Fisticuffs over fraud bill while nicotine restriction and guns for charter school cops garner support

Anti-fraud measure sparks partisan fisticuffs 

Today, Pueblo Rep. Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff’s bill to increase funding for Colorado’s fraud investigation unit hit a roadblock among representatives who’d already voted for the measure in committee.

Navarro’s bill, HB 1057, would divert an extra dollar of current $8 commercial filing fee to the investigation unit. Right now the Secretary of State’s office collects the fee and sends $3 to the investigation unit. Navarro’s bill would call on the Secretary’s office to collect a dollar less in order to send $4 to the unit.  In testimony, Secretary of State officials said they couldn’t be sure that sending more money to the unit wouldn’t force them to raise filing fees overall for small businesses.

By the time she came to the floor today, however, Navarro said she’d spoken with the Secretary’s office which said an unexpected revenue surplus would allow it to cover the extra funding for at least the next three years until her measure comes up for review.

The legislature has been in a nasty fight with Secretary of State Scott Gessler over his office’s budget. Nasty enough, it turns out, that the very mention of his office making a fiscal deal with Navarro caused something of a floor fight.

Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton questioned Gessler’s word.

“Did the Secretary of State’s office make that commitment to you in writing? If so, could we get a copy of that?” he said.  “Further, if they have unexpected revenue, why are we charging anyone at all?”

Navarro said she didn’t have anything in writing from the Secretary’s staff promising that they wouldn’t raise fees on small businesses as a result of her anti-fraud bill, but that she bought what they told her.

cat boxThat’s about the moment the debate became more about the Secretary’s trustworthiness than about fraud prevention. At various points, and from various sides of the aisle, representatives accused each other of making back-room deals, showing partisanship, flip flopping and turning their backs on small businesses.

Eventually Rep. Daniel Kagan of Cherry Hills Village proposed an amendment to settle the debate.

“Members, this amendment would simply make clear what’s been made clear at the mike. If we pass the bill, the Secretary of State will reduce the filing fee from five to four dollars and keep it there for three years,” he said.

After another rousing round of debate over partisanship and separation of powers, the amendment was ruled out of order and Kagan pulled it. In the end, the House went ahead and gave initial approval to the measure on a voice vote, since ultimately the only thing the members seemed to agree on were the merits of the bill’s intention to reduce fraud.

House makes moves against tricksy tobacconists 

Giving initial approval to SB 18, a bill to explicitly prohibit the marketing of any kind of nicotine device to kids under 18, the House issued a loud(ish) anti-tobacco statement today. That’s a bit of a flip from yesterday when a separate bill that would have raised the smoking age to 21 years old died by a single vote in the House Finance Committee.

SB 18 essentially expands current statute that says it’s illegal to sell tobacco products to children so that it includes all nicotine products. Lest the measure seem like a redundant redundancy, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dave Young of Greeley, explained that under the law’s current wording retailers (mostly convince stores and hookah bars) testified that they weren’t entirely sure if they were allowed to sell non-cigarette nicotine products to kids.

Snozzberry — perhaps the only fun, fruity flavor not available in a nicotine laced version.
Snozzberry — perhaps the only fun, fruity flavor not available in a nicotine-laced version.

While that may sound like deliberate ignorance on the part of vendors, Rep. Jeanne Labuda of Denver took the floor to note just how covert the nicotine market has become. She said the bill responds to “continued efforts by tobacco companies to market nicotine to children.” Efforts that Labuda said include bubble gum, cherry flavored candies and nicotine products with a Tinker Bell theme.

Even Rep. Daniel Kagan , the deciding vote in failing yesterday’s bill to raise the legal smoking age to 21 years old, voiced his support of the nicotine restriction bill.

“Nicotine is an addictive product. Believe me I know,” he said. “I think this bill strikes the right balance. It sets the right age — we treat people as adults beyond 18 and as children below 18.”

House says insurance commercials don’t have to be bilingual 

Last session the legislature passed HB 13-1233 requiring that insurance policies offered in other languages have to be provided alongside a controlling copy in English. The bill made sense as the Affordable Care Act opened up policies to more and more Americans for whom English may not be a first language. However, as sometimes happens with legislation, the language applied more broadly in practice than the sponsors intended.

“We went a little far and required the same of advertising statements, which doesn’t make a lot of practical sense,” admitted Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver, the sponsor of last year’s bilingual legislation and this year’s HB 1282, which clarifies it.

The measure, initially approved by the House today, would allow companies to advertise using billboards, for example, written in just one language.

Charter school security officers get go-ahead to carry guns 

Ambiguous language in Colorado’s statutes governing school security officers made it impossible for folks employed by charter schools to carry a weapon at work even if they had the appropriate permit. Today, the House gave initial approval to a bill including charter schools in provisions that already allow for public school security officers to conceal carry. HB 1291, though a gun bill, passed handily and without debate.

“This is an equity bill which adds three words to statue,” said the measure’s sponsor, Republican Rep.  Stephen Humphrey of Severance.

The bill has bipartisan co-sponsorship in Democratic Rep. Mike McLachlan of Durango, who was one of a number of Democrats threatened by gun-control motivated recall efforts that didn’t make it to a vote last fall.

Protecting elders against financial exploitation 

The House gave first-round approval today to a bill THAT would create a new crime for the exploitation of elders. An extension of elder-protection legislation passed last yearSB 98 broadens protections to include not just abuse from someone in a legal position of power over an elder, but someone who has “influence” over them in general. The bill also makes it easier to report elder abuse by removing requirements that reports be directly forwarded to the district attorney and allowing local law enforcement an social services to take reports as well.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Mike Foote of Lafayette, called the measure a simple clean-up focused on closing a few loopholes in the previous legislation.

“This bill continues the state of Colorado’s progress towards protecting at-risk elders, who are persons over the age of 70,” said Rep. Sue Schafer of Wheat Ridge, the bill’s other sponsor. Schafer noted that before last year’s legislation, Colorado was one of only three states without specific laws to protect elderly people from financial predators. She joked that her colleagues should vote for the bill since many of them may soon need its protection.