Lawmakers decide how to spend pot tax cash; RMGO knows how to kill a bill

Lawmakers have a plan for all that pot money


The Senate gave initial approval today to SB 215, a bill that will tell the state how to spend the sales tax money brought in by recreational marijuana. The bill is sponsored in both chambers by members of the Joint Budget Committee, who have referred to the measure as a mini budget.

Senate sponsor Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said the bill’s $24 million will be dished out under three broad categories of spending: regulation and law enforcement, addiction treatment, and most of all youth education and use prevention.

The bill creates a special cash fund for pot tax money, finally separating it out from the fund generated by the license fees that recreational shops pay — money that’s only supposed to go to regulating the industry and keeping it from running afoul of the federal government. Steadman noted that because it’s so hard to predict what the tax revenue on legal weed will be over time, the JBC also made the policy decision to only divvy out the cash once it has already been collected. So, for example, the revenue collected during the 13-14 fiscal year represents the $24 million that will be spent during FY 14-15.

Several senators offered amendments on the floor today, all of them cost-neutral, to narrow the bill on issues such as providing behavioral health support in public schools and making sure that family protection officers are up to speed on how to deal with the presence of legal marijuana in homes with children.

Said Steadman: “I think this is a very prudent fiscal policy, a responsible approach to what were doing as the first state in the country with these funds.”

Senate approves $17.6 million for victims of Lower North Fork Fire

Just over two years ago, a state-coordinated controlled burn spiraled out of control, claiming 23 homes and three lives. SB 223, approved in the Senate today, would pay for 20 claims made against the state for those damages — a total of $17.6 million.

Co-sponsor Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk, recalled sifting through ashes with one of the fire’s victims, a woman named Mrs. Hoover.

“She found a little piece of bone china and she showed it to me. She said, ‘This is all that’s left of a full set of fine bone china that was once the Presidential china in the White House and was handed down from one generation to the next and ended with me’,” Nicholson recounted.

“We’ve never drafted a bill like this before,” noted co-sponsor and Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs. He thanked his colleagues for coming together late in the session, and after the budget was already passed, to formulate a bill that would restore at least financial damages to the fire victims before the year is out.

If passed, the bill will require the dispensation of the $17.6 million before September 1, 2014.

RMGO mows down bipartisan mental health measure

The gun-rights group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners caused a stir around bipartisan bill HB 1386 at the beginning of this week when it sent out a message to its supporters claiming that the mental health measure — which lowers the threshold of danger to self or others at which a person can be forcibly placed on a 72 hour mental health hold — could impact some people’s ability to legally own a gun.

Despite Republican House co-sponsor Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs’s assurances that the bill has nothing to do with gun rights, RMGO’s mobilized base has been giving the issue some serious social media attention. That conversation reached a fever pitch this morning when the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to hear the bill ahead of schedule, throwing off many who had planned to testify against it. RMGO’s Facebook postdecrying the bill’s rescheduled hearing wracked up 200 shares in a single hour.

Also this morning, the bill’s Republican sponsor in the Senate, Steve King of Grand Junction, pulled his support. King is term limited in the legislature but running for Mesa County Sheriff, a race RMGO has taken a sudden interest in.

At first, it looked like King would be replaced by a new Republican primary c0-sponsor, Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs.  The town has for years ranked among the top handful in the nation for suicide rates and last year saw its highest historical rate of citizens taking their own lives. Since the bill focused on getting help to those who are experiencing a mental health crises as soon as possible, it’s no surprise that so many of the sponsors would be from Colorado Springs.

Ultimately, however, the Judiciary Committee voted to postpone the bill indefinitely. With their now signature social media deftness, RMGO members shared the following meme on their facebook page (which got more than 100 likes in under five minutes):

rmgo meme

No more “doctor shopping” for abusable meds 

Colorado ranks second in the nation for per capita abuses. Citing an epidemic of prescription drug abuse in the state, the Senate gave final passage to HB 1283 today. Sponsored by Sens. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, and John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, the bill mandates that all physicians licensed to prescribe controlled substances like Oxycontin and Percocet file those prescriptions on the state’s secure Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database, which is already available for voluntary use.

Kefalas said that annually more than 300,000 Coloradans practice “doctor shopping,” meaning they go to a doctor (or several) and lie about their symptoms in order to get a perception — often for pain killers. Mandating that physicians and pharmacists all use the database should make it much harder for someone to acquire a lot of prescriptions either for personal abuse or for resale. Kefalas added that states that have implemented these measures have seen remarkable decreases in prescription drug abuse rates.

While just about everyone agreed that the state has a prescription pill popping problem, some lawmakers weren’t sure that a mandatory database is the solution.

“My biggest concern here is privacy,” said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs. He noted that the state contracts with a private company to maintain this database and worried that security measures weren’t high enough.

Despite that concern, the bill passed on a bipartisan vote of 24-11.