Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 12, 20174min372

Washington, D.C.-based civil-liberties watchdog Institute for Justice joined in the applause for Gov. John Hickenlooper’s decision Friday to sign into law a much-debated rollback of state and local law enforcement’s civil-forfeiture powers. The new law includes a number of checks on those powers including a provision that drew dogged opposition from Colorado’s law-enforcement agencies: State and local agencies in most cases no longer will be able to get federal forfeiture funds for collaborating with the feds on busts.

The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Reps. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Stephen Humphrey, R-Eaton, in the House and Sens. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, and Tim Neville, R-Littleton, in the Senate.

Using civil forfeiture, police and other law-enforcement agencies can seize cash, cars, homes and other assets from those merely suspected of involvement in crimes. No one need be convicted of a crime or even charged with one. The policy has generated a lucrative revenue stream for law enforcement at all levels of government — fueling a years-long debate between law-and-order politicians reluctant to rein in the practice amid the War on Drugs and civil libertarians who contend the seizures are an affront to the Bill of Rights.

In a press statement, the Institute for Justice lauded Hickenlooper and said Colorado set a new standard:

“Colorado now has the best laws in the nation, hands-down, for seizure and forfeiture transparency,” said Institute for Justice Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath. “Through its comprehensive disclosure requirements, this law will play a vital role in keeping both the public and legislators well-informed about civil forfeiture in Colorado.”

… “Colorado has created an exemplary model for other states to follow, particularly in shining a light on forfeiture spending and making seizure and forfeiture activity readily available online,” said Jennifer McDonald, an IJ research analyst, who co-authored a report on forfeiture transparency and accountability. “The state should ensure that these requirements are properly implemented in the months to come.”

The institute’s full press statement includes a helpful recap of the new law’s key feature as well as an explainer on the federal “equitable sharing program” under which Colorado, according to an analysis by the institute, received some $47 million between 2000 and 2013. Here’s the link again.



Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 9, 20173min558

Remember Republican rising star Jon Keyser’s highly touted but short-lived bid for the U.S. Senate last year? His ambitions imploded en route to last June’s GOP primary amid findings that a worker had forged signatures to land him a spot on the primary ballot.

In the end, paid petition circulator Maureen Marie Moss, 45, was sentenced to four years probation on each of two forgery counts along with 250 hours of community service. Keyser faded from the political scene.

A bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. John Hickenlooper will improve the state’s ability to weed out such fraud on the petitions used by many candidates to qualify for their party primaries.

When it takes effect Aug. 9, House Bill 1088 will require the Secretary of State’s Office to compare each signature on a candidate petition with the signature stored in the statewide voter registration database. Under the current system, the state only verifies the address listed for each voter signing a petition.

The proposal was sponsored in the 2017 legislative session by Republican House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock along with his dad, Republican Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton.

A press release from the House GOP quoted the junior Neville:

“This new law will protect the integrity of the petition process, and ensure every candidate has an equal opportunity to get their name on the ballot. … The unanimous support from my colleagues for this legislation shows the importance of protecting the petition process, and I am thankful for all the support and assistance we received to pass this bill.” 

By the way, Keyser landed on his feet though not in politics. As we noted a while back, he is now a corporate counsel with motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee.

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 11, 20173min485

One of the more controversial tools that law enforcement agencies have acquired in the era of the war on drugs — seizing cash and property they believe to be associated with a crime — will have to better account for itself under bipartisan legislation now on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature.

House Bill 1313 got final approval from the legislature on Wednesday, the last day of the 2017 session.

Billed as “civil forfeiture reform,” HB 1313 requires all state law enforcement agencies to report to the Department of Local Affairs on all cases of civil asset forfeiture. The department is charged with aggregating and displaying the data on its website in an easily searchable format.

The database will disclose the reason for contact with law enforcement that led to the seizure, the status of any pending investigation into a suspected crime, a description of assets seized, and for what the proceeds are being used.

That particular provision — getting on the record law enforcement’s eventual use of the property or cash it seizes  — addresses long-standing concerns about the extent to which law enforcement has come to view civil-asset forfeiture as a cash cow. A range of civil-liberties advocacy groups spanning the political spectrum, from the American Civil Liberties Union on the left to the Cato Institute on the right, have called for reform and even repeal of law enforcement’s power to seize the assets of mere suspects in crimes.

HB 1313 doesn’t go nearly so far; it does, however, add a degree of accountability that is arguably absent from the process in Colorado.

By the way, the legislation also limits local law enforcement from sharing funds from forfeitures in multi-jurisdictional operations; proceeds only can be shared in cases that involve a seizure that’s $50,000 or more in value, requiring forfeitures under that amount to follow state forfeiture procedures.

The broad-based philosophical appeal of the reform is reflected in the bill’s wide-ranging sponsorship: Reps. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance, and Sens. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, and Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village.

A press statement issued by the Senate GOP Wednesday quotes Neville:

“Colorado’s men and women in blue take on a tremendous responsibility in their service to our state, and we should lend them every tool in our arsenal to ensure that they are able to continue to perform their duties and keep our communities safe. … Whenever we can come together in a bipartisan fashion to strengthen constitutional rights for Coloradans and increase transparency and accountability in government, we are achieving exactly what Coloradans have tasked us with as public servants.”

Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 3, 20176min372

Colorado’s new highway bill got a warm reception Tuesday from the same Republican-led committee that dropped a bomb on the issue last week.

Senate Bill 303 passed the Senate Finance Committee on a 3-2 party-line, the same vote that killed House Bill 1242, the bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Senate President Kevin Grantham and House Speaker Crisanta Duran.

The bill has to pass both chambers and, in a best case scenario, a conference committee to work out a compromise between the Republican-led Senate and Democratic House majority.

That all has to happen during the next week, before the session ends on May 10.

The current bill is sponsored by Sens. Tim Neville of Littleton and John Cooke of Greeley. They said their bill is better because House Bill 1242 included a “major, major” tax increase of 0.50 percent.

“It doesn’t poll well.” Cooke said of a tax increase. “We’ve seen before that voters in the state of Colorado don’t like sales tax increases, and we thought why put our names on something we can’t support when the citizens also can’t support it.”

Neville said the first bill his enthusiasm comes from previously used bonding for T-Rex and money that’s already in the state budget.

“I think we’re honoring the taxpayers who believe in fiscal stewardship,” he said. “That’s why we’re enthusiastic about this bill.”

The bill added an amendment supported by the Colorado Motor Carriers Association to raise the tag fees vehicles 10 years old or older. The amendment keeps the break for those currently getting the annual $3 plate, until the vehicle is sold and the new owner would pay the higher fee. The proposal is expected to raise $50 million the first year and rise  to $176 million by its fifth year. The Colorado Motor Carriers, who proposed the amendment, said the revenue would continue to rise for 15 years as a grandfather clause expires and more vehicles fall under the new tag fee.

Sen. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, said the bill was fundamentally flawed because it doesn’t express where the cuts from other programs would come from.

That decision would be made by future legislative budget writers.

“We’re somewhat masking the pain with ‘I don’t know where the cuts will be, let the JBC work that out; I don’t know where the cuts will be, but I’m sure we won’t endure any pain from those cuts, because, after all, our budget is rising,'” he said. “… It diminishes and therefore doesn’t give due weight to the real pain this bill in its current form, even as amended, would inflict.”

The chief nemesis of a tax hike for roads, Independence Institute president Jon Caldara, backed the new bill. If it fails in the legislature, he’s promising to run a ballot initiative in November to achieve much the same ends: asphalt without tax hikes.

He said that in a $26.8 billion budget that’s growing every year, legislators are spending less on roads than they were 10 years ago.

“The money, I believe, is inside the state budget,” Caldara said. “It’s difficult to be the guys who have to prioritize spending, but I believe that’s why you’re elected to make those decision.”

Sandra Hagan Solin of the business coalitions Fix Colorado Roads and the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance urged lawmakers to find a balanced bill that can pass both chambers and, ultimately with voters. She said voters will expect lawmakers to invest some of the state budget in the deal.

“A proposal must be politically viable under the dome, through both bodies and with the voters,” she told the committee. “The same principles apply with Senate Bill 303 … to find that balance, as we hoped come could be accomplished in House Bill 1242.”

Conservation Colorado, the 25,000-member environmental juggernaut, opposes the new bill because it pays for roads on the backs of other state needs.

“Borrowing from ourselves in not a solution,” said Conservation Colorado’s Sophia Guerrero-Murphy.

The latest bill squeezes out future expansion of transit.

“Any transportation bill should be a balanced package that reflects Colorado’s full transportation needs,” she said.

Editor’s note: This blog was updated to correct that the vote happened on Wednesday and to add more detail about the amendment that I didn’t yesterday evening.

Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 3, 20174min353

History Colorado wants to sell off a little history. The Colorado Senate Finance Committee told them to go ahead on 4-1 vote Tuesday.

The state’s historical preservation agency wants to sell off a vacant cold storage building on the former Lowry Air Force Base in East Denver and use the money to fix up some more significant projects in need of big repairs.

Chairman Tim Neville of Littleton voted against the idea. He said it made more sense to him to sell the property, put the money in an endowment and use the interest to pay for repairs. He was also concerned about liquidating an asset to pay for maintenance costs on other properties.

According to property records, the 21,215-square-foot building at 532 Golfers Way was built in 1960 and is worth about $2.9 million.

Steve Turner, History Colorado’s executive director, said the board had considered an endowment, but if they were able to put aside $2 million from the sale, it would generate about $50,000 a year, conservatively.

“We simply don’t have the resources to make these kinds of investments at this time,” he said.

About that cold storage: The state historical society wound up with the property in 1991 from the Lowry Redevelopment Authority.

It was part of a bigger acquisition at the former military base, sits vacant and “no longer fits within the mission of the state historical society,” according to the bill.

History Colorado had to cut millions from its budget in 2015, which saw the departure of four of its top officials in the wake of declining casino revenues and questions about spending.

A state audit found that millions of dollars that could have been supporting historical projects statewide, were instead steered into expensive projects in Denver, such as recoating the gold dome on the Capitol and putting nearly $111 million into the History Colorado Center.

The need to sell the Lowry cold storage is part of that, Turner said.

He said History Colorado only has one other surplus property, which the State Fair in Pueblo is interested in using for storage, meaning this isn’t the start of a major sell-off.

The historical society mostly owns small-town museums outside Denver.

“These facilities really serve rural Colorado,” Turner said Tuesday, adding that in some cases they are important engines of economic activity and tourism for their communities, which preserving the region’s past.

The bill goes next to the full Senate, then still has to pass the House unchanged — or faces last-minute negotiations between the two chambers — before the session ends on May 10.

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirApril 26, 20174min291
…and in fact has been on life support for some time. But knowing they’ve already won won’t put a damper on plans by the Colorado chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and their allies to turn out in force today at a House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee hearing and denounce Senate Bill 116. […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirApril 20, 20178min300
While the annual “4/20” cannabis bacchanal gets underway this morning at Denver’s Civic Center Park — in search of some cause beyond satisfying the basic human need to party — a couple of observations from Colorado’s media gallery seem especially apt. First, Denverite’s Adrian Garcia notes today how a fissure has opened up in the marijuana world — pitting, for the […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirApril 20, 20175min303
Even if you count yourself among PERA’s wide-ranging critics, you have to give credit to the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association for its outreach. Call it — as PERA does on one of its proliferating websites — an “effort to inform and listen.” Or, call it an attempt to reassure the public about “reducing PERA’s risk profile,” […]

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