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.