Keeping police officers trained and trains running across southern Colorado

Who pays to train-up police officers?

POST funding, unfortunately, will not provide for peace officer dance training.

The Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board is responsible for making sure police officers across the state know about gun safety, when a search is legal, ways to handle DNA evidence and how not to let bias affect their decision-making.

Sen. Lucia Guzman of Denver brought SB 123 to the Senate for initial approval today in order to make sure the POST program is properly funded. The bill also expands the kinds of infractions that could prevent someone from training to be a police officer to include local violations as well as state.

Financially, the highly technical measure allows the underfunded POST board to raise its training fee from $125 to $150 dollars a session and also raises the 60 cent fee all car owners pay upon registration up to $1 in order to snag more revenue for police training.

“We’ve been 48th in the U.S. when it comes to this training and as we create new laws here, peace officers need to be kept up to speed. There are  some sheriffs that can’t do firearms training because they don’t have the dollars,” said Senator Linda Newell of Littleton, taking the floor to support the bill. She added that the measure has the approval of police and sheriffs because they see it as added funds to ease what are otherwise unfunded mandates for in-service training.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud strongly opposed the bill, saying that while he agrees that the legislation’s intentions are good, he’s not sure the mechanism is actually legal. Raising the training fee is fine, if that’s what it takes to cover the cost of the program, he said. But the 40 cent increase that car owners across the state will be expected to pay to fund police training isn’t a fee at all, he argued, but a tax.

“Colorado law is very clear, a tax increase requires the vote of the people. We’ve essentially got a $1 million-plus tax attached to this law and we think we’ll get away with it by calling it a fee. That doesn’t pass constitutional muster,” he said.

Lundberg was further concerned about provisions in the bill that would allow the POST board, and not local sheriffs, to decide what the trainings should include.

“Why erode power away from elected officials and put in the hands of an appointed board?” Lundberg asked.

Supporters of the bill noted that Colorado is one of only six states that doesn’t mandate this kind of state-wide training. They added that many sheriffs departments rely on POST to keep their officers up to date — as many as 70 percent of rural peace officers get all their training from the program.

“I don’t know about you, but I want the peace officers in my district provided with up-to-date training,” said Newell.

The Senate went ahead and gave the measure initial approval.

Senate adds lawmakers to commission on premature birth

One in 10 Colorado babies are born premature and many suffer health complications because of it. HB 1117 would create a commission to study the issue — including the potential risks of giving birth at high altitude.

Somehow, the issue at hand — babies being born early — got lost today in the Senate while lawmakers discussed which officials from which parties should server on the commission.

Senator Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud  proposed an amendment that would insure the commission included four legislators — one from each party and chamber. He said he was concerned because the commission’s organizer, March of Dimes — a health research organization focused on reducing premature births, has a tangential association with Planned Parenthood.

“I see a skewed perspective developing here on premature birth issues,” he said, lamenting that the legislature has a history of supporting legislation that “sees the unborn human being as something less than a human being without constitutional rights.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango, asserted that the commission’s focus isn’t about the controversial issue of personhood, but rather the mission of reducing premature birth rates. She said she didn’t appose adding legislators to the commission but worried that the lack of compensation for participation in the group might shut-out rural lawmakers for whom transportation cost is a big factor when the legislature isn’t in session.

The Senate approved the amendment to add four legislators to the commission and then approved the measure on final vote. The bill now heads to Legislative Council for approval of adding lawmakers to a commission.

Different trains of thought

Pueblo Rep. Leroy Garcia’s bid to not only keep the Amtrak Southwest Chief chugging through southeastern Colorado, but also increase its stops to Pueblo and Walsenburg hit some roadblocks in the House today on final vote.

Garcia is asking his fellow legislators to support HB 1161, which would create a commission and fund to figure out how to keep the train running through cities like La Junta and Trinidad.

“This is probably one of the most important bills this year for rural Colorado,” he said, asserting that the train offers vital transportation and economic opportunities for folks throughout southern Colorado.

Some Representatives effusively disagreed.

Rep. Spencer Swalm of Centennial said Garcia’s bill sounded way too much like what he deemed to be another public transportation train wreck — FasTracks, a project that has swelled beyond its original schedule and budget.

Rep. Ray Scott of Grand Junction agreed with Swalm, saying where Amtrak runs is congress’s problem because the federal government is in charge of that particular transit subsidy.

“This is like asking for a study to put a cruise ship on the Colorado river. It makes no sense for us to be involved,” he said, adding that trains are a highly antiquated technology.

Scott didn’t mention that his district greatly benefits from its own Amtrak rail line, the California Zephyr, which connects Chicago to California by way of picturesque — you guessed it — Grand Junction.

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Rep. Max Tyler of Lakewood said he was still motivated by just how much train talk he heard while on tour this summer in southern Colorado. He noted that the rail line and the train are already there and that the legislature should at least give rural communities a crack at figuring out how to preserve the line.

“Even if it is a little bit of pork for Pueblo, vote yes,” said Tyler.

The House passed the train bill on a vote of 44 to 20. It will now head to the Senate.