Wrangling over recall reform bill
Today Democrats introduced SB 158, a bill designed to bring Colorado’s recall election statutes into line with the state constitution while still allowing for all-mail ballots. The bill comes after several court cases triggered by election procedures during Colorado’s September recalls of former Senate President John Morse and former Sen. Angela Giron.
Sponsors say the bill would set an earlier deadline for replacement candidates to petition onto the ballot. Instead of 15 days before the final election day, the deadline would be 15 days before clerks send out mail ballots. The aim is to give more time for overseas voters and others who vote by mail to weigh in on recall efforts. The reform bill would also change some of the rules for how the petitions to start a recall election are run in the first place — including transparency training for circulators.
“This legislation updates a lot of old, dusty statutes, ensuring we prevent fraud in the petitioning process and have accessible elections. We want to give voters ample opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement.
The legislation would also eliminate an aspect of recall elections — a two-part ballot in which a voter can only select a replacement candidate if they vote “yes” on the recall in the first place — that has been found to be unconstitutional.
Senate Minority Leader, Republican Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs, said that the bill is obviously motivated by the two recall elections that ousted Democrats last fall and he believes the question of whether and how to reform recall election procedures should be put to a statewide vote.
Cadman wasn’t the only Republican to lampoon the proposed legislation hours after it was introduced. Secretary of State Scott Gessler, whom the bill’s sponsors say was given ample opportunity to weigh in on the measure during a three-month stakeholder process, was equally dismissive of the proposed recall election law cleanup.
Kurtis Lee of the Denver Post reports that Gessler said the legislation “doubles down” on what the Secretary believes are failed election policies — otherwise known as last session’s contentious election modernization act which instituted all mail ballots, same day voter registration and shorter residency requirements. Like Cadman, Gessler also argued that the legislation is a constitutional overreach.
The sponsors countered that the legislation should be non-partisan because complex and contradictory recall election laws doesn’t serve anyone, least of all the voters who have the right to recall elected officials from office
“We live in America, a country founded on democratic participation. We want every eligible voter to vote in every election. In the past recall elections, we had dismal voter turnouts,” said co-sponsor Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville in a statement. “This update allows enough time that everyone will get a mail ballot, ensuring our military troops overseas can participate, as well.”
The bill, introduced today, has been assigned to the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs committee.
When is it Jessica’s Law?
Jessica’s Law, named after the child victim of a violent assault case in Florida, refers to laws that have been passed in states throughout the country setting mandatory minimum sentences for child sex offenders. Colorado Republicans have proposed the legislation for the past couple of years, but with no success. This year is different. Democrats today gave initial passage in the House to HB 1260, a slightly softer version of the bill, followed by an amendment to name it “Jessica’s Law” after the 10-year-old whose attack inspired a national movement.
Democratic support for a modified version of the Jessica’s Law bill, lead by sponsor Mike Foote, a Democrat from Lafayette, enraged Republicans who accused Democrats of stealing the issue from them. Because the bill lacks a mandatory sentence of 25 years for first offenders, they argued it doesn’t merit the name “Jessica’s Law.”
“This is simply playing politics with our children for the second year in a row,” said Rep. Libby Szabo of Arvada, who has tried to carry the stricter legislation in PAST sessions.
Foote said his bill is simply the Colorado version of the Florida law. He added that more than half of the other states who’ve passed such a law — including Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Wyoming, and both Dakotas — have amended it in some way. He added that Jessica’s family has voiced support for his legislation.
Foote’s version of Jessica’s Law would tier the mandatory minimums for someone who sexually assaults a child beginning with 10 years for a class four felony and ranging up to 24 years for a class two felony.
In debate over whether the bill could be amended on the floor to more closely resemble the original Florida legislation, Rep. Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch became enraged by what he considered the watering down of the measure.
“Michael, this is the worst kind of politics. You should be ashamed of yourself,” McNulty admonished Foote from the floor before being silenced by the sitting speaker.
Eventually the House gave the bill initial approval.
“This is about remembering Jessica. This is about a Colorado solution that addresses this horrific crime,” said Rep. Dan Pabon of Commerce City.
The bill will be back for final approval, likely this week.
Senate moves to extend standard co-pay to physical therapy, chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists
With the contentious Affordable Care Act sign-up deadline approaching at the end of the month, the Senate today debated the merits of preventative and alternative care in a surprisingly bipartisan way. HB 1108 would mandate that standard copay fees apply to physical and occupational therapy as well as visits to chiropractors, acupuncturist sand massage therapists. The bill is sponsored by moderate Democrat Sen. Lois Tochtrop of Thornton.
Tochtrop said the legislation would ultimately save everyone money on health care by encouraging patients to get adequate rehabilitation to avoid repeat surgeries on critical areas like bung knees or hips. She also sees the legislation as a way to strike out against Colorado’s spiraling prescription drug addition.
Some legislators on both sides of the aisle derided the bill as a mandate would cause insurance rates to go up.
Senator Irene Aguilar of Denver, who is a physician, lamented that the bill put her at odds with Tochtrop, with whom she generally agrees. Aguilar said the bill would not, in effect, make this kind of alternative care more affordable. Thought it would cap co-pays, consumers would see those costs on the other end when they pay their premiums, she argued.
Aguilar proposed an amendment to chop everything but occupational and physical therapy from the legislation, noting that both forms of treatment are part of the Affordable Care Acts essential benefits.
The mere mention of the ACA lured Republicans to the floor. Sen. David Balmer of Centennial said he and his colleagues are in no mood to start telling people what qualifies as standard co-pay care.
“Now that we’re in this cesspool, let’s not make it about deciding what kinds of providers make the cut,” he said.
Aguilar’s amendment failed, as did the bill itself on first vote. Tochtrop appealed that decision and the measure scraped through for a final vote this week.
Legislature celebrates St. Patrick’s Day
In the House today, Rep. Cherylin Peniston of Westminster ran a cross-the-aisle guessing game involving a jar of more than 2,000 green chocolate balls. Rep. Polly Lawrence of Littleton made the closest guess about the number of candies and was awarded both the chocolate and an elegant green sports coat that traditionally has been passed back and forth in the House around St. Patrick’s Day. Peniston announced Lawrence as the winner with the following limerick:
“There once was a leg named polly
who learned her math skills
in construction, by golly.
she calculated each chocolate ball
within 68 of the exact number did she fall,
which earned her the House green jacket, folly.”
Outside the House chambers, a gaggle of irish dancers performed in honor of the day:
Creating community alerts for violent hit and runs
While members of the House made merry on St. Patrick’s Day, the tone was more solemn in the Senate as that chamber contemplated HB 1191, a bill that would create a public alert about hit-and-run accidents in the style of the “Amber alert'” that notifies communities of a child abduction. The alter program would allow public safety officials to inform the public when there has been a hit and run resulting in death or serious injury and seek or share any information — such as car color, direction of travel, or plate number — that may help lead to an arrest.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve King of Grand Junction, noted the alert system is vital because hit and runs are the third most difficult kind of case to crack after arson and homicide.
Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver came to the floor thanking King for running the bill. He told the story of a dear friend who lost his daughter and two baby girls crossing 15th Street when a drunk-driver ran a red light.
“The only reason they found him was because his plate was wedged in the stroller,” Johnston said.
He added that in tragedies like his friend’s, people just want to help. He said the bill would give the public those tools.
The measure passed handily on its first vote in the Senate. It will come up for a final vote this week.
Ferrets all the way down
HB 1267, a measure to allow counties and municipalities to partner with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service to re-introduce the endangered back-footed ferret onto their lands, hit an unexpected snag in the House today when Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling worried that the measure might unintentionally hinder oil and gas development.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Randy Fischer Fort Collins, said that wasn’t the intent of the bill. In lieu of an amendment, he added clarification in a legislative declaration to clarify that the measure was about ferrets, not fracking. The bill was further narrowed to just three trial communities for the first five years.
Rep. Tim Dore of Elizabeth, who supported similar legislation that applied just to privately-owned lands last year, said the trial phase was a good idea.
He said the introduction of the ferrets sometimes pushes prairie dogs into unintended acreage. After all, he noted, “The prairie dog population doesn’t tend to want to just hang out and get eaten, so they move next door…”
Eleven other states have similar legislation to preserve the black-footed ferret, which is one of the most endangered species in North America.
The House gave the measure initial approval and will revisit it for a final vote this week.
Senate procrastinates contentious controlled burns bill
After HB 1007 saw major heat in the House, the Senate was primed for debate on the bill to allow county commissioners to regulate when farmers schedule their controlled burns. Though the bill has a Democratic sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon in the House and Republican sponsor, Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa in the Senate, many GOP legislators representing rural districts have come out in opposition to the bill.
Today the Senate procrastinated on giving the bill a final vote. First, senators delayed the vote until May 8, but then changed their minds and said they’d get to it tomorrow.