Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 2, 20174min331

All the news you need to know for greater Rangely can be found in the Rio Blanco Herald, and this weekend the reliable paper reported on local support for hemp in the context of "community, workforce and economic development." A local organization called Better City held a forum last week to talk about what would boost fortunes in the northwest Colorado town of about 2,100. A new grocery store topped the list, but the second highest need named by residents was "marijuana/hemp cultivation." What does Rangely need less than weed? Recreation equipment rentals, a brewpub and a car wash, according to the votes. Online directories suggest the nearest place to buy marijuana, if you live in Rangely, is Grand Junction, an hour and 45 minutes away on clear roads. Those at the Rangely meeting were asked to cite things they thought would help attract or expand commerce, the Rio Blanco Herald said. "County commissioner Jeff Rector emphasized the potential for hemp in the area," the paper reported. Small towns in Colorado and in other states that have legalized marijuana have reported at least a short-term windfall from taxes and economic activity around marijuana, which rang up about $4 billion in sales in Colorado last year. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported in May about how tiny Sedgwick had gone from ghost town to boom town since voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. Hudson built its first school in 55 years with more than a quarter of the $15 million cost coming from pot taxes. Hemp is another matter. The non-intoxicating fiber from pot plants is of keen interest to state legislators.  Besides funding studies to find out the uses and economic benefits of hemp cultivation, some lawmakers are getting in on the ground level. State Sen. Don Coram is growing 10 acres on his farm on the Western Slope and state Rep. Kimmi Lewis said her son grows hemp on the Eastern Plains. The legislature passed four pieces of hemp legislation in the last session: Senate Bill 109 to create a feasibility study on using hemp as livestock feed bySen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins. House Bill 1148 to register industrial hemp cultivators with the Department of Agriculture, sponsored by Arndt and Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley. Senate Bill 90 to ensure industrial hemp doesn't exceed the the constitutional potency that might make it pot, sponsored by Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs. Senate Bill 117 to allow a decreed water right to be used in industrial hemp cultivation, sponsored by Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Reps. Donald Valdez, D-La Jara, and Marc Catlin. R-Montrose.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 2, 201710min779

Whatever the future looks like for public education in our state, it’s a safe bet Ready Colorado will help shape that vision. The politically engaged, formidably funded, philosophically conservative advocacy group — spawned a couple of years ago by political play makers Josh Penry and Tyler Sandberg — has been aggressively positioning itself to be more than just a voice at the table. It aims to influence policy by championing its education-reform agenda up front at the Capitol and statewide, as well as by supporting state and local candidates who advance that agenda. At the helm is Luke Ragland, a Colorado native, Colorado State University grad and holder of a law degree from the University of Colorado. Ragland took the reins at Ready Colorado earlier this year after a stint as policy VP at nonprofit Colorado Succeeds. In today’s Q&A, Ragland fills us in on his organization’s political strategy; on the legal hurdles facing school vouchers; on the outlook for teacher unions — his group’s adversary — and more. Colorado Politics: You previously helped shape policy at another education advocacy group, Colorado Succeeds; in your college days you organized and led the fight against a tuition hike at Colorado State.  Why your involvement in education reform? What first inspired you? Luke Ragland: I come from a modest background in rural southwest Colorado and was a first-generation college student. Hard-working teachers changed the trajectory of my life and opened a world of opportunity for me. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality for a lot of kids in Colorado.  I work in education reform because I want to make sure that every student has the opportunity to reach their full potential — and that starts with a good education. CP: Some other prominent center-right groups aggressively promote school choice in the state.  And there’s no shortage of political money that is raised every election cycle by various groups and individuals, and spend directly and indirectly on behalf of conservative candidates who inevitable support your same causes. Were does Ready Colorado fit in? What’s the perceived need?  How would you define your organization? LR: Ready Colorado is state's leading conservative voice for education reform. There are a lot of center-right groups that support school choice, but none that have education reform as their sole focus. I want Ready Colorado to help amplify the great work being done to promote school choice by other organizations and policymakers. Republicans shouldn’t merely be supportive of education reform; they should be driving the conversation about how we can improve schools.  And I don’t think it’s inevitable that Republicans will always support conservative education policies. Over the last few years we’ve seen several examples of Republicans siding with the status quo by voting against school choice and taxpayer accountability.  The bottom line is that I support policymakers who work for students and families, not systems and government. CP: Ready Colorado openly leans Republican and has spent generously from its sizable campaign war chest on partisan legislative races as well as nonpartisan school board races. Yet education reform, including some school choice endeavors like charter schools, increasingly is championed on both sides of the aisle. Are you more about electing Republicans or electing supporters of education reform? Do you work with Democrats? LR: We are laser-focused on improving Colorado’s schools and believe that our conservative vision for Colorado’s education system is the best way to make that happen.  I am a conservative Republican, but this isn’t about partisanship.  I’ll work with anyone who wants to help make things better for Colorado’s kids. CP: Charter schools have proven immensely popular in Colorado, and the movement has grown by leaps and bounds.  Yet, various hurdles remain at both the state and local levels, ranging from arguable funding inequities to local school boards that simply don’t look favorably upon charters.  Ready Colorado already helped lower one of those hurdles last spring in advancing a funding equalization measure for charter schools via the legislature.  What more has to be done to assist charter schools, and what role will you play? LR: The largest barrier to expanding quality school choice in Colorado is the monopoly that school districts have over opening charter schools. Each school district has the ability to block charter schools from opening in their district, regardless of how many parents want the school to open or the applicant’s track record for success.  This is a top priority and we are exploring a variety of ways to eliminate this monopoly. CP: You’re a lawyer, too.  Give us your best, educated guess as to what’s next for Douglas County School District’s much-debated, still-unimplemented school voucher program—now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered Colorado’s Courts to reconsider their ruling two years ago that the program was unconstitutional. LR: The provision in Colorado’s Constitution—often called a Blaine Amendment—that blocked the voucher program is on very thin ice.  The US Supreme Court recently sent a clear signal that it is ready to strike down Blaine Amendments across the country when it ruled that a similar Missouri law was unconstitutional.  Blaine Amendments have a nasty origin story of discrimination against religious minorities and should be erased from Colorado’s foundational document. The main snag here is whether the Douglas County School District will keep the program going after this fall’s election.  There are several people running who want to end the program and moot the case.  If just one of these people win, the anti-school choice slate will have the majority. CP: What will the public education landscape in Colorado look like in 25 years? Will vouchers be a part of it?  How about online learning? Other policies now considered novel or that aren’t yet even off the drawing board? LR: I think that the main trend you will see in education is decentralization.  The old top-down, command-and-control models of education simply cannot adapt fast enough to meet the needs of a future where artificial intelligence disrupts every aspect of our lives.  I predict (and hope) that parents will gain more and more control over their child’s education, choosing not only the right school for their child, but also the specific courses and educators.  Traditional schools will still exist and thrive, but parents will have alternative options as well. CP: Among your most formidable adversaries, publicly speaking, are public teacher unions.  Yet, their membership has been in decline across the country. Are they on the wane, and will that make your job easier?  At the same time, are there ways in which teachers unions contribute positively to public education in your estimation? LR: Teachers are the most important component of any education system.  They work hard for little pay and create incredible value for society.  Teacher’s unions, on the other hand, are trapped in an old-school labor mentality that fails to serve the needs of their members and act as the main impediment to improvement.  I think union membership is dropping because teachers recognize this fact. The mandatory public retirement program for teachers (PERA) is the perfect example:  The union defends PERA at all costs, even though it fails to put the vast majority of teachers on the path to a secure retirement.  Teachers are starting to ask their union tough questions and they don’t like what they are hearing back.


Rachel Riley, The GazetteOctober 1, 20176min3100

Three years after Manitou Springs created regulations for recreational marijuana stores, city officials are trying to finalize rules for another controversial industry: adult entertainment. The city has been working since 2010 on a set of licensing requirements for "sexually-oriented businesses" -- the sanitized term for strip clubs, adult theaters, porn shops, sex toy retailers and other erotica vendors. But in Manitou Springs, where the commercial district is sandwiched among schools, parks and neighborhoods, the question is where to allow the businesses. The City Council postponed a decision Sept. 19 on a proposed ordinance that included a list of location restrictions that would have prohibited the businesses on all but a few commercially zoned parcels in the city. Under the law, each business would need to be at least 500 feet from a church, public library, day care facility, school, liquor store or recreational or medical marijuana business. The set of rules would have also prevented the businesses from opening on lots abutting El Paso Boulevard, Beckers Lane or Manitou, Park, Canon or Ruxton avenues. Those restrictions would have essentially left only one location: Higginbotham Flats, a space along U.S. 24, just southeast of the Serpentine Drive exit, that can be seen as tourists and travelers enter Colorado Springs from Ute Pass. The area consists of some undeveloped commercial property, a storage facility and a piece of land the city co-owns with a local nonprofit that was once the site of a community garden. "The majority of us felt that was a little too restrictive," said Councilman Jay Roher. "I'm sure we can come up with some place that makes more sense than Higginbotham Flats." So, it's "back to the drawing board" for the city attorney and staff, who were directed to look into other possible locations, Manitou Springs City Administrator Jason Wells said. The council passed a six-month moratorium on sexually oriented businesses in February after the city's Planning Department received several "casual inquiries" about establishing such businesses within city limits, Wells said. The concern was that city officials might not have a say in where such a business would go without formal regulations, he said. In August, council members voted to extend the moratorium to Nov. 10 to give themselves more time to work on a set of rules. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that municipalities cannot ban adult businesses because they are protected by the First Amendment; however, cities and towns may establish regulations dictating where and how they can operate. "By law, we have to allow them. The regulations let us manage it the Manitou way," said Mayor Nicole Nicoletta. "It does provide a level of control for us to say how we want those industries to present themselves in our community." Establishing rules would also help the city manage illegal "secondary effects" that could arise from the opening of cabarets and other adult businesses, such as prostitution and gambling, Nicoletta said. The proposed ordinance expressly prohibits both. Colorado Springs established similar regulations in 1995. The city is now home to four licensed sexually oriented businesses: two Pleasures entertainment clubs, a movie theater and a bookstore. Some lingerie stores and boutiques also sell adult toys. The businesses seldom get a warm welcome from surrounding communities. Before Fascinations moved into its 5,500-square-foot space at Dublin and North Academy boulevards in 2010, some neighbors protested the store's opening. Finding appropriate locations in Manitou Springs is even tougher because "there's not much off the beaten path," said Joseph Gosselin, an employee at First Amendment adult bookstore on East Fillmore Street. "These places should be more towards the outskirts of town instead of part of the central hub - or, at least, where you wouldn't want kids walking alone," Gosselin said. In addition to establishing a licensing process, Manitou Springs' proposed ordinance offers other provisions: no alcohol allowed, servers must be fully clothed, patrons must put gratuities in a tip jar or box instead of giving the money directly to entertainers, and devices or novelties that depict sexual acts or certain "anatomical areas" can't be visible from outside. After city staff tweak the proposed ordinance's location restrictions, the public will have at least two more opportunities to comment at council meetings before a final vote is taken, Nicoletta said. If regulations are not approved by the Nov. 10 deadline, the council will likely extend the moratorium until the rules are finalized.


Ernest LuningErnest LuningSeptember 29, 20178min778

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Democratic lawmakers say it’s a simple fix, but Republicans say it’s anything but. As next week’s special legislative session approaches — it’s set to convene Monday — Republican leaders in the Capitol and outside pressure groups are ramping up their opposition and predict the endeavor will be an expensive waste of time. It isn’t the reaction Hickenlooper expected when he issued a formal call for the session earlier in September so lawmakers could correct a drafting error in a tax bill that’s costing some special districts hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.


Marianne GoodlandSeptember 28, 20179min249

A legislative committee looking at the school finance act Wednesday announced they’ve picked the company that will help take the deep dive into how the state pays for public schools. Cross and Joftus, based in Maryland, will take on the heavy lifting over the next year to figure out the solutions to Colorado’s strange mix of finance and school funding policy. The company will handle data and analysis, research, and taking input from a variety of stakeholders. The General Assembly set aside $383,000 in 2017-18 and 2018-19 to pay for the consultant as well as other expenses.