This is the first of a periodic series of blog posts in which I will recap recent activity, discuss bills that I support or oppose, and preview the coming week. Since politics is mind-numbingly boring to most people, I am doing this because after the 2013 session I believe that We The People need to pay attention to what goes on in that gold-domed building downtown. I don’t plan to write about every bill or issue, but I do want to cover things that I find important, especially if they are not reported in The Denver Post.
Last Wednesday the 8th of January saw the opening of the Second Regular Session of the 69th Colorado General Assembly. The session opened with the usual pomp and circumstance and included a State of the State speech from Governor John Hickenlooper on Thursday the 9th. In his speech Hickenlooper cast a moderate tone, calling for lawmakers to help the economy grow, pass a budget that increases emergency reserves, reform education (without the $1 billion tax increase he supported a few short months ago), review the state’s telecommunications act and finishing with a tribute to slain corrections chief Tom Clements. As a nod to the liberal side of his constituency he called for harsher penalties for energy companies that violate state rules. Unlike in 2013 when he called for more gun control laws, his only mention of guns was in regard to the “mental health piece of the puzzle”, and increasing funding and services for mental health, a move that I support.
Hickenlooper was interrupted many times for applause, and while at times it was excessive and clearly partisan, there appeared to be plenty of bi-partisan support for what he had to say. Of course, he didn’t mention that in 2013 he presided over the most divisive legislative assembly in state history which prompted several counties to attempt secession, watched as three Democratic senators lost their jobs, failed to veto even one bill presented to him, and did nothing as Magpul Industries pulled up stakes to move to Texas and Wyoming, taking over 200 jobs with them.
Composition and Leadership
The Colorado General Assembly consists of a Senate chamber and a House chamber. There are 35 senators from both parties with Democrats having an 18-17 majority (prior to the recalls of Morse and Giron and the resignation of Hudak it was 20-15). In Colorado, senators are elected to four year terms and in every election roughly half are up for re-election. Colorado voters imposed term limits on legislative office, so senators are limited to 2 four year terms.
After the historic recall of previous Senate President John Morse, the Senate elected Aurora lawyer Morgan Carroll as President in October 2013. Ms. Carroll is a consumer and civil rights attorney who has been in the legislature since 2004. A review of her ratings and endorsements on Project Vote Smart’s website shows her to be reliably liberal when it comes to abortion, women’ issues, civil rights and LGBT issues. Predictably her ratings from conservative groups including the NRA are low. My personal evaluation of her is that she is a mainstream liberal but not necessarily in the pocket of the progressive movement. If that is accurate then she is a small improvement over Morse, who clearly was in lockstep with progressives both locally and nationally.
State Senator Rollie Heath, D-Boulder is the Majority Leader. Senator Heath, who just celebrated his 77th birthday, is also the first chairman of ProgressNow Colorado upon its formation in 2003. His ratings and endorsements are also strongly liberal, with an NRA rating of 0% – not surprisingly as he was the senate sponsor of the 2013 HB-122 which sought to endanger college students by banning concealed carry on campus. With his impeccable progressive credentials, I believe that Heath was appointed Majority Leader as a nod to the powerful progressive wing of the Democratic Party. He will be the one to watch as the session unfolds.
The Minority Leader is Senator Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs. His conservative credentials are impressive, with strong pro-gun (100% NRA rating) and taxpayer’s union ratings. His stands on abortion, LGBT and women’s issues, however, are why he’s the Minority Leader. I like and respect Senator Cadman and appreciate his support of the Second Amendment. I hope he can provide a moderating leadership influence throughout this legislative session.
Other Senate leaders include Lucia Guzman, Irene Aguilar and Jeanne Nicholson as President pro Tempore, Assistant Majority Leader and Majority Caucus Chair, respectively. In a stunning display of intolerance, just before the session started Senator Aguilar fired a gay assistant on her staff for the shocking offense of visiting a friend on the Republican side of the aisle.
Colorado’s House is political home to 65 legislators from throughout the state. After the 2012 election the distribution by party was 37-28 with the Democrats having the majority. Colorado representatives are elected to two year terms with term limits of eight years.
The Speaker of the House is 35 year old Mark Ferrandino from District 2 in Denver. He was initially appointed to office in 2007 and was elected speaker at the beginning of the current session. His credentials include working for Chuck Schumer of New York, the US Department of Justice and the White House OMB. His ratings and endorsements demonstrate his extreme liberal positions on most issues including his 0% rating by the NRA. I believe his elevation to Speaker is in part because of his resume and partly as a snub to the GOP who shamefully refused to allow debate on civil unions in the previous session. He is the first openly gay representative in Colorado history and lives with his husband in south central Denver.
The Majority Leader of the House is Boulder Democrat Dickey Lee Hullinghorst. With both majority leader positions locked up, Boulder can certainly expect to be well-represented in this session. Hullinghorst has a history of working for governmental entities and support of Democratic politics. She lives in the ironically named Gunbarrel area of Boulder with her husband. Her liberal credentials are impeccable as would be expected for her history and position.
The Minority Leader is Brian DelGrosso, a Republican from District 51 in Larimer County which includes the City of Loveland. He is a small business owner and has served in the legislature since 2009. His conservative credentials are solid and not surprising either. His support for gun rights is notable with a 92% rating from the NRA.
Rounding out the House leadership are Dan Pabon, Lois Court, Beth McCann, Su Ryden and Dominick Moreno as Assistant Majority Leader, Majority Caucus Chair, Majority Caucus Whip, Majority Deputy Whip and Majority Assistant Caucus Chair, respectively.
As might be expected, the Democrats represent mostly urban districts in the counties of Denver, Arapahoe, Boulder, Jefferson, Adams, Broomfield and Pueblo. The Republicans are mostly representative of suburban and rural counties. This difference was evident in the last session when several of the bills passed were considered to be a “war on rural Colorado” prompting the secession drive by several northeastern counties.
Bills of Interest
On the first day of the session, 50 bills were introduced in each chamber. Many of them appear to be mundane and routine. Several are appropriately related to the wildfires and floods that plagued Colorado last year.
One bill, SB014-002 which is sponsored by the top leadership of both chambers is to revise the Safe2Tell program which allows for anonymous reporting of threats in schools. This program which is designed to allow for students and other parties to report threats and illegal activity without having to worry about being identified is a worthwhile and should be continued. It is not, however, a substitute for having an armed school resource officer or teacher on hand to respond to an active shooter incident. Education and tip lines are effective tools, but still no substitute for “a good guy with a gun” when it comes to stopping an active shooter bent on mayhem and murder.
Of the others, there are thirteen that I have identified for further study and review. They are:
The first bill, HB14-1043, sponsored by Amy Stephens who is also a candidate to replace US Senator Mark Udall, will require further study before I decide if I support it nor not.
The second one, which was killed in the last session, has been brought back after some modifications. HB14-1036 provides for charging persons on their third DUI offense within seven years with a Class 4 felony. With this bill, Colorado would join most of the rest of the nation in having felony DUI laws. Because more people die in alcohol related accidents than from gun homicides, I completely support this law. Habitual DUI offenders are a menace to society and should be counseled, treated and incarcerated if they cannot learn to not drink and drive.
HB 14-1041 is the first gun related bill introduced in this session and would provide for legally qualified individuals to carry concealed handguns without a permit. The same restrictions that apply under current law would still apply under this bill. If this bill passes, Colorado would join Alaska, Arizona, Wyoming and Vermont in allowing some form of “permit-less” concealed carry. This bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, and with the 7 to 4 Democratic tilt of the committee I don’t expect it to get past committee.
The fourth bill Concerning Offenses Against an Unborn Child (HB14-1049) will be interesting to follow. Because it could be construed as an impediment to abortion, I don’t expect it to make it out of committee either.
The next bill listed, SB14-011 regarding the Colorado Energy Research Authority is one that I plan to study in more detail, given its Boulder-originated sponsorship. When I first read through it, I did not see anything striking about it, however I think it warrants close scrutiny.
SB14-021 is sponsored by a bi-partisan group including some strong Second Amendment supporters. This bill extends the repeal date for the legislative oversight committee, adds two new members, assigns additional duties and allows for travel compensation for members of the task force. As this bill is designed to further the supervision of the treatment of persons with mental illness in the criminal and juvenile justice systems it falls within the Governor’s stated goal of improving mental health services in the state.
SB14-034 is a bill that strengthens the First Amendment protections afforded to a “newsperson” by changing the standards for enforcing a subpoena to be more stringent. In light of the Jana Winter controversy we saw last year, when the Aurora Theater shooting suspect’s defense attorneys sought to compel Fox News reporter to reveal her sources it is relevant and appropriate that this enhancement of the shield law be passed. I will be following this bill with interest as well.
SB14-035 is an attempt to repeal the renewable energy standards that were enacted in the 2013 session and that were so offensive to rural Coloradans. While I support reasonable and economically sensible renewable energy sources as part of an integrated energy plan, this bill went too far and created unreasonable requirements that will be costly for rural energy users. In my estimation this bill is unlikely to pass out of committee as well.
Senator Scott Renfroe re-introduced SB14-038 which will eliminate the governor’s authority to suspend or limit the sale, dispensing or transportation of firearms during an emergency. This bill is necessary to ensure the safety of Coloradans during emergencies that we see with some frequency in this state (blizzards, wildfires, floods and the like). This bill was previously introduced in the 2011 session and was postponed indefinitely by the committee. I suspect a similar fate this session.
Finally, gubernatorial candidate Senator Greg Brophy and Representative Libby Szabo have sponsored SB14-040 which allows for the interstate sales of individual health benefit plans. As a Republican alternative to the provisions of Obamacare, I fully support this free-market alternative. As to whether it makes it out of committee, we will see.
The other three listed are of some interest to me, but not enough to comment upon.
This Week’s Activities
This week, three of the bills I described above are scheduled for first hearings in committee as follows:
SB14-034 Shield Law Judiciary 1:30 pm Wednesday 1/15 SCR 352
SB14-035 Renewable Energy Repeal State, Veterans and Military Affairs 1:30 pm Wednesday 1/15 SCR 353
SB14-040 Interstate sale of health plans State, Veterans and Military Affairs 1:30 pm Wednesday 1/15 SCR 353
Senator Brophy is concerned that the hearing for SB14-040 has been scheduled so early in the session and he needs public input on insurance horror stories. This is from an email I received from him today. If you or anyone you know can help him, please do. His Twitter name is @SenatorBrophy .
So far, the session looks to be fairly innocuous, but I will keep an eye on things and report back in a week or so.
By Richard D. Turnquist
January 13, 2014