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Colorado gets 2 dozen new laws, new budget Sunday

Author: Joey Bunch - July 1, 2018 - Updated: July 26, 2018

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Civil rights lawsGov. John Hickenlooper signs House Bill 1256 into law on May 22. The bill reauthorizes the state’s civil rights agency. (Photo courtesy Governor’s Office.)

From squatters to swatters and $29 billion, the Colorado state budget and 25 laws take effect Sunday.

They are the products of the 120-day legislative session that ended in May, when lawmakers passed 432 rules and regulations — about 60 percent of those introduced after the session began in January —  and Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed nine.

The new state budget included an unexpected surplus this year, because of the state’s growing economy and a windfall from federal tax changes that disqualified some state income tax deductions.

Lawmakers put more money into education, transportation and shoring up the state’s public employees’ pension, which faced a $32 billion shortfall, enough to crater the state’s credit rating and hurt its economy.

House Bill 1256 puts to rest a contentious statehouse fight by reauthorizing the Colorado Civil Rights Division And Commission, a panel accused of bias against religion. That reputed bias was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in turning over one of the Colorado’s panel’s decisions this month.

In a narrow ruling, the high court said the Colorado commission showed bias in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. The Civil Rights Division said Lakewood baker Jack Phillips exhibited discrimination by refusing to make a custom wedding cake for a same sex couple in 2012, because of his religious beliefs.

Last session, legislative Republicans demanded changes. After a partisan battle royale of negotiation, the seven-member commission was reauthorized for nine years with some new rules and minor changes in how appointees are chosen.

Several of the new laws deal with safety and justice:

Senate Bill 15 makes it easier for law enforcement to get rid of so-called squatters who refuse to leave property once the owner asks. The bill was sponsored by four Colorado Springs Republicans — Sens. Bob Gardner and Owen Hill with Reps. Larry Liston and Dave Williams — who made a successful case that squatters are a big problem for deployed military families who leave their vacant homes behind, when sometimes strangers break in and take up residence.

In other cases, it’s a house guest or a scammer who won’t leave. They can claim to be a renter and buy themselves weeks or even months before the courts could force them out. Those who testified for the bill offered numerous examples.

The measure gives law enforcement shorter windows and more authority to evict and remove someone when a complaint is signed by a property owner. The property owner accepts legal liability, including attorneys’ fees, if they’re not telling the truth.

Senate Bill 68 turns making prank calls that attract a large-scale police and rescue response a potential felony, increasing the maximum fine from $5,000 to $750,000.

The game is called swatting, because the goal is often to attract a SWAT team.

House Bill 1264 sews up loopholes in the state’s four-year-old laws that criminalized “revenge porn,” the use of private, often sexual materials to blackmail or harass someone else.

House Bill 1050 addresses how children with mental illness are assessed and assigned in the juvenile justice system. Sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, and Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, the new law creates a juvenile-specific definition of “competent to proceed” and “incompetent to proceed”‘ for juveniles involved in the juvenile justice system, as well as context-specific definitions for developmental disability, mental capacity and mental disability.

House Bill 1051 toughens the penalties on those who leave campfires unattended, an attempt to curb the threat of Colorado’s massive wildfires.

In the past, the maximum punishment was a $50 fine. Starting Sunday, those who neglect or do a poor job of dousing a campfire on state forests and other public lands could pay up to $750 and spend a year in jail. The offense graduates from a class 2 petty offense to a class 3 misdemeanor. The new law also removes the requirement that counties post notices related to unattended campfires.

More laws will take effect in about six weeks.

Freshly minted laws take effect at staggered intervals. While July 1 is one of those target dates, because of the new state budget cycle, Aug. 8 brings the most new codes onto the books. That date represents 90 days past the end of the legislative session on May 9. Ninety days is set by the state constitution to give citizens the right to suspend the new law and appeal the matter to the ballot.

Some bills are awarded a “safety clause,” meaning they aren’t subject to petition or repeal, and they can be assigned an effective date, or they can become effective as soon as the governor signs them.

Here is the list of new laws with their official title:

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.