Much drama over bills on fracking, abortion, labor rights, recalls, red-light cameras
House approves study of front range fracking’s health impacts
After hours of debate on Wednesday night, the House gave final passage to Fort Collins Rep. Joann Ginal’s HB 1297 on a near party-line vote Thursday. The controversial bill calls for a study of the impacts of Front Range oil-and-gas development on human health in six counties most impacted by fracking: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld.
The bill was seen by opponents as a partisan anti-fracking measure and its aim to study the impacts of fracking on the “quality of life” were called biased and overly vague. Republican representatives offered a series of failed amendments aimed at preventing anyone employed by a conservation or anti-fracking organization from sitting on the study’s advisory committee or else stopping the study midway if its survey phase doesn’t identify significant health impacts.
While the vast majority of those amendments failed, one offered by Rep. Janak Joshi of Colorado Springs to include a non-voting member from every county in the study, as opposed to just three from any of the six counties, did pass. That brings the study’s much-discussed scientific advisory board up to 19 individuals. There will be ten non-voting members, six designees from each county as well as an economist, a statistician, an oil-and-gas representative and a conservation representive. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which will coordinate the study, will have two voting members on the advisory committee: the department’s executive director and chief medical officer. The remaining voting members will be assigned by the CDPHE with the qualification that the all appointees have relevant experience in the area and no known conflicts. At least two physicians must be appointed to the voting portion of the committee.
The study will take place over two years and then be offered for peer review, published and any policy recommendations brought to the legislature.
The bill passed by a vote of 38-27 and now heads to the Senate.
Thou shalt not steal wages
The Senate passed Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Westminster’s SB 5 Thursday, a bill to protect workers against wage theft. The measure mandates that the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment take a wage-shorted worker’s complaint, investigate it and then work with both the employer and employee to settle the issue, and get the disputed dollars into the right hands, without resorting to small claims court.
Ulibarri said his was a fitting bill to pass during Holy Week, after all, Moses lead his people out of Egypt because they were not paid for the work they dis. He also quoted Pope Francis, saying “work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. It gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family and to contribute to growth of one’s nation.”
When workers aren’t paid, they can’t pay income tax and their employers have an unfair financial advantage over businesses that actually pay their employees, Ulibarri added.
Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs opposed the measure, saying that more regulation wasn’t going to make already criminal employers act any differently.
Ulibarri said it just might, because workers would have more resources and because the bill comes with a hefty set of penalties. It creates a fine of up to $50 per day of wage violation — money that will go to a newly created fund to offset the costs of hiring folks to investigate and adjudicate the claims. The bill also requires employers to keep wage records for three years so that the labor department can look into patterns of wage-withholding.
The measure got final passage on a near, but not quite, party-line vote with a vote of 21-14. It now heads to the House.
Senate says no to red-light cameras and speed traps
Everyone hates getting a ticket in the mail for an infraction they don’t remember or may not have committed. Today the Senate agreed, passing SB 181, which prohibits the use of red-light cameras and photo radar.
“A picture doesn’t tell the story,” said Sen. Scott Renfroe of Greeley, introducing his popular bill. Renfroe said that in addition to having no significant, documented impact on the safety of intersections, red-light cameras raise serious constitutional concerns around due process.
Denver Sen. Lucia Guzman, the bill’s co-sponsor, agreed, recounting her constituents’ experiences with faulty machines that mailed them $40 tickets after they took a legal right turn at a red light, or else rolled a few inches into the crosswalk. Like Renfroe, she said these devices have become much more about raising revenue than public safety.
It wasn’t all speedy sunshine and bipartisan approval on the floor, however. Sen. Irene Aguliar of Denver took issue with Renfroe’s assertion that the cameras and photo radar — which is used to catch speeders — are unconstitutional.
“No one has a fundamental right to run a red light or not be seen by a camera on a public street,” she pointed out.
Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Westminster was also worried about the broad impacts the bill might have. Representing Commerce City, where intersections are industrial-scale, trafficked by huge trucks and virtually impossible to police because they lack the shoulder space, red-light cameras have been a crucial public safety measure.
“Since installing red-light cameras, we’ve seen a 40 percent reduction in running red lights and fatal accidents. This is about safety, about life and death, about real people who could be killed,” he said.
Ulibarri offered an amendment to narrow when cameras could be used and to eliminate the use of the photo-radar cameras that automatically catch folks who are over the speed limit. He asserted that red-light cameras could and have been used to change public behavior in a way that makes everyone safer.
Debate raged on this amendment but it failed, despite strong support from other senators who both felt their communities didn’t abuse red-light cameras and needed the revenue.
Ultimately, this being an election year, the measure was just too appealing not to pass. The Senate gave it initial approval.
Senate aborts contentious reproductive-rights bill
Sponsored by Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Sen. Jeanne Nicholson of Black Hawk, SB 175 had 500 people praying for its failure on the capitol steps this week. The measure essentially said that the government at any level in the state of Colorado was prohibited from interfering with medically approved reproductive health decisions.
After laying over the bill several times, and after Democratic Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins expressed doubts about whether the measure was the best tool for protecting a woman’s right to make her own health decisions, Democrats killed the bill last night.
Senate President Morgan Carroll released a statement late last night on her party’s decision to drop the measure, which included the following:
With 21 days left in the legislative session and 269 bills still pending, having a GOP filibuster would bring D.C. style dysfunction to Colorado. We have made our point, and in the interest of getting the remaining work done on education, jobs, higher education affordability and childcare, we laid the bill over.
Total recall defense gets recall-election reform passed in House
Also after heated debate, the House passed Majority Leader Dicky Lee Hullinghorst’s SB 158, a measure which modifies the election laws relating to recall elections to allow for mail ballots.
“Our recall elections are governed by a 100-plus-year-old constitutional provision that allows candidates until 15 days before the election to petition onto the ballot,” said Hullinghorst, getting to the crux of the legislation which defines the Constitution’s language of “date for holding an election” as the first day clerks send out mail ballots instead of the last day voters are able to cast them.
Proponents of the bill argue that the legislature has the right to define terms in the Constitution and that this definition will allow clerks enough time to use mail ballots, offering voters maximum access to the polls.
Many Republican Representatives came to the well in opposition to the bill, saying it was a constitutional over-reach on the part of the legislature and looked like a sore loser’s measure prompted by the historic recall elections last fall, which ousted two Democratic state senators.
Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver called foul on that argument.
“If you don’t know your history, you’re condemned to repeat it … as recently as 2012, in a Republican-controlled House, we nearly unanimously passed legislation defining provisions in the Constitution to do with recalls,” he said, adding that Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock sponsored that legislation, which no one thought was a constitutional overreach at the time.
Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso was not swayed by that argument. He pointed out that the political climate was very different at that time. No recall had ever taken place at the state level and virtually nobody cared. Now thousands of people care and, DelGrosso argued, they care enough to want and deserve an opportunity to weigh in.
“I do see political advantage in allowing the majority party to stick their finger in the eyes of the public,” warned fellow Republican Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker.
Whether or not it’s politically advantageous in an election year, Democrats said they felt the measure was all about supporting two of Coloradan’s fundamental rights: the right to vote and the right to recall. They gave the election-reform bill final passage on a party-line vote today.
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