House passes budget; Senate passes recall election reform and voter fraud legislation

House passes state budget on near party line vote

After working well into the night on Thursday, the House passed its version of the state budget today and sent it to the Senate. Despite urgings from Republican Joint Budget Committee member Cheri Gerou of Evergreen who said, “We’re in the minority, it’s easy to say no, but it’s courageous to say yes,” every Republican but her voted against the budget.

House Minority Leader Rep. Brian DelGrosso of Loveland encouraged his caucus to vote no, saying that much more could have been done within the budget’s balance. He particularly noted that he would have like to have seen investment in a bill to create a DUI felony and another giving support to rural schools that want to have advanced placement programs for high schoolers. DelGrosso also called out what he said was a pet-project set aside of $150 million which the budget currently earmarks for upcoming legislation.

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino of Denver noted that both of the measures DelGrosso mentioned — the DUI felony and the pilot AP program — still have good bipartisan support and a chance of getting passed and funded, particularly if costs are kept down. He took particular umbrage, however, at DelGrosso’s characterization of the set-aside.

Ferrandino broke down the set-aside saying that the bulk, $100 million, is for higher education — something both parties agree is radically underfunded in Colorado. He added that $17 million is for flood recovery measures and much of the rest will be put towards an as-yet un-introduced bipartisan bill from House Judiciary Committee members Rep. Daniel Kagan of Cherry Hills Village and Rep. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs to reform Colorado’s parole system.

The Speaker also reminded his colleagues that Colorado is still emerging from the worst recession since the Great Depression. He said that while he agrees with DelGrosso that it would help to spend even more money restoring the cuts the legislature made to K-12 funding, the $100 million that’s headed toward that purpose now is the most he believes the legislature can responsibly do this year.

The budget includes some compromises. After reports of clashes between the Budget Committee and the Capitol Development Committee over how few construction projects were going to be funded in this year’s budget, debate among the full House produced popular legislation that allows more construction projects to move forward including one at Fort Lewis College which has been waiting on funds for over a decade.

The chair of the budget committee, Crisanta Duran of Denver, added that the door remains open for more compromises and creative solutions.

The pre-passage preamble was at times emotional. Representatives on Joint Budget Committee –along with many staff members — have been working on the budget for a long time and recently, very literally, day and night. Longtime JBC member Gerou is term limited, as is Speaker Ferrandino. Having spent three years on the JBC himself, Ferrandino was pleased by the outcome of this year’s process.

“Of all the budgets I’ve voted on, this is the one I’m the most proud of,” he said.

The House passed the budget by a vote of 37-27. It now heads to the Senate.

After today’s vote Duran tweeted, “This song pretty much sums up as to how I feel about voting the budget out of the House today.” Take a listen:

[youtube id=”y6Sxv-sUYtM” width=”620″ height=”360″]

Recall by mail reform heads to House

After much discussion about the history and point of Colorado’s Constitution, the Senate went ahead and passed SB 158 on a party line vote. In essence, the bill makes it possible to conduct recall elections using mail-in ballots.

The debate today, as well as yesterday and in committee, revolved around roughly the same question: Does the legislature have the authority to statutorily define the Colorado Constitution’s term “date for holding the election” as the first day mail ballots are sent out instead of the last day of the election?

Feelings are strong on both sides.

Minority leader Sen. Bill Cadman called the measure unconstitutional, saying it was, “a huge leap, unfounded, unprecedented and unacceptable.”

His Republican colleague, Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray, said the optics of the bill were bad, whatever its intentions to make the recall election process more workable for voters and clerks. Brophy noted that SB 158 looked a lot a sore losers’ bill after a season of recalls that resulted in three Democratic senators leaving office. He urged the legislature to instead make the reforms through a vote of the people that would amend the Constitution.

Supporters of the bill said that far from trampling the Constitution, the measure was a double recognition of Constitutional rights.

“The right of recall in our state Constitution is fundamental. The right to vote, in our state and federal constitutions, is also fundamental. The combination of the two creates a supercharged responsibility for us and for our citizens,” Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville said in defense of his bill.

SB 158 co-sponsor Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver agreed that the legislature absolutely has the right to define and clarify terms in the Constitution. If it didn’t, he pointed out, women would still be entirely excluded from swaths of rights including the assertion that all “men” are created equal.

Many variations of this debate played out on the floor today, but ultimately the Senate passed the reform bill on a party line vote. It now heads to the House.

Election reform bill that ramps up voter fraud felonies passes without discussion and with a few Republican votes

Maybe the Senate had worn itself out after days of debating recall and general election reform, because Democrats’ SB 161 — which updates the uniform election code and sets harsher penalties for voter mischief — passed without any more debate and with several Republican votes today.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City and Mike Johnston of Denver, makes it a class five felony to tamper with a ballot box or give false information when registering to vote. Class five felonies are punishable by up to two years in prison and $100,000 in fines. The bill also adds a new felony, aiding and abetting voter fraud, as a class six felony with a maximum of 18 months in prison and the potential for that same $100,000 fine.

“The most popular example was a former member of this General Assembly who said, ‘Sure, use my basement so you can defraud an election and pretend you live here,'” Ulibarri said yesterday about the impetus for the new felony. He was referring to former state Rep. Mark Barker leasing space to Jon Caldara so that Caldara could cast a blank ballot in the Colorado Springs recall election to demonstrate what he saw as loopholes in the state’s new election laws.

The bill would also eliminate the specific language Caldara and others took issue with — wording that in part defined residency based on intent — and replace it with very specific language asking the would-be resident if he or she has moved their family and belongings to an address they list as home and if they actually sleep at the address.

The measure passed 22-13 and now heads to the House.

Senate unanimously passes bill to up penalties for online child trafficking 

HB 1149, sponsored by Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, makes online advertising an a child in need of care and housing a class six felony. Receiving a child from such advertisements would become a class two felony — that’s up to 48 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines.

Marble emphasized that children, particularly those being adopted internationally, are extremely vulnerable to online trafficking. She also said the bill exempts non-profits and church organizations that go through the proper channels to find homes for international refugees and orphans in Colorado.

The bill passed unanimously and now heads to the House for approval of amendments before going to the Governor’s desk.