Crunch Time In Committee

All, but a handful of bill’s in Colorado’s state legislature (other than appropriations) have a Friday, March 23 deadline to clear the committee process, the last step before final floor votes and a trip to the Governor’s office. A few are merely stragglers, but most are still lingering because intense negotiations are underway between bill supporters and opponents about controversial legislation, often below the radar of the traditional mass media.

One of the most controversial, which was returned to committee after floor consideration in the State Senate, is SB 83, which gives parolees the right to vote and makes major reforms in how Colorado runs its elections. It is in committee because Republican Attorney General John Suthers has made the dubious argument that allowing parolees to vote is unconstitutional, and the committee is now set to consider that argument.

SB 83 isn’t the only bill still in the thick of legislative intrigue at a point in the legislative session when the vast majority of bills have already either been defeated, or are almost sure to make it to a friendly governor’s desk, after a final round of floor consideration of a well vetted bill.

House Bill 1339 hasn’t caught the eye of any of the daily papers, but has provoked a fierce fight between criminal defense attorneys and the agencies that prosecute them. The bill would have set strict time limits on determinations about whether criminal defendants are competent to stand trial, even when both prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to delay a case. But, in the face of controversy, supporters of the bill will kill it this session, in order to allow for more negotiations over its terms.

While it sailed through the Senate, SB 150, which is now awaiting consideration in the House Judiciary Committee as crunch time approaches, has divided the relevant players in the Colorado Bar Association. The bill, which is the brain child of asset protection lawyer Mark Merrick, seeks to prevent Colorado courts from continuing to follow the evolving common law of trusts, in order to make it easier to use trust to hide assets from creditors, such as ex-spouses, even when the trust beneficiary is benefitting from the trust with in kind distributions, or the trustee is violating his fiduciary duties in an effort to protect trust assets from a beneficiary’s creditors. It has secured support from Democrats based on supporter’s assertions that it also better protects trusts the the disabled and others with special needs.The bill’s fate in committee is uncertain.

SB 151, which would allow police to stop vehicles because someone isn’t wearing a seat belt, is lingering because it has divided the traditional Democratic party constituencies of people concerned about safety, and people concerned about civil liberties.

Several of the lingering bills are turf battles. HB 1297, now being consider in the Senate Agriculture Committee, would dramatically roll back the monopoly veterinarians hold on animal care, even in cases where alternative veterinary medicine practioners don’t claim to be veterinarians. The vets, naturally enough, don’t like this idea.

HB 1192, which has bounced back and forth between committees in the State House, would allow naturopaths with proper credentials to practice in Colorado, upsetting both medical doctors, who don’t want other professions intruding on their turf. The bill also isn’t loved by a good share of people who hold themselves out to the public as naturopaths in Colorado right now (one such naturopath in Wheat Ridge went to prison after his unsound practices killed a patient), because they wouldn’t meet the stiff educational standards set by the bill which would require a graduate degree from an accreditted institution and supervised clinical practice under the supervision of a major national naturopathic medical organization, or the equivalent.

HB 1114 which governs taxi cab regulations, has earned support from would be taxi cab entrapreneurs, and opposition from those with existing regulated operations.

Of course, not all lingering bills are of high moment. Some are simply still awaiting consideration because other bills really are more important. Among them is the session’s inevitable proposal for a new license plate design. SB 67 would establish a “share the road” plate to encourage drivers to look out for bicyclists and should be considered this week.