Friday, January 23, 2009

Statehouse Republicans Petition Governor to Oppose Relocation of War on Terror Detainees to Colorado

Republicans at the capitol are circulating a petition asking Gov. Bill Ritter not to volunteer Colorado's Supermax prison as a site for the relocation of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The request, which was drafted by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, implores Ritter to oppose any effort by President Barack Obama to relocate individuals captured in the War on Terror to the state.

"I don't really think it would be appropriate to mix these terrorists with the current prison population. They're going to be in our prisons recruiting inmates to kill American servicemen and civilians," Kester said. "Besides, there simply isn't enough room. We don't have the beds or staffing to accommodate that many new prisoners."

Evan Dreyer, the chief press spokesperson for Ritter, said the GOP is simply looking to score political points.

"I don't think the Republicans in the Colorado statehouse are acting any different than the Republicans in Washington," Dreyer said. "There was a similar type of knee-jerk reaction from Republicans in Washington as we saw today from Republicans in the statehouse."

U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio and the House minority leader, issued a statement Thursday criticizing Obama's decision.

Boehner, expressing fears that federal judges would order detainees held in a prison in the continental U.S. released, said Obama's plan to close the Cuba prison has not been well thought out.

Dreyer explained that Ritter supports Obama's decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and that the ultimate decision about who can be placed at Supermax is not in the governor's hands.

He also emphasized that Ritter believes that any detainee who is classified as a combatant under relevant international law should not be housed at the high-security prison complex near Florence.

"If they're military detainees, then Supermax is not the appropriate facility for them to be detained in," Dreyer said.

The military detention complex at Guantanamo Bay holds about 250 prisoners that could be classified as enemy combatants.

Obama issued Thursday an executive order that requires the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility used by the U.S. armed forces to hold foreign citizens suspected of involvement in the nation's war against al Qaeda and allied terrorist organizations.

As of Friday afternoon the petition included the signatures of three statehouse Democrats: Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, Sen. Paula Sandoval, D-Denver, and Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus.

Republican signers of the petition include Senate minority leader Josh Penry of Fruita, Kester, and 12 other GOP senators. House Republican leadership team members Mike May of Parker, David Balmer of Centennial, Cory Gardner of Yuma and Amy Stephens of Monument, as well as 18 other GOP representatives, also signed the document as of Friday afternoon.

Gibbs Introduces FASTER Transportation Funding Bill

A much-anticipated bill that would raise motor vehicle registration fees to finance improvements and repairs to the state's heavily used and decaying highway and bridge system was introduced at the capitol today.

SB 108, sponsored by Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, would ask the average Colorado driver to pay $32 more in registration fees in the first year of the program and then, on average, an additional $42 above what is being paid now every year after that.

The plan would raise about $214 million during its first year in effect and about $265 million every year after that.

Those funds would be used to repay Certificates of Participation, a form of loan, that would be used to finance up-front improvements including repairs to 126 bridges with structural problems.

A "fact sheet" on the so-called FASTER proposal released by Senate Democrats' communications office says that Gibbs' bill, starting in the second year of the program it creates, would generate about $160 million for safety improvements and about $100 million for bridge-related work.

In addition to the increased registration fees, Gibbs' proposal would also institute a new fees on motor vehicle rentals, late motor vehicle registrations, and registration of oversize or overweight vehicles.

Gibbs also said at a capitol news conference Friday that about $10 million raised by the new fees would be available for mass transit projects. In addition, the legislation would authorize municipalities to use tolls or public-private partnerships to finance road projects and allow the use of experimental financing methods like allow communities the option to explore other road project financing mechanisms such as a per-mile driving tax instead of the current tax applied to each gallon of gasoline purchased at the pump.

Republicans have said they are not inclined to support new and increased fees and Gibbs' bill has no GOP co-sponsor.

Gibbs acknowledged that Republican lawmakers have not signed on to his approach.

“Today we are starting a very important conversation,” he said.

In any case, however, Gibbs said Friday that the potential for economic stimulus is also a powerful justification for his bill.

A recent study by the Colorado Contractors Association indicates that a $250 million annual investment in the state's transportation system would generate between 10,000-40,000 new jobs.

The House sponsor of the FASTER proposal is Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton.

Merrifield's Bill Discouraging Slow Mountain Drivers Moves On

The House gave preliminary approval today to a bill that would punish drivers on narrow mountain roads who hold up lines of traffic by driving too slowly.

HB 1042 cleared the chamber after rural legislators led by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, led an unsuccessful effort to secure an exemption for farm vehicles and Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, failed to win a provision excusing trucks carrying hazardous waste from the proposed law.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, has argued that slow-moving vehicles are dangerous because they provoke drivers of vehicles behind them to attempt to pass when not advisable.

Merrifield has said that the bill would not require slower drivers to pull off the road if there is no safe place to do so.

The bill, if enacted into law, would allow law enforcement officers to cite a driver's operation of his or her motor vehicle at slow velocity is impeding the forward progress of five or more other motor vehicles

The bill must pass a third reading in the House before moving on to the Senate.

Voter Photo ID Bill Killed Again

Yet another GOP effort to require that voters show a government-issued photo identification document before being allowed to cast a ballot died at the statehouse Thursday.

The House killed a similiar bill last year.

HB 1115, sponsored by Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, would have mandated that a prospective voter show a Colorado driver license or Department of Revenue identification card, U.S. passport, local, state or federal government employee identification card, military identification or state university student ID card before being given a ballot.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April 2008 that states may require voters to show photo identification before voting without violating the U.S. Constitution.

The decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board has not yet prompted any state that did not already require voters to show a photo ID every time they vote to do so, according to a website maintained by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires states to enact statutes requiring voters that have registered to vote by mail, and who did not supply such proof of identification with their registration, to show identification the first time they vote.

The vote in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee was on a party-line basis, with all seven Democrats opposing Summers' measure.

House Education Committee Holds Off on Two Big Bills

The House Education Committee heard testimony Thursday on two of the most significant education-related bills of the session but put off a vote on both.

During early afternoon the committee heard an hour of testimony on HB 1009, which would require all public schools and colleges to conduct at least two emergency drills each year.

Later, committee chair Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, laid over HB 1057, after taking several hours of testimony on that measure. HB 1057 would require many businesses to grant employees time off to attend school-related functions for their children.

Business interests oppose the school activities leave legislation, arguing that it would be unfair to employees who are not parents and that, in any event, an employee's vacation time or personal leave should be used for such things.

But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, told the committee that such employer benefits do not provide enough time for parents to participate in their children's education.

The Denver Post quotes Kerr as saying that the need for the bill is "hard to quantify because these are not people who are used to standing up and making noise. It's the parents you most need to talk to who are the ones who are least likely to be there for conferences."

At least some of the state's school districts take the position that easing the way for parental involvement in school academic activities and attendance at parent-teacher conferences would raise student achievement.

"Any chance for parents to be involved in their child's learning is a benefit for students," Lynn Setzer, a spokesperson for Jefferson County School District, said.

According to the Post report Kerr will amend his bill to lower the maximum amount of time available for an employee to attend school events from 40 hours to 18 hours each year. The bill would also limit the employee to six hours per month and require that notice be given to an employer before time is taken away from work to attend a school-related event, which could include parent-teacher conferences, science fairs, dramatic and musical events in which the employee's child is a participant, and other academic functions.

The bill would not permit parents to take unpaid leave from work to attend a sporting event.

Education News Colorado is reporting that Merrifield may have laid over both bills because there is not currently enough "aye" votes to move them out of committee.

AP: Ritter Not Opposed to Guantanamo Terror Detainees at Supermax in Florence

The Associated Press is reporting that Gov. Bill Ritter has indicated he would be supportive of Obama administration efforts to move detainees from the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Colorado's Supermax federal prison.

President Obama issued an executive order Wednesday that will require the military detention complex in the Caribbean to close within one year.

The AP report quotes Evan Dreyer, Ritter's chief spokesperson, as saying

"If Supermax is chosen, there's no reason to take a 'not in my backyard' approach."

The report also quotes Dreyer as saying that Ritter has not discussed relocation of prisoners from the Cuba facility to Supermax.

The federal Supermax prison, which holds a maximum of 490 prisoners, was constructed near Florence in 1995.

Among its inmates are Zacarias Moussaoui, a participant in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC; Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of crimes arising from the 1993 World Trade Center attack; and Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an airplane crossing the Atlantic Ocean with a shoe bomb.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

House Committee Clears Mandatory Cat ID Chip Bill

A bill that would require all cat owners to implant their feline companions with an identification microchip or buy an ID tag for their cat cleared a House committee today.

HB 1019 was approved by the Local Government Committee on an 8-2 vote.

"Cats shouldn't be this poor second cousin to dogs," Colorado Veterinary Medical Association president Jed Rogers told the committee. "It's easy for people to spot their dog at a shelter. Whereas my little black cat, there could be 50 black cats at a shelter. And it's a black cat."

Rogers said that fewer than one in 20 cats is retrieved from a shelter.

The bill also allows municipalities and counties to charge pet owners fees if the cat's identification tag or chip does not include a home address. It also would require city residents who regularly feed or shelter a stray cat to tag the animal.

The bill now moves to the House floor.

HB 1019 is sponsored by Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, and Sen. Joyce Foster, D-Denver.

Bennet Sworn in as U.S. Senator

Colorado's new junior U.S. senator, Michael Bennet, officially took his seat in the "world's greatest deliberative body" Thursday when Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath of office.

Bennet, 44, becomes the chamber's youngest member as he replaces Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Bennet has said he will seek appointment to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

He must stand for election in 2010 if he wishes to serve a full six-year term.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sen. Shaffer's "Troops to Teachers" Bill Gets Committee OK

The Senate Education Committee Wednesday approved a bill that would provide college scholarships to military veterans studying to become math and science teachers.

SB 62, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, was unanimously approved by the committee.

“By providing financial incentives and professional development for our troops to become teachers, this bill will strengthen our economy as well as our education system," Shaffer, the Senate majority leader, said. "And most importantly, we can do it without any fiscal impact to the state’s budget.”

The bill makes the Teach Colorado grant, established by SB 133 last year, available to those who have served in the military and now wish to go into the teaching profession.

The Senate is expected to consider the bill on preliminary reading Jan. 23.

Bennet Takes One More Step to the Senate as Ritter Signs Official Document

Gov. Bill Ritter has signed the documents necessary to appoint former Denver Public Schools superintendent Michael Bennet as the state's junior U.S. Senator.

The Certificate of Appointment, which will be sent via overnight delivery to Washington, D.C., must be received by the secretary of the U.S. Senate before Bennet can be sworn in.

Bennet replaces former Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar, who was confirmed as Interior secretary in the Obama administration Tuesday afternoon.

Governor Announces Renewable Energy Grants

Gov. Bill Ritter and Energy Office Director Tom Plant announced today that more than $370,000 in New Energy Economic Development (NEED) grants are being awarded to eight organizations in biomass, energy efficiency, wind, solar and other projects to help create jobs and strengthen local economies.

The Governor’s Energy Office administers the grants using "clean energy" funds, which are funded by gaming revenues and do not draw money from the state's general fund.

“NEED grants allow organizations and communities to make strategic investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that will put people to work and strengthen local economies in the short-term,” Ritter said. “In the long-term, these grants support our New Energy Economy through clean, modern energy and build healthy, sustainable and vibrant communities.”

The clean energy fund grants are from gaming revenues.

The Governor's Energy Office received 57 applications seeking nearly $3 million in grant funding for the third round of NEED grants, according to a press release issued by the governor's office.

The eight grant projects will leverage $552,999 in public-private local matching funds, said the press release, and bring a combined $924,120 investment to Colorado communities.

"NEED grants are highly competitive, demonstrating the depth and strength of Colorado’s New Energy Economy and the innovative nature of our Colorado businesses,” Plant said. “Projects that target investment in emerging technologies, grow the market penetration of well-established technologies and attract New Energy Economy investments to Colorado were selected.”

The eight Colorado NEED award winners include:

1. The City of Greeley, which received $82,489 to conduct a feasibility analysis for the development of a “Greeley Clean Energy Park.”

2. The Colorado Brownfields Foundation, which received $25,000 to create a model for the feasibility of using multiple renewable energy technologies, including solar, wind, biomass, and methane, at a former landfill site in Colorado Springs.

3. Energistic Systems, a Golden company, which received $100,000 for a new and innovative solar thermal system called SunTrac.

4. GARNA and The Global Biomass Network Project, Inc., two non-profit corporate partners in Salida, which received $100,000 in matching funds to support the development of a waste wood diversion/gasification project at the Chaffee County landfill.

5. Hybrids Plus, Inc., a Boulder company, which received $25,000 to design and develop a second generation extended-range battery for plug-in hybrid vehicles in correlation with Xcel Energy’s Smart Grid City Project.

6. Lotus Energy Solutions, a Telluride-based firm, which received $832.00 in matching funds to acquire a duct blaster and software to allow San Miguel County homes to be rated on energy use and become ENERGY STAR certified.

7. Nexajoule, Inc., a Boulder corporation, which received $25,000 to refine designs and conduct field testing on an energy efficient evaporative chiller that can supplement or replace refrigerant-based air conditioning systems.

8. Southeast CO RC&D, based in Lamar, which received a $12,800 grant to install “Fat Spaniel” technology on farm-scale wind turbines to increase the agriculture community’s knowledge base, heighten interest and demonstrate the application of wind technology in eastern Colorado.

The Governor's Energy Office has awarded two previous NEED grant rounds in 2008, totaling $1,006,600.00 for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects throughout the state.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bill Authorizing In-State Tuition for Military Vets Clears House Committee

A House committee approved Tuesday a bill that would allow honorably discharged military veterans and their families to pay in-state tuition at Colorado universities and colleges.

HB 1039, sponsored by Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, would require the veteran or family member who is a student to live in Colorado but would excuse them from the ordinary requirement that such residence have been ongoing for at least one year before enrolling in an institution of higher learning.

“Extending this opportunity will benefit our veterans and their families by helping them begin their new lives in Colorado and will no doubt ease their transition to the private sector,” McNulty said. “I’m convinced that Colorado will benefit greatly by inviting our veterans here and they will make our state an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.”

The bill, which was unanimously endorsed by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, now moves to the House Appropriations Committee.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ritter Issues MLK Day Statement

Gov. Bill Ritter paid homage to Rev. Martin Luther King today, pointing to Colorado's recent pioneering steps of naming African-Americans as leaders of both chambers of the General Assembly as evidence that King's ideals are having an effect on American society.

“Today, as the nation marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we stand on the eve of history," Ritter said in a written statement. "Barack Obama will be inaugurated tomorrow as the United States’ first African-American president, and in Colorado our state legislature has made history by becoming the first in the nation with an African-American Senate president and an African-American House speaker.

“King would be proud to see how far we have come toward achieving his dream of judging people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. While we have come a great distance, we still have far to go, especially in today’s difficult economy. As we look to a new president to help lead us through this financial crisis, we must pursue King’s ideals with a renewed commitment so that we emerge from the downturn as a stronger nation and as a better Colorado.”

The governor did not appear at the Denver "Marade" ceremonies at City Park or Civic Center Park today because he is in Washington, DC for the inauguration ceremonies Tuesday.

Post Reports Heath Will Lead Charge Against TABOR

The Denver Post is reporting that freshman Democratic Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder is leading an effort by several legislators to revamp the state's Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

According to the article,

Last week several lawmakers — including Heath, House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, and Sen. Al White, R-Hayden — held a meeting about what to do with TABOR. Heath described the meeting as a "free-flowing conversation" in which the participants agreed on the need to do something.

"But that something is nowhere near decided," he said.

"We were just kicking it around philosophically to see what kind of coalition might be out there," White said.

Republican senators attacked the idea of re-visiting TABOR, pointing out that the voters' defeat of Amendment 59 in November indicates that the electorate is not interested in permanently loosening the revenue limits imposed by TABOR.

"At this point you have to ask, what part of 'no' don't some people understand?" Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said. "We are in the middle of a deepening recession right now anyway, and I cannot imagine this is the top issue for most Coloradans."

Amendment 59 would have retained TABOR's requirement that tax increases be approved by voters and made permanent the relief from revenue caps authorized by 2005's Referendum C.

Senate minority leader Josh Penry, R-Fruita, pointed out that Republicans don't believe the state's budget crisis is tied to TABOR in any case.

"TABOR has zero impact on the budget cuts we will be forced to make this year," Penry told the Post. "Those are due entirely to the economy."

But at least some Democrats think tough economic times might be the most appropriate occasion to ask voters to re-think TABOR.

"There are those of us who say, 'Why don't we, while there isn't a TABOR refund, look at floating an issue back to the voters,'" House majority leader Paul Weissman, D-Louisville, told the Post.

A spokesperson for Gov. Bill Ritter has confirmed that Ritter's aides have discussed TABOR changes with legislators. The governor himself suggested it during his State of the State address earlier this month.

TABOR was added to the state constitution in 1992.