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Out in the cold 

First Merrifield bill mauled

The Pikes Peak chapter of the American Red Cross slashed the hours of operation at the city's only homeless shelter this week, forcing nearly 100 people to seek refuge elsewhere during the daytime.

Red Cross officials insisted that the reduced hours had been announced to Montgomery Center residents weeks earlier, but government and other agencies that help fund the shelter were caught by surprise.

The Red Cross, which currently operates the shelter at 709 S. Sierra Madre, announced the reduction in hours in an e-mail to service providers and city and county government officials last Friday. As of Monday, the shelter began closing its doors from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Previously, homeless people had access to the shelter during the daytime.

The reduction in hours comes as management of the shelter is being transitioned from the Red Cross to the Salvation Army.

Bob Holmes, director of United Way's Homeward Pikes Peak, has been working with both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army and expects the change to be finalized within the next month. Holmes said the Salvation Army plans to return the shelter to a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year operation, something that's required for the center to receive money from the city's office of Housing and Urban Development.

Jim Brown, public support officer for the Red Cross, said the organization's decision to slash its hours was made because only a small number of residents stayed at the shelter during the day. The timing was also designed to coincide with this Monday's opening of Colorado House, a transitional living facility on the city's West Side, which is staffed by the Red Cross.

"Nobody's being pushed out in the cold, people can wait inside until the appropriate transportation has arrived," Brown said.

However, the news came as a surprise to many of the Red Cross's benefactors, including the United Way and the City of Colorado Springs.

"We were somewhat caught off guard by this," said Howard Brooks, a United Way spokesman.

On average, the homeless shelter houses between 100 and 120 people each night. Last year it received $116,000 from the City of Colorado Springs and more than $120,000 from the United Way, in addition to federal and state dollars for emergency shelter.

-- John Dicker

First Merrifield bill mauled Rep. Michael Merrifield is 0-for-1. Republican lawmakers in Denver last week killed the first bill introduced by the Manitou Springs Democrat this session, a proposal that would make dog owners liable the first time a dog bites a person.

Currently, a person who is bitten can't sue the dog's owner for medical costs if the dog has never bitten anyone previously.

Merrifield's bill was inspired by recent dog attacks in El Paso County and drew statewide attention in the wake of a fatal mauling in Elbert County last November.

But ever since Merrifield was elected in 2002 as the first Democratic lawmaker from El Paso County in a decade, his Republican colleagues have worked to defeat most of his bills. During the 2003 legislative session -- his first -- Merrifield passed only one of his five bills.

Shortly before the 2004 session kicked off earlier this month, House Majority Leader Keith King, a Colorado Springs Republican, reportedly asked Merrifield, "How does it feel to know that none of your bills is going to pass this year?" King later said he was joking.

Merrifield, however, remains suspicious. He points out that the dog-bite bill was killed in committee on a party-line vote. And now, the Republicans are planning to introduce a similar bill of their own.

Republicans said they opposed Merrifield's bill on its merits, because it didn't contain exceptions for cases where a dog is deliberately provoked or where a dog might bite someone who's trespassing. But Merrifield said he offered to amend the bill to address those issues, and the Republicans still opposed it. Merrifield has four more bills pending this session. If some of them pass, Merrifield says he'll apologize to King for doubting him.

"I'd be happy for him to prove me wrong," Merrifield said.

-- Terje Langeland

Do as I say, not as I did Sen. Ed Jones has seen the light. A decade and a half ago, the Colorado Springs lawmaker was twice pulled over and cited for driving without insurance. Now, he's sponsoring a bill that would require drivers to provide proof of insurance before they can register their motor vehicles.

Jones did not respond to a request for comment. But this week, the bill's sponsor in the House of Representatives, Rep. Jim Welker (R-Larimer County), called the bill a noncontroversial "housekeeping" measure.

Proof of insurance has been required in Colorado for years, but when the Legislature reformed the state's auto-insurance laws last year, the requirement was accidentally dropped. The Welker-Jones bill would formally reinstate the requirement.

Welker, who asked Jones to carry the bill in the Senate, said he wasn't familiar with Jones' personal history of flouting the insurance requirement.

Specifically, the state senator was sentenced to six months' probation for driving without insurance in 1989, in connection with an accident that injured another man. The victim's insurance company sued Jones and won a $111,000 judgment for medical bills, pain and suffering.

The following year, Jones was cited for driving without insurance again, though prosecutors dropped the charge.

When asked about the incidents in 2002, Jones told the Independent he had no choice but to break the law, because he couldn't afford insurance at the time and had to drive his wife, who was ill, to the hospital.

-- Terje Langeland

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