The way justice is meted out in Colorado could change, giving judges more say in habitual offender and sex offender cases, through bills bound for the legislature. The Sentencing in the Criminal Justice System Interim Study Committee is proposing bills to allow judges more leeway in sentencing to make sure the punishment fits the crime. The […]
Andrew Fish is climbing the statehouse Democrat ladder. Thursday Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, announced that Fish will serve as the deputy chief of staff for the caucus. Fish was the campaign manager for Daniel Kagan’s victory in his state Senate race last year, and then served as the Senate aide to the former […]
As I write, Gov. John Hickenlooper is contemplating whether to call the Legislature into special session in order to pass a comprehensive transportation bill. He should do it, and give the Legislature a chance to resuscitate the transportation proposal that so narrowly failed during the regular session.
Almost everyone agrees that we need to repair and improve Colorado’s transportation infrastructure. Consensus breaks down, however, as soon as you ask, “What improvements shall we make?” and “How shall we pay for all this?” To arrive at a set of fair, acceptable answers to those questions, legislators of both parties and the governor negotiated throughout the 2017 session. The result of those discussions was House Bill 1242, and the plan was to put the bill’s comprehensive transportation infrastructure proposal before the voters this November so the people of Colorado could decide the matter. House Bill 1242 found bipartisan support in both chambers and survived numerous committees, but it failed by one vote at the near-to-last hurdle, in the Senate Finance Committee on April 25, 2017.
I was bitterly disappointed, but continue to believe that though the bill failed, it need not die. I hope the governor will conclude over the next few days that he should call a special session, use his renowned powers of persuasion in a few choice quarters, and get the House Bill 1242 proposal, or something very like it, before the voters.
The most contentious dispute over 1242 was whether the hefty bills should be financed by new taxes or by diverting existing revenue streams toward infrastructure projects and maintenance. Proponents of new taxes argued that was the honest approach, allowing for the pain to be uncamouflaged and openly discussed. Those advocating for use of existing revenues said the pain did not have to be specified in advance, and would not be severe, if only the government would trim its tendency toward frivolous spending.
The 1242 deal opted for new taxes, fully described, and subject to voter approval; the revenue would be raised by increasing the state sales tax rate. We considered, but rejected, alternatives, like instituting per-mile-traveled vehicle user fees, raising the state income tax rate, or doubling the per-gallon gasoline tax. The amount of the proposed state sales tax increase bobbed around, but finally settled at half a cent, taking the sales tax rate from its current 2.9 percent to 3.4 percent, which was projected to raise about half a billion new dollars per year.
Other salient details of the proposal were to scrap late vehicle registration fees, reduce the road safety surcharge from $23 to $9 and issue up to $3.5 billion in bonds to cover capital projects, using primarily the new sales tax revenue to service the debt.
A group I call “The Asphalts” wanted the lion’s share of the new money to go to roads and bridges, whereas environmentalists wanted it to go in large part to mass transit, bike routes and pedestrian-friendly improvements. Local governments, especially the rurals, wanted most of the money to go to them, but Front Range interstate users wanted more to go to the State Highway Fund. We ultimately settled on 35 percent of the new money going to the State Highway Fund, 50 percent going to counties and municipalities, and 15 percent going to a new “Multimodal Transportation Options Fund” to pay for transit, bikes and pedestrians.
The proposal garnered enthusiastic and well-moneyed support from business groups, labor, liberals and conservatives. Significantly, the president of the Senate, speaker of the House, governor of the state of Colorado, chairs of both transportation committees and a majority of both chambers all supported the bill. But it failed, as I said at the outset, because the “no new taxes” argument persuaded three of the five members of the Senate Finance Committee to vote “no” on that balmy April evening.
This need not stand. The voters should be allowed to have their say. Gov. Hickenlooper should call a special session.
Jail cells are no longer a substitute for the help needed by people in behavioral and mental health crises in Colorado.
Thursday Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation on 72-hour mental health holds, a significant issue for Colorado’s far-flung rural areas, where proper help can be hours away. When there’s not a hospital nearby to take a person in crisis, a jail cell often is the landing spot, even if the person hasn’t committed a crime.
“Until now, people in Colorado could spend up to 72 hours in jail simply because they had a behavioral health issue and needed help,” said Nancy VanDeMark, director of the state’s Office of Behavioral Health, in a statement.
“Through the hard work of many people, we’re now able to expand and enhance the availability of crisis response services statewide. Coloradans in crisis will be connected with the right behavioral health services in an appropriate setting.”
Senate Bill 207 abolishes the practice of locking up people simply because of mental health distress. Instead, the new law creates a needs study, regional contractors, training for first-responders, community partnerships, mobile units and, by Jan. 1, a 24-hour walk-in center on the Western Slope.
The Department of Human Services, which runs the state’s response program, will get about $7.1 million from marijuana taxes next year and $7.4 million the next year to extend and bolster services across the state.
About $5.2 million a year will go toward law enforcement and mental health professionals working together on ways and means.
The bill had strong, diverse leadership. Republican John Cooke, the retired Weld County sheriff, and liberal attorney Daniel Kagan sponsored the bill in the Senate. In the House it was led by Deomocrat Joe Salazar, a civil rights lawyer and Democratic attorney general candidate, with former Top Gun pilot Lang Sias.
The legislation passed the Senate 27-6 and the House 51-14.
Lawmakers and DHS have been focused more intently on behavioral health response since the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, when clues were missed that might have led to a better intervention with gunman James Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured at least 70.
The next legislative session lawmakers passed Senate Bill 266 to appropriate about $29 million to create many of the services being extended to rural areas this year.
Four years ago the bill charged the Department of Human Services with creating a 24-hour hotline staffed by mental health professionals.
Since it launched in October 2014, the hotline has heard from 293,663 people, or about 1 in 20 Coloradans, according to DHS’s count.
The line can be reached at 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or by texting TALK to 38255.
State Sen. Mike Merrifield discusses his love for the outdoors and the reason he doesn’t miss “The Big Bang Theory,” a sitcom about nerds, in a new episode of “Behind the Politics,” the weekly podcast produced by Colorado’s Senate Democrats. He also recalls with pride that he had the distinction during his first term in the House as the lawmaker who felt the wrath of the speaker’s gavel most often.
Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, lamented the demise late Tuesday of bipartisan legislation that would have asked Colorado voters for a sales-tax increase to fund transportation needs, saying that lawmakers’ failure to fund infrastructure is harming the state’s economy.
The legislative leaders who opened this year’s session with calls to come together to craft a transportation funding solution expressed disappointment Tuesday evening after three Republican senators slammed the brakes in committee on legislation that would have asked voters to raise the sales tax to pay for roads and transit.
The Republican-controlled state Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday heard dueling hot-button “sanctuary” bills and saw members and witnesses talk past each other, wrestle with language and come to no agreement. The committee voted on party lines to pass the Republican bill and kill the Democratic bill.
The Democratic-controlled House takes up the budget, which was passed without an inordinate amount of pain in the Republican-controlled Senate last week. Democrats will likely try to move the ball on items of priority that were shot down in the Senate.
Contraception: It’s a personal matter and a state budget concern. State health estimates routinely put the cost savings of in the tens of millions. Some lawmakers oppose contraception. Some oppose using public money to pay for contraception. Others insist on debating the science that clearly separates most contraception methods from abortion.