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Kelly SloanKelly SloanOctober 5, 20176min2530

The failure of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill may have signaled the termination of the GOP’s anemic efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, at least in one fell partisan swoop (much like the ACA itself was introduced); but it didn’t, of course, terminate the problems generated by the enormous law it sought to partially dismantle. Nor did its demise solve the riddle of how to reconcile retention of Obamacare’s more popular elements – chiefly its treatment, however sloppily, of the pre-existing conditions question – with fiscally prudent reforms.


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Kelly SloanKelly SloanMay 19, 20169min1051

Among the persistent vexations in Colorado politics is the lingering and recurrent threat of ballot initiatives. These campaigns are often conceived by special interest groups to upend the balance of power in one area of law or another. Ask many who work in politics, and they will tell you ballot proposals often pose unintended consequences to the state. Colorado's oil and gas industry is a frequent, almost annual example of this phenomenon. In response, a statewide campaign involving business groups, property rights advocates, chambers, elected officials, community leaders and industry groups has emerged in the state, designed to proactively defeat anti-oil and gas initiatives — several of which are expected to appear on voter’s November ballots.   The effort, dubbed “Protect Colorado's Environment, Economy and Energy Independence,” or simply “Protect Colorado,” was forged in direct response to a number of proposed ballot initiatives aimed at upending Colorado's oil and gas industry. These include proposals this year to increase setbacks for oil and gas equipment to what many experts contend are unreasonable distances. Another measure goes even further, giving local governments the right to ban energy development within their jurisdictions altogether.


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Kelly SloanKelly SloanJanuary 22, 20168min1310

In the wake of a scathing report released earlier this week outlining the safety-system failures highlighted by the tragic school-shooting death of 17-year-old Claire Davis in 2013 at Arapahoe High School, a special joint legislative committee convened Friday to review the report and two others on the incident and to hear testimony on how to improve school safety.

The bipartisan Joint School Safety and Youth in Crisis Committee heard testimony from the victim’s father, Michael Davis, the family’s attorney and the principle authors of the three reports.

The reports were generated in response to legal action initiated by the parents of Davis, who forwent any claim to monetary damages in exchange for a full review and analysis of the events that led to the shooting. The shooter, Karl Pierson, was a fellow student at the school. He killed himself the same day.

Colorado school shooting victim Claire Davis
Colorado school shooting victim Claire Davis (Photo Courtesy the Davis Family)

State Sen. Majority Leader and committee chairman Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, thanked the Davis family for their efforts and the “tremendous amount of information they have allowed us to have.

“They could have just recoiled and walked away,” Scheffel said in his opening remarks.

“A Report on the Arapahoe High School Shooting,” prepared by the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Colorado Boulder, garnered the most attention at the hearing. Also reviewed Friday were a “Post-Incident Review,” prepared by Safe Havens, a nonprofit school-safety center, and “A Review of Psychological Safety and Threat Assessment Issues Related to the Shooting at Arapahoe High School,” presented to the Littleton Public School District and Board of Education by Linda Kanan, Ph.D. of the University of Denver.

The reports found numerous shortfalls and lapses, particularly in the areas of information sharing and threat assessment. Several experts testified that, although policies were often in place, they were not followed because they were not statutorily mandated and therefore treated as merely guidelines that lacked any real authority. In other cases, policies were unclear or appeared to conflict with other policies, such as those dealing with the protection of student privacy.

Recommendations included proposals to improve information sharing among teachers, principals, counselors, school resource officers and others; increased promotion of and training in the Safe2Tell system; and measures to improve threat assessment.

Scheffel said that the interim committee had delayed recommending any legislation until the reports were released and the members had sufficient time to review them. “We are actively working on digesting these reports with the idea of pursuing legislation.”

State Sen. President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said that holding off on legislative proposals was worth the wait. He praised the Davis family and the process that resulted in the day’s hearings

“We were terrified, we were compelled and we were enlightened,” Cadman said, addressing the committee at the conclusion of the hearing. “Having these reports gives us power” he added, saying they are a “call to action.”

“This is not the end of work on school safety, it is just the beginning” he continued. “I have never seen anything like this in my time here.”

Addressing the parents of Claire Davis directly, an emotional Cadman said, “As you learn what should have been done, and what could have been done, it must have seemed surreal. As parents, we are not built to attend the funerals of our children … As a parent of one of those children in our schools, I am eternally grateful for what you have done.”

Following the hearing, Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, said that he believed there could be multiple legislative fixes available to state lawmakers.

“We have a blueprint of how to move forward,” Moreno said. “It is now incumbent on us to implement it.”

Moreno said he was particularly interested in a recommendation to remove the words “if possible” from legislation developed after the Columbine High School shooting that prescribed schools to coordinate safety programs. “All schools should have coordination, not just ‘if it is possible,’” he said.

State Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, said that while she believed there were potential legislative solutions, she didn’t yet know what exactly they might be. “We are still processing and analyzing,” she said. “The biggest constraint is the budget,” she added, saying that “we have to look at the best solutions that make sense when we don’t have money.”

Colorado State Senator Linda Newell
State Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton

Newell also suggested that at least some of the solutions may fall outside the purview of government. “All three reports talked about school problems, social problems, cultural problems and community problems,” she said. “We need to be conscious of what we can and can’t legislate here.”

Newell suggested that in many cases a community-centered approach may be the best solution. “We need to be more conscious of supporting each other as community members,” she said. “We are one human family and should be taking care of one another as Coloradans.”

One thing Newell did suggest the legislature could do was to try to get mental health training where it is most needed. “If we can work with nonprofits to facilitate that training, we can accomplish something with less cost.”

Scheffel told The Colorado Statesman that the hearing constituted a “content rich day,” and that everyone was still digesting what they had heard and read, adding that he believed it was important to get the information out to the public.

“We will look at a broad range of possible legislation to address these deficiencies,” he said. He added that one of the main questions was how to incentivize appropriate behavior and action.

“Among other things, we heard that the basics were there, they just weren’t properly implemented,” Scheffel said. “So we need to look at what role the heavy hand of government may properly have in incentivizing the proper behaviors.”

“The work never stops,” he concluded. “We have the opportunity and time to do the right thing this session.”

–kelly@coloradostatesman.com


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Kelly SloanKelly SloanJanuary 21, 20169min1311

Elected officials looking to navigate Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Colorado Water Plan may be able to find help in the form of a new online water rights mapping tool called Water Sage.

Ponderosa Advisors, LLC recently unveiled new improvements to WaterSage.com following the rollout of the governor’s much-anticipated statewide water plan, which is designed to tackle issues created by the state’s growing population and increased demands on water resources across the west. Water Sage’s online, map-based program is designed to help stakeholders – including landowners, lawyers, water planning officials and others – gain greater access to information concerning water rights.

“We think that office holders at both the state and local level will find Water Sage extremely valuable,” said Kelly Bennett, Director of Research and Analysis and a Managing Partner at Ponderosa Advisors. “We hope our program and the consulting services we offer are able to help anyone in need of navigating Colorado’s complex water rights system.”

Several state agencies are responsible for publishing water data, and the state is often hailed as doing an exceptional job at gathering and publishing an abundant amount of information; but converting that data into a meaningful analysis can be cumbersome, if not impossible. “Colorado is light years ahead of other states in publishing large raw data sets for water, and helping private entities use that data,” says Bennett. “With the help of leading water analysts, lawyers, technical experts, and our development team, Water Sage takes that raw data and presents it in a single, user-friendly platform which virtually anyone can use.”

Among the new features recently added to the Water Sage platform is an integration of Colorado’s network of stream gauges, which will serve to improve the product’s analytical capabilities. “This gives users the ability to search and sort through thousands of stream gauges in the state and conduct flow analysis in real time,” said Bennett. “It is all about consolidating these different data sets.”

Users of WaterSage.com can search either spatially or by attribute for water rights, well permits and land parcels, and instantly view results with detailed data by individual or company name, or by structure. Data can also be exported into GIS compatible formats and be used with mobile devices. In essence, water research that previously could take days to perform – requiring specialized technical skills, visits to county courthouses and state agencies – can now take only minutes. It is enhancing the way water professionals, engineers, and local officials look at water-related issues today.

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A screenshot from the online, water rights information program Water Sage, incorporating well permits, water rights, and land parcels in Colorado’s northern Front Range. The program also includes features such as the measuring tool shown here used to identify distances between key points (ex. 1357 feet measured from a specific permitted well.) Source: WaterSage.com

“We think Water Sage is the best demonstrative tool available to understand water issues in Colorado,” says Bennett. “As you start to go through the policy issues that will be part of the implementation of the new state water plan, this will prove to be a useful platform for all users, professionals and novices alike.”
Users of the new program appear quick to agree. “Water Sage is a useful tool that allows staff to quickly and easily discuss water supply requirements for new developments,” says Tim Murrell, Water Resources Planner for Douglas County. “We use Water Sage to get the whole picture, from land parcel size and ownership, to in-depth information on both permitted and adjudicated water use. Water Sage is an extremely useful tool that helps us to continue to promote smart and sustainable growth throughout the county.”
Some of the most germane questions that Water Sage could shed light on pertain to ownership of water rights. Like any other private property right, water rights can be bought, sold, inherited, and, of course, violated. Unlike other types of property however, water is a usufructuary right – that is, a right to use it, not to possess it. That means that a water right does not convey to its owner a particular volume of water to use as that owner pleases, but rather grants the owner the right to divert water for a beneficial use. Colorado law has defined “beneficial use” rather broadly, but does explicitly prohibit waste and speculation.
In Colorado, water rights are confirmed by the judicial branch through water courts, an institution unique to Colorado. Typically, when someone wishes to apply for a water right, they must initiate a legal action with the state water court to determine if they have met the pertinent legal requirements for establishing a water right. The challenge facing water planners around the state is the fact that nearly every river in the state is over-allocated – meaning that the combined rate of all established and vested water rights exceed the available flow of the river being appropriated.

In Colorado, water rights are generally conveyed like real estate – by deed recorded with the county where the rights are located. While Water Sage was developed to research water rights, it doubles as a mitigation risk tool; it maps every diversion point in Colorado and is a quick and easy insurance policy for anyone who simply needs to know about water rights and where they flow on a particular land parcel.

Denver Water, the City of Boulder and Douglas County are among the local entities who have tapped the power of Water Sage. Cities and counties looking for economical and efficient ways to address water supply planning, infrastructure development, multi-stakeholder collaboration and water right portfolio management are using Water Sage as a single-source tool and utilizing the program to better serve their communities and save on administrative costs.

But it isn’t just water planners and officials who are finding Water Sage beneficial as they navigate complicated regulations, and it isn’t just Coloradans. Water Sage has also built platforms in Montana, Wyoming and Texas and is finding traction with consultants and local and state government agencies, engineers, lenders, appraisers, attorneys, title companies, conservation organizations, land brokers, industry, utilities, landowners and prospective land purchasers to research water rights in the United States.

“If you want to see what other states are doing with water, the user experience remains the same,” says Bennett.

“We believe that maximizing research efficiency and delivering insight will not only save users time and money, but give them an information advantage,” Bennett added. “Whether it’s understanding the value or usability of water and land, or finding water rights where you need them, Water Sage enables better water-related decisions.”

Water Sage offers hour-long and annual access licenses to our state-specific, map-based data portals and is looking to expand into other Western states.


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Kelly SloanKelly SloanJanuary 21, 20167min941
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Kelly Sloan

A new legislative session has commenced in Colorado, and with it the state can expect a slew of new laws to be written into the tablets. But it is unmistakable that a good deal of the major legislation in the state does not emanate from under the gold dome but from the ballot box. Consequently, we have a few ballot measures that will be hanging spectrally over the Capitol this session. Among the more important will be Amendment 69, otherwise known as ColoradoCare.

ColoradoCare, for the uninitiated, is a constitutional amendment to establish a single-payer health care system in the state. The conventional wisdom is that it lacks a snowball’s chance in a furnace of passing, but this skepticism may be unwarranted.

Much has been written about the failures and downfalls of single payer health systems, and I will refrain here from delving too far into the economic details except to say that its structural pitfalls go far beyond just the (initial) $25 billion price tag that will be borne by Colorado taxpayers and business owners. Single payer may sound fabulous, but it will also artificially drive up demand because it shifts costs from the point of service to the the provider — increasing the disconnect between the actual costs of delivering health care and what most people pay for it — while failing to provide a means to cover the intrinsic costs associated with all of this new demand. MRI machines, for instance, have certain costs associated with purchasing, operation and analysis of the results, no matter what the new state health care commission decides that cost should be to keep the system sustainable.

This, in a nutshell, is the problem beguiling countries using single-payer systems, such as Canada, and why they experience such chronic issues as egregious wait times for procedures that are much more readily available in the United States. It is also the reason why a single payer model was rejected in Vermont by a governor who campaigned vigorously on its establishment, and, incidentally, why many believe it will never pass in Colorado.

I think that such optimism is a mistake.

Consider a few factors specific to this year, and this proposal. First is the simple fact that it has gotten as far as it has, its backers having accumulated more than enough signatures to secure it a place on the ballot. That ballot is a good one for them as well, inasmuch as the measure is being offered to the voters in a presidential election year, which tends to draw out greater numbers in the demographics that are likely more sympathetic to left-wing causes, such as government-paid health care.

Bear in mind too that there are likely to be other ballot measures that draw out the sort of voters needed to pass single-payer. A pile of new anti-oil and gas initiatives were just submitted to the Secretary of State’s office, which will bring on the traditional liberal-leaning voter. And there will very likely be a measure to allow full strength beer and wine to be sold in grocery stores, which itself could convince a new, younger, possibly less politically cognizant block of folks to fill out their ballots. These voters will find a measure whereby the government pays your medical bills. How many of these people will think seriously about the consequences? It’s an open question.

Finally, there is the skilled marketing being employed by the backers of ColoradoCare. Wisely, they are not relying solely on the feel-good, gift-bag element of the proposal, though the prospect of something “free” is always an easier sell than the explanation of why, in fact, it is not. But the proponents of the measure are cleverer than that, and will likely direct voters, especially in more conservative parts of the state, to the fact that the proposal is using the waiver built into the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” — to create the system. It will be sold in many parts of the state, not entirely inaccurately, as an amendment to replace “Obamacare” with our own state-based system. Given the immense unpopularity of the national health care law, and the problems generated by it, that is a very smart way to go about promoting Amendment 69, even though it leaves off a huge part of the story: namely that it will take our health care system further on the wrong course charted by the ACA.

ColoradoCare will radically transform Colorado’s health care system and present serious and detrimental consequences for the state’s economy, small businesses and the quality of health service delivery. A dangerous and radical idea, yes — but in a state that is known for periodically adopting radical constitutional amendments (think legalized recreational marijuana), it’s an idea that should not be written off as dead on arrival.

Kelly Sloan is a Grand Junction-based political and public affairs consultant, journalist and is a Centennial Institute fellow in energy policy.


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Kelly SloanKelly SloanDecember 26, 20158min510

The cacophony of the presidential race, and the localized buzz surrounding key state house and senate races, have to some extent drowned out the budding contest for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Michael Bennet. The Senate race hasn’t exactly been ignored — it is, after all, still considered a competitive seat, sure to attract a plenitude of cash, and such contests are difficult to overlook — but it might seem to the layperson to have been shuffled farther back in the political deck, especially since the somewhat disappointing withdrawal of George Brauchler back in late September.

Since that time, most of the activity surrounding the Senate contest has been a speculative enterprise centered on whom else the GOP might find to take on Bennet. And let’s face it, such speculation hardly merits much attention, partly because A) most of the guesses end up being wrong, and B) it never really stops. I mean, who among you have not already thought about who the next governor might be?

The pending entry of state Representative Jon Keyser into the fray promises to resuscitate interest in the race, which — as so often is said in Colorado — could easily end up becoming one of the most expensive in the nation. Keyser has a strong biography which could very well see him almost immediately become the odds-on favorite in what is an already rather crowded field.

State Rep. Jon Keyser holds his daughter Elleanor during his swearing-in on opening day of Colorado’s 70th General Assembly in January 2015. Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
State Rep. Jon Keyser holds his daughter Elleanor during his swearing-in on opening day of Colorado’s 70th General Assembly in January 2015.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

It may not be a walk-in for Keyser. State Senator Tim Neville has the backing of a number of hard-right conservatives in the state, including the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. Former congressional candidate Ryan Frazier brings some name recognition and an interesting campaign presence. Colorado Springs businessman Robert Blaha brings a substantial bank account. And the race’s first candidate, El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn — while he often can be heard complaining about his lack of media attention — is indeed making the rounds among the grassroots in the state, appealing to the tea party wing with his strong positions against, for instance, Common Core and Obamacare.

But each have their weaknesses too. The support Neville enjoys from the RMGO could backfire, as some conservatives are growing weary of the group’s attacks on Republicans, which many believe serve only to cost GOP seats. It also opens him up to being painted as “extreme” by the Bennet camp. Frazier, though often believed by some to be potentially a strong candidate, has already lost two elections (fool me once, shame on…) Blaha brings his own cash to the party, but will have trouble carving out a niche for himself with the tea party primary vote being disbursed among several candidates, and the presence of (currently) two other candidates from Colorado Springs — Glenn and Charles Ehlers, both of whom suffer from lack of money and name identification.

Keyser avoids most of these pitfalls; while a staunch conservative, he is not plagued by the same “extreme” label that Neville seems branded by. He has an examinable House record, and solid name recognition. Add to that an admirable military record, impressive rhetorical and political skills, and a slew of all-important tertiary factors — a youthful countenance and a measure of likability for instance — and Keyser quickly begins to take the form of a candidate who could quickly solidify statewide support and attract money from donors. Tack on to that list Keyser’s strong national security chops which many donors would love to see contrasted to Bennet’s seemingly very weak and peculiar election year vote for the Iran Deal (can’t you just see the ad spots?), and we’ve got ourselves a real race.

There will, of course, remain some speculation as to other potential entrants. On the far side of the Rockies, the West Slope Scott’s — Tipton, McInnis, and Ray — have each been rumored as possible contenders. But Tipton seems happy in a House seat that is his for as long as he wants it, especially with his new position on the powerful House Banking Committee, through which Tipton has run some impressive legislation. McInnis, while never one to fully take your eye off of, similarly appears happy being Mesa County Commissioner, where he still gets to lock horns from time to time with federal agencies in periodic battles of will in which only the foolhardy would place bets. And state Senator Ray Scott has been quiet about the possibility of his taking a stab at it since he fanned the flames of speculation with The Statesman just after Brauchler’s withdrawl. Other names around the state have been bandied about, but the available pool of qualified candidates is depleting fast, and it is increasingly questionable whether any would have wherewithal to attract the funding and support necessary to secure the nomination, and subsequently go on to supplant Bennet.

Keyser has the ability to do just that, and so appears well positioned to assume the mantle of frontrunner in the quest for the GOP Senate nomination. If nothing else — and there certainly is much more than “nothing else” going on here — his entry should make the race worthy of every bit of the attention it will almost certainly attract.

Kelly Sloan is a Grand Junction-based political and public affairs consultant, journalist and is a Centennial Institute fellow in energy policy.

CORRECTION: Senate candidate Ryan Frazier has lost two elections, not three, as an earlier version of this article stated. Frazier lost a challenge against U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter in 2010 and lost to Steve Hogan in a run for mayor of Aurora in 2011. He was running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2010 but switched races to run against Perlmutter instead.


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Kelly SloanKelly SloanDecember 20, 20156min85
The Colorado office of R&R Partners hosted their annual holiday party on what became a snow-packed evening for the metro area last Tuesday, December 15th. Billed as an “ugly sweater party”, the event drew a collection of unique attire, and some prominent names from the state’s political and business communities. R&R Partners is one of […]

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