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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 10, 20177min250


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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 7, 20174min38
Update: Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, provided Colorado Politics a statement Friday morning: “We know transportation is already costing Coloradans billions of dollars a year — $6.8 billion to be exact. That’s what we lose to our deficient roads in lost time, damage to vehicles and lost gas […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 3, 20176min230

If U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thinks he can score political points for Republicans by coming after Colorado’s pot, then a whole Phish concert would want what he must be smoking.

State Sen. Tim Neville doesn’t like pot, not to smoke it or eat it.  He didn’t vote to legalize in 2012, but like a handful of lawmakers with some of the most conservative bonafides in the statehouse, he sees the issue as much more than stoners and Cheetos.

He took a break to talk on the phone on a recent Friday morning, as he and other senators brewed up some suds to serve at the Great American Beer Festival, an annual competition with the House. “Haze,” suggesting a thick microscopic brew, is expected to be part of the name of their brew, he said.

Neville and other legislative Republicans have gotten onboard to make sure marijuana is strictly regulated — a given for a tough guy like Neville — but regulated and taxed fairly, like any other business.

Plus it’s in the state constitution now, and Neville said he takes his oath to uphold that document deadly serious.

“It’s something all of us have to be involved with now,” Neville said.

In Neville’s view voters agreed to legalize pot on the condition that it’s well-regulated with a focus on keeping it out of the hands of people younger than 21.

“Once the people in (Colorado) said yes, it was up to us to craft the best policies possible,” he said.

Now that marijuana is a legal business, it should be treated as fairly as any other legal business.

Neville and fellow Republican Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins drove the conversation and legislation on creating clubs where people could use pot the same way they enjoy beer and booze in bars.

I told you in February they saw it as commonsense and good business, not reefer madness. Marble said the state invites tourists, allows them to buy pot, but then designates no place for them to smoke it legally. Most hotel rooms won’t even allow it.

“The one thing we do not want in this state is for people to come on vacation and leave on probation,” said Marble, who successfully passed a bill to allow people to seal misdemeanor arrest records for marijuana if what they did was made legal by Amendment 64.

In the last session, Neville linked arms with Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat from Longmont, on a bill to allow pot shops to operate more efficiently. Pretty liberal, Singer has been the chief proponent of reasonable but thorough regulation from the start. The bill passed with bipartisan support in both chambers, including from Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham and Democratic House Speak Crisanta Duran. The governor signed it into law in June.

“My feeling is that when businesses operate more efficiently, it’s good for everyone,” Neville said of knocking down pointless, expensive hurdles for business, a general passion of his. “My real fear is that if we don’t allow businesses to operate as an industry, it’s just going to backslide into an area we can’t control, the gray market or the black market.”

Neville isn’t the only Republican driving the magic bus.

Out of 23 pot-specific bills in the last session, 19 had bipartisan sponsorship and 18 became law.

Colorado Springs Rep. Bob Gardner joined with Democrat Dan Pabon of Denver on legislation to create pot clubs, after Marble and Neville’s bill died in a Senate committee. The House and Senate, in bipartisan fashion, passed different versions of the bill.

On the last night of the session, lawmakers were debating how many people should be allowed to smoke pot on a porch, which might qualify it as a club.

Neville said he expects a compromise on pot clubs before the next session begins in January,

But hemp, the non-intoxicating stalk, was a big bipartisan winner this year.

And Sen. Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose, is getting in on the hemp game.

He told me at the State Fair that he has 10 acres in hemp, and he’s putting in a processing facility. That’s putting your money where your bipartisanship is.

He named his operation Paradox Ventures, and Coram hopes to be a Colorado pioneer.

“The voters approved it,” Coram said. “Who am I to override that?”

Neither Neville nor Coram are worried about Sessions’s saber-rattling on cannabis with federal laws that still criminalize marijuana.

“I’m really not concerned,” Coram said at the carnival.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 27, 20178min22
Told ya. Heavy!#watermelon#copolitics @SenatorCrowder see how we do itBuy some in #Wray at 2 pic.twitter.com/kNv1t1d2Gl — Greg Brophy (@SenatorBrophy) August 26, 2017 Highs in the upper 80s today. @POTUS approval ratings in the low 30s. Likely scattered #tweetstorms thru Monday.#TrumpsAmerica #copolitics — Dave Perry (@EditorDavePerry) August 26, 2017 For the same reasons reality tv shows […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 14, 20178min120

By chipping away at The Gap, El Paso County voters could do something that some state legislators encourage and others dread: siphon off support for a statewide transportation plan by spending their money locally.

The Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority board last week approved a ballot question to ask voters if it’s OK to set aside $10 million to help pay to widen a 2-mile stretch of Interstate 25 in El Paso County. The seed money is part of a larger effort to widen the interstate from Monument to Castle Rock, a 17-mile stretch known as The Gap.

I-25 narrows to two lanes in each direction between the two reasonably well-off communities, causing traffic jams and collisions. The state Department of Transportation says it doesn’t have the money in its current budget, and state lawmakers haven’t figured out a way to get them enough. Statewide, CDOT needs $20 billion over the next 20 years just to keep up with growth, the agency contends.

CDOT has estimated the Gap will cost $290 million and $600 million. Colorado leaders have even appealed to the White House for help, calling the Gap a critical transportation corridor.

If voters allow it, the PPRTA would put up $10 billion for roughly a 2-mile stretch in El Paso County, if other money joins it. Where that money comes from, nobody knows.

President Trump has promised a $1 trillion national infrastructure investment, but it remains to be seen if he can pass it and how much, if any, would go to Colorado’s overburdened interstates. The result of getting that money, however, could mean toll roads.

The Gap is one of the three main arguments for voters and lawmakers to find money to address the state’s critical transportation needs. As symbolic projects go, the Gap joins I-25 from Denver to Fort Collins and the Interstate 70 mountain corridor as the chief selling points to statewide voters.

Legislators in the last session discussed a sales tax to pay back a $3.5 billion loan for projects statewide, including the Gap. Three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, including Colorado Springs’ Owen Hill, didn’t like the tax increase and voted down the bipartisan House Bill 1242.

Colorado Springs leaders were skeptical of raising the state sales tax, since  cities rely on sales taxes. Hiking the state sales tax would make it more difficult for local governments to pay for local projects in the future. The Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corp. preferred lawmakers look instead at the state gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1991.

Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver warned before the session started that if lawmakers didn’t pass a statewide plan, then communities such as El Paso County that can afford to pay for local needs won’t later support state money for communities that can’t.

El Paso County is proving she’s right.

Proponents of the El Paso County plan hope putting up local money will spur financial support from other local governments and make the project more attractive for federal and state dollars.

“Taking this to the voters shows consensus and solidarity and support,” said Jim Godfrey, chairman of the PPRTA Citizen Advisory Committee, which unanimously favored adding the issue to the ballot. “It would be hard for the state to ignore if we put money up against it.”

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican from Douglas County, told Colorado Politics in June that communities should work on such local options, because statewide solutions are slow and elusive.

El Paso County voters might have the chance to approve another source of funding for the project, as well.

The County Commission is weighing options for what to do with about $15 million in excess tax revenue. Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, limits annual growth of some local government tax revenue and requires the surplus be returned to taxpayers or used for voter-approved purposes.

 

El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller hopes another ballot question will ask voters if some of the county’s revenue surplus — he’s pushing for $7.5 million — should go toward the I-25 widening. Commissioners have until Sept 8 to add issues to the ballot and finalize language.

The I-25 Gap Coalition, made up of state officials and local leaders from communities along the roughly 17-mile two-lane stretch of road, met for the first time in June to explore options to speed the widening.

“This is a huge step forward to get this on the ballot,” said Waller, vice chairman of the PPRTA board of directors and a former state House minority leader. “In order for us to be able to really make the case to the state and the federal government, it needs to be a collaborative effort.”

State and local leaders have so far been unsuccessful in identifying other sources of funding for the Gap, which state transportation officials say could be finished by 2021 if the money is available. Two federally-required environmental planning studies, paid for by money originally earmarked for the C-470 Express Lane, are currently under way, said Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson.

CDOT hopes to find some contributors by the end of the year, Wilson said. Federal grants or state funds are two possibilities. In May, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law Senate Bill 267, a bipartisan omnibus bill aimed much more at helping rural hospitals and rural transportation than clogged interstates.

By monkeying around with how an assessment on hospital bed occupancy and selling and leasing back government buildings, the legislature thinks it can generate more than $1.8 billion for transportation over the next 20 years. But 25 percent off the top goes to rural counties and another 10 percent to transit. The rest of the money hasn’t been attached to specific projects yet. The Gap won’t get much in the next few years against many competitors for a divvied-out share.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct that Chris Holbert is the Senate majority leader not the house leader.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 13, 20179min120

With the the grease fire that is Republicans’ too-big-to-fail promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, it’s time to remind D.C. how the Colorado legislature got things done this year, from healthcare to switchblades.

The state Constitution forces the legislature to balance its budget each year, that’s a big part of it. Moreover, Republicans and Democrats in the statehouse got tired of losing.

Republicans control the Senate. Democrats control the House. If you’re a partisan under the Gold Dome, that’s a losing proposition unless you have friends across the aisle. Partisans might as well howl at the moon. They’ll get just as far. The only point in picking fights when you don’t have the votes is politics, not governing.

As no small side note, our Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, is making the rounds with Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich.

They’re telling Washington that states want to work across party lines to fix health care. The issue is too important to spoil with brinksmanship.

The legislative session ended three months ago, and usually there’s finger-pointing and backbiting by the time the state fair rolls around. This summer, noticeably, the bipartisan victories.

Bipartisanship is turning into a Colorado thing, like legal weed and light rock music.

Let’s air out the session’s dirty laundry, however. When they convened in January legislators from both parties said their biggest priority would be to adequately fund transportation.

They didn’t.

But you can’t blame bipartisanship. It was an all-Republican knife fight that gutted House Bill 1242, co-authored by Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham.

The Democratic House majority passed a bill to ask voters to approve a sales tax hike. Three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee couldn’t support that. The Republican majority in the Senate then couldn’t agree on a replacement bill.

Colorado found a way forward on health care, however. The bipartisan breakthrough, Senate Bill 267, put millions into rural hospitals and some into transportation, while raising Medicaid co-pays and lowering the state government spending cap. Both sides got some wins there.

Then to prove bipartisanship happens in baby steps, Republicans got in a spat with the Democratic governor on where the  bill would be signed. The peace pipe has not been completely smoked.

The divided legislature also found a middle ground on construction defects litigation, fairly funded charter schools, forced law enforcement to better disclose the assets they take in forfeitures and more (driverless cars, more convenient contraceptive access for women and money to address the state’s opioid addiction crisis).

Democrats and Republicans did some real giving and taking. It paid off.

A lot of the progress had to do with Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican outdoorsman from Douglas County, and Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, the Democratic pastor from Denver who is the someday leader emeritus of the LGBTQ Caucus.

For six of the eight years of the Hickenlooper administration, Republicans and Democrats will have shared control of the legislature. Before this past session, bombast had a way of spoiling things.

Bipartisanship starts with better relationships, Holbert said. The Senate leadership in both parties tried to keep a lid on the accusatory, overblown rhetoric that makes subsequent bipartisanship a heavy lift.

“What we’ve tried to do is to reach across the aisle quite literally by standing in that center aisle and to shake hands and to embrace and not use that kind of (negative) rhetoric with each other, first just to set that example and to encourage other people in the caucus,” Holbert said.

Guzman said relationships at least provide an open ear across the aisle when the votes are against you.

“I’ve known President Grantham since we came in together,” Guzman said. “He and I traveled to Israel together. We’ve done lots of things together.”

Holbert said the Colorado Constitution forces the legislature to work together to pass scores of bills, including balancing a budget.

“The way we have to do our jobs is different than most other states and could be different than all other states,” he said.

It’s complicated and detailed, so he wrote out Colorado’s unique governing requirements for me.

For my fellow Colorado government geeks. Holbert’s lesson:

Single Subject Rule

Everything in a bill before the Colorado General Assembly must fit under the title of that bill. This restriction prohibits “pork barrel” legislation and deal-making when unrelated issues are combined into one bill.

Every Bill Must Receive a Hearing

In many states, legislative leadership or committee chairmen have the authority to decide whether a given bill will receive a hearing. If a bill does not receive a hearing, then it cannot pass. Here in Colorado, all bills that are introduced must receive a hearing.

No Pocket Veto

In Colorado, no one legislator or even the Governor has the authority to kill a bill simply by ignoring it. Bills in our legislature can and do die by vote of a committee or chamber, with at least a simple majority of members voting against the measure. If a bill passes both chambers, our governor must either sign it into law, sign it as a veto or the bill becomes law without his signature.

Balanced Budget Requirement

The Colorado Constitution requires our state legislature to pass a budget each year and that the budget be balanced. The Colorado General Assembly cannot deficit spend, meaning that it cannot spend more than it has. With our current spilt legislature, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate must work together to pass a balanced budget.

Voter Approval Required for Taxes

Unlike many state legislatures, the Colorado General Assembly does not have authority to create a tax or increase an existing tax rate without voter approval.

Term Limits

Individuals may serve up to eight years in each chamber of our state legislature. House terms are two years each and Senate terms are four years each.

Limited Session Time
The Colorado Constitution limits the annual general session to no more than 120 days, including weekends and holidays. Unlike other states that limit session duration, here in Colorado, neither the legislature nor the Governor has authority to extend a general session beyond 120 days.

Lobbyist Restrictions

Colorado voters have also amended our state Constitution to prohibit lobbyists from giving anything of value to a state legislator. Whereas non-lobbyists can currently spend up to $59 per year entertaining a state legislator, lobbyists can spend nothing on such activities.