Friday, February 27, 2009

Gardner Defends Stance on HB 1260

The Gazette (Colorado Springs) has published a guest column by Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, in which the second-term legislator makes the case for his stance on HB 1260.

That bill, which creates "designated beneficiary agreements" that could be used by same-sex domestic partners to gain access to a wide variety of rights under state law, was opposed by Gardner when the House approved it earlier this week.

However, Gardner was criticized by his hometown newspaper for taking a "moralistic" stance on the measure.

This journal included Tuesday a report that quoted Gardner to the effect that his reason for opposing the bill had to do with the inclusion of an emergency clause.

The Gazette editorial was published on Sunday, Feb. 22.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Schultheis Stirs Controversy With Comments About AIDS Testing of In Utero Infants

A Republican senator's claim that pregnant women should not be provided HIV testing because those who suffer from AIDS must be punished for "sexual promiscuity" set off controversy at the capitol today.

The remarks by Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, marks the second time this week that a GOP legislator has shocked colleagues at the podium.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, compared homosexuality to murder during a debate Monday on another measure that would require the state to allow its employees to designate same-sex domestic partners as beneficiaries under their health insurance policies.

"This stems from sexual promiscuity for the most part, and I just can't go there," Schultheis said on the Senate floor this morning. "We do things continually to remove the consequences of poor behavior, unacceptable behavior, quite frankly. I'm not convinced that part of the role of government should be to protect individuals from the negative consequences of their actions."

Schultheis' comments came during the Senate's discussion of SB 179, which would, among other things, require health care facilities to test all pregant women who do not opt out for the human immunodeficiency virus.

During an interview with the Rocky Mountain News later in the day Schultheis attempted to clarify his comments. He explained that families would learn to avoid "promiscuity" if an HIV-infected baby is born to a woman who has AIDS.

"What I'm hoping is that, yes, that person may have AIDS, have it seriously as a baby and when they grow up, but the mother will begin to feel guilt as a result of that," the veteran Colorado Springs legislator told the Rocky. "The family will see the negative consequences of that promiscuity and it may make a number of people over the coming years begin to realize that there are negative consequences and maybe they should adjust their behavior."

Sponsoring Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, pointed out during floor debate on the measure this morning that sexual intercourse is not the only way a woman can contract HIV.

Tochtrop also said that treatment of an infected mother can dramatically reduce the likelihood that HIV Is transferred to the developing fetus.

Tochtrop and House sponsor Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, are nurses.

Renfroe's comments came during a debate on a bill to require the state to permit its employees to designate domestic partners as beneficiaries under health insurance policies.

"Leviticus 18:22 says, 'You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a female. It is an abomination,'" Renfroe said during debate on SB 88. "Leviticus 20:13 says, 'If there is a man who lies with a male as though to lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act, and they shall surely be put to death.' We are taking sins and making them to be legally OK, and that is wrong. That is an abomination, according to scripture."

"And I'm not saying that this is the only sin that's out there," Renfroe said. "Obviously we have sin, we have murder, we have all sorts of sin. We have adultery, and we would never think to make murder legal."

Senate Kills Plastic Bag Ban

The Senate rejected Tuesday a proposal to forbid large retailers from making plastic bags available to their customers.

The bill, which was the brainchild of a group of students at the Kent Denver School, died by bipartisan hands.

Sponsoring Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, said a ban is needed because the large stores affected by SB 156 distribute more than 540 million plastic bags every year. That represents about 70 percent of the plastic bags distributed to consumers every year in Colorado.

Veiga reminded fellow senators that plastic bags cause significant environmental damage.

About 100 million tons of garbage, about 90 percent of which is composed of plastic bags, floats in an area of the Pacific Ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that every square mile of the ocean contains 46,000 pieces of plastic.

Scientists say that nurdles, which are the building blocks of plastic, attract dangerous chemicals that are eaten by marine life and move up the food chain to humans.

But opponents at the capitol argued that the state has no business dictating customer choice of bags and that shoppers would likely choose a more environmentally destructive alternative if plastic bags were not available.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said that the legislature should not interfere if customers like plastic bags, while Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, argued that paper bags would likely be used in place of plastic bags and the production of paper bags require 91 percent more energy than plastic bags.

Mitchell also ridiculed Veiga's comments indicating that other countries, including China, have banned plastic bags, arguing that China likely did not seriously discuss the pros and cons of such a proposal.

"There is an irony in citing a country like China for policy," Mitchell said. "What else has China banned? They've banned organized religious gatherings, they've banned having more than one child, they've banned political debate and speech, so it was probably pretty easy to pass their bans."

The bill would have required large retailers to phase out plastic bags within three years.

SB 156 lost on a voice vote.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

House Clears Domestic Partnership Bill

A bill that would expand open the door for individuals to name their domestic partners as beneficiaries under a wide variety of state benefit programs, and that also would designate such unmarried partners as eligible to inherit in the absence of a will and sue for wrongful death, gained final approval in the House Tuesday.

HB 1260 does not limit its impact to the unmarried domestic partners designated by individuals. The bill allows any two people, whether related or not and whether or not married, to enter into a "designated beneficiary agreement."

Under current state law, the right to inherit property from a person who died without a will is limited to his or her spouse, children, and other blood relatives. The bill would extend such "intestate succession" rights to unmarried domestic partners.

Similarly, the measure would grant a domestic partner the same right to sue for wrongful death as current law grants a spouse or other blood relative.

It would also, if enacted into law, allow the domestic partner of an ill person to make medical decisions on that person's behalf. Under current law such decision-making authority can be granted by means of a legal document prepared as part of an estate planning process.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said he is concerned that these provisions might contradict Referendum I, which the voters rejected in 2006.

"It extends rights under workers compensation, under pension funds, it gives standing under wrongful death and so forth," Gardner said. "What I don’t think is appropriate is to take something that looks very much like a domestic partnership or civil union an extending those rights by a contract between two people and just making those law and saying we have to do that without giving the citizens of Colorado a right to vote on it.”

Gardner says he thinks the bill should have been amended to remove its "emergency clause," which prevents it from being the subject of a referendum, before the House approved it.

"I haven’t said that I think it necessarily would be wrong to pass the bill," Gardner said. "I think it’s wrong to pass the bill with a safety clause in it because I don’t think we can make a straight face case that it’s necessary to do what this bill does for the immediate preservation of peace and safety.”

Gardner made clear that he does not oppose the bill because it grants certain legal rights to same-sex domestic partners.

"The fact that same sex partners make that choice, I don’t agree with it but I think in large part it’s not the government’s business,” he said.

Proponents say the bill is not aimed exclusively at gay couples, but instead removes impediments to choices about beneficiaries under pensions, workers compensation policies and estate plans that now exist in the law. They point out that nothing in the measure is specifically limited to same-sex domestic partners.

HB 1260 would not compel the state government, or any local government, to allow employees to designate a same-sex domestic partner as a beneficiary under employee benefit programs.

However, a bill under consideration in the Senate would compel the state government to make the option available to its employees.

That measure, SB 88, gained final approval in the Senate today on a 22-11 vote. Republicans Ken Kester of Las Animas and Al White of Hayden joined majority Democrats in voting "yes."

HB 1260 was approved on a 41-24 vote. Republicans Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, Don Marostica of Loveland, Tom Massey of Poncha Springs, Kevin Priola of Henderson, and Ellen Roberts of Durango joined all but two Democrats in support of the measure.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

General Fund Growth Limit Author Bird Critical of Law's Impact

Former Sen. Mike Bird, R-Colorado Springs, is known as one of the two lead sponsors of the state's annual general fund growth limit. According to a report in today's Denver Post, Bird is not happy with the impact the law has had on Colorado.

According to the article by the Post's Tim Hoover,

"As the bill went along, Arveschoug wanted the specific spending limit," Bird said. "I never wanted a specific limit because I knew that it would not have the flexibiity of tying it to personal income."

Bird, who served in the House and Senate between 1986 and 1994, said the downward ratchet on general fund spending was "an unfortunate byproduct" of the measure.

"It doesn't make any sense to have it (the general fund) go down and then start at the lower level," he said.

He also said the bill was passed at "a time when we weren't worried about an actual decline in the economy."

The article also says that former Rep. Steve Arveschoug, R-Pueblo, thinks that the law has worked as its sponsors intended.

"The perspective I had then and probably still have today," he said, "is that we were trying to look at what the citizens of Colorado could afford so that growth could not exceed taxpayers' ability to pay."

A bill sponsored by Sen. John P. Morse, D-Colorado Springs, would repeal the Arveschoug-Bird general fund growth limit.