At a time of mammoth budget deficits, it's only natural that Colorado's state lawmakers have been mainly preoccupied with bread-and-butter issues lately -- like how to keep the state from going bankrupt.
But lest Colorado Springs should lose its reputation as the primary source of conservative family-values legislation at the state Capitol, two local lawmakers have once again stepped up to the plate.
Sen. Doug Lamborn and Rep. David Schultheis, both Republicans known for their far-right views, have sponsored bills this session that include measures to restrict abortions, fight pornography and promote their brand of patriotism.
The two teamed up to sponsor House Bill 1070, which would have required special licensing of abortion clinics. Abortion-rights advocates said the bill burdened abortion providers with licensing requirements that go far beyond what other medical clinics and providers are subjected to. Lamborn claimed the opposite is the case, saying abortion-clinic regulations are particularly lenient.
Lamborn also sponsored House Bill 1342, which would have required minors to obtain parental consent before getting an abortion. In a peculiar twist, the bill would have created an online "consent list," allowing parents who don't mind their children having abortions to sign up.
Both abortion-related bills were defeated in committees.
Meanwhile, Schultheis and Lamborn also joined forces to sponsor House Joint Resolution 1003, a nonbinding measure to "protect First Amendment rights in higher education."
Fueled by some conservatives' assertion that state universities are liberal havens that discriminate against students with conservative viewpoints, the resolution would, among other measures, condemn mandatory diversity training and defend the students' right "to speak disapprovingly of certain sexual behaviors."
Another education-related proposal carried in the Senate by Lamborn, House Bill 1002, won final approval Tuesday. The bill, which was expected to be signed into law by Gov. Bill Owens, requires that public schools offer students the opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily.
A similar bill approved last year was found to violate the First Amendment, because it offered only limited exemptions for students and teachers who didn't wish to recite the pledge. The new bill makes participation entirely voluntary.
Lamborn says he decided to sponsor the bill because the pledge helps unify people. "I think we should have some things that bind us and glue us together," he said.
Two other bills sponsored by Lamborn would seek to protect children against sexually explicit materials.
House Bill 1004 would require public libraries to install anti-smut filters on computers that children use to access the Internet, provided that funding is available to pay for such filters.
"We have gotten too many reports of kids accessing porn at libraries," Lamborn said.
House Bill 1078 would prohibit commercial establishments from displaying sexually explicit materials, such as pornographic videos and magazines, where minors might see them.
And, of course, it wouldn't be a normal session without the GOP paying homage to former president and conservative hero Ronald Reagan. Lamborn sponsored a resolution to celebrate Feb. 6, the ex-president's 93rd birthday, as "Ronald Reagan Day."
Doesn't shy away
Lamborn said that it seems as though he's often asked to sponsor some of the most ideologically contentious bills in the Senate.
"Maybe I'm a little more willing than others to take on controversial issues," he said.
However, he pointed out that not all of the bills he's sponsoring are ideological in nature. For instance, Lamborn is also carrying a measure to lift the cap on damages in medical-malpractice lawsuits, along with bills to regulate securities trading and promote organ donation.
"I don't shy away from taking on tough issues," Lamborn said. "But I'm also very involved in lots of day-to-day issues."
-- Terje Langeland
Aside from cocaine, the most popular illegal drug in Colorado is methamphetamine -- which leaves invisible, odorless toxins that can be lethal when ingested.
Despite an upsurge in the drug's use, lawmakers have so far resisted creating any mandates that would protect tenants from unwittingly moving into a toxic former methamphetamine lab or force property owners to clean up after a meth lab is discovered by law enforcement.
This could change Friday, when the state Senate is scheduled to vote on House Bill 1182. The bill's sponsor, Colorado Springs Rep. Mark Cloer, says if passed, it would spare tenants and homebuyers from inheriting a toxic mess, while property owners will enjoy immunity from lawsuits.
The actual cleanup of meth labs, Cloer said, would be conducted by certified industrial hygienists. Unlike similar legislative initiatives that have failed in the past, HB 1182 grants property owners immunity from subsequent lawsuits, assuming that owners clean to the standard.
Cloer, who sponsored the bill with Senate Majority Leader Mark Hillman, said last year's cleanup legislation, sponsored by Rep. Lois Tochtrop, a Democrat from Westminster, failed because it didn't offer anything to landlords and property owners.
"We're incentivizing," Cloer said, in reference to the immunity HB 1182 provides.
Cloer's bill was approved with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives; however, three of the eight votes opposing the measure came from fellow Colorado Springs Republicans: Bill Cadman, Richard Decker and Dave Schultheis.
"I don't want to lock landlords in more than they already are today to do this cleanup," Schultheis said, adding that he'd like to see the creation of a state cash fund to solve the problem.
Decker, meanwhile, said he'd prefer to see legislation addressing problems related to the illegal drug restricted the amount of ephedrine (a key ingredient in methamphetamine) individuals could purchase at drug stores.
"Would Cloer's cleanup bill do anything to make a meth crook think twice about cooking? No," Decker said.
-- John Dicker
A group of Palmer High School students has asked that a federal judge order the school to officially recognize their student club, the Gay/Straight Alliance, pending the outcome of a civil-rights suit over the club's status.
The students, represented by the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, asked for the injunction last week in U.S. District Court in Denver.
School officials, however, have responded by announcing last Friday that Palmer will be demoting nine existing student clubs from "official" to "independent" status, including such groups as the Frisbee Club, the Mountain Club, and the Book Club.
"It was determined that they were not curriculum related," said Elaine Naleski, a D-11 spokeswoman. She said questions over the clubs' status were "brought to our attention by the lawsuit."
The students sued Palmer and School District 11 last December, claiming their civil rights have been violated because the school and the district have refused to recognize the Gay/Straight Alliance. The club's purpose is to discuss issues of importance to gay high-school students and their friends.
D-11 officials maintain the club cannot be recognized under district policies because it isn't curriculum related. Members of the Gay/Straight Alliance, meanwhile, have pointed out that Palmer High School has recognized other groups with dubious curricular ties.
Also last week, the district filed its response to the students' lawsuit. In a press release, the district stated that the decision not to recognize the Gay/Straight Alliance "is not a reflection of either intolerance or discrimination." However, there are currently approximately 50 similar gay/straight alliances functioning in public high schools across Colorado, including at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument. Still, the district suggested that the ACLU's lawsuit was uncalled for.
"[We are] disappointed that the ACLU has chosen to commence costly litigation over this issue rather than accept the district's repeated offers to engage in constructive dialogue," the release states.
Members of the student group, meanwhile, say district officials have continually resisted the club.
The district has until March 22 to respond to the injunction request.
-- Terje Langeland