Going “Office Space” On the State Computer Systems

The NFL Draft ended yesterday. Nobody picked me.

If you want to pummel your computer with a baseball bat sometimes, you know how frustrating it can be to have computer troubles. But you can take heart in the fact that at least your computer system isn’t as expensive and disjointed as many in Colorado’s government.

As Alan Gathright of the Rocky Mountain News reports, lawmakers are playing the role of IT managers:

Lawmakers hope to halt the multimillion-dollar fiascoes plaguing state computer projects with a bill to strengthen government technology expertise and oversight. Senate Bill 254 abolishes the Colorado Commission on Information Management, comprised of lawmakers, private- sector experts and department heads.

Instead, the Governor’s Office of Innovation and Technology would take responsibility for centralized planning and streamlining of new technology projects with a panel of tech specialists and department heads drawing on outside experts.

The bill has passed the Senate and was unanimously endorsed Friday by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee…

… Clearly, the goal is to avoid perpetuating a series of flubbed computer system rollouts that began during the administration of former Republican Gov. Bill Owens and still haunt state government with cost and deadline over-runs and a failure to perform as advertised.

They range from the disastrous $212 million welfare benefit system to a $30 million computerized financial-management system that crippled the state highway agency’s ability to pay workers and vendors.


Ed Sealover of The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that a well-traveled bill on illegal immigration may finally have its day at the State Capitol today:

The most traveled bill in this year’s legislative session, Rep. Amy Stephens’ effort to force more jailed illegal immigrants to stand trial for their alleged crimes, should finally come before the House for debate today.

House Bill 1040 has received a virtually unprecedented four committee recommendation votes, including two in the House Appropriations Committee. But while Stephens, R-Monument, has worked ferociously to get former opponents behind the measure, it still was saddled with an amendment last week that could pull its teeth.

The bill attempts to fix the “get-out-of-jail-free” card that Stephens and El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa say a number of illegal immigrants now receive.

Under current law, if local authorities imprison illegal immigrants, they are taken into federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, where judges typically order them deported before they can stand trial on the local charges. Attorneys get local charges dismissed because the accused can’t defend themselves, and family members or bondsmen who put up bail can get the money back because their clients have been forced against their will to leave the country.

If they sneak back across the border and commit another crime – or if they disobey voluntary deportation orders and never leave – they cannot be recharged with the first crime. Thus, an increasing number of illegal immigrants are asking for deportation as a way to avoid jail time, several witnesses have testified.

Stephens’ bill requires judges to issue warrants on illegal immigrants ordered for deportation, ensuring that charges from the original crime will be pending if they are arrested again. In its original form, it also allowed judges to forfeit bonds on anyone who was deported, and that money would have been used for the increase in prison bed space needed to accommodate the arrested immigrants.


Colorado Confidential’s own Erin Rosa has a Q&A with Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey on the heels of last week’s gang raids in Denver:

Q: Do you think there’s a gang problem in Denver right now?

A: There has been a gang problem in Denver just like every city in the United States for decades. Gang issues in Denver have never gone away. We had the “summer of violence” in [1993], we did very proactive things to attack the gangs.

We were very successful in using our organized crime statutes to disorganize them. There was a point in time when budgets were tight and the gang unit in the Denver DA’s Office got cut, and it was just a matter of finances more than anything else. When I started we didn’t have a specialized gang unit although we had a lot of people that really worked hard fighting gangs for years. I’ve been able to build that gang unit back up and we’re seeing the fruits of that.


A pilot health care plan in Pueblo seeks to help small-business employees, as Margie Wood of The Pueblo Chieftain explains:

Within a year, a pilot project called Health Access Pueblo should begin providing low-cost health care coverage to people working in small businesses.
A board has been selected, two-thirds of the start-up funding has been pledged by the two private hospitals in Pueblo, and potential customers are being interviewed to determine what are Pueblo’s priorities for types of care to be covered.

Planners stress that it is not insurance, with all the actuarial data and huge money reserves that insurance companies must have, but a plan to provide basic health care to people who can’t afford insurance coverage.

The plan is aimed at people earning in the range of $12 an hour, working for businesses that employ no more than 25 people and currently providing no health-care benefits. In Pueblo, “that’s probably an endless potential,” said Len Gregory of St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center…

… The project will be working on incorporation as a nonprofit agency. To make the distinction between this project and insurance clear, State Rep. Dorothy Butcher has included the plan in a rural health care plan going through the Legislature.

Her bill would exempt the plan from the state insurance commission’s oversight “because it is not insurance but pre-paid health care,” Gregory said.


Colorado Confidential’s Cara DeGette looks at Republican Presidential contender Mitt Romney and whether Evangelicals in Colorado can support a Mormon candidate. As it turns out, Romney’s politics may be scarier than his religion for many Evangelicals.


Colorado colleges and universities are spending big money to lobby the state legislature, as Jennifer Brown of The Denver Post reports:

Colorado colleges and universities – pitted against each other in the frenzied battle for funding – are spending more than $1.8 million this year to lobby state and federal lawmakers.

The powerhouse is the University of Colorado, which budgeted $799,000.

But the payoff for the largest research university in the state was huge: lobbyists helped secure $16.2 million in federal earmarks, plus millions of dollars from Colorado’s tobacco settlement money for the medical school.

Still, some state lawmakers are fed up with the intensity of the higher-education lobby. New money rolling into the state from budget-reforming Referendum C spurred higher-ed lobbyists to kick their game up a notch last year. The lobby was so fierce in 2006 that lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee warned colleges to tone down their tactics.

“The way the system has grown up, we need neutral disarmament,” said Rep. Bernie Buescher, a Grand Junction Democrat who called last year’s higher-ed lobbying “completely unacceptable.”

“There has been way too much money spent on lobbying,” he said. “That money should go into lowering tuition.”

Lawmakers, who joke that every college can produce a spreadsheet showing they are the worst off, are hopeful the new director of the state Department of Higher Education will come up with a new funding formula this summer. Executive director David Skaggs, a former congressman, is calling colleges together for a summit on the topic.


Bob Ewegen of The Denver Post criticized Attorney General John Suthers on Sunday for his partisan attempt to interject himself into the debate over Gov. Bill Ritter’s school funding plan:

I’ve known six Colorado attorneys general in 35 years at The Denver Post, beginning with the legendary Duke W. Dunbar, who served from 1951 to 1973…

…Of more consequence was Dunbar’s solid reputation for integrity. He loved the law and was famous for always “calling ’em the way he saw ’em,” even if his opinions weren’t what partisans in his own Republican Party were hoping for.

Dunbar, like his successor, John Moore, was a great attorney general who happened to be a Republican. I thought of their legacy Friday when the current officeholder, John Suthers, strode forward in the role of a Republican who happens to be attorney general.

Brandishing a “memo” – he didn’t call it a formal opinion – Suthers said Gov. Bill Ritter’s tax freeze proposal would be unconstitutional if it were not submitted to a statewide vote of the people…

..The Suthers memo, nominally written by Solicitor General Dan Domenico, is a slapdash affair – almost comically so in places. It even twice cites press releases to buttress its legal conclusions. Will Suthers’ next foray into partisan law cite the Mallard Fillmore comic strip?

The reason Suthers called his legal eructation a “memo” rather than an “opinion” is that, quite literally, nobody asked for his opinion. The attorney general is the lawyer for our state government and, normally, only the legislature or governor has standing to ask him for a formal opinion. Not only was such a request not made, Suthers told Ritter two months ago that he was staying out of this fray. That abruptly changed last week. Capitol gossips speculate Suthers ordered the memo drafted after state Republican Chairman Dick Wadhams urged him to join in the GOP attack on Ritter’s attempt to stabilize the state’s education finances.

The hastily crafted memo, which runs just 11 pages, was the result. Its political intent is obvious in the fact that it disputes two much longer and far more carefully researched opinions by the Office of Legislative Services. One was written in 2004 at the request of Republican Sen. Norma Anderson and Rep. Keith King, the majority leaders of their respective chambers. It concluded that the property tax freeze would not violate provisions of the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. As a result, Anderson put such a freeze to the 2004 School Finance Act and it was adopted by the Republican-controlled Senate. Eventually, the measure died in the House.

Legal Services issued a second memo on March 28 of this year that also said the tax freeze “clearly does not constitute a new tax \[or\] tax rate increase” and thus did not require a separate vote of the people…

…As to Suthers, I can only say: I knew Duke W. Dunbar and I learned a lot about integrity from him. There’s a right way to perform public duties, and there’s a wrong way. In this incident, Suthers failed to live up to Dunbar’s fine example.

Colorado Confidential first reported on Friday that Suthers broke a promise to Ritter to not get involved in seeking his own opinion on the matter.

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