Senate GOP Plays Budget Games…With Concealed Weapons?

Concealed handgun.

Concealed handgun.

The Denver Post's John Frank reports on an escalating budget battle in the Republican-controlled Colorado Senate revealing some very interesting ulterior motives:

In what critics call a "high-stakes game of chicken," Republican lawmakers Wednesday rejected a spending bill that included money to reduce wait times for background checks for concealed-handgun permits — a move that also threatens funds for child abuse cases and testing evidence collected in rape and drunken-driving investigations.

The party-line Senate vote against a bill that won unanimous approval in the House puts in jeopardy more than $2 million for the Colorado Department of Public Safety and escalates a political tension at the General Assembly that is drawing comparisons to a gridlocked Washington.

"It amounts to government shutdown of one department on things that are very critical to public safety," said Senate Democratic leader Morgan Carroll of Aurora, referring to the Senate vote that may kill the bill.

Tensions have been escalated over normally routine appropriations bills this year after Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee led by Sen. Kent Lambert used the committee's power to cut off funding for a program to license undocumented drivers. As we discussed a few weeks ago, using the JBC to curtail funding for a program that isn't repealed legislatively results in major problems, and is considered an abuse of of the JBC's power. In the case of the driver license program, it means month-long delays for appointments will now stretch into next year, and only a single driver license office in Denver will be able to handle these applications–resulting in a more or less nonfunctional program that nonetheless remains on the books.

Of course, Republicans are fine with the driver license program for undocumented immigrants not working.

And that's the point to keep in mind as the Post's John Frank continues:

The public safety spending dispute focuses on an amendment that House Democrats added to the bill giving Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration the authority to spend $370,000 to hire eight technicians to reduce the wait time for concealed-carry background checks.

The provision is tucked into a larger spending bill that includes $300,000 for the state's toxicology lab, $100,000 for child abuse investigations and $20,000 for law enforcement training on cold-case homicides and missing-persons cases, lawmakers said.

Republican lawmakers oppose the required background checks [Pols emphasis] and don't believe the estimates from Hickenlooper's administration about a backlog.

This morning, Senate Republicans gave final passage to a bill that would eliminate background checks and gun safety training required to obtain a concealed weapons permit in Colorado. A total of five states have eliminated permit requirements for concealed weapons, and the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners-controlled Colorado Senate wants Colorado to be the sixth. The bill has basically zero chance of passing the Democratic-controlled House, however, let alone being signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. With legislation to repeal the gun safety bills passed in 2013 already headed for defeat, the idea that a bill to dramatically weaken gun laws could pass is simply not realistic.

So what's the next best option? Starve the Colorado Bureau of Investigations of funds to do the job! It's true that this will inconvenience the very same gun owners Republicans say they're looking out for, but who do you think they're going to blame? Certainly not Republicans.

The bigger problem is that by rejecting this spending bill, Republicans are playing games with the entire state Department of Public Safety. Much like the way budget games are played in Washington D.C. these days, large priorities are being held hostage to satisfy niche interests: in his case, the most extreme wing of the gun lobby. Ultimately, a concealed weapons permitting process that bogs down due to insufficient resources plays into the gun lobby's argument that permits should be eliminated–making it a worthwhile long-term goal to counterintuitively stand against properly funding CCW permits today.

It seems like this whole strategy depends on the press not reporting the details of what's happening here, which unfortunatety for Senate Republicans, John Frank has done admirably in this front-page story. We believe it's very unlikely that the voting public will look kindly on Republicans risking funding for things like child abuse investigations in order to strike a blow, however circuitous, against concealed weapons permits.

Which means that as long as the lights stay on and Democrats stand firm, this isn't going to end well for the Senate GOP.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (Feb. 18)

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Um, sorry to interrupt, but you have something on your forehead. 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).


► Republicans in the State Senate gave initial approval to Sen. Vicki "Lost" Marble's bill (SB15-032) to eliminate the permitting process for anyone who wants to carry a concealed weapon. Said Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver), "The permitting process allows us to know that Coloradans carrying loaded firearms have shot a gun before, are trained, aren’t domestic violence offenders, don’t have a criminal record, or aren’t drunk drivers." Colorado is currently one of 46 states that require a permit for concealed carry.  

► Former Sen. Mark Udall will see work on one of his pet issues finally come to fruition this week. President Obama plans to designate Brown's Canyon as a National Monument.

Get even more smarter after the jump…


“Condo Construction Crisis?” Don’t Believe The Hype

Construction defect.

Historic construction defect.

Quite a bit of coverage last week of the introduction of legislation restricting the rights of homeowners to sue over faulty construction. As the Denver Business Journal's Ed Sealover reported:

A bipartisan pair of senators introduced a long-awaited construction-defects reform bill in the Colorado Legislature Tuesday, starting the clock on an 85-day effort to try to win over opponents who have killed similar efforts in each of the past two sessions.

Supporters of Senate Bill 177, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, and Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Commerce City, unveiled a wide-ranging coalition of backers that includes municipal leaders, builders, economic developers and affordable-housing advocates…

But that coalition did not include any of the groups that opposed Ulibarri's 2014 bill, supporters acknowledged, leaving legislative sponsors needing to find a way to convince homeowners and trial lawyers that they should accept having a tougher path to file a lawsuit in exchange for a solution that many say will do little to spur the building of new condos. [Pols emphasis]

The push to "reform" Colorado's multifamily residential construction defects law has been widely forecast to become one of the most contentious issues the General Assembly will debate this year. Proponents argue that the current state of Colorado law creates a legal disincentive for developers to undertake these kinds of construction projects. The Denver Post's John Aguilar:

Reform advocates contend that the condo market has dried up in Colorado because construction-defects law has increased the liability — along with insurance premiums — for builders to the point where owner-occupied multifamily projects are not viable.

According to the market research firm Metrostudy, condos accounted for more than 20 percent of all housing starts (more than 4,000 units) in late 2005 but only 3 percent through most of 2014.

Beauvallon, a Denver construction defect horror story.

Beauvallon, a Denver construction defect horror story.

In short, lobbyists for developers say that Colorado law exposes builders to unacceptable liability for construction defects, and that's why there aren't enough condos available in Denver's red-hot housing market.

But is that really what's going on? A group representing homeowners in Colorado says the situation is much more complicated than risk of lawsuits over defects–and has data to back it up. The DBJ reported in January:

Economic conditions following the recession have contributed to a market in which buying a home is more difficult and expensive than it used to be, the study says.

Higher fees, required credit scores and home prices, as well as wage stagnation, unemployment and lower marriage rates have all kept potential buyers out of the market, said Pat Pacey, principal at Pacey Economics, during a conference call Tuesday.

Higher student-debt loads have also contributed to the younger generation holding off on buying a home, she said…

The findings are in direct opposition to the narrative put forward by developers, brokers and politicians in recent months, who say that the state's construction defects law is to blame for the lack of condo development, which many say has put a chokehold on the lower end of the home buying market across the metro area. [Pols emphasis]

But perhaps the best argument against weakening the rights of homeowners to "spur" condo construction is this: Colorado's slump in multifamily construction is not unique to Colorado.

The Colorado builders complain that “condos accounted for more than 20 percent of all housing starts (more than 4,000 units) in late 2005 but only 3 percent through most of 2014.” And, “in 2014, 5 percent of all new housing stock in Colorado was condominiums.”  Yeah, well, take a number.  Nationally, in November 2014, multi-family starts were down 11% from the same time last year. Moreover, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census, its August 2014 report showed a “steep 31.7 percent decline in multifamily production.” 

Bottom line: the hurdles faced by the next generation of Colorado homebuyers are more complicated than proponents of this legislation suggest. To buy their argument is to ignore the crushing burden of student debt faced by young people today, stagnation and even decline of real incomes for today's workers, and the tighter lending requirements buyers face today as opposed to before the recession of 2008. Not to mention that this is just the latest attempt by developers to shield themselves from liability, part of a years-long strategy–and at this point, the possibility that political objectives are factoring into business decisions should be considered.

Once you understand that the roots of the problem are much more complex than liability of builders for construction defects, the whole campaign to weaken homeowner's rights to sue over those defects falls apart. The fact is, buying a home is one of the biggest, if not the biggest investment most working families will ever make. To force homeowners into arbitration and hobble HOAs trying to get justice for their members deprives Coloradans of basic and entirely reasonable protections for their most valuable asset.

Honestly, it's hard to imagine a greater disincentive to buying a condo than this bill.

Get More Smarter on Friday (Feb. 13)

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Today is Friday the 13th, the first of 3 such "unlucky" days in 2015; there's another Friday the 13th in March and again in November. 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.


► Legislation to regulate abortion clinics in Colorado failed in a State House committee yesterday. Super-conservative Rep. Gordon "Dr. Chaps" Klingenschmitt voted with Democrats to kill the bill on Thursday, apparently because he was concerned that the legislation would give state approval for abortions.

Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-Wheat Ridge) introduced legislation on Thursday that would ban the use of red-light cameras across the country. FOX 31's Eli Stokols speculates that the bill may be an early sign of a potential Perlmutter campaign for Governor in 2018. Rumors of Perlmutter's interest in the Governor's Mansion have been on the rise since Gov. John Hickenlooper's re-election last November. Former Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is a likely 2018 candidate as well.

Get even more smarter after the jump…


Disastrous Press As “Anti-Vaxxer Bill of Rights” Passes Senate

Sen. Laura Waters-Woods.

Sen. Laura Waters-Woods.

Leading up to yesterday's party-line initial passage in the Senate of Colorado Senate Bill 14-077, the so-called "Parent's Bill of Rights," Republican proponents of the bill have complained mightily that the debate was being derailed by "undue" attention paid to the bill's provisions making it easier for parents to opt children out of routine vaccinations. As we've discussed in this space over several posts, Republicans face an unwelcome tension between a general public that overwhelmingly believes children should be vaccinated, and a small but highly vocal segment of voters and elected officials who entertain (or at least are willing to politically exploit) scientifically unfounded fears about vaccine safety.

Unfortunately, yesterday's floor debate on the bill more or less undid any argument from more reasonable Republicans that the "Anti-Vaxxer Bill of Rights" isn't exactly what it looks like. A quick roundup of the ample press coverage, starting with the Denver Post's John Frank:

The main effect of the legislation, although it went unacknowledged by supporters, would prevent teenagers from receiving birth control without parental approval and make it a crime for a physician to provide care to a minor without parent consent.

The measure also reaffirms current law that allows parents to remove their children from sex education and opt out of immunization requirements, a conversation that comes as Colorado faces scrutiny for some of the most lax vaccination laws in the nation. [Pols emphasis]

The Durango Herald's Peter Marcus:

The bill would set rights pertaining to education, health care and mental health. It is expansive, and within its language is a provision that would require parents to be notified of a right to be exempt from any state immunization laws…

Roberts acknowledged that some called her “crazy” for signing onto the bill. The moderate Durango Republican said the vaccination component wasn’t compelling to her. [Pols emphasis] She said the bill is really about building family networks.

“It’s not a vaccination bill,” Roberts told The Durango Herald in an interview on Monday.

But as AP's Kristen Wyatt reports, Sen. Ellen Roberts doth protest too much:

Another sticking point in the bill is a requirement that schools tell parents that they don’t have to vaccinate their children.

Republicans insist the law makes no change to Colorado’s current policy on vaccination, with parents already allowed to opt out for religious or “personal belief” reasons.

“The media has definitely spun this bill into the immunization bill … that’s shallow and misguided,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.

But much of the testimony in committee centered on vaccine policy, [Pols emphasis] and Democrats said the language could encourage more parents to opt out of immunizations.

We've posted a video above of clips from yesterday's debate that highlight the contradiction between Republicans who insist that vaccinations are a non-issue sideshow, and others who explain that no, it's what the bill is about. In addition, we've posted Sen. Laura Woods' floor speech on this bill in its entirety after the jump because it's…well, it's pretty remarkable. We're particularly surprised to see Sen. Roberts' full-throated defense of this bill, which exposes her to major political liability in future races with seemingly no upside. We had heard that Roberts agreed to cosponsor this legislation in hope of gaining support for her bills from fellow Republicans, not out of personal conviction–but now she has been firmly linked to the "anti-vaxxer" stigma she obviously dislikes in her local media, and done nothing to extricate herself.

The fact is, attempting to deny that this legislation was about the hot-button subject of vaccinations, when sponsoring lawmakers and a throng of witnesses testifying in support have made it very speficiallly about just that, was always going to backfire. It's exactly the sort of contradiction the press loves to pick apart in damaging news stories like the ones you see above. The mailers and attack ads that will result from this legislation will be truly devastating. And for a bill that was never going to make it through the Democratic-controlled House anyway, what Senate Republicans have done to themselves here makes absolutely zero political sense.

And it can't be undone now.


Waters-Woods’ World: “I Simply Don’t Discriminate”

Sen. Laura Waters-Woods.

Sen. Laura Waters-Woods.

The Colorado Independent's Tessa Cheek reports on action Monday in the GOP-controlled Colorado Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee to advance freshman Sen. Laura Waters Woods' first priority as a lawmaker: repealing the 2013 Colorado Civil Rights Enforcement Act, which gave workers in businesses under 15 employees remedies closer to those aready available under federal law to larger businesses. The 2013 law also extended job discrimination protections to LGBT employees:

The Act, which just took effect this January, expanded existing federal employee nondiscrimination protections, such as restitution of legal fees and damages, to include small businesses with fewer than 15 employees. In addition, the new protections added coverage for complaints of age- and sexual orientation-based discrimination.

Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada, sponsored the repeal, saying the law puts small businesses at too much risk. Her SB 69 would remove the entire state Civil Rights Act, except for the provision protecting employees 70 years or older.

“For most small businesses, just one claim that has to be investigated is all it would take to force a company out of business,” said Woods, noting that just defending against a claim can cost as much as $100,000.

It's worth noting that the law still requires job discrimination claims to be filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Division for investigation before plaintiffs are allowed to seek relief in court. Plaintiffs who bring frivolous cases can also be made to pay attorneys fees. Despite Woods' concern about the cost of defending against a discrimination suit, much of the case for repealing the 2013 Civil Rights Enforcement Act seems to rest on the fact that the Civil Rights Division has found many job discrimination claims to be without probable cause–even though that's evidence of the division doing its job preventing frivolous claims more than it is evidence of abuse.

Physician and Senator Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, equated that statistic to the number of malpractice lawsuits with merit, arguing that nobody really wants a medical system without any remedies for poor practice.

“I guess I think my role is to represent my constituents, and my constituents are people, not businesses,” said Aguilar. “So I’d have a disagreement with you about who I’m here to protect.” 

The fact is, this law has only been in effect since January, part of the compromise that allowed it to pass two years ago. That delayed implementation means there have been no "victims" either way–either discrimination victims or supposed victims of frivilous lawsuits–which supporters argue is a pretty good reason to not repeal anything until the law's effects can be evaluated.

But as you can see in the clip above, none of that troubles Sen. Waters Woods–because she "simply doesn't discriminate!" She says she doesn't discriminate, and "most small businesses" don't discriminate, and on the strength of her word, you can trust that small business employees (not to mention gays and lesbians at all sizes of businesses) don't need the same protections against job discrimination everybody else has.

Still not convinced? You must hate small business too.

Hijacking “Erin’s Law”–What’s Going On Here?

WEDNESDAY UPDATE #2: FOX 31's Eli Stokols:

After a couple weeks of speculation that Republicans, who control the committee, were considering an amendment that would have rolled back the comprehensive sex education program Democrats enacted last year — effectively daring Democrats to vote against their own bill aimed at helping victims of child sexual abuse in order to preserve sex ed — the committee took up the bill again on Wednesday.

After one amendment, drafted by Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada, along with the bill sponsor, Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, the committee quickly voted S.B. 20 on to the Senate Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote.

“I thought we were going to have my bill hijacked,” said Newell, who fought back tears as she expressed her relief after the vote. “It’s a great day for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.” [Pols emphasis]

Newell also thanked Republicans for allowing the bill to move forward without any “poison pill” amendments.


WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Anticlimactic end today–Republicans reportedly abandon attempt to "hijack" Erin's Law, the bill passes to Senate Judiciary unamended. Says one Gold Dome source:

The public shaming worked.

We've heard from two sources now that Sen. Owen Hill, chair of the Education Committee, is the one who decided to pull the plug on this attempted hijacking. There is some question as to when he made this decision, but two weeks ago, he was clearly on board with delaying the bill to entertain Laura Woods' amendment. It's possible that the full story of this little controversy will entitle Sen. Hill to a thanking and a spanking? We'll update as we learn more. Original post follows.


From top: Sens. Owen Hill, Vicki Marble, Tim Neville, Laura Woods, Chris Holbert.

From top: Sens. Owen Hill, Vicki Marble, Tim Neville, Laura Woods, Chris Holbert.

On January 29th, the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee heard testimony on a bill known as "Erin's Law." Senate Bill 15-020, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Linda Newell and Rep. Beth McCann, would create new educational materials to raise awareness about childhood sexual assault. A press release from the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault explains more about this bill's provisions:

The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA) urges Coloradans to support the passage of SB 20—Colorado’s Version of Erin’s Law, which is in its first hearing in the Senate Education Committee this Thursday, January 29th. Erin Merryn, for whom the law is named, is a child sexual abuse survivor and activist who has been instrumental in passing similar legislation in 19 other states. Erin’s Law is designed to assist schools with education and response to child sexual abuse.

The key components of the Colorado’s SB 20 include:

1. Requiring the Colorado School Safety Resource Center to hire a new staff member. This person’s specific role will be to provide curricula recommendations and training for school personnel, youth, and parents on child sexual abuse prevention, awareness, and intervention.

2. Encouraging school districts and charter schools to adopt a child sexual abuse prevention plan, which includes comprehensive age-and developmentally-appropriate curricula for kindergarten through 12th grade students on child sexual abuse awareness and prevention.

3. Encouraging school districts and charter schools to provide professional development opportunities for school personnel in preventing, identifying, and responding to child sexual abuse and assault.

On its face, this seems like the kind of legislation that should pass 100-0 in the Colorado General Assembly and be swiftly signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Integrating awareness about sexual assault into existing sex ed and other education programs seems like an ideal way to combat the problem. In testimony in favor of the bill (see video of Erin Merryn's testimony before Senate Education after the jump), supporters explained how children often don't have the frame of reference to understand that what's being done to them is a crime–and others have no idea who to turn to when they are assaulted. That's why this law has passed uncontroversially in 19 other states.

During the bill's hearing on January 29th, Education Committee Republicans repeatedly made reference to "amendments" they wanted to introduce, and announced their intention to lay Senate Bill 20 over to an unspecified date in the future just as testimony was getting under way. Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr objected to this, calling attention to the many witnesses testifying in favor of the bill who deserved action. Those objections were overruled–and after Sen. Vicki Marble assured those present that they "would not be disappointed" by the unknown amendment in question, the bill was laid over.

Until tomorrow. Erin's Law is back on the Education Committee calendar for Wednesday at 1:30PM. We don't know much about the amendment Republicans are rumored to be dropping tomorrow, but we've heard that it may involve drastic changes to sexual education in the state–changes that have little to do with the intent of Erin's Law. There is a possibility that Republicans will attempt to repeal in whole or part or otherwise compromise the 2013 comprehensive update of sex ed curriculum, which updated a decades old "abstinence centric" model and better accommodated LGBT students.

Bottom line: Education Committee Republicans may be about to twist Erin's Law into something the witnesses who testified in support of Erin's Law would never support. We'll find out tomorrow.


Get More Smarter on Wednesday (Feb. 11)

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► Two of the most controversial pieces of legislation in recent memory are being discussed again today under the Capitol Dome. Sen. Tim Neville's "Parent's Bill of Rights" (also known as SB-077 or the "Let Parents Do Anything They Want with their Children" bill) is back on the docket. Also scheduled to be heard in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee is SB-070, Sen. Kevin Lundberg's ridiculous bill to de-regulate small child care centers in Colorado.

► Also expected to be discussed in the State Senate today is SB-020, also known as "Erin's Law." This bill is intended to assist schools in education and response to cases of child sexual abuse, but Democratic proponents of the legislation expect that Republicans will attempt to hijack the discussion by adding amendments intended to weaken sex-education classes in Colorado schools.

Get even more smarter after the jump…


Meet The New Vice Chairman of the Adams County GOP

Adams County GOP vice-chair John Sampson.

Adams County GOP vice-chair John Sampson.

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Adams County GOP vice chairman John Sampson responds (via his Facebook page), after reader Elliot Fladen alerts him to the existence of this blog post:

Elliot, went to the link, read the post. First, I know Mr. Salzman from prior encounters. Second, what they quoted was the quote from THE ARTICLE, not from me, but yet, made it look as if I said it myself. This was an article that was written ostensibly by a public defender in a major Southern city. I tried in vain to see if this was what is euphemistically called an "urban legend" through SNOPES and they had nothing disputing the article's authenticity. My statement was intended to convey that until SNOPES or some other group determines conclusively this is bogus, it stands. I merely posted an article that I vetted as best I could that a Public Defender had these rather unusual comments. Mr. Salzman, you might want to write this down. "I do not judge people by the color of their skin, their national origin, their gender, their sexual orientation, or any other such thing. I JUDGE THEM BY THE CONTENT OF THEIR CHARACTER OR LACK THEROF. Period. Anyone who has taken the time to get to know me, knows that I don't see color, nor gender, nor race, nor national origin, etc. It's not WHAT you are that counts, sir, it's WHO you are. Got it?

…Oh yeah, one other thing. Col. West, the person who sent me this article in the first place, if you haven't noticed, is black. I hold him in high esteem and consider him a friend. I have MET him in person twice, have spoken to him one on one, and have an undying respect for him. So much for me being a racist, Jason.

Got that? Sampson got the American Renaissance white nationalist piece from "Tea Party" icon Allen West, a black man! And Sampson has met this black man at least twice, so obviously he's not a racist.

Makes perfect sense to us.

As it turns out, Sampson is not the first Republican to step on this particular land mine. Last month, Dave Agema, a Republican National Committee member from Michigan, was formally censured by the RNC for reposting the same article to his Facebook page. Agema's excuse that he "got the article from Allen West, a black guy" didn't impress the RNC, who has also called for Agema's resignation.

So yes, maybe it's time for Sampson to rejoin Peter Boyles in the hunt for Barack Obama's social security number instead of fronting the Republican party's "outreach" in swing Adams County.

On the other hand, Democrats might hope he sticks around. Original post follows.


In 2012, our friend and media critic blogger Jason Salzman had a field day with a Republican state senate candidate out of Adams County, whose appearances on local radio were…colorful to say the least. The Denver Post's Curtis Hubbard rated GOP SD-25 candidate John Sampson #5 on his list of "Colorado's Top Birthers," after Sampson insisted on the air with local shock-jock Peter Boyles that President Barack Obama "is using a social security number that was issued to somebody residing in Connecticut in March of 1977."

In case you're wondering, Snopes debunked this one a year before Sampson repeated it.

John Sampson lost his election bid against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Hodge in 2012, but has stayed active in Adams County Republican politics. This week, Sampson was elected vice-chairman of the Adams County Republican Party–taking up a key role in a county considered vital to the GOP's future viability after a surprisingly strong performance there in 2014.

A quick look at Sampson's Facebook page reveals he was probably definitely the wrong choice for this job. On December 29th, Sampson posted an article to his Facebook page from American Renaissance–a white nationalist publication listed in the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Extremist Files." From the American Renaissance article Sampson posted:

My experience has…taught me that blacks are different by almost any measure to all other people. They cannot reason as well. They cannot communicate as well. They cannot control their impulses as well. They are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike. [Pols emphasis]

Sampson's comment on this, um, story? "I tried to verify this through SNOPES and there is nothing out there to disprove this." To which we can only respond:


And if the goal is really to make new friends, it's time for the Adams County GOP to find a new vice-chair.

Sen. Owen Hill, Your Edumacation Committee Chair

State Sen. Owen Hill

State Sen. Owen Hill should probably get more smarter about education policy.

When the Republican members of the Senate Education Committee were first announced back in November, it didn't take a crystal ball to predict the nuttiness that was sure to ensue once the legislature convened in January. After all, we're talking about a single room with chairs reserved for the likes of Senators Tim Neville, Laura Waters Woods, and Vicki "Have You Seen My" Marble.

The young and ambitious State Sen. Owen Hill was tapped to serve as the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, a decision that probably wasn't too difficult for Senate President Bill Cadman when you consider his options. Hill certainly does possess an impressive academic resume, including an undergraduate degree from the United States Air Force Academy and a Ph.D. in Policy Analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, California, but if early returns are any indication, he doesn't seem to know much about education policy in general.

In his most recent email newsletter to constituents, titled "The Government's Real Cost of Free," Hill makes a strong case for not being the Chair of an Education Committee. Here's what Hill had to say about President Obama's proposal for free tuition for two-year community college students:

Educational success is a bipartisan concern, one that I am eager to lead on and work across the aisle on in Colorado as chair the Senate Education Committee. [sic] We all desire to see our students succeed. What is troubling about Obama’s “free college” proposal and other policies coming out of Washington today is that they assume DC knows best, not individuals, local communities, or the states.

Since entering office in 2008, President Obama has implemented many plans to increase access to higher education. Yet, over the last year, thanks to the federal government’s help – “free and efficient” – student loan debt has  increased by 100 billion dollars.This is what happens when the federal government takes over a problem that is best handled by the states. Is there any reason to believe the same thing won’t happen for community college costs? [Pols emphasis]

Uh, what? Student loans and college costs are "best handled by the states"? How in the hell does Hill propose that states could take over student loan programs?

You don't need to be an expert in education policy to realize that this is obviously completely impractical on a broader scale. Colorado, for instance, has a very small student loan program that is funded almost entirely by grants. There isn't much room for anything else given the massive cuts to higher education funding over the last decade in Colorado. Hill also doesn't seem to really understand President Obama's college funding plan in general; instead of guaranteeing loans made by private vendors, Obama's plan would reduce costs by removing the middle man and making the government the lender.

Hill doesn't offer any sort of alternative idea before pounding the gavel about how higher education is not "the only avenue to prosperity" in America. This is a fair point (albeit one that has nothing to do with the original argument), but in order to support his statement, Hill provides a link to a story that actually has the exact opposite effect:

Instead of demanding a one-size-fits-all pathway for young adults to realize their career goals – as the President seems to be doing – we should be embracing the creativity of individual Americans to build our own success. 

This creativity is something I fight for every day in our State Senate, and I hope we can continue thinking about it together. Here is an article from the Wall Street Journal that has recently challenged my own thinking about education, and encouraged me as I see the ability of individuals to work hard and create success: The $140,000 a year welding job.  I'd love to hear your thoughts as well! 

Welding Story

Next time, Senator Hill, we suggest you read the article that is supposed to back up your argument.

The Wall St. Journal article that Hill points toward is behind a paywall, but here's the same story republished at Yahoo! Finance. Note the headline and subhead (image at right):

Justin Friend’s parents have doctoral degrees and have worked as university lecturers and researchers. So Mr. Friend might have been expected to head for a university after graduating from high school in Bryan, Texas, five years ago.

Instead, he attended Texas State Technical College in Waco, and received a two-year degree in welding. In 2013, his first full year as a welder, his income was about $130,000, more than triple the average annual wages for welders in the U.S. In 2014, Mr. Friend’s income rose to about $140,000. [Pols emphasis]

As it turns out, the guy making six figures a year in a welding job learned his trade…by attending community college.

Whoops! Ladies and gentlemen, your Senate Education Committee Chaiman, Owen Hill!

Get More Smarter on Monday (Feb. 9)

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Only 7 more shopping days left until President's 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.


► Senator Laura Waters Woods (R-Arvada) presents SB15-069 in the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology committee today. Also known as the "Right to Discriminate" bill, SB-069 would repeal some basic protections for workers in companies with fewer than 15 employees, allowing employers to discriminate based on sex, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and disability…and pretty much anything else you can think of.

► Let's get fracking! Several pieces of legislation focused on fracking are expected to be discussed this week.

Get even more smarter after the jump…


“Anti-Vaxxer Bill of Rights” Becoming Major GOP Liability



We've been talking for a few days about a bill making its way through the one-seat majority Colorado Senate, Senate Bill 15-077–the so-called "Parent's Bill of Rights" that would reaffirm generally existing rights parents have in Colorado to opt children out of vaccinations, sexual education, and other "controversial" subjects. In addition to wading into the fraught issue of vaccinations with outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough making headlines, opponents argue that the bill could make it easier for bad parents to evade accountability for their own abuse of their children.

This weekend, the Denver Post and Durango Herald editorial boards both weighed in strongly against the bill:

Colorado is one of 19 states to allow parents to opt out on vaccinations for their children on philosophical grounds. This legislation would eliminate the need to even seek those exemptions. It also would require public schools to provide information about courses, materials and their sources within 48 hours of a parent's request…

Child advocates also say the legislation could impact sex abuse intervention — preventing a child being abused by a parent from seeking counseling without prior approval from the perpetrator.

Parents already exercise control over the education and care of their kids. If there is a specific area where that control has frayed, legislation could address it. But SB 77 does nothing more than create problems where none now exist. [Pols emphasis]

Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango).

Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango).

The Herald singled out "moderate" local Sen. Ellen Roberts for unusually harsh criticism:

Passed Thursday by the Colorado Senate Education Committee, the so-called “Parents Bill of Rights” would allow parents to control almost every aspect of their children’s lives – regardless of how their decisions might affect others. It particularly addresses the “right” to refuse immunization and sex education.

This is dangerous nonsense mitigated only by the fact that it is unlikely to become law. Even if passed by the Senate, it is almost certain to die in the House. One of the Senate sponsors, however, is state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango…

SB 77 is wrongheaded on a number of levels. Schools do not need micromanaging parents. And if parents want more control they can actually talk to their kids, visit their schools, get to know the teachers and maybe even vote in school board elections.

But on immunization, this bill would also go in the wrong direction. Colorado should be tightening its immunization law, not effectively dropping it. And Ellen Roberts should know better. [Pols emphasis]

Before and after the vote in the Senate Education Committee Thursday to advance the bill, top 2016 target Sen. Laura Waters Woods of Arvada was hit by robocalls to swing voters in her swingiest of swing districts. Here's the call from before the vote:

Hello, I’m Krista, a Jeffco mom. If you’re like me and are alarmed about reports of measles outbreaks when parents failed to vaccinate their children, you’ll be alarmed to learn about Colorado Senate Bill 77. This bill would help children avoid immunization guidelines, undermine child abuse protections, and essentially put fringe beliefs into Colorado law. Call your senator, Laura Woods, now at 303-866-4840, and tell her how you feel about Senate Bill 77. Nobody should play politics with our children’s health.

And after:

This is crazy. Your senator, Laura Woods, just voted for legislation that is dangerous for children. Both Fox 31 and Channel 4 news reported that Senate Bill 77 would undermine child abuse protections and help children avoid immunization guidelines, even in the wake of a national measles outbreak. Instead of focusing on jobs, our senator is writing irresponsible ideas into law. Call Laura Woods now at 303-866-4840 and tell her to keep her politics away from our children.

Sen. Laura Waters-Woods.

Sen. Laura Waters-Woods.

Bottom line: as CBS4's capitol reporter said last week, Colorado Republicans couldn't have picked a worse time to push this legislation. Outbreaks of diseases against which most children have been routinely immunized for decades have thrust the issue of vaccine "opt outs" into the spotlight. Nationally prominent Republicans have provoked major backlash by suggesting that vaccines should be optional–and even repeating claims about links between "mental disorders" and vaccination that have been discredited by scientific research.

Last Thursday, the Senate Education Committee hearing quickly devolved into a forum for witnesses to air their own personal vaccination conspiracy theories. For anyone familiar with the facts of this debate as opposed to the pseudoscience espoused by "anti-vaxxers," it was enormously embarrassing for majority Republicans. The Republican chair of the Education Committee even admitted that his own children all have "different levels of vaccine" because he is unsure about them. On the other hand, you have 68% of the public agreeing that childhood vaccines should be mandatory. The intensity of public support for vaccinations, moreover, is much stronger than public support for, say, high capacity gun magazines.

What we're trying to say here is that Colorado Republicans are exposing themselves to enormous political damage to appease a very small minority of voters. So far in this new Republican Colorado Senate majority, the rightmost members of the caucus are driving the agenda. In the process, they risk alienating the mainstream electorate in a lasting and profound way.

Is there anyone who can pull them back? If even Ellen Roberts is on board the crazy train, the answer may honestly be no.

Democrats sponsoring magazine ban repeal bill

(This is a user-authored diary. To write your own, select "New Diary" from the menu to the right and spin away! – promoted by Colorado Pols) 

Don't look now, my Bloomberg-loving friends on the left, but some of your fellow Democrats are waving the white flag on gun control. The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels reports:

Four Democrats have signed into a Senate bill that repeals a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines, one of the most controversial measures of the 2013 legislative session.

Senate Democrats co-sponsoring the bill are Kerry Donovan of Vail, Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge and Leroy Garcia. In the House, Democrat Ed Vigil of Fort Garland is a co-sponsor. Vigil was vocal in his opposition of his party’s gun-control measures.

What will Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst do? If she sends it to the "kill committee" there will be outrage. If she allows the bill a fair hearing, it will pass the Democrat controlled House with bipartisan support and Hickenlooper will make the call. Hickenlooper has already admitted mistakes in signing the magazine ban bill. I believe if it gets to his desk, he will sign it.

I know most of you don't care what I think, but I am being completely honest with the Democrats who read this blog. LET THE MAG BAN GO. It was horrible policy from the beginning. It offends gun owners more than anything else you passed in 2013. If you allow the Democrats joining with Republicans to repeal the mag ban, it will help you politically. I can't believe I'm admitting that, but in this case I care more about my constitutional rights.

This is the most honest advice I will ever give the Democrats, so I hope you take it!

“Parent’s Bill of Rights” Descends Into Anti-Vaccine Madness



FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports on the debate yesterday over Senate Bill 15-077, the so-called "Parent's Bill of Rights" legislation that would, among other provisions, reaffirm existing parental rights in Colorado to not vaccinate one's children. As we discussed early this week, Colorado's existing law on this subject is already controverisally lax, allowing parents to opt out of vaccinations with no real justification. With outbreaks of diseases like measles and whooping cough being widely publicized, Colorado's 82% childhood vaccination rate, the lowest in the nation, arguably makes this a more urgent question in our state than elsewhere.

For the most part, GOP proponents of this legislation have not led with defending the freedom to not vaccinate children, though prime sponsor Sen. Tim Neville readily admits that is one goal of the bill. Possible 2016 Republican presidential contenders Chris Christie and Rand Paul were both heavily criticized in the aftermath of present measles outbreak in California for making statements that appeared to support "anti-vaxxers"–and in Paul's case, repeating a myth about a connection between vaccines and "mental disorders" that has been thoroughly debunked. Even in Colorado with our somewhat lower rate of vaccinated children, the percentage remains high enough that planting one's flag with the "anti-vaxxers" seems like a grave political risk.

But that appears to be exactly what Colorado Republicans did yesterday.

Propelled by emotional testimony from a group of parents who oppose vaccines as well as some school-based testing and non-academic surveys, legislation seeking to establish a ‘Parent’s Bill of Rights’ passed its first test at the Capitol Thursday…

Colorado progressives, focusing on the hot-button issue of vaccinations, panned the vote.

“News reports this week show that Colorado has the lowest rate of childhood vaccinations in America,” said Amy Runyon-Harms, the executive director of ProgressNow Colorado. “Right-wing politicians like Rand Paul have come under fire for suggesting that vaccines might be responsible for mental health problems in children, even though that theory has been totally discredited by scientific research.”

“Right on cue, extreme conservatives in the Colorado Senate have introduced a bill reaffirming the ‘right’ of parents to not have their children vaccinated. With outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough making nationwide headlines, is there a worse message we could send to Colorado parents?”

The Denver Post's Electra Draper:

Several parents spoke in opposition to school vaccination requirements and programs.

"Parents do not realize how powerless they are," said Debbie Carroll of Littleton…


The measure…[underscores] current Colorado law that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids for medical, religious or personal beliefs by signing a waiver. 7NEWS asked if the bill would get rid of the waiver process.

"Yes, I mean, I would assume so," Neville said. [Pols emphasis]

Sen. Tim Neville, Rep. Patrick Neville.

Sen. Tim Neville, Rep. Patrick Neville.

Sources at the hearing tell us that, after a measured start that included a great deal of testimony from Colorado PTA and the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Interfaith Alliance in opposition to the bill, a long string of witnesses focused almost exclusively on the vaccine issue turned the hearing into a veritable circus of unrefuted, largely discredited pseudoscience. Although a popular speculative subject for lay public "researchers," some of whom showed up to testify yesterday, numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown no link between autism and vaccinations.

There is a percentage of Americans, of course, who place no higher value on peer-reviewed scientific research than anything else they read. With an issue like vaccinations, as opposed to, say, climate change, the consequences of the ignorance/paranoia/whatever motivating a relatively small number of people to avoid vaccinations for their children may not take generations to appear. Perhaps it will be your next trip to Disneyland. Or when a kid on your block comes down with whooping cough.

When that happens, as AP's Nicholas Riccardi reports, voters will know who to blame:

As vaccine skeptics fight laws that would force more parents to inoculate their kids, they are finding unexpected allies in conservative Republicans…

"This boils down to, does the government force everyone to conform or do we empower everyone to make decisions on their own?" said Colorado state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Republican who did not fully vaccinate his children and led the fight against last year's bill. [Pols emphasis]

During yesterday's hearing, Senate Education Committee chair Sen. Owen Hill reportedly admitted that all of his children have "different levels of vaccine" because of his family's uncertainty over vaccination safety. Such highly questionable personal decisionmaking puts these lawmakers on the opposite side of the overwhelming majority of Colorado parents who have opted to vaccinate their kids. And public health experts across America. And the peer-reviewed science. At the same moment this issue is making national headlines.

If there's a scenario in which this does not end in political disaster, we'd like to hear it. Because we foresee some very potent ads being made against this legislation, and everyone who supports it.

Grand Junction Sentinel Slams GOP Sen. Ray Scott

Sen. Ray Scott (R).

Sen. Ray Scott (R).

After yesterday's story by the Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby about the death in a GOP-controlled Senate committee of a bill to provide relief to rural communities impacted by layoffs, that paper's editorial board weighed in this morning with a blistering editorial against the chair of the committee responsible: Republican Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction.

Scott, a Republican representing Mesa County, denied that politics was involved. Yet, he turned his back on rural Colorado despite support from Colorado Counties Inc., the Colorado Municipal League, the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado and the state Department of Local Affairs. Representatives of these organizations all testified before Scott’s committee in favor of the bill…

If this wasn’t a purely political move to thwart passage of a Democratic bill, Scott offered little in the way of an alternative interpretation. After the 3-2 vote, Scott said the bill would cost too much, but then added it didn’t go far enough in helping more of rural Colorado. He said the bill needed an amendment to use severance tax money to pay for it, then failed to exercise his power as chairman to offer that amendment himself.

It's important to keep in mind that the Sentinel endorsed Scott in his Senate race last year, meaning this isn't some kind of knee-jerk liberal tantrum. The fact is, it's very difficult to reconcile voting to kill the Rural Economic Emergency Assistance Grant Program bill with the constant refrain from Colorado Republicans, including Sen. Scott, that Democrats have "turned their backs" on rural Colorado.

This mealy-mouthed double talk is insulting. If you’re going to kill a bill that would have helped our neighbors in Delta County, you better be prepared to explain why. For a lawmaker who has long railed against the governor for ignoring the plight of rural Colorado, the hypocrisy is galling.

The lack of minced words tells us this was a serious misstep by Scott, most likely for the shallow purpose of denying freshman Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan a win for her constituents–and it's going to have lasting consequences for Scott's credibility with the Sentinel's editorial board. At the very least, it will be harder for Scott to make his boilerplate case about Front Range Democrats telling the Western Slope to eat cake.

Because this time, that was him.