DENVER — Word in the chambers of the Colorado legislature this week is that Democrats, eyeing Election Day in November, are planning a “low-bore” 2014 session after the tumult of last year’s gun-control session. That might be possible in the House, where Dems still enjoy a nine-seat majority, but it will likely take a bit more to keep the boat from rocking in the Senate, where the recent, recall-driven, addition of Republican senators Bernie Herpin and George Rivera has narrowed the Democratic majority to a single seat.
In Colorado Springs, a slim majority voted to recall then-Senate President John Morse, replacing him with Herpin. In Pueblo, Senator Angela Giron was recalled in a surprise landslide and replaced by Rivera.
The difference in those margins isn’t lost on the two senators. While he spoke adamantly about his commitment to his district, Herpin doesn’t appear to be reloading on the gun-control issue just yet. Rivera, on the other hand, who rode in on a 12-point lead, said he plans to revisit the gun issue with his very first bill.
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“Considering the recall, the bill that I presented as a pre-file is to repeal the universal background checks and the associated fees,” said Rivera. “That bill was highly contested down in Pueblo… I felt I had a duty to my constituents to present [a repeal].”
Rivera added that his three decades in law enforcement taught him that those who use guns criminally have no problem acquiring them. He said his constituents are worried that Colorado’s background checks law is too strict, or too invasive, and may prevent law-abiding citizens from owning firearms.
“I’ve heard from several of my constituents who are very concerned,” he said. “They say, ‘You know what? I had depression. I’ve gone to see a professional because I wanted to get better, and now, all of a sudden, I’m really scared I can’t exercise my right to have a weapon.”
Treading lightly after winning Morse’s former district by just a few hundred votes, Herpin is looking to legislate on issues which may not be as divisive. He said he plans to follow through on calls for bipartisanship and to focus on criminal-justice legislation.
“I’m the sponsor of Jessica’s Law,” said Herpin, “which would mandate a minimum prison sentence for someone convicted of molesting a child.”
Jessica’s Law died in the House last session with a range of stakeholders — from attorneys to survivors groups — saying the measure wasn’t a necessary addition to Colorado’s legal statues. Critics said Republicans introduces it just to grab headlines when Democrats vote against it.
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Herpin also plans to bring a bill proposing that Colorado ramp-up its “shield law” to give journalists firmer legal footing when protecting the identity of sources.
The issue recently came to a head when attorneys for Aurora gunman James Holmes demanded that New York-based reporter Jana Winter divulge the source of a tip that came from law enforcement. A strong shield law in New York protected Winter, but the issue could still be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meantime, Herpin hopes to bring the relatively weak Colorado shield law up to the New York standard.
“Being a very strong advocate of the Second Amendment,” Herpin told the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, “why shouldn’t I be a strong advocate for the First Amendment and freedom of the press?”