. Oklahoma had a similar law in effect between 2003 and 2007.