Monday, November 4, 2013

Becker takes oath

Newly-appointed legislator K.C. Becker of Boulder took the oath of office and became a member of the General Assembly on Monday morning.

Becker was sworn in by chief justice Michael Bender before an audience of her family and several legislators.

The newest member of the House of Representatives will leave her seat on the Boulder City Council. An attorney, Becker once worked for the U.S. Department of Interior.

Former Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, resigned the District 13 seat to take a position as executive director of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. Levy was in her last term as a state representative, having been first elected in Nov. 2006.

Photo courtesy Democratic Caucus, Colorado House of Representatives

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Becker to replace Levy

Boulder city council member K.C. Becker has been chosen by a House District 13 vacancy committee to replace Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder.

Levy, who was first elected to the General Assembly in Nov. 2006, leaves office Oct. 31 to become executive director of a Denver-based non-profit organization.

Becker, 43, will be sworn in within a few days of Levy's departure.

The Colorado Statesman has a detailed report on Becker's appointment.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hood is next Colorado supreme court justice

William Hood III, a Denver district court judge, has been chosen to succeed chief justice Michael Bender as a member of the state's highest court.

Gov. John Hickenlooper made the announcement Friday.

Hood, 50, has been a judge for about six years. Before assuming the bench he was in private practice and worked as a prosecutor in the 18th judicial district.

The new justice will have to stand for retention in the 2014 election. If retained, he'll serve a ten year term commencing in January 2015.

Hickenlooper's decision means that district judge David Prince of El Paso county and Colorado court of appeals judge John Dailey will have to await another vacancy on the state's highest court before trying again for promotion.

Justice Nancy E. Rice will take over as chief justice when Bender retires on Jan. 7, 2014.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Chief justice Bender to retire Jan. 7

Colorado will need a new supreme court chief justice early in 2014, and the state's Supreme Court Nominating Commission is to meet Oct. 8 and 9 to begin the process of choosing his replacement as a member of the high bench.

The incumbent, Michael Bender, will reach the age of 72 on Jan. 7. That is the state's mandatory retirement age for judges.

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission will provide Gov. John Hickenlooper with three candidates to take his seat.

Bender was appointed to the supreme court by former Gov. Roy Romer in 1997. He was selected to replace Mary Mullarkey as chief justice in 2010.

During his career as a practicing lawyer Bender worked as a public defender, for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and in private practice. He has also taught law at the University of Denver.

The chief justice of the state supreme court is the administrator of a justice system that has a budget in excess of $400 million and more than 3,600 employees.

Colorado's state courts are staffed by 332 judges.

Hickenlooper has appointed one justice to the court since assuming office in Jan. 2011. Brian Boatwright, a former Jefferson County district court judge, was selected to replace justice Alex Martinez in Nov. 2011.

Members of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission are  The members of the nominating commission for the Supreme Court Nominating Commission are Richard Holme and Sr. Alicia CuarĂ³n of the First Congressional District, Lamar Sims and Ann Hendrickson of the Second Congressional District, Kim Childs and Mary Stengel of the Third Congressional District, Scott Johnson and Ira Paulin of the Fourth Congressional District, Richard Celeste and Eric Hall of the Fifth Congressional District, April Jones and Bruce Alexander of the Sixth Congressional District, Charles Tingle and Olivia Mendoza of the Seventh Congressional District, and at-large member Dorothy Decker.

Applicants for the appointment were required to submit necessary documentation to the commission by Sept. 3.

Photo courtesy Colorado Judicial Branch.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Levy to leave legislature

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, will soon leave the General Assembly.

Levy, who was first elected in 2006 and is now the speaker pro tempore of the House of Representatives, announced Sept. 12 that she will become executive director of the Colorado Center for Law and Policy.

The veteran lawmaker has played a key role in many debates since taking the oath of office for the first time in Jan. 2007, including in those relating to renewable energy, juvenile justice, and fiscal affairs. She is a member of the Joint Budget Committee.

A Democratic Party vacancy committee will choose her replacement.

Levy's district encompasses Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand, and Jackson counties in addition to a significant portion of Boulder county.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

New senators Herpin, Rivera to take office during first week of October

The two Republicans chosen to replace recalled senators John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, will be sworn in Oct. 3.

Bernie Herpin, a former Colorado Springs city council member, and George Rivera, a retired law enforcement officer and former deputy chief of the Pueblo police department, are the beneficiaries of the state's first-ever legislative recall elections.

In Morse's district, which includes areas in western El Paso county and central and southern Colorado Springs, the recall election was a low turnout affair. Less than 25 percent of the voters in Senate district 11 voted in the Sept. 9 election; Morse lost his quest to retain his seat by less than 400 votes out of more than 17,000 cast.

Giron's race in Senate district 3 was not nearly as close, with about 56 percent of voters supporting her recall, and turnout was higher than in Morse's district with about 36 percent of voters participating in the election.

Advocates for generally unrestricted access to firearms spearheaded the effort to recall Morse and Giron in the aftermath of a package of modest gun bills enacted into law last spring. Those measures included limits on magazine capacity, closed certain background check loopholes, and a requirement that applicants for concealed carry permits pay the necessary fee.

The Democrats will continue to control the state senate during the 2014 legislative session. They'll have 18 members of the body, while the Republican party will have 17 members.

The question of who will succeed Morse as senate president will be resolved after Herpin and Rivera are sworn in. Possible contenders are president pro tempore Lucia Guzman of Denver and majority leader Morgan Carroll of Aurora.

Herpin and Rivera will have to stand in the November 2014 election if they wish to hold the seats beyond the first week of January 2015, which is when the next General Assembly begins.

Morse's district is about evenly divided between Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters.

Morse, a former paramedic and Fountain police chief, was first elected in 2006 and then again in the strong Republican year of 2010. Term limits would have forced Morse from office in January 2015.

Giron's district has significantly more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Giron, 53, was first elected in Nov. 2010.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Supreme Court rejects attack on state school finance system

The state supreme court has turned aside a constitutional attack on Colorado's public school financing system.

In a 4-2 decision announced Tuesday, the court held that the method established by the School Finance Act is "thorough and uniform," as required by article IX of the state constitution, and that appropriate local control is guaranteed.

Justice Nancy Rice wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by justices Brian Boatwright, Nathan Coats, and Allison Eid.

Chief Justice Michael Bender and Justice Gregory Hobbs dissented.

Education News Colorado has a thorough report on the decision in State v. Lobato.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Colorado Supreme Court to provide video feed of Lobato arguments

The state supreme court will make available a live video feed of the oral arguments in a case that challenges the constitutionality of Colorado's school finance system.

Arguments in Lobato v. State are scheduled for Thursday, March 7 at 9:30 am.

A video feed can be accessed here:

Fort Collins bans fracking

Fort Collins now has an ordinance that bans hydraulic fracturing within its city limits.

The city council in the northern Front Range municipality approved the law Tuesday evening, defying a threat from Gov. John Hickenlooper that the state would sue to prevent local regulation of the oil and gas industry.

Hickenlooper told a Denver TV news reporter last week that litigation in which the state would argue that only the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission can set rules for the industry would likely be pursued against any city that attempts to ban fracking.

The state's principal oil and gas industry trade group, Colorado Oil and Gas Association, may also challenge the ordinance in court.

"COGA is evaluating taking legal action; the State Supreme Court has clearly stated that drilling cannot be banned within a city, county, or municipality," Tisha Schuller, the organization's president and chief executive officer, said. "Because any new wells in Fort Collins would be hydraulically fractured, a ban on hydraulic fracturing is a ban on oil and gas development."

The ordinance extends further than just a fracking prohibition; it forecloses any oil and gas exploration in Fort Collins.

Fort Collins is now the second municipality in Colorado to ban fracking. Longmont did so last November.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hickenlooper threatens anti-fracking Colorado cities and towns with lawsuits

Gov. John Hickenlooper staked out Wednesday an aggressive stance in favor of state control of oil and gas exploration.

According to a report by Denver television station KCNC, Hickenlooper told reporter Shaun Boyd that his administration would launch court fights against any municipalities that ban hydraulic fracturing within their city limits.

The state has already started down that path. In December attorney general John Suthers' office sued the city of Longmont, arguing that only the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission can regulate where fracking occurs in the state.

The litigation with the Boulder county municipality followed a decision by the community's residents to approve an anti-fracking referendum in the November election.

It was the second lawsuit launched by the state against Longmont. Suthers sued on behalf of COGCC after the city adopted rules last summer that limited the areas in which exploration could occur.

Fort Collins might be the next target. Its city council initially approved on Feb. 19 an ordinance that would ban all oil and gas exploration within the city limits.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

House gives final approval to Democrats' sex education bill

The state House of Representatives sent to the Senate Friday a bill that would commit school districts who teach about human sexuality to doing so in a way that takes account of the circumstances faced by students who are not heterosexual or who must cope with disability.

HB 13-1081 was approved on third reading by a 37-28 vote.

The debate before that final vote of the chamber was less time-consuming than was the one that occurred on Tuesday. Nevertheless, Republicans reiterated their view that the bill is objectionable because it forces parents to excuse their children from sex education classes, rather than being given the chance to sign them up for such instruction, and that there is no reliable mechanism to verify that its policy prescription will actually result in fewer teen pregnancies or sexually-transmitted disease cases.

"Folks, this message hasn't been proven to work," Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, said. "It has never gone through a federally-funded randomized control study. We are doing a grand experimentation on our children."

Stephens, who formerly worked for the evangelical advocacy organization Focus on the Family, argued that the comprehensive approach to be written into law by the bill rules out the sort of individual counseling that discourages risky sexual behaviors.

She told of her experience working in a California family-planning clinic, where some patients would repeatedly visit to determine whether a pregnancy had commenced.

"We need to connect," she said. "You cannot address this issue of comprehensive sexuality education unless you address behaviors."

Stephens, along with fellow Republican Lori Saine of Dacono, argued that parents would object to instruction about birth-control methods, while Colorado Springs Republican Lois Landgraf warned that school districts would be sued if teachers talk of birth control methods in the classroom.

"The real truth is that eight out of 10 Democratic parents, they want their kids taught abstinence," Stephens asserted. "They at least want their kids taught about restraint."

A 2004 survey conducted by National Public Radio, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government found that nearly three-quarters of respondents thought it "very important" that sex education be available to children.

Forty-eight percent of respondents agreed with an assertion that "[w]hen it comes to sex, teenagers need to have limits set, they must be told what is acceptable and what is not," and 48 percent agreed with an assertion that "[u]ltimately teenagers need to make their own decisions, so
their education needs to be more in the form of providing information and guidance."

Stephens, who has been her party's principal combatant on the issue as it has progressed through the House, also cited New York physician Michael Carrera's Children's Aid Society as a model for appropriate comprehensive sexuality instruction and slammed HB 13-1081 for not mimicking it.

"It's because this program deals one-on-one," she said. "They have a lot of mentoring, a lot of one-on-one mentoring, a lot of sheltering, a lot of community resources that come around to kids."

Democrats countered, as they did during the initial floor debate on the measure earlier in the week, with an emphasis on the imperative of overcoming ignorance and drawing kids away from a sense of isolation that can inhibit healthy questioning.

Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, made the point with a personal story that reflected his party's point. He told his colleagues that he attended a high school with an infant and toddler care facility on the campus and that his sister became pregnant as a teenager.

The Democratic sponsor, Rep. Crisanta Duran of Denver, argued during a committee hearing and on the floor during Tuesday's discussion in the chamber's Committee of the Whole that her bill would lower teen pregnancy rates.

At the county level, recent data indicates that teen pregnancy is a significantly bigger problem than it is in others. In 2009, the teen pregnancy rates in Adams, Denver, Mesa, Pueblo, and Weld counties were higher than both the Colorado and U.S. averages.

The statistical case for an inordinate teen pregnancy rate in the state as a whole is not altogether clear. In 2005, according to the Guttmacher Institute, Colorado had the 19th-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. Other data indicates that the state's teen pregnancy rate dropped by 32 percent between 1988 and 2005.

The state's Department of Public Health and Environment issued a report last year that indicated the teen pregnancy rate in Colorado fell at an even faster rate between 2001 and 2009.

That report also indicated that, in 2009, the teen pregnancy rate in Colorado was 4 births lower per 1,000 women than it was for the nation as a whole.

The problem is daunting on a national scale. The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any developed nation, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 400,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 become pregnant every year in America.

Duran pointed out Friday, as she had during committee discussion of the bill and in floor debate earlier in the week, that her bill does not preclude educators from emphasizing the value of abstinence.

That position is consistent with the policy prescriptions of a number of medical organizations concerned with adolescent health, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and Society for Adolescent Medicine.

No general fund dollars would be available to fund sex education in schools under the measure's terms. Instead, CDPHE would administer a program through which school districts and charter schools could seek federal funds to pay for the instruction.

No district or charter school would be obligated to apply for the federal money, but if they did and received the grant, then the bill's sex education content mandates would kick in.

No Republican member of the House voted for the bill, which now heads across the Capitol to the Senate. Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, will carry it there.

ASSET bill gets initial Senate approval

The Senate gave initial approval to the ASSET legislation Friday, taking a historic step toward equalizing the college tuition paid by Colorado residents who are not U.S. citizens and Colorado residents who are U.S. citizens.

Matt Ferner of the Huffington Post has the story.

SB 13-033 drew Republican votes, which makes it even more likely that the Democrat-dominated General Assembly will send the bill to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has previously indicated he supports it.

Eligibility to pay in-state tuition rates at Colorado universities would depend on several factors, including how long the individual attended high school in the state.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Denver-based federal appeals court: no constitutional protection for concealed carry of guns

A federal appeals court based in Denver ruled Friday that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee a person the right to carry a concealed firearm.

The court, in an opinion written by Judge Carlos Lucero, explained that longstanding historical precedent and language in the U.S. Supreme Court's 2008 decision in a case called District of Columbia v. Heller compelled its holding.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit disagreed with a December 2012 opinion by the federal appeals court based in Chicago.

In that case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit provided a semantic explanation that

"the right to 'bear' as distinct from the right to 'keep' arms is unlikely to refer to the home. To speak of “bearing” arms  within  one’s home  would  at all times have  been an awkward usage. A right to  bear arms thus implies a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home." 

The opinion in the case noted that, were a state legislature to sufficiently document the public benefits expected to follow from a ban on the concealed carrying of firearms, such a ban might be constitutional.

The Moore v. Madigan case is still before the Seventh Circuit. Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan has asked the court to rehear it with all of its 11 judges, instead of just the three who decided the dispute last year, sitting as a panel.

Two other federal circuit courts of appeals - the Second Circuit, based in New York, and the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, have also ruled that the Second Amendment provides no right to carry a hidden firearm outside the home.

The discord on the issue among the four federal circuits could persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the question at issue in both Peterson v. Martinez, the Tenth Circuit case, and Moore v. Madigan, the Seventh Circuit case, if asked to grant certiorari.

One question the Supreme Court would have to address in such a case the question how to handle clear, but not binding, language in a decades-old case that portended Friday's Tenth Circuit decision. In 1897 the Court opined that any right to "keep and bear arms" does not extend to possession of hidden guns in public.

Even in the Court's 2008 decision that confirmed a right to keep a handgun in a private home the justices in the majority were careful to point out that "the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues."

It went on to explain that its opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller should not be understood as undermining such "longstanding prohibitions."

The federal appellate judges who issued Friday's opinion emphasized that, in that respect, Heller is consistent with longstanding precedent. They cited a 2009 law review article by noted libertarian law professor Eugene Volokh, which perfunctorily noted that "by the end of the 19th century the constitutionality of such [concealed carry] bans had become pretty broadly accepted."

The court also pointed to a 2011 academic study by gun advocate David T. Hardy, which concluded that state appeals courts had rejected, as early as the 1820s, any inconsistency between the constitutional firearms rights provisions and concealed carry laws.

It is possible that other federal courts could limit their reading of Friday's decision in Peterson v. Martinez to statutory prohibitions on granting concealed carry permits to non-residents of a state.

The case arose when a Washington resident sued to enjoin Colorado's concealed carry law because he was denied such a permit on the basis of the state's statutory provision forbidding an out-of-state resident from receiving one.

Courts have, in the vast majority of constitutional challenges to the gamut of state firearms laws since the Heller case was decided, upheld those statutes.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

NYT: Many state legislatures considering mandatory liability insurance for gun owners

The New York Times has a story this morning that explores a new trend in firearms legislation: bills requiring gun owners to purchase liability insurance policies.

The article indicates that at least six states are debating such a policy approach.

One of them - New York - is considering a proposal to mandate a minimum of $1 million in liability coverage resulting from "negligent or willful" acts involving the use of a firearm by the insured owner.

The measure would require a prospective gun owner to acquire the insurance before obtaining a gun and, in the case of current gun owners, set a deadline of thirty days after the law takes effect.

A similar proposal in Maryland would set $250,000 as the minimum insurance coverage.

Other states in which legislators are considering whether to require gun owner to carry liability insurance on their firearms are California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

The bills introduced around the nation this year are the first since Illinois legislators rejected a similar idea in 2009.

According to Robert Hartwig, an economist and president of the Insurance Information Institute, a major problem with the idea is that, in several of the states in which the bills have been introduced, the proponents do not distinguish between an insurance mandate applicable to accidental damage resulting from use of a gun and illegal use of a firearm.

Such an all-inclusive coverage mandate would be contrary to long-established industry practice.

"They have not historically, they do not today, and they will not in the future," Hartwig said, referring to insurance companies. "This is not unique to gun coverage. I think most people believe that’s the way things would be."

Moreover, Hartwig argued, firearms liability insurance is not needed to provide a disincentive to misuse of a weapon.

"The gun owners have a pretty strong disincentive right now," he said. "Obviously, they face criminal charges and prison time, not to mention lawsuits, as a result of [illegal] activities. I’m not sure the payment of an insurance premium is going to alter the incentive here. The disincentive to misuse the weapon already exists through the penal code."

Hartwig noted that accidental discharges of a firearm that cause damage to person or property are generally covered by homeowners or renters insurance policies. The National Rifle Association currently makes available to its members a supplemental insurance policy that allows for additional compensation to claimants in those circumstances.

The idea of requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance applicable to their firearms was apparently first broached in a 1987 law review article.

As of this writing no Colorado legislator has introduced a bill in the 2013 legislative session that would impose a mandatory insurance requirement on gun owners.

Sex education bill will soon head to Senate

The House of Representatives has preliminarily approved an overhaul of state law on sex education, likely setting up a partisan Senate clash on a bill that would assure a more broad-based discussion of human sexual behavior in Colorado classrooms.

HB 13-1081 gained initial approval Tuesday in a party-line vote.

Joe Hanel of the Durango Herald covered the debate.

Hickenlooper says he'd veto firefighter collective bargaining bill

John Hickenlooper does not like the idea of tinkering with the state's polyglot system of handling employment relations with local firefighters.

The governor wrote to Senate president John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and House speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, on Tuesday to express his opposition to SB 13-025, which would require all municipalities in Colorado to collectively bargain with firefighters.

“After careful review of the legislation, the concerns of relevant parties and the policies of this administration, we cannot support SB13-025 in its current form and urge the Colorado General Assembly to consider alternatives that respect both the political rights of firefighters and the ability of local governments to make locally accordant decisions regarding collective bargaining,” Hickenlooper's letter said.

Former Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed similar legislation in 2009.

One concern about this year's bill, as well as the measure killed by Ritter, is that it might violate the state constitution. A 1990 state supreme court decision seems to indicate that the General Assembly lacks authority to override article 20, section 6 of Colorado's bedrock law.

Another bill to let grocery stores sell beer dies

In what is becoming an annual tradition, legislation that would have opened the door to sale of full-strength beer in grocery stores has died in the General Assembly.

HB 13-1178, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, was terminated Tuesday at Priola's request after he realized there was not enough support for it to pass the House Business, Labor, Economic and Workforce Development Committee.

The committee voted unanimously to end the bill's journey through the legislative process.

The measure was opposed, as similar versions in prior years have been, by liquor stores. The state's micro-brewing industry also expressed skepticism about the bill.

Jeanne McEvoy, a spokesperson for the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said that safety is a principal reason for her organization's opposition to this and similar bills.

"You don’t put alcohol on shelves where kids can go in and grab their Red Bull and vodka and put it in a backpack and go out the door," she said. "That doesn’t happen in a liquor store."

McEvoy also noted that a study commissioned by CLBA showed that many of the state's liquor stores would go out of business if grocery and convenience stores could compete with them.

"The other thing is, the economics of losing your market to large corporations that can out-purchase you and then put you out of business pretty darn quick," she explained.

The state's craft brewing industry has been experiencing rapid growth, according to a spokesman, and does not believe that changing the current system would benefit the increasing number of small breweries in Colorado.

"We feel that the system that’s in place is an excellent system," Steve Kurowski, the marketing and public relations manager for the Colorado Brewers Guild, said. "We feel that it supplies the beer drinker, the wine drinker with a lot of options with great selection in these liquor stores and they’re very convenient. A lot of them are right next to the grocery store. To have a place that’s going to focus exclusively on beer, wine, and spirits is a good thing, especially in a state that has so many breweries, wineries, and now distilleries."

A 2012 study commissioned by CBG indicates that the industry produces a $146 million annual economic impact for the state.

"Growth is staggering," Kurowski said. "We are seeing breweries that are 10, 15-plus years old build new breweries from the ground up, expand at their breweries to add new fermentation tanks. We’re even seeing some of these breweries grow internationally. In Colorado, in the last sixteen months, it’s safe to say that we've opened around 40 breweries."

Kurowski explained that the advantage of current law is that it allows brewers to quickly form strong working relationships with those who make purchasing decisions at the state's many liquor stores.

"If you make good beer, if you’re product is in demand, you can find a place for it," he said. "What makes it easy is that a brewery can make some beer, put it in a delivery van, take it to a liquor store, and say, ‘hey, look at our Christmas beer, look at our summer brew, would you like to buy?’ The liquor store can say yes or no."

The state's major grocery chains do not station personnel with purchasing authority relating to beer in Colorado, Kurowski added. 

No bill to expand access to beer sales was introduced in last year's legislative session. During each of the four years prior to that similar proposals were considered.

Priola's bill would not have been limited to beer. It would have allowed grocery stores to obtain up to five liquor licenses, which could have in turn provided a pathway to sell wine and hard liquors in addition to full-strength beer.

The micro-brewing industry's opposition to the bill came in spite of a provision that would have allowed some of its participants to sell their product in all Colorado grocery and convenience stores.

Kurowski noted that the provision would not have benefited most of the state's craft brewers.

"There’s only a small handful of breweries that would be able to do business with the grocery stores," he said.

NOTE: This story also appears at

CU regents put off taking a stand on college concealed weapons bill

The University of Colorado Board of Regents will continue, at least for awhile, its silence on the question whether the General Assembly should enact a measure to ban concealed weapons on the state's college campuses.

The Boulder Daily Camera reported Wednesday that the seven-member panel rejected a Republican-led effort to get it on record.

HB 13-1226, which would overturn a 2012 state supreme court decision that applied the state's concealed carry law to college campuses, cleared the House of Representatives Monday.

The bill now heads to the Senate, along with three other firearms regulation measures.

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, is the House sponsor, while Democrat Rollie Heath of Boulder will carry the bill in the Senate.

School finance act overhaul introduced

The long-awaited bill from Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, to overhaul the state's school finance system is on the way.

A Monday story in Education News Colorado provides an informative overview of the complex proposal.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Colorado gun law reform debate gets national coverage

The General Assembly's debate about how to change the state's firearms laws is gaining national media attention.

National Public Radio ran a story on the issue yesterday. Megan Verlee, the able statehouse reporter for Colorado Public Radio, gets a countrywide microphone for her excellent work.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

COMMENTARY: Legislators should obey capitol gun ban

The news that some legislators are carrying concealed weapons inside the state capitol is deeply disappointing to every citizen of Colorado who believes that the law must apply equally to all.

This state's concealed carry law is very clear on the point: guns are not permitted in the capitol building. Here is the text of C.R.S. 18-12-105(1):

(1) A person commits a class 2 misdemeanor if such person knowingly and unlawfully:. . .
(c) Without legal authority, carries, brings, or has in such person's possession a firearm or any explosive, incendiary, or other dangerous device on the property of or within any building in which the chambers, galleries, or offices of the general assembly, or either house thereof, are located, or in which a legislative hearing or meeting is being or is to be conducted, or in which the official office of any member, officer, or employee of the general assembly is located.

There is no exception in the language of this law for state legislators. There is no statutory language that authorizes the state police, which guard the entrances to the building, to overlook the carrying of guns into the capitol by anyone, even legislators. There has been no regulation by any state agency, including the state Department of Public Safety, that purports to exempt legislators from the statute's reach. No court of this state has declared that the statute cannot constitutionally be applied to legislators while they are in the capitol building.

It is true that the state police have not set up metal detectors, nor posted guards, at the doors through which legislators may enter by means of an access code or digital identification card.

This, however, is no excuse for legislators to break the law. After all, if legislators believe that the law is only to be honored when an enforcer of it is nearby to make sure that it is, the message they are sending is that compliance with the law is at the whim of the individual.

It is regrettable that there are public servants - people who hold a position of high public trust - who apparently have concluded that they are not bound by the laws they write. It is to be hoped that those who have the authority to enforce the law will act in a way that shows their understanding of one of the most fundamental principles of a democratic republic. As Aristotle wrote, centuries ago, "the only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law." That truism certainly extends, in the state of Colorado, to state senators and state representatives.

Members of the Colorado General Assembly should leave their guns at home. They have no place in the state capitol.

As for those who have arrogantly disregarded their sacred obligations under the law of the state they were elected to serve, attorney general John Suthers or Denver district attorney Mitch Morrissey should act to remind such scofflaws that they are not above that law.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is Lt. Gov. Garcia headed to Washington?

Lieutenant governor Joe Garcia, in an enigmatic comment yesterday, may have hinted that he could soon be joining President Barack Obama's cabinet.

Education News Colorado reports this morning that Garcia, when asked by a Denver school board member whether he would be staying in his current job, said "I think my time is up."

Legislation to fix Colorado sex education standards to get House debate Thursday

A Denver Democrat will ask the House Thursday to approve legislation that would clarify what the state's public schools must teach about human sexuality.

The bill aims to eliminate disparities among districts and encourage schools to give children the knowledge they need to avoid pregnancy even if they become sexually active.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, argued in a committee hearing last week that the measure is necessary to advance public health and to protect teenagers.

"Colorado youth still face many barriers in obtaining the medically accurate information and resources they need to make informed and responsible decisions and lead healthy lifestyles," she said.

Duran's proposal would not preclude instruction about abstinence.

“Abstinence is incredibly important. If you do not want unintended pregnancy, if you do not want to see the transmission of disease, then abstain from engaging in sexual activity,” Duran explained.

However, Duran pointed out that educators also need tools to help students who do choose to become sexually active.

"For those who choose to do so, we should be able to have an approach that really teaches them how to protect themselves," she said.

At the core of the legislation is a provision that conditions compliance on receipt of federal grant money.

The money would be dispersed to school districts or charter schools by the state's Department of Public Health and Environment.

"This is not an unfunded mandate," Duran said.

One notable feature of HB 13-1081 is a clause that puts the burden on parents to excuse their children from sex education classes. Under current law a student is not permitted to learn about human reproductive behavior in school unless a parent gives permission in advance.

Republicans on the House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee voted as a block against the bill last Thursday.

Former House majority leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, led the GOP opposition to the legislation.

Among several arguments she advanced was one to the effect that any benefit of teaching children about the reproductive physiology of the human body is outweighed by the prospect that doing so may offend the religious sensibilities of some individuals.

Centennial Republican Spencer Swalm attacked the bill on grounds that it limits school districts to grants that advance the goal of comprehensive sex education. Duran disputed that argument, pointing out that the proposed statutory language would not prevent districts from working with external organizations that advocate for abstinence-only education.

The legislature last enacted a sex education bill in 2007. That one, however, did not require curricula used by public schools in the state to address the reality of homosexual and bisexual behavior among humans.

HB 13-1081 would correct that oversight, requiring that sex education programs in the state's public schools be "culturally sensitive."

That requirement, as well as the overall approach of the legislation, is based on a 2012 report on youth sexual activity issued by the state's Department of Public Health and Environment.

The sponsor of the 2007 bill, Nancy Todd, is now a senator from an Aurora-area district and is carrying HB 13-1081 in the Senate this year.

If the bill is approved on "second reading" Thursday then it must first be approved in another House vote before moving to the Senate.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Democrats' package of four gun control bills to be debated on House floor Friday

The set of four big firearms bills introduced by House Democrats will be debated in that chamber on Friday.

The package includes measures that would limit the size of bullet magazines, require all purchasers of firearms to obtain a background check, force gun buyers to pay for the required background check, and make clear that the state's concealed carry law does not apply on the campuses of public colleges and universities.

If any or all of the bills are approved by the House on Friday, they will be calendared for a second vote in the chamber a few days later. The bills move to the Senate only if they are approved on both "second reading" and "third reading" in the House.

Lynn Bartels rounds up the fate of some interesting bills

The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels, doyenne of statehouse reporters, has posted a useful roundup of the General Assembly's handling of several recent bills.

Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Bill advancing fee for gun background check advances

The House Finance Committee has approved a bill that would require firearms purchasers to pay for the background check required by state law.

HB 13-1228 was cleared Wednesday afternoon on a 7-6, party-line vote.

The measure would force individuals subject to the background check mandate to pay a $10-12 fee associated with it.

Under current law the state's taxpayers pay for the background checks.

If enacted into law, the proposal would allow the state government to save about $1.5 million per year. That's according to an analysis prepared by the Colorado Legislative Council.

The measure is not without precedent. For several years prior to 1999 state law required those subject to the firearms background check to pay for it.

HB 13-1228 is sponsored by Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver.

House committee considers ban on firearms on college campuses

A House committee will examine Wednesday a bill that would ban firearms from all buildings and athletic facilities on the state's college campuses.

HB 13-1226 would overturn a 2012 state supreme court decision that applied Colorado's concealed carry law to higher education institutions.

The state's flagship college, the University of Colorado at Boulder, has wrestled with the requirement to accommodate concealed firearms.

"Certainly, given that we had a weapons ban in place for forty-plus years, there’s been thinking that banning weapons was a good thing," Ken McConnellogue, a vice president at CU, said.

McConnellogue said that CU forbids weapons in most residence halls and at Folsom Field and that administrators deal with arguments that they should be banned in other circumstances, too.

"The nuance of that, both with the residence hall and the football games, those are essentially contracts," he explained. "We have some discretion over that. There are many more. People say, you are banning them at football games, you can ban them at commencement. You can ban them at guest lectures. At the end of the day, the university is obliged to follow the law and we’re going to do that. The challenge for us is to determine how the law works within the particular environment."

Colorado State University applies limits similar to those in place on at CU's Boulder campus, according to spokesperson Mike Hooker.

"The places on campus where you’re not allowed to carry are the residence halls and our [in] basketball arena [or] during sporting events," he explained.

CSU opened the doors to possession of guns on its campus about nine years before last year's decision in Regents of the University of Colorado v. Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, believes that her proposal is essential if the state's universities are to effectively help students who may be suffering from emotional disturbance or mental illness.

"In the years since the Virginia Tech shooting Colorado and other states have responded with increased attention to the mental health needs of their college students," she said. "State colleges have created threat assessment teams so [that] students who are struggling with emotional problems can be identified and provided the help and support they need. But we haven't addressed one of the biggest threats to campus safety, which is the presence of guns on campuses."

The veteran legislator also explained that her bill is an effort to enhance student safety.

"The bill also recognizes that college students are at heightened risk of suicide and impulsive conduct, which the presence of guns will only exacerbate," Levy said.

At the CU-Boulder campus, suicide by gun has been a rare occurrence.

"Within the past seven years we know of two suicides where a firearm was used," Ryan Huff, a spokesperson for the campus police, said. "In both cases they were not students."

In general, young adults are at an elevated risk of suicide. According to a 2004 report from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college-age adults.

The CU experience indicates, however, that it is less likely to occur in the absence of firearms.

"Students are safer if there are no guns," Dr. Allan J. Schwartz, a professor of psychiatry and staff psychologist at the University of Rochester and the author of several studies that examine suicide risks among college-age young adults, said. "The evidence for that is pretty strong."

A representative of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention confirmed that assessment.

“We know that reducing a suicidal person’s easy access to lethal means, including firearms, can be an effective strategy for preventing suicide," John Madigan, AFSP's senior director of public policy said. "This is critical because it gives individuals and those who care for them something they desperately need – time: time to change their minds, time for them to get help or time for someone to intervene.”

The number of college students who attempt suicide, and succeed in taking their life, is thought to be about half of the equivalent rate among those who are not enrolled in higher education.

Schwartz explained that, across the nation as a whole, young adults who study on a college campus are not likely to have access to a gun.

"When you look at the proportion of suicides that are completed using a firearm, by students, as compared to the proportion of suicides that are completed using a firearm in the general population, matched by age and gender, for students it tends to be on the order of one-third as common," he said. "For the general population, firearms account for as many suicides as all other methods combined. For students, firearms remain one of the most likely methods, almost equal to suicide by hanging."

“Why is that the case?," Schwartz rhetorically asked. "It’s just a huge difference in the accessibility of firearms."

Most students who use a gun to take their own lives gain access to the weapon by traveling off-campus to their parents' home.

"Sometimes it’s a few tens of miles, sometimes it’s hundreds of miles," Schwartz said. "But it’s a frighteningly relevant story."

The likelihood that more firearms will be used in suicide attempts is not the only factor that raises the risks to student safety on college campuses that are required to allow guns.

According to one 2007 study, a person who attempts to take their own life with a firearm will succeed about 90 percent of the time, which is a rate that exceeds other methods that are commonly deployed in suicide attempts.

To Schwartz, these statistics demand that legislators treat the prevention of guns on college campuses as a public health imperative.

"To allow firearms on campus would be catastrophic," he argued. "It’s not just unwise public policy. You’d double the suicide rate."

Proponents of extending the concealed carry law to college campuses have argued that students are likely to be safer if they have the option of being armed.

"Allowing licensed concealed carry would give potential attackers pause and ultimately give innocent victims a fighting chance,” Students for Concealed Carry spokesperson David Burnett said in a statement.

One problem with this argument is that students face little risk of homicide on college campuses.

Schwartz explained that homicide is a rare event, statistically speaking, on college campuses everywhere in America.

"There are concerns that folks may have about protecting students from harm by others," Schwartz said. "The thinking goes, if they had a firearm, we wouldn’t have these slaughters like what took place at Virginia Tech. We’re talking about 20 homicides among about 10 million students every year. It's a horrific headline when it happens, but it virtually never happens. Can you imagine any city in the United States with 10 million people in which there are just 20 homicides each year? That’s what it’s like on college campuses. There’s virtually no homicide."

The situation on Colorado's public college campuses bears out Schwartz' assertion. There were no homicides on the CU-Boulder campus between 2009-2011, the most recent period for which data is available.

"The last homicide we had here was in 1997, involving two transients," Huff said. "A firearm was not used there.”

CSU experienced the same paucity of crimes involving a loss of life during the same three-year period.

A 2010 report of crime statistics from the University of Colorado at Denver, which is the most recent data available from that institution, revealed that no homicides occurred on the urban campus in Denver during the period 2007-2009.

Rapes and sexual assaults are occasional risks on college campuses in the state. Each of the major institutions on the Front Range report that several occurred during each of the years between 2009-2011.

Nevertheless, crimes involving the use of a gun appear to be rare on college campuses in Colorado.

"The frequency of crimes where guns are used is quite low on our campus,” Huff said.

Twenty-five states ban firearms on campus, while 23 others allow universities and colleges to set their own rules touching on gun possession. Two states - Colorado and Utah - require state institutions of higher learning to permit the concealed carry of firearms on campus.

Michael Carrigan, the chairperson of the CU Board of Regents, did not respond to a request for a comment about the regents' position on HB 13-1226.

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, is carrying the bill in the Senate.

The fate of the legislation, should it clear the General Assembly and head to Gov. John Hickenlooper for signature into law, is not clear.

"We are monitoring this bill and have not taken an official position," Eric Brown, a spokesperson for Hickenlooper, said.

UPDATE (2:10 pm MST):

The House Education Committee approved HB 13-1226 on a 7-6 vote.

NOTE: A slightly different version of this article appears at

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Gazette: Garcia meets with Obama about cabinet post

A report in today's Colorado Springs Gazette indicates that rumors of Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia's candidacy for an Obama administration cabinet position may have substance.

A story by Megan Schrader quotes Gov. John Hickenlooper as saying that Garcia had flown to Washington, D.C. to meet with the President.

A Reuters report published by the Denver Post on Jan. 31, citing anonymous sources, disclosed that Garcia is the leading choice to become secretary of labor.

Hickenlooper suggests child welfare reforms

Gov. John Hickenlooper has publicly revealed his ideas for fixing Colorado's troubled child welfare system.

The Denver Post has the story.

GOP abortion ban legislation dies

Another in an annual parade of Republican abortion ban bills died in a House committee Wednesday.

HB 13-1033 was rejected by the House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee.

The measure would have criminalized all abortions except those deemed by a doctor to be necessary to prevent a pregnant mother's death.

Abortions can be regulated to an extent under U.S. Supreme Court cases that interpret relevant provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The Court, however, has held that a ban with a reach similar to that proposed in HB 13-1033 is unconstitutional.

A GOP member of the committee - former majority leader Amy Stephens of Monument - sought to amend the bill to permit the use of emergency contraception in cases of rape or incest.

Stephens, a former employee of the conservative advocacy group Focus on the Family, argued that criminalizing abortion when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of such assaults is not consistent with the ideals of justice.

The amendment was rejected by the other members of the committee, including the Democrats. 

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Steven Humphrey, R-Severance.

State's colleges and universities get financial boost from two advancing bills

Two bills that would give a financial boost to Colorado's public universities and colleges are moving steadily toward the law books.

HB 13-1144, which makes permanent a cigarette-specific supplemental sales tax and devote the annual revenue it produces to higher education, is on the way to the Senate. The bill would add about $28 million per year to the state's budget for colleges and universities.

The measure was approved by the House Monday on a 40-24 vote. The chamber's caucuses divided on the bill.

Votes to pass the bill came primarily from majority Democrats, but also from six of the chamber's 28 Republicans. They included Kathleen Conti of Littleton, Don Coram of Montrose, Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch, Carole Murray of Castle Rock, and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling.

The opposition came from the other 22 Republicans and two Democrats - Reps. Crisanta Duran and Dan Pabon of Denver. Interestingly, Duran is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Meanwhile, SB 13-090 sailed out of the Senate on the same day. The supplemental appropriations bill would increase this year's budgets for the state's institutions of higher learning by more than $9 million.

The vote was 27-6. All of the opponents were Republicans. They included Sens. Bill Cadman, Owen Hill, and Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs, Kevin Grantham of Canon City, Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch, and Scott Renfroe of Greeley.

SB 13-090 will next be considered by the House appropriations committee.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Academic acceleration mandate for public schools clears House

A bill that would require public schools to provide opportunities to learn at a faster pace to academically capable students was approved by the House of Representatives Monday.

HB 13-1023 allows school districts and charter schools some flexibility to meet its mandate. The bill provides that an "acceleration policy" might incorporate options such as advancing a student in a particular subject, "compacting curriculum," allowing a student to enroll in an advanced class at the same time he or she is in a less advanced course in the same subject, permitting credit to be gained by passing a test, providing advanced placement or International Baccalaureate programs, or authorizing independent study efforts.

The measure's reach is not limited to students who have been determined by school administrators to be "gifted and talented." Instead, school districts and charter schools are instructed to make acceleration programs available "to all students who demonstrate high ability and who may benefit from content acceleration or other acceleration interventions in their area or areas of strength."

The bill sets a July 1, 2014 deadline.

The bipartisan bill was approved on third and final reading in the House by a unanimous vote. It now heads to the Senate.

The House sponsors are Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. In the Senate, Republican David Balmer of Centennial and Andy Kerr of Lakewood are carrying the measure.

Identity theft victims gain tool to fight back, CBI gets hiring flexibility in bills moved ahead Tuesday

Bills that would give identify theft victims a new tool with which to fix public records corrupted by criminals and that would allow the Colorado Bureau of Investigation additional flexibility in filling senior positions progressed at the capitol Thursday.

The identify theft measure, which is sponsored by Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, would permit a person to enlist the aid of CBI in obtaining corrections of public records relating to criminal justice proceedings. The bill requires the crime victim to provide fingerprints to the agency and leaves open the option of seeking the fix in court. 

It also allows the victim to recover his or her costs as part of any restitution judgment entered against the convicted thief.

HB 13-1146 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee and now heads to debate on the House floor.

The second bill would allow CBI to hire a director, assistant directors, and deputy directors who do not have certification from the Peace Office Standards and Training Board. Current law requires that candidates for those slots at the agency hold such certification.

“This change will expand opportunities for those already employed by the State of Colorado and expand opportunities for the agency to attract highly-qualified people without diminishing the quality of the directors,” the measure's sponsor, Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, said.

HB 13-1076 was approved by the House of Representatives on a 41-22 vote. It now heads to the Senate, where Republican Steve King of Grand Junction is the sponsor.

CBI supports the bill.

Bill opening door to creationism, climate change denial in science classrooms dies in committee

A Republican bill that would have allowed science classrooms to become a locus for discussion of religious ideas about the origins of life, rejection of the central principle of the life sciences, and denial of the climate change now occurring on Earth was rejected Monday by a House committee.

HB 13-1089 died in the House Education Committee on a party-line, 7-6 vote. All Democrats opposed it and all Republicans supported it.

The Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Boards opposed the measure, which was based on a template provided by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. DI advocates for the teaching of "intelligent design," a variant of creationism, in public school classrooms.

Federal court decisions have made clear that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public school science classrooms.

The measure sought to avoid that stricture by couching its mandate in terms of "critical thinking." Sponsoring Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance, argued that students cannot learn to do that unless they hear opposing sides of a "debate."

There is no debate in the mainstream scientific community about whether evolution accounts for the diversity of life on Earth. The process by which populations of organisms adapt to environmental conditions. and develop over time into separate species, is generally considered to be the most fundamental principle of the biological sciences.

HB 13-1089 also aimed to force teachers to encourage, or at least tolerate, political arguments against the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change.

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, argued that climate change is a "myth."

"If that is a theory, I hope we are encouraging and empowering students to absolutely attack that as nonsense,” he said.

In science, a theory is not a guess, speculation, or hunch. Instead, it is an explanation about why a phenomenon occurs in nature that is based on factual evidence gathered during multiple investigations.

Nearly all climate scientists agree that humanity's greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities, motor vehicles, and electric power plants are causing Earth's atmosphere to warm.

That conclusion is based on a variety of observational evidence, including melting ice sheets, rising sea levels, desertification, increasing atmospheric and ocean surface temperatures, a reduction in the extent of Arctic Ocean seasonal ice, glacial retreat around the world, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events, as well as modeling.

In addition, scientists have understood the tendency of carbon dioxide molecules accumulating in the atmosphere to prevent dissipation of heat from the planet's surface since at least 1895, when the phenomenon was discovered by chemist Svante Arrhenius. The heat-trapping capacity of the atmosphere has been known since 1824.

Representatives that voted to kill HB 13-1089 were John Buckner, D-Colorado Springs, Lois Court, D-Denver, Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, Dave Young, D-Greeley, Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, and Millie Hamner, D-Dillon.

The GOP members of the chamber that voted to advance the bill to the floor of the House were Justin Everett of Littleton, Holbert, Lois Landgraf of Colorado Springs, Carole Murray of Castle Rock, Kevin Priola of Henderson, and Jim Wilson of Salida.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Post article: ASSET bill might get GOP support

The measure that would allow students who are undocumented residents of the Colorado community to pay in-state tuition rates at public universities and colleges might get some Republican support this year.

Tim Hoover of the Denver Post explains.

The ASSET bill cleared a Senate committee last week and has not yet come up for debate on the floor of that chamber. SB 33 is expected to pass both the Senate and the House, now that both are under Democratic control, and Gov. John Hickenlooper has indicated he will sign it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

"Arm the Teachers" bill dies in committee

A bill that would have given school boards the authority to permit administrators and teachers to carry concealed weapons on the state's public school campuses was defeated in a Senate committee Monday.

SB 9 lost on a party-line, 3-2 vote.

Sen. John P. Morse, D-Colorado Springs, was quoted by the Colorado Springs Gazette as saying that the bill would not only be of no help in reducing violence, but contribute to the problem.

The sponsor of the measure, Republican Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch, had said he believed the measure is needed so that those who work in schools can protect children and themselves.

The defeat of the measure does not mean that schoolkids, teachers, support employees, and administrators have no protection against a firearm-toting intruder intent on doing harm. Current law permits armed police officers to patrol public school buildings in Colorado.

The presence of an armed guard or other people with guns in a building attacked by a shooter is not a guarantee that no one would be hurt. Some advocates of eliminating laws that set up schools as gun-free areas argue that the presence of an armed security guard at Columbine High School during a mass shooting incident in April 1999 prevented the deaths of some individuals. However, thirteen people, including 12 children, died in that massacre despite his presence.

SB 9 was co-sponsored in the Senate by Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, and in the House of Representatives by Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rep. Fischer's graywater recycling bill set for debate

A bill that would revolutionize one aspect of Colorado water law, allowing re-use of water circulated through showers and appliances, may make into the law books this year.

The Fort Collins Coloradoan has a detailed story about the odyssey and impacts of HB 13-1044, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, in today's paper.

The measure gets its first hearing on Monday before the committee Fischer chairs.

Senate committee clears bill requiring mandatory collective bargaining agreements with firefighters

A Senate committee has green-lighted a bill that would force Colorado municipalities to engage in collective bargaining with firefighters.

Similar legislation was vetoed by former Gov. Bill Ritter in 2009.

This year, with Democrats again in control of both chambers of the legislature, the issue looks likely to again wind up on the governor's desk.

One interesting note on the debate is that the mayors of two of Colorado's most politically diametrical communities - Boulder and Colorado Springs - both spoke against it during a hearing last week.

Peter Marcus of the Colorado Statesman has coverage of this year's proposal.

Friday, January 25, 2013

GOP rallies against civil unions bill

The west side of the Capitol was a protest site Friday, with opponents of SB 11 - the proposed civil unions legislation - rallying against the measure.

Speakers included former House speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and former House majority leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument.

Stephens complimented the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, but nevertheless urged its rejection, while McNulty argued that repeating the choice made last year to prevent it from becoming law would reflect "courage."

Former Sen. Ed Jones, R-Colorado Springs, used his opportunity at the microphone to engage in some rather distasteful criticism of House speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. Jones said Ferrandino had a "wife" named "Eric," neither of which is an accurate statement.

He also misleadingly argued that people who are gay can choose not to be and insisted that this rendered null arguments for improved civil rights protection.

“I never saw a water fountain that said 'gays only,'” Jones said.

While the tools used to ostracize gay men and women in the Jim Crow south, and elsewhere in the nation, may have been different from the methods of enforcing segregation of the races, the available scientific research shows that, in fact, homosexuality is possibly an immutable characteristic of an individual.

According to a website maintained by Catholic News Agency, a high-ranking representative of the Roman Catholic Church's Denver archdiocese complained that the bill would infringe on Catholics' religious freedom by interfering in the practices of Catholic adoption agencies.

"We have been involved in the state of Colorado for over 80 years in helping to take care of the children of our community and make sure they are placed in adoption and foster care in good, healthy, wholesome settings, for the good of our society,” writer Kevin J. Jones quoted Monsignor Thomas Fryar, the Denver archdiocese's second-highest ranking official, as saying to the crowd.

The version of the proposed legislation considered in 2012, and killed by the Republican-ruled House of Representatives in office at the time, would have exempted Catholic adoption agencies from its reach. The state's Catholic dioceses nevertheless opposed the bill.

The Catholic hierarchy, as well as leaders of a variety of other socially conservative faith traditions, oppose recognition of civil unions because they view the step as providing a social sanction to same-sex relationships and as a threat to traditional marriage.

Colorado voters forbade any changes to the traditional view of marriage as involving only men and women when they approved Amendment 43 to the state constitution in 2006. A statute cannot override or contradict a constitutional provision.

Denver Post reporter Lynn Bartels wrote Friday that Jones was among several speakers who urged Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

That result is not likely. Hickenlooper has said he will sign the bill.

Friday's rally was organized by the Denver Catholic archiocese.

Levy: Republican bill attacking science education won't get out of committee

A GOP bill that would open the door to discussion of religious ideas about biodiversity and the origin of mankind in science classrooms, and which could sanction denial of the scientific consensus that human activities are changing Earth's climate, is likely to die in committee.

That's the prediction of Boulder Democratic Rep. Claire Levy, a veteran legislator who serves as speaker pro tempore of the House of Representatives.

Levy made the comment during a Friday interview by radio talk show host Geoff Berg. Berg asked her whether HB 13-1089 would progress in the chamber.

Levy's bluntly said it would not:
The bill looks innocuous enough when you read it…but when you look beneath the surface it’s pretty obvious it’s…allowing science teachers to teach creationism and deny global warming. Democrats are about teaching real science and giving students a good education. So I don’t think it’ll make it out of committee.
Her comments can be heard at about the 19:30 mark of the recording. 

HB 13-1089 is scheduled to be heard by the House Education Committee on Monday, Feb. 4.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

GOP "right to work" bill rejected by Senate committee

A bill that would have made Colorado a "right to work" state did not move out of a Senate committee Thursday.

SB 24, sponsored by freshman Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, would have prohibited employment contracts requiring union membership or payment of union dues.

The bill died in the Committee on Business, Labor, & Technology. Democrats Rollie Heath of Boulder, Cheri Jahn of Golden, and Lois Tochtrop of Thornton provided the votes to kill it, while Republicans Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs and David Balmer of Centennial supported it.

Civil unions bill heads to Senate Appropriations Committee

A bill that would authorize some legal recognition of same-sex relationships cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee this evening.

The proposed civil unions bill was approved on a 3-2 vote. The majority Democrats voted "aye," while both Republicans on the panel voted "no."

Testimony was emotional, with Denver Democrat Lucia Guzman pointing out that the measure may give people who have felt the need to hide their sexual preference the courage to be open about it.

"There are those here today who spent years hiding, hiding the truth from their parents, friends, bosses, even hiding from themselves," she said.

Representatives of social conservative groups objected to the bill, as they did when a similar measure was considered in 2011 and 2012.

This year's bill is somewhat wider in scope than the version that would have made it to Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk last year if the then-majority Republicans in the House of Representatives had not killed it with a parliamentary maneuver.

In the 2012 version charities affiliated with the Catholic church would have been exempt from a provision that forbids discrimination against gay people who wish to adopt a child. This year, sponsoring Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, did not include that language.

Among the witnesses testifying in support of the bill were Denver mayor Michael Hancock.

Hickenlooper has indicated that he will sign SB 11. A tweet in his name that was posted Wednesday reiterated that promise.

The bill will next be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Friday, January 18, 2013

House Judiciary Committee discusses definitions, decides that "shall" is not the same as "must"

Must we know what the word "shall" means? Shall we, finally, understand the definition of "must?"

Those questions were answered "yes" by a House committee Thursday as a bill to clarify the legal import of the two words, which are common in statutes, was approved by a unanimous vote.

The problem is that the meanings of the words are sometimes confused by lawyers and judges. The word "shall" is generally used in statutes to specify an obligation that a person or an entity must carry out. In other words, the word implies that an action or inaction is mandatory.

"Must" is sometimes used the same way - to indicate a duty.

The measure sponsored by Reps. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, and Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, would clear up that confusion.

HB 13-1029 specifies that the word "must," as used in a statute, would mean that a person or entity has to fulfill a certain condition or conditions before some consequence that flows from the condition or conditions would become effective. By contrast, according to the bill, "shall" would mean, in all statutes subsequently enacted, that a person or entity has a duty to do or not do something.

If they become law the definitions provided by the bill would not be retroactive to statutes enacted in prior years.

That may mean there will be arguments in later cases about whether the 2013 definition of "shall" or "must" applies or whether a more archaic understanding of the terms should be invoked.

The measure is sponsored in the Senate by Democrat Gail Schwartz of Snowmass Village and Republican Ellen Roberts of Durango.

Civil unions bill to get first hearing next week

A bill to authorize civil unions for gay couples will receive its first hearing next week.

SB 11 will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 1:30 pm.

Observers expect that the hearing will be the first in a series of steps leading to enactment of the legislation this year.

In 2012 the speaker of then-Republican House of Representatives stirred controversy by failing to allow a vote on a similar bill on the last day of the session after it had been cleared by the Senate. That bill, which had been approved by three House committees, appeared to have enough support to pass the chamber and head to Gov. John Hickenlooper for a promised signature.

Hickenlooper subsequently called a special session. Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, who was speaker at the time, then referred the measure to the House State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee, where it died on a party-line vote.

The issue helped Democrats pick up five seats in the chamber in the November election.

SB 11 is sponsored by Sens. Pat Steadman and Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, and Reps. Mark Ferrandino, the current speaker of the House, and Sue Schafer, D-Arvada.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

First big eco-devo bill clears House committee

A bipartisan bill that would bolster up-and-coming Colorado industries by making available grants from state funds cleared a House committee Thursday, moving quickly onto a fast track.

HB 1001 would set aside $12.5 million for entrepreneurs in a range of "advanced industries" that include aerospace, advanced manufacturing, bioscience, electronics, energy and natural resources, technology, and information and infrastructure engineering.

Of that sum, $7 million would be available only to bio-science and other "clean technology" industries. Start-ups in the other covered industry groups could seek funding from the remaining balance.

"Already, Colorado’s research institutions and federal labs bring in close to $2 billion a year in advanced technology research funding,” Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley and the bill's lead sponsor, said. "This legislation will help us leverage even more dollars, as well as accelerate the commercialization process, which will lead to more products, companies and jobs.”

The bill would set up three separate grant programs to assist with the challenges faced during the start-up process.

The first focuses on research needed to establish that a product concept is viable. It would require that the work be done in appropriate institutions within the state and the grant size would be limited to $150,000.

The second would provide funds for the early start-up stage. The maximum grant would be $250,000. At least half of the venture's employees would have to be based in Colorado.

The third grant program would allow start-ups to seek funding for needed infrastructure. The maximum award would be $500,000.

The vote in the House Business, Labor, Economic and Workforce Development Committee was 8-3.

Republicans Chris Holbert of Parker, Dan Nordberg of , and Libby Szabo of Arvada opposed the measure.

Holbert argued that the bill is not needed because entrepreneurs can obtain initial financing of business ventures from private capital funds and banks.

HB 1001 now heads to the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, is co-sponsoring the bill.

According to statistics cited by Gov. John Hickenlooper in a press conference last week that announced the bill, industries covered by the proposed legislation account for more than 500,000 of all jobs in the state and about one-third of wages earned by Colorado workers.

Senate passes civility resolution over Republican dissent

Debate on a routine, and traditional, resolution calling for civil debate in the General Assembly got a little bit exciting Thursday as seven senators dissented.

Senate Joint Resolution 13-004 calls on members of both chambers of the General Assembly to "reflect credit" on the legislature, "inspire the confidence, respect, and trust of the public," and "conduct ourselves during all legislative proceedings in a manner that creates a professional environment."

SJR 13-004 is, in that respect, fairly similar to exhortations pushed by legislators in previous years.

The discord over the measure may be a reflection of a partisan trend. In 2012, for example, when the House of Representatives was under Republican control, the measure was ultimately approved by both chambers, but not until May. In 2011, the first year after the GOP's short-lived takeover of the chamber in the Nov. 2010 election, the resolution passed the Senate, but was never adopted by the House of Representatives.

In 2010, by contrast, the civility measure was approved by mid-February. A similar quick path to passage occurred in 2009, 2008, and 2007 - all years in which Democrats ran both chambers at the capitol.

The seven "no" votes on SJR 13-004 were Sens. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs; Greg Brophy, R-Wray; Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs; Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa; Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City; Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs; and Mark Scheffel, R-Parker.

Cadman is the Senate minority leader and Scheffel is his deputy.

Crowder said that his vote is a reflection of frustration with the extent of input the Senate's Democratic leadership will allow his caucus.

"I believe in rigorous debate," he said in an email message. "The Democrats' stand is, since they are the majority, we should sit in our seats and say nothing."

Crowder pointed especially to concerns that the Democrats would undermine constitutional rights and attempt to raise taxes.

"Defending your rights and not raising taxes is my job," he said. "In order to do this, we have to fight for you. We do this out of compassion and beliefs and will not weaken on this task, with respect and civility."

Eastern plains Sen. Greg Brophy did not invoke ideology as a reason for his vote. He said he thought the measure is unnecessary.

"Talking about it is as big of a waste of time as running it," he said.

An email request for an interview sent to the other five dissenting senators received no response by press time.

UPDATE, Jan. 23, 2013:

An email message sent by Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Sulphur Springs, this morning indicates that he opposed the civility resolution on financial grounds.

"The reason is purely a practical one," Baumgardner wrote. "I was elected to be a good steward with your money. It costs between $6,000 & $10,000 to run one piece of legislation."

Baumgardner noted that he voted for a similar resolution last year. He also implied that the resolution was unnecessary because legislators are implicitly expected to act in an appropriate manner when considering public policies.

"As adults and elected officials, I believe it is understood that we should be civil toward one
another, not just during the legislative session but all year long," Baumgardner wrote. "I try to follow the Golden Rule.'Do unto others as you would have them do to you.'"