The Office of Consumer Counsel: Sonnenberg’s Faustian Bargain

SUNDAY UPDATE: Setting up a late-session battle, majority House Democrats have introduced an alternative “clean” bill to reauthorize the Office of Consumer Counsel without stripping it of authority in telecom rate cases. The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch:

The main differences between the bills are telephones and duration before the next sunset review. Sonnenberg, the sponsor of Senate Bill 271, and other Senate Republicans say there’s no need for the Office of Consumer Counsel to ride herd over phone rates. Those are dictated by competition in the free market, after the legislature deregulated telecoms last year.

Supporters of House Bill 1381 say the office needs to keep a watch on remaining phone services and issues, such as 9-1-1 service and whether deregulation is giving customers a fair shake.

The newest OCC bill sponsored by Reps. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and 28 Democratic co-sponsors preserves the OCC’s telecom oversight. The Senate bill reduces the time until the next sunset review from 11 years to six. The House bill maintains it at 11.

From House Democrats’ presser:

“Extending the Office of Consumer Counsel is a no brainer,” Rep. Esgar said. “It provides critical protections for Colorado consumers and businesses to ensure that big utilities and telecom companies aren’t ripping off hardworking Coloradans to increase their profits.”

HB15-1381 will continue the counsel in its current form for another 11 years. A Senate bill, SB15-271, also extends the counsel, but only for six years and removes the counsel’s oversight over telephone providers, potentially threatening 9-1-1 services and causing unneeded rate increases.

“We know the counsel has prevented telecom rate increases in the past,” Rep. Winter said. “We shouldn’t create a loophole that threatens 9-1-1 services and will cost consumers more money.”

Stay tuned, the classic battle of consumers versus corporate lobbyists is about to resume.

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Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch reports on a deal in the works with Colorado Senate Republicans to prevent the Office of Consumer Counsel from sunsetting–an office important to consumer advocates to represent utility customers in rate hike proceedings.

As Bunch reports, Republicans are seeking a pound of flesh in exchange:

Consumer groups have been fretting the fate of the Office of Consumer Counsel, whose experts have helped convince the Colorado Public Utilities Commission that some of the rate increases requested by gas, power or phone providers are either more than necessary or not necessary at all.

The agency will reach its sunset on July 1, unless the legislature passes Senate Bill 271 or tries to revive the agency early in next year’s session. There’s a provision that allows the office to “wind down” for one year, but a delay would deal it a crippling blow, supporters say.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is sponsoring the bill and will argue its merits before the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee next week. The bill could be heard and moved to the full Senate as early as Tuesday or as late as Thursday, though it’s not on the committee agenda for either day as of Thursday evening. Despite the late hour of the legislative session, Sonnenberg is confident the reauthorization will face few roadblocks on its way to the governor.

“I don’t see there’ll be much opposition,” he said. “I do understand there’s a little bit of heartburn about taking out the telecom.” [Pols emphasis]

That’s right–the “deal” being offered by GOP Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg would reauthorize the OCC for the purpose of negotiating electrical and gas service rates, but would strip the office’s authority where it concerns telecommunications services. Bunch quotes the director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group warning that “now’s not the time to bench Colorado’s consumer advocate on telephone issues.” So why is this happening, you ask?

It’s simple: CenturyLink and the rest of Colorado’s telecom players have really good lobbyists. There’s nothing about stripping the OCC of its authority in telecom utility service negotiations that helps consumers, but with the legislative session winding down and Republicans in control of the Senate by one seat, this is in all likelihood the best deal consumers are going to get. And if you don’t like it, your alternative is to lose all of your representation before the Public Utilities Commission on rate hikes.

Such a deal, Sen. Sonnenberg.

Get More Smarter on Friday (April 24)

Today is not the anniversary of anything particularly important, as far as we can tell. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► The U.S. Senate is coming to Colorado…some of them, anyway. Members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will be in Aurora today for a field hearing regarding the ongoing problems with construction at the Aurora VA Hospital.

► The State Senate gave preliminary approval on Thursday to legislation intended to reduce student testing requirements in Colorado. The State House is scheduled to discuss a similar bill today.

► Republicans are going to have a tough time continuing to pretend that so-called fetal homicide Personhood legislation is anything but a purely political attempt to restrict abortions in Colorado; some of the language used in SB-268 is exactly the same as wording used in model legislation proposed by the group Americans United for Life.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Hypoglycemia Pushes “Dr. Chaps” To Run For SD-12?

The Colorado Springs Gazette’s Kassondra Cloos reports:

What was billed as a town hall meeting turned into a half-hour tease for Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt’s announcement that he plans to run for a state Senate seat.

Klingenschmitt, R-Colorado Springs, went through a list of his accomplishments in the state Legislature Wednesday at the Airplane Restaurant. He also discussed his attempts to “fight for Republican principles” that didn’t make it through the Democrat-controlled House. He took a small handful of questions limited to constituents in House District 15, teasing his “plans for 2016″ along the way, before announcing he plans to run for Senate District 12…

Colorado Senate District 12 is currently represented by Senate President Bill Cadman, who is term-limited. Cloos reports (as our readers already know) that former Rep. Bob Gardner is planning a run for this seat, and there are rumors that former House Minority Leader Mark Waller could also throw his hat in the ring. Under ordinary circumstances, we’d say either of those experienced lawmakers should be more than a match for Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt, for whom the controversies have flowed fast and furious since his inauguration in January. But Klingenschmitt has surprised us before, winning the seat to begin with despite a long history of over-the-top on-camera craziness as part of his “Pray in Jesus’ Name” Youtube ministry.

If this does turn out to be a career-ending misstep for Rep. Klingenschmitt, he may be able to attribute it to a 72-hour fast he claims to have engaged in before making the decision. We don’t know about you, but after 72 hours without food we’d be in no condition to make any kind of responsible decision.

In all seriousness, though, while it’s true that Klingenschmitt has placed himself in the line of fire against two experienced and theoretically more credible politicians, we can’t ignore the potential positive effect of the large amount of press “Chaps” has garnered in recent months. Klingenschmitt believes that Obama is possessed by demons and that gay people should not have civil rights, and the voters of House District 15 didn’t care in the least–electing him by a wide margin anyway. How many conservatives in SD-12 might actually agree with Klingenschmitt, as disgusting as it may sound, that Michelle Wilkins was punished by God for America’s sin of abortion?

For this reason and others that are similar, we’d be fools to count him out.

“Fetal Homicide” Bill Uses Anti-Abortion Group’s Model Language

UPDATE: Credit where due–in a report broadcast today, Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee becomes the first local reporter to correctly identify the origin of the language in Senate President Bill Cadman’s “fetal homicide” bill–a national anti-abortion group.

University of Colorado law professor Jennifer Hendricks testified that similar laws in other states have led to pregnant women being prosecuted for having miscarriages or taking drugs, in spite of similar protections.

“My concern that it will be interpreted much more broadly is not hypothetical. It is exactly how an Alabama Supreme Court interpreted a similar law,” Hendricks said.

Abortion rights supporters say a fetal homicide law could also have a chilling effect on access to abortion. The bill was modeled after legislation written by an anti-abortion group, [Pols emphasis] although the organization says it is not attempting to limit the procedure with this policy.

As we detail below, Americans United for Life most certainly is attempting to limit abortions as part of this legislative strategy–just a little over the horizon. Original post follows.

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Senate President Bill Cadman.

Senate President Bill Cadman.

As the Durango Herald’s Peter Marcus reports, Senate Bill 15-268, the so-called “fetal homicide” bill introduced by GOP Senate President Bill Cadman last week as a “response” to the horrific attack on a pregnant Longmont women last month, passed its first hearing in the GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee:

After a nearly five-hour hearing, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee backed the bill on a 3-2 party-line vote, with support from Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango.

“This bill, I don’t see it about abortion,” Roberts said. “I see it as criminal justice.”

Senate Bill 268 was introduced by Republican leaders in the waning days of the legislative session in reaction to a recent horrific event in Longmont in which a woman suffered as her 7-month-old fetus was cut from her womb by another woman. The fetus died.

The issue is mired in controversy, as pro-choice advocates say that the legislation would create so-called “personhood” in the state, which they fear would lead to arresting and charging women for murder simply for having an abortion…

“I support a woman’s right to choose, and for nine years in this building, my voting record shows that,” Roberts said. “It does not create personhood, and I’m very disappointed in those who have perpetuated that myth.”

Although the legislation contains vaguely-worded exemptions for “medical procedures” and acts “performed by the mother of her unborn child,” the fact remains that the bill grants legal rights to fetuses “at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth.” That provision, say opponents, is functionally identical to the Personhood ballot measures, and sets a dangerous precedent that could be used to undermine abortion rights in the future.

And there’s another problem that was pointed out in debate over this legislation yesterday by Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr: despite insistence from Cadman and other GOP supporters that this legislation is not meant to undermine abortion rights, Senate Bill 15-268 in fact uses verbatim model language supplied by Americans United for Life–one of the nation’s foremost anti-abortion advocacy groups. Here’s the model language from AUL in its entirety. And here’s the part that matters:

aulmodel

Compared to the relevant portion of Colorado Senate Bill 15-268:

sb268

For their part, Americans United for Life proudly noted in a press release yesterday that Senate Bill 15-268 is “based on AUL model legislation.” So it’s not like they’re being secretive about this. Despite that, we have yet to see any of the extensive press this issue is receiving note that Cadman’s bill is cribbed directly from “the nation’s premier pro-life legal team.” That’s how AUL describes themselves on their About Us page:

At the state, federal and international levels, AUL works to advance life issues through the law and does so through measures that can withstand judicial obstacles so that pro-life laws will be enforced. AUL knows that reversing Roe v. Wade can be accomplished through deliberate, legal strategies that accumulate victories, build momentum, and restore a culture of life. [Pols emphasis]

But AUL’s distinction extends beyond federal measures. AUL works at the state level to craft tailored strategies and legislative tools that will assist state and local officials as they defend and protect life…

[AUL] has been unparalleled in pointing the way to protecting women now, to limiting the abortion license created by the Supreme Court, and to preparing the ground to overturn Roe. [Pols emphasis]

This legislation is, by the explicit admission of its true authors, part of a much broader strategy to chip away at Roe v. Wade. What happens when the rights this legislation confers on unborn fetuses today are interpreted tomorrow to be “unjust” since they contain exemptions? Once you legitimize these legal rights from the moment of conception, you’ve set down exactly the path AUL wants you to be on as part of their long-term objective of overturning Roe v. Wade–and curtailing or eliminating abortion rights nationwide.

Bottom line: if you’re wondering why pro-choice advocates and their Democratic allies are suspicious of ulterior motives at work here, you can stop wondering. Beneath the veneer of a “response” to last month’s horrific crime, a longstanding agenda to attack abortion rights is what this whole debate is about.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (April 23)

By the end of the week, the black market for carnitas will be booming. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► After five months of waiting, the U.S. Senate is finally on the cusp of confirming President Obama’s nomination of Loretta Lynch as Attorney General. Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner announced this morning that he planned to vote NO on Lynch’s confirmation. Seriously.

► There is a concerted effort underway in Jefferson County to “destroy” the teacher’s union, as Colorado Pols reported late yesterday. Jon Caldara and the Independence Institute may need to work fast — Julie Williams and the right-wing Jeffco School Board might just “destroy” the entire school district first.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Jon Caldara Pitches “Dougco-Style” Jeffco Schools Takeover

UPDATE: Jon Caldara responds via Twitter:

And there you have it, folks…

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Jon Caldara.

Jon Caldara.

We were forwarded scanned copies today of a lengthy letter from the right-wing Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara, soliciting funds from members to wage war against “the teachers unions and their Leftist allies in Jefferson County.” We’ve posted all eight pages of Caldara’s letter below (click to pull up high resolution scans)–safe to say that this letter was not intended for consumption outside a very conservative audience, as the stated goals of Caldara’s campaign are distantly out of the mainstream.

For one thing, the “libertarian” Caldara launches into a defense of last year’s controversial AP History curriculum review proposal that would make Julie Williams blush:

caldarajeffcoaphis

That “the union” staged last year’s enormous student protests will come as a surprise to the students who actually organized them, and who explained to everyone who would listen that they were outraged by Williams’ AP History “review” proposal without anyone’s help. It’s worth noting that Caldara is aligned with Republican politicians who sent out mailers last year using doctored photos of student protesters to imply their support–even though the students were protesting against the GOP-dominated school board’s actions. Republican politicians who benefited from those mailers include Tim Neville, the brother-in-law of board member Julie Williams.

And again, isn’t Caldara supposed to be a “libertarian?” Don’t libertarians respect questioning authority in the classroom? We can only assume that Caldara wasn’t writing for a libertarian audience.

Here’s another tidbit that won’t sit well in swing Jefferson County. Ever since taking control of the school board in 2013, the new conservative majority has insisted that they were not modeling their agenda on Douglas County, the arch-conservative stronghold presently mired in a lawsuit over religious school vouchers, and which has seen considerable turnover of teachers and staff since a right-wing activist school board started enacting sweeping changes. Well folks, don’t tell that to Jon Caldara:

caldaradougco

caldaradougco2

We’d say their cover is pretty well blown at this point, but in case you needed more proof, here you go.

You can read Caldara’s angry screed in its entirety after the jump–click on the images to pull up full-resolution versions. And next time somebody tells you that there isn’t a right-wing ideological plot afoot to radically alter one of Colorado’s best-performing public school districts, show them this letter.

Because apparently there is.

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Doug “Mr. TABOR” Bruce Strikes Again–Literally

Doug Bruce.

Former Republican Rep. Doug Bruce, author of the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, has been in the news a great deal lately as allegations of shady real-estate deals and unmaintained rental properties pile up around himself and his associates. Bruce’s handoff of property for which he owes the city of Colorado Springs thousands of dollars in a court judgment to city councilwoman Helen Collins has caused a significant scandal, recently compounded by revelations about blighted apartment buildings in Kansas City owned by Collins and “managed” by Bruce.

Earlier this month, Bruce was in court for multiple alleged probation violations stemming in part from the above-described events. “Mr. TABOR” was convicted in 2011 of felony tax evasion, and among other offenses his business dealings with Helen Collins may well constitute violations of the terms of his release. Bruce has his next court hearing in June to face those allegations.

But as the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports, Bruce’s court visit on April 10th has netted him fresh legal troubles of a different kind:

An arrest warrant for assault has been issued in Denver for Douglas Bruce, the author of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, after an incident following a court appearance earlier this month.

The warrant was signed by a judge and issued out of the county’s court on Sunday, records show. The court clerk’s office says the warrant is for a municipal assault offense.

Bruce is accused of assault at the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse on April 10 where a video shows him grabbing a cell phone out of the hands of Dede Laugesen, executive director of Colorado Springs Government Watch. Bruce was leaving the courthouse following a hearing in which prosecutors accused him of violating his probation in his 2012 tax evasion conviction.

During Bruce’s brief tenure as the representative of Colorado House District 15 back in 2008, he was given a rare censure by the House after kicking a Rocky Mountain News reporter on the opening day of the legislative session. That incident was a major factor in the later GOP primary against Bruce won by Rep. Mark Waller.

As we’ve said on a number of occasions, Doug Bruce is not a nice man.

In a perfect world, the ongoing legal problems faced by the author of the Colorado GOP’s most treasured constitutional amendment, TABOR–especially his felony conviction for the highly ironic crime of tax evasion–would be a major credibility problem for anyone tasked with defending his handiwork. TABOR’s many Byzantine government-throttling provisions, which can’t even be undone in one initiative due to the subsequent passage of the state’s “single subject” rule for ballot measures, were carefully crafted to hobble the most basic functions of government Coloradans rely on. Nobody knew in 1992 that TABOR was written by what we know now is a criminal mind–and today, no Republican can admit this either, since blind support for TABOR is an article of faith in GOP circles.

But we’ll say it again: the author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is a convicted criminal. A criminal felon tax evader. A criminal slumlord. And pending how this latest assault case turns out, a criminal thug too.

We’re grateful to have no political obligation to defend this man, and we’re sorry for those who do.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (April 22)

GetMoreSmarter-EarthHappy Earth Day! Or, if you’re into that kind of thing, Happy Administrative Professionals’ Day. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Angry) is the Chair of the House Veterans’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. It is supposed to be his job to provide oversight for stuff like, say, a complete mess of a VA Hospital project in Aurora. Coffman may not have much in the way of solutions for the VA’s problems, but that isn’t stopping him from raising money off of the scandal. Coffman’s spokesman had a bunch of gibberish to say in response to these allegations, but the best line of the story — which was picked up nationally — comes from Lynn Bartels in “The Spot” blog:

Less than six months ago, Coffman posted on his congressional web site an opinion piece thanking him for not being one of the members of Congress using the VA problems for fundraising.

D’oh!

Fetal homicide Personhood legislation will be introduced today in the State Senate.

► Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) apparently doesn’t think the Sage Grouse is so greater. As Bruce Finley of the Denver Post reports:

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner will introduce legislation in Congress on Wednesday that would bar the federal government from listing greater sage grouse as endangered and give western states six more years to revive grouse populations on their own…

…”We have an obligation to future generations to conserve and recover this species,” [said Gardner]. “But we can do it on our terms. Let’s put Coloradans in charge, let’s put Westerners in charge of the West.”

“Let’s put Westerners in charge of the West!” Who comes up with this crap?

 
Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Wednesday Open Thread

“Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.”

–E. B. White

Mike Coffman Raising Money Off VA Hospital Scandal He’s Supposed to Oversee

What, you expected more of me?

What, you expected more of me?

Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. It is, ostensibly, his job to have done something — anything — to prevent the disaster that has become the still-under-construction VA Hospital in Aurora.

Coffman hasn’t done much of anything in the way of “oversight,” but he sure moves quickly when it comes to using the VA Hospital scandal to raise money for his re-election campaign. As Buzzfeed explains:

“The outrageous mismanagement of the Colorado VA Hospital in Aurora is just one example of how the VA is failing our veterans and placing their basic needs at risk,” reads the page on Coffman’s site linked from the Google ad. “For more than a decade, Colorado’s veterans have been promised the state-of-the-art healthcare the hospital will provide – and yet it still sits unfinished and massively over-budget.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee slammed Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema for fundraising off of the VA scandal in the last election.

If you find Coffman’s actions more than a little bit distasteful, well…shame on YOU, says a Coffman spokesman (who is totally not overreacting or anything):

Of course the left wing flacks over on Maryland Ave. who are pitching this story don’t want Mike to talk about his leadership on the campaign trail. The brass over at the VA is kind of hoping Mike shuts up about it too. But let me break the bad news to both – Mike Coffman is going to keep pounding away on the VA’s corruption, whether he is at work in Washington, or whether he is campaigning in Colorado, whether he is driving on Floyd Hill, or running on his tread mill. And the VA page is a petition page, not a fundraising page. Sleazy attacks don’t work on Mike Coffman, people. They just don’t. [Pols emphasis]

Got that? Anybody who complains about this is just sleazy. Mad Mike Coffman is totally not sleazy, and he’s totally not raising money off of the VA’s problems. The link on his website just happens to take you to a page where you could give Coffman money, but that’s not necessarily fundraising, right? Heh heh. Right?

All Is Forgiven, “Dr. Chaps”

Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R).

Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R).

In the aftermath of the horrific attack on a pregnant Longmont woman last month, Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt said the crime was “the curse of God upon America” for allowing abortions. Klingenschmitt, no stranger to controversy as a frequent utterer of over-the-top claims about demon-possessed liberals and so forth, was hit with some of the harshest criticism yet–and was removed from his post on the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee by his fellow Republicans. As Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso said on March 31st:

“I was very disturbed by Representative Klingenschmitt’s comments last week and want to reiterate that his comments do not represent our caucus and he does not speak for our caucus. As House Minority Leader my ability to discipline a member of our caucus is limited. Representative Klingenschmitt’s conduct warranted his removal from the committee,” House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland) said in a statement.

Question: just how disturbing were these comments to Minority Leader DelGrosso, really?

Answer: about three weeks’ worth. The Colorado Springs Gazette’s Megan Schrader Tweets today:

Because every legislator is required to serve on at least one committee, Rep. Klingenschmitt was only removed from the Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee, and retained his post on the Local Government Committee. But the outcry over Klingenschmitt’s comments about the attack on Michelle Wilkins in Longmont was quite broad, and his removal from the HIE committee by Minority Leader DelGrosso was in response to an avalanche of phone calls and emails from the public.

We have to wonder how the public will take the news of his reinstatement only three weeks later–assuming they hear about it at all.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (April 21)

We’ve been up early celebrating 4/21. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► The U.S. Senate may finally get around to voting on President Obama’s nomination of Loretta Lynch as Attorney General. If you had “five months” in the pool for “How long will it take for Republicans to approve a new Attorney General?” you might win some money.

► Look on the bright side, Rep. Ken Buck. You almost made it four whole months in D.C. without breaking the law. Don’t forget, Polsters: You read it here first.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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