#Coleg Notebook: Of fees and firearms

Debating the constitutionality of constitutional carry 

Republicans in the statehouse have been proposing “constitutional carry” legislation for years. In essence, the policy would allow anyone over 21 years old to carry a legally purchased handgun wherever they go — schools, parks, grocery stores. The gun would have to be concealed.

This year, with Republicans controlling the Colorado Senate, SB 32, introduced by Vicki Marble, R-Littleton, passed initial approval on the floor. It would repeal the requirement that people acquire a specific concealed-carry permit.

Concealed carry without a permit is having a big year, not just in Colorado—at least four other states have advanced similar legislation.

In Colorado, the debate over constitutional carry wasn’t just about its impact on public safety, but about whether the practice is constitutional at all.

Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, a gun owner who was instrumental in drafting Colorado’s concealed carry regulations back in 2003, quoted the state Constitution, pointing out that it does not, in fact, elevate concealed carry to an inalienable right:

“The right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall be called in question; but nothing herein contained shall be construed to justify the practice of carrying concealed weapons.[1]

“A change to current law is only going to make our public spaces less safe,” said Merrifield.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R- Berthoud, had a different take. He argued that the constitution simply left it up to the legislature to regulate concealed carry.

“It’s most appropriate that we address this in statute,” said Lundberg. “We are talking about safety here. We’re talking about deterrence. We’re talking about making sure that the good guy has the chance to defend themselves and their family.”

Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, acknowledged that Marble’s bill wouldn’t remove the existing permit process for concealed carry, but added that rendering that process voluntary would create a tremendous loophole. He, along with others in his caucus opposing the measure, pointed out that SB 32 could allow people with violent records, substance abuse issues and even restraining orders to conceal carry without undergoing a background check or training.

The measure was adopted today on a voice vote and will come up for a final vote later in the week.

The S-word gets dropped in re-re-hash of Senate fee freeze fight 

A few weeks ago, a routine budget bill for the department of safety, SB 159, heated up the Senate floor. Lawmakers disagreed over whether or not the Colorado Bureau of Investigation should have the freedom to spend leftover fees to speed up the process for concealed carry background checks.

After much debate, the Senate voted along party lines not to free up the funds. The broader bill — which also includes money for other public safety programs, like rape kits — then moved to the House, where members voted unanimously to un-freeze the background-check fees.

The bill came back to the Senate today, where Republicans reiterated that they feel the department is exaggerating the wait times. Majority Republicans then voted against freeing up the fees to speed up license processing and against a proposal to take the issue back to conference committee for further discussion.

Not cute, said Minority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Denver.

“We’re risking a government shutdown of the Department of Safety over the right to make law-abiding citizens wait longer to process their conceal carry permits,” she said. “No mater which way we look at that, I don’t think it makes sense.”

JBC chairman Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, said that rhetoric was overblown.

“I think we’ve had a full debate on this bill,” he said. “I don’t think this bill has been locked up by the Joint Budget Committee.”

If the House refuses to concur with the Senate’s position, the entire bill will fail.

correction: We wrote that the House could refuse to concur with the Senate’s position on this bill and thus force a conference committee, actually that can’t happen. Because the Senate voted against going to conference the House has just two choices: vote for the measure with our the background check fees or kill the entire safety department budget bill, which includes funds for lots of other things.  

No late fee for vehicle registration 

The Senate gave initial approval to Sen. Tim Neville, R- Littleton’s, SB 18 today without any debate. The bill, which Neville is co-sponsoring with his son, Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, would repeal the up to $100 fee drivers face when they’re late in registering their vehicle with the DMV.

Committee document depicting states with late registration fees.
Committee document depicting states with late registration fees.

Rep. Neville said the bill is about protecting the little guy, specifically those who sell used cars or, as a function of their small business, keep several cars they may not be driving all the time. He also noted that Colorado is one of just a few states to assess the fees.

“If you’re six months or even a year late, but you haven’t been driving the car, why should you have an extra fee?” he asked. “You see this a lot with used car sales. The late fee almost eats up the entire value of some of these cars, so people aren’t willing to register them.”

The bill passed on a voice vote in the Senate today and will come up for a final vote later this week.

[Top photo by Theda Bara.]