Legislative Year: 2015 Change

Colorado Eyes & Ears »

Tessa Cheek, The Colorado Independent    

Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave hesitant bipartisan support to HB 1031, a bill that once proposed to ban powdered alcohol but that now only proposes to make it temporarily illegal.

“Other states have just out and out banned it. What we’re doing is saying that we’re putting a temporary hold on it and at the same time working on regulation,” said sponsor Sen. Nancy Todd, D- Aurora, echoing the better-safe-than-sorry edict that has served Colorado in its efforts to regulate recreational cannabis.

Opponents of the powdered alcohol time-out bill said it seemed a little early to be legislating a product that’s not yet on the market.

“This seems a little knee-jerk,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who voted against the measure. “If it’s legal to store alcohol in a personal flask, it seems to me it should be legal to store alcohol in granulated forms as well.”

“Prohibition has never really worked too well,” agreed Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who also voted against the bill.

The remaining two Democrats and a Republican on the committee gave the measure “reluctant OKs,” but promised further questions and “bipartisan shenanigans” on the floor.

State of frack

While the governor’s oil and gas task force met today to finalize its recommendations, the state legislature was in a state of frack.

On the Senate side, lawmakers passed SB 93, colloquially known as the “you ban it, you buy it,” bill, on a party-line vote. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would require local governments to reimburse mineral owners for potential losses that result from stricter local controls over oil and gas development.

House Speaker Dicky Lee Hullinghorst was candid about the bill’s prospects in her chamber.

“Well that’s patently unconstitutional. The Fifth Amendment rights on takings don’t require legislation, they require a court action,” she said, adding that she believes mineral rights that diminish in value due to local regulations don’t rise to the level of governmental taking protected by the Fifth Amendment anyhow.

“This is such a draconian response to the issue [of local control] and doesn’t solve the problem,” she concluded.

Hullinghorst said she hopes to see workable compromises on the great local control debate in the recommendations the task force will present this week. She’s particularly interested in provisions that would allow local governments to adopt stricter regulations than current state regulations and that re-define the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as a regulatory body instead of one designed to foster development.

“If you put some of those things together in a package, I do think it does address local control pretty well,” said Hullinghorst. “It might not go as far as some people would like, but it would be an adequate start. If they don’t do some basic things like that on local government… then I think it’s going to be difficult.”

The recommendations are expected to come out before the end of the week.


On kids in cuffs

As a part of a multi-session effort to reform the juvenile justice system, the House debated the practice of handcuffing youth who appear in juvenile court.

“For the first time, we have children as young as ten showing up before a judge in shackles with a presumption of guilt hanging over their head in a court that is set up to rehabilitate them and not shame them,” said Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, advocating for her HB 1091. Her bill would require all judicial districts to define and narrow their protocol for shackling, with the goal of curbing its frequency.

Bill opponents argued that each courtroom and each court case was too different for one district-wide policy to be effective, a fear that lingered despite provisions in the bill that would allow charges to be a factor in the shackling protocol. Others simply argued that far from a presumption of guilt, the practice was an effective deterrent for juveniles at risk continuing criminal behavior into adulthood.

“I’ve seen and faced my own son in shackles in the courtroom. I can tell you that it was one of the most difficult things I ever dealt with in my life,” said Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton. “I can tell you that it was those physical chains that emotionally brought him to his knees, which is where he needed to be to reach out for help with an addiction that was ruining his life.”

The bill won approval and will come up for a final vote later this week.


Tessa Cheek: The Colorado Independent - Republicans in the statehouse have been proposing “constitutional carry” legislation for years. In essence, the policy would allow anyone over 21 years old to carry a legally purchased handgun wherever they go — schools, parks, grocery stores. The gun would have to be concealed.

This year, with Republicans controlling the Colorado Senate, SB 32, introduced by Vicki Marble, R-Littleton, passed initial approval on the floor. It would repeal the requirement that people acquire a specific concealed-carry permit.

Concealed carry without a permit is having a big year, not just in Colorado—at least four other states have advanced similar legislation.

In Colorado, the debate over constitutional carry wasn’t just about its impact on public safety, but about whether the practice is constitutional at all.

Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, a gun owner who was instrumental in drafting Colorado’s concealed carry regulations back in 2003, quoted the state Constitution, pointing out that it does not, in fact, elevate concealed carry to an inalienable right:

“The right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall be called in question; but nothing herein contained shall be construed to justify the practice of carrying concealed weapons.[1]

“A change to current law is only going to make our public spaces less safe,” said Merrifield.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R- Berthoud, had a different take. He argued that the constitution simply left it up to the legislature to regulate concealed carry.

“It’s most appropriate that we address this in statute,” said Lundberg. “We are talking about safety here. We’re talking about deterrence. We’re talking about making sure that the good guy has the chance to defend themselves and their family.”

Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, acknowledged that Marble’s bill wouldn’t remove the existing permit process for concealed carry, but added that rendering that process voluntary would create a tremendous loophole. He, along with others in his caucus opposing the measure, pointed out that SB 32 could allow people with violent records, substance abuse issues and even restraining orders to conceal carry without undergoing a background check or training.

The measure was adopted today on a voice vote and will come up for a final vote later in the week.

The S-word gets dropped in re-re-hash of Senate fee freeze fight 

A few weeks ago, a routine budget bill for the department of safety, SB 159, heated up the Senate floor. Lawmakers disagreed over whether or not the Colorado Bureau of Investigation should have the freedom to spend leftover fees to speed up the process for concealed carry background checks.

After much debate, the Senate voted along party lines not to free up the funds. The broader bill — which also includes money for other public safety programs, like rape kits — then moved to the House, where members voted unanimously to un-freeze the background-check fees.

The bill came back to the Senate today, where Republicans reiterated that they feel the department is exaggerating the wait times. Majority Republicans then voted against freeing up the fees to speed up license processing and against a proposal to take the issue back to conference committee for further discussion.

Not cute, said Minority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Denver.

“We’re risking a government shutdown of the Department of Safety over the right to make law-abiding citizens wait longer to process their conceal carry permits,” she said. “No mater which way we look at that, I don’t think it makes sense.”

JBC chairman Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, said that rhetoric was overblown.

“I think we’ve had a full debate on this bill,” he said. “I don’t think this bill has been locked up by the Joint Budget Committee.”

If the House refuses to concur with the Senate’s position, which is likely, the bill will end up back in a conference committee comprised of the three Republican and three Democratic members of the JBC.

No late fee for vehicle registration 

The Senate gave initial approval to Sen. Tim Neville, R- Littleton’s, SB 18 today without any debate. The bill, which Neville is co-sponsoring with his son, Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, would repeal the up to $100 fee drivers face when they’re late in registering their vehicle with the DMV.

Committee document depicting states with late registration fees

Rep. Neville said the bill is about protecting the little guy, specifically those who sell used cars or, as a function of their small business, keep several cars they may not be driving all the time. He also noted that Colorado is one of just a few states to assess the fees.

“If you’re six months or even a year late, but you haven’t been driving the car, why should you have an extra fee?” he asked. “You see this a lot with used car sales. The late fee almost eats up the entire value of some of these cars, so people aren’t willing to register them.”

The bill passed on a voice vote in the Senate today and will come up for a final vote later this week.

Resolving a sticky situation 

Bills dealing with drug use and looking to lessen harmful impacts are winning solid bipartisan support this session. Last month, the Senate gave staunch support to a bill from Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, making it much easier for people to access Naloxone, a life-saving opioid overdose-reversal drug.

Tuesday, the Senate advanced another harm-reduction bill from Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. SB 116 grants immunity to people who voluntarily surrender needles when dealing with authorities.

“This bill is to create an incentive for people who are in possession of dirty syringes to turn them over to police,” said Steadman. “That’s so that the police officer doesn’t get stuck with a syringe and potentially exposed to infectious diseases such as hepatitis C or HIV … We’ve now enlarged the bill so that it provides the same incentives for the syringes to be handed over to any first-responder.”

Steadman noted that 12 Denver police officers have been stuck with dirty syringes in the last two years.

The measure passed unanimously out of the Judiciary Committee.

“This is an important step in terms of bringing the community and law enforcement together instead of contributing to what is growing to be an increasingly adversarial relationship,” said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.

The measure got final approval from the Senate on Wednesday and now heads to the House.

Putting survivors back in the driver’s seat

The Senate gave initial approval to Minority Leader Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Denver’s SB 128 on Tuesday. The bill separates a post-sexual assault medical examination from a criminal report of assault. It also allows survivors to remain anonymous and have forensic evidence collected and kept on file in case they want to proceed with criminal allegations in the future.

“This bill allows a survivor to do a medical-only exam without triggering mandatory reporting until and unless she or he is ready,” said Carroll. “This is about putting the victim back in the driver’s seat to decide if, when or how to proceed [in the case of sexual assault.]”

The measure got final approval in the Senate on Wednesday and now heads to the House.

 A just ending in the curious case of the county commissioner 

A few weeks ago we reported on a strange little bill, HB 1074, which would have made county commissioners (and only county commissioners) exempt from campaign finance laws that prohibit governmental entities from using public money to support or oppose ballot initiatives.

The bill arose out of the strange case of the Elbert County Commissioner who, along with a majority of his board, voted to use some $15,000 in public funds to support a ballot initiative.

Under current law, all campaign finance complaints must be brought by either citizens or outside organizations which selectively name the parties, thus limiting who the judge can charge. In this case, the citizen who brought the complaint only mentioned one commissioner, not the others who voted the same way. As a result, when the verdict came through guilty, one person was fined for several people’s mistake.

Initially, HB 1074 would have “solved” this problem by granting all county commissioners personal immunity from such charges. That approach ran afoul of what voters intended when they passed campaign finance regulations and it also extended an unfair benefit to commissioners and not to other officials such as school board or city council members.

On Tuesday Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, saw unanimous approval for HB 1074 in the Senate local affairs committee after amending the bill considerably. Instead of making county commissioners universally immune, the bill now states that, if a citizen brings a complaint against a board, they must name everyone on the board responsible for the offending action.

“Personally I think it’s a just bill, people need to realize that when you make a vote on whatever board there’s responsibilities that go along with that,” said Crowder. “If there’s something dishonest, I think people need to be held accountable. That’s how we have fair and transparent government.”

Ethics Watch Colorado, the nonprofit campaign finance watchdog group that pointed out the problems with the first version of the bill, complimented the sponsors for working with them on the amendment. The watchdogs also asked that the same legislation be extended to all areas of government, not just to county commissioners. That wasn’t possible to do within HB 1074 due to title constraints, but we’ll keep an eye out for followup legislation.

HB 1074 now heads to the Senate floor.

Tessa Cheek and John Tomasic - The Colorado Independent:  It’s an approach to legislating bubbled over from the great clunky caldron that is Capitol Hill and spilled into the Colorado General Assembly — a version of Boehner’s Best Brew for Battling Obama.

It goes like this: If you don’t agree with a law and you don’t have the votes to rewrite it, you look for ways to defund it in order to hobble it. In Washington, it’s an approach embraced mainly by Republicans– one which, extended fully, ends in costly government shutdowns despised by the public.

This month, congressional Republicans are threatening to defund the Department of Homeland Security unless Democrats agree to strip back immigration measures enacted by the White House last year that loosen deportation rules for undocumented young people and adults with family members here.

On Thursday, Colorado Republicans on the state’s Joint Budget Committee defended their decision to defund a program passed last year by Democrats that grants drivers licenses to immigrant residents of the state who lack citizenship documents.

Immigration politics are as charged in Colorado as they are anywhere in the nation. More than 20 percent of the population is Latino here and Republican voters, stoked by local GOP figures like former Congressman Tom Tancredo, are energized in favor of hardline law-and-order immigration policies and in opposition to any programs that smack of “amnesty” for undocumented residents.

Democrats have railed against the Republican move to defund the license program as provocative and short-sighted. Republicans have argued they were making good use of an important mechanism of governance readily available to them on behalf of their constituents.

The issue came to a head weeks ago, when the six-member committee — three Republicans and three Democrats — gridlocked on a Department of Motor Vehicle request to spend $166,000 in fees slated to operate the popular program. Democrats, with the backing of state police and sheriffs, argued the policy improves public safety by ensuring that all drivers are insured, have passed vision tests and know the rules of the road. Republicans argued that the state shouldn’t be in the business of providing services to non-citizens.

The license funds are not the only fees the JBC has frozen on a three-to-three vote this year. Republicans on the committee also denied a request to spend concealed carry fees that would have sped up gun-permit background checks. Republicans say the Colorado Bureau of Investigation is at fault for the 50-plus day wait times and needs to get its act together or switch to a faster, less in-depth background check. Democrats say that holding up the funds is a crazy political long game to make gun owners hate background checks even more.

The act to defund the drivers license program won’t kill the program; it will just reduce it significantly. The DMV will now only be able to offer the licenses in one location instead of five, exponentially expanding wait times.

“The question before us is not, ‘Do you think the policy is right or wrong?” said committee member Pat Steadman, D-Denver. “The question before us is, ‘Should we fund the operation of the government we have today?’ We don’t try to repeal things through the budget process.”

Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said he doesn’t see his role on the committee that way.

“The thing that worries me is the idea being touted here that, because it is law, because it is in statute, that somehow the [committee]… should automatically be beholden to spending based on that previous policy,” he said. “I for one did not come here to rubber stamp… I reflect my district and will continue to do that.”

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said the committee members were setting a dangerous precedent, one that could lead to Capitol Hill-style gridlock.

“If we adopt this precedent, three people on the Joint Budget Committee can basically stop the operation of every fee-based program in the state,” he said. “This is not just about drivers licenses … this is about how we propose to run the state government and this scares me to death.”

Committee Chairman Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, said Heath’s warnings were over-blown. He argued that the requirement for bipartisan majority consent on these programs is an important “moderating influence.” He also pointed out that spending requests like this one not only have to pass out of the Joint Budget Committee but also through both chambers of the legislature and the Governor’s office.

The budget bill the committee was voting on, SB 161, won final passage in the Senate on Friday — without the immigrant license funding. Steadman was the only Democrat to support the measure, which also included other budgetary requests. He refuses to wade into gridlock politics.

“It’s easier for others to threaten than for me to do. I’m one of the mature adults in the building.”
With John Tomasic.

Tessa Cheek - The Colorado Independent  

“It’s a simple but very profound bill,” said Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, of her SB 58 eyewitness identification reform legislation, which was generated by a coalition that included the Attorney General’s office, victims’ rights advocates, and district attorneys.

“The group adopted four core recommendations that will take out the subjectivity of eyewitness identification officers and guarantee a much better and more scientific set of best practices,” said Guzman.

Lawmakers unanimously approved the bill. It comes up for a final vote tomorrow.


Lawmakers look for compromise on campaign finance disclosure limits

Introduction of SB 61, a bill from Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, that would significantly increase Colorado disclosure caps for political issue committees, was delayed again today. That’s because some Democrats, and narrow court rulings, agree with Holbert that the current $200 limit written into the Colorado constitution (and not indexed for inflation) is too low. However, disagreement lingers about whether the legislature has the authority to change precise figures adopted by Colorado voters and written into the state Constitution.

Holbert says he is in the midst of a bipartisan, bicameral conversation to figure out how to tackle the issue with the possibility of referring a constitutional measure to the people.

Parent’s Bill of Rights goes down smooth

In the interest of time and with a nod to lengthy debate Wednesday, senators passed SB 77, the Parent’s Bill of Rights, on a party-line vote today. Proponents of the measure say it’s about transparency, strengthening the family unit and protecting children’s privacy. Opponents say it puts unnecessary hurdles between kids and resources to provide for mental health counseling, vaccination, sexual assault reporting, and sexual orientation safe spaces. You can read a more detailed account of the great “PBR” debate and watch testimony on the bill here.

The measure now moves to the Democrat-controlled House, where it is expected to be killed fast in committee.

The Colorado Independent - Tessa Cheek  Unanimous support for child sexual assault prevention bill...

Fears in the sexual assault prevention community that conservative lawmakers might use a child abuse bill by Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, to create an opt-in rather than opt-out provision for general sex ed were relieved today when the bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Education Committee.

SB 20 aims to prevent sexual assault against children by offering schools the option to educate kids of all ages that they are “the boss of their body” and should “tell on” anyone who violates their personal space.” The measure is nationally known as “Erin’s Law” after advocate and survivor Erin Merryn.

Newell offered as amendment, which passed, clarifying that reports of alleged sexual assault all be directed to the state’s new child abuse hotline.

Lawmakers on the Republican-controlled committee complimented Newell on a lengthy negotiation process that brought them all into agreement in supporting the measure.

“Senator Newell, thank you so much for your work on this bill, the powerful testimony you brought to the first committee hearing, your patience in working through [the amendment] and all the conversations you had with members of the committee who had an interest in this bill,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. “I am proud to vote for SB 20.”

The measure is a deeply personal one for Newell, whose own daughter bravely testified in committee about her experience with sexual assault as a child.

“I did a lot of work with my colleagues to ensure that the two issues [sex ed and sexual assault] were kept separate out of respect for victims and survivors,” said Newell, who teared up after the measure succeeded. “This is such a great tool in preventing future victims and survivors.”

The bill now heads to the Judiciary Committee.

back to top
border   border
Copyright 2015 State Capitol Watch
border border