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.”
“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.