Hickenlooper holds last bill signing, sets new veto record

Author: Joey Bunch - June 5, 2018 - Updated: June 6, 2018

Hickenlooper marijuanaGov. John Hicknelooper held his last public bill signing Tuesday, a traditional ceremonial event for dozens of high-profile pieces of legislation each year. Term limits mean Hickenlooper will be replaced next January. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

After eight legislative sessions, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed his last bill in a public ceremony in his office Tuesday afternoon. And later in the day, he set a new record for vetoes in a single year.

Hickenlooper rejected a measure that would have allowed the use of medical marijuana for those with autism, including children — an issue that he confessed earlier had been weighing on his mind.

In all, Hickenlooper vetoed four bills Tuesday, bringing his 2018 total to nine. His previous record for vetoing bills out of a single session had been five, in 2014. Most years, it’s been one or two.

The governor signed the bipartisan House Bill 1266  to expand the Career Development Success Program, a job-training effort to link students with training for good jobs.

“This is, I will say, a little bit bittersweet,” as he stroked his name across the new law to loud applause from dozens of staff and supporters. He joked about the 1,200 miles he traveled in four days signing bills at ceremonies across the state.

His acknowledgement of the bill-signing occasion suggests he has no plans for a special session between now and next January, when the limit of two terms sends him packing.

Earlier, as he pondered whether to veto certain bills, he said: “Some of these bills have very good sides and very bad sides, and it’s hard to balance out what is the overall effect. We’re trying to do the best we can.”

House Bill 1263, the autism measure, was particularly vexing for the governor, who waited until late in the day to reject the notion that autism should be a reason someone qualifies for medical marijuana, especially children. (Adults can buy recreational marijuana.)

Parents and children with autism rallied at the Capitol first thing Tuesday morning. They maintained a vigil outside his office the rest of the work day.

Michelle Walker, state chapter director of Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA), pointed out that House Bill 1263 passed with broad bipartisan support — 32-3 in the Senate and 54-7 in the House.

She said the legislation would have given “hope to families who have children with autism as well as autistic adults throughout the state of Colorado.”

“This piece of legislation could change the lives of thousands in our state and give them an opportunity for a better quality of life,” she said in a statement before the veto. “We implore the governor to sign this crucial piece of legislation.”

Only five of the 30 states and the District of Columbia that allow medicinal marijuana list autism as a qualifying condition.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is conducting the first U.S. study on the benefits of medical marijuana in autistic children. The use is supported by “significant” anecdotal evidence, reported last December.

“I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t found a pediatrician yet who thinks it’s a good idea to sign this bill,” the governor said in his office at mid-afternoon.

He said other autism advocates did not come out in favor or against the bill. “Their neutrality speaks volumes,” Hickenlooper said.

Moreover, he said that signing the legislation might have sent a message to other teenagers that marijuana is “an antidote to their problems.”

Hickenlooper pivoted to parents of autistic children who are desperate for help when other remedies haven’t provided the effect marijuana delivers.

“There problems are real,” he said. “… This is one that whichever side you talk to, you have compelling arguments.”

In his veto letter, Hickenlooper said that “while we are very sympathetic with families advocating medical marijuana … as a safer and more effective treatment for their children, we cannot ignore such overwhelming concerns from the medical community.”

He added that the use of medical marijuana to treat autism spectrum disorder “has yet to be fully studied by medical professionals and scientific experts entrusted to this role at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.”

Hickenlooper also vetoed House Bill 1011, which would have allowed publicly traded companies to invest in the Colorado marijuana industry.

“We have many people I respect who think it’s not a good idea for the branding of the state,” Hickenlooper said. “The Attorney General’s Office and the attorney general have given us a very pointed letter that this is a bad idea and should be vetoed.”

Of note, Hickenlooper had vetoed a bill Monday that would have allowed people to sample marijuana in licensed shops, the so-called tasting rooms, the same day he signed a bill to allow school nurses to administer medical marijuana to school children.

Hickenlooper vetoed two other measures Tuesday evening:

  • House Bill 1083, which would have offered a  sales and use tax exemption or aircraft to be used by on-demand air carriers.
  • Senate Bill 156, which would have relaxed rules that require local governments to publish financial information in newspapers.

Meanwhile, he signed House Bill 1136 to expand coverage with inpatient care for people fighting opioid addiction, legislation that carries a $174.2 million cost when it’s fully implemented in 2020.

He attached a “signing statement” to the bill, noting its flaws, including that there aren’t enough hospital beds available to serve the projected increase.

“Coverage for inpatient and residential treatment won’t help if Colorado lacks adequate capacity to provide this care,” Hickenlooper wrote.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.