Health

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Immigration raids, fines in the forecast this Fourth of July weekend

Posted By on Wed, Jul 3, 2019 at 5:36 PM

Donald Trump speaks on immigration policy in 2016 at the Phoenix Convention Center. - GAGE SKIDMORE VIA FLICKR
  • Gage Skidmore via Flickr
  • Donald Trump speaks on immigration policy in 2016 at the Phoenix Convention Center.

As the administration of President Donald Trump prepares to carry out immigration sweeps in 10 cities this weekend, National Public Radio reports that the Department of Homeland Security is also issuing notices to undocumented immigrants saying they are subject to fines, some up to $500,000.

Ingrid Encalada Latorre, an undocumented immigrant in sanctuary at a Boulder church, was one of those issued a fine.

“After 3 years of no word from them they send me this letter with only 30 days to pay and it’s a lot of money for me," she said in an emailed statement via American Friends Service Committee Denver, an advocacy organization. "Really I will not get any benefit from this money, not a work permit or residency. What they want to do with these letters is to intimidate us and scare us."

The Immigration and Nationality Act includes a provision passed in 1996 that allows the government to fine any migrant who "willfully fails or refuses" to comply with an order to leave the country, up to $500 per day (now adjusted to $799 for inflation). However, the provision has not been enforced in this manner by other administrations, according to media reports.

After receiving a notice of intention to fine (NIF), the immigrant "has 30 days to respond, and is granted procedural rights to establish a defense if they believe a fine should not be imposed," reads an emailed statement from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson.

An ICE [Enforcement and Removal Operations] Supervisor will review all possible evidence to determine if a NIF was properly issued, and will make a final decision – in coordination with the local Field Office Director – that may be appealed with the Board of Immigration Appeals.

If the alien fails to respond to the NIF, or exhaust all procedural avenues without being granted any relief, then the penalty becomes a unappealable order, and will be assessed as a formal debt to the government.

The total number of people fined was not available from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As for the immigration sweeps, Trump has said that they would begin after the July 4 holiday if Congress did not make changes to asylum law:


Media outlets have reported that those sweeps will target recently arrived migrants in 10 U.S. cities.

When asked whether Denver would be affected, ICE spokesperson Alethea Smock emailed this response:

"ICE does not conduct raids. ICE performs daily, targeted immigration enforcement operations, which maintain the integrity of U.S. immigration laws, and also help improve public safety by removing criminal aliens from local communities.

"ICE deportation officers carry out targeted enforcement operations daily nationwide as part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to protect the nation, uphold public safety, and protect the integrity of our immigration laws and border controls. These operations involve existing and established Fugitive Operations Teams."

CNN reports that according to ICE data, deportations increased about 13 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2018, when 256,085 people were deported. In 2012, Barack Obama's administration deported more than 400,000 people.
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Monday, June 24, 2019

Bike to Work Day is June 26

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 5:30 PM

Mayor John Suthers and police officers were among those to participate in the 2018 Bike to Work Day. - ALLEN BEAUCHAMP
  • Allen Beauchamp
  • Mayor John Suthers and police officers were among those to participate in the 2018 Bike to Work Day.

Colorado Springs' Bike to Work Day is June 26, and there are plenty of reason to press your feet the pedals — starting with your stomach. The event, for which the Independent is a sponsor, features over 30 locations for cyclists to get a free breakfast including local businesses with yummy offerings. (Find yours on the map!)

You don't have to register to get breakfast, but you are encouraged to: It's a way for the city to judge how many people are getting out on their bikes and that factors into a lot of decision-making on how best to accommodate cyclists. You can register as late as the morning of Bike to Work Day!

Feeling nervous about your route? Check the city's bike map to figure out the safest way from home to work.

By the way, Bike to Work Day is just one of many events for Bike Month. So be sure to check out the other happenings.

Here are some tips to keep you safe on the road:

Under state law bicyclists are considered vehicles, however, they are much more vulnerable on the road. Please consider the following safety suggestions to help make for a pleasant ride to work that morning.
• People get around our city on foot, in car, by bus, on bikes and wheelchairs. Let’s be mindful so that we all arrive safely.
• Always wear a helmet.
• Always signal when riding on the road and obey all Colorado traffic laws.
• Be visible and alert to surroundings.
• Respect and be considerate of others on the roads and trails.


Want to hit a Happy Hour on the ride home and get a special deal? Here's the list:

Stop at any one of the local breweries listed below for a special deal as you bike home from work:
• Brass Brewing Co. (318 E. Colorado Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• Brewer’s Republic (112 N. Nevada Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• Cerberus Brewing Co. (702 W. Colorado Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• FH Beer Works Downtown (521 S. Tejon St), $1 off pints for riders
• FH Beer Works East (2490 Victor Pl/ Rock Island Trail & Powers), $1 off pints for riders
• Goat Patch Brewing Co. (2727 N Cascade Ave, #123/ Lincoln Center), BOGO for riders
• Local Relic (320 S. Weber St), ½ off first flight or full pour, plus BOGO select bottles
• Peaks N Pines Brewery (4005 Tutt Boulevard 80922), BOGO for riders
• Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. (2 East Pikes Peak Avenue 80903), free pint with purchase of an appetizer ($10 minimum)
• Storybook Brewing Co. (3121A, N El Paso St), BOGO for riders on BTWD, 10% off for riders all year
• Tap Traders (3104 N Nevada Ave #100), BOGO for riders on BTWD
• Trails End Taproom (3103 W. Colorado Ave), 15% off beer pours for riders
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AG strikes health care anti-trust pact

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 5:08 PM

Attorney Phil Weiser reached agreement to continue certain health benefits for people in Colorado Springs. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Attorney Phil Weiser reached agreement to continue certain health benefits for people in Colorado Springs.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser reached agreement in an anti-trust challenge involving UnitedHealth Group and DaVita Inc. to make sure those in Colorado Springs who have health care through Medicare Advantage aren’t subject to anticompetitive effects of a merger of the two companies.

At issue is UnitedHealth Group’s $4.3 billion bid to acquire the physician practice group of DaVita Inc.

DaVita Medical Group owns two large physicians groups here, while UnitedHealth is the largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans in the region .

In December 2017, UnitedHealth Group announced its subsidiary, Optum, would acquire DaVita Medical Group. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigated the merger but declined to seek any remedies to protect Colorado consumers.

Weiser then sought to enforce the antitrust laws and address foreseen anticompetitive outcomes in Colorado.

A consent judgment filed June 19. It requires UnitedHealth to lift its exclusive contract with Centura Health for at least 3.5 years, and DaVita Medical Group to extend its agreement with Humana, a UnitedHealth rival, through at least 2020.
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Monday, June 17, 2019

Air Force diverted $66 million from other projects for PFAS cleanup

Posted By on Mon, Jun 17, 2019 at 6:06 PM

Military firefighting foam once used at Peterson Air Force Base contaminated the drinking water in Fountain and Security-Widefield. - U.S. AIR FORCE/EDDIE GREEN
  • U.S. Air Force/Eddie Green
  • Military firefighting foam once used at Peterson Air Force Base contaminated the drinking water in Fountain and Security-Widefield.
In March, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee asked the Department of Defense for details about funding diverted from other projects to pay for cleanup and testing for PFAS, a toxic group of man-made chemicals used in military firefighting foam.

On June 5, the DoD responded to Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware by acknowledging that the Air Force had diverted $66.6 million from other projects to pay for PFAS-related efforts. The Army and Navy did not have to divert any funding, according to the DoD's letter.

Many of the projects put on hold involved cleaning up other pollution at former Air Force sites.

They included a $37 million landfill cap repair and soil remediation project at Galena Air Force Station in Alaska, a $8.6 million radiological cleanup at McClellan Air Force Base in California, and $4.5 million groundwater bioremediation and landfill cap repair at Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan.

The funding diverted from those and other projects paid for PFAS testing at 16 former Air Force installations, along with groundwater and drinking water treatment for communities around Wurtsmith, Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire and March Air Reserve Base in California.

“Congress needs to ensure that the Department of Defense has the resources needed to fully address its millions of dollars—perhaps billions of dollars—in liabilities related to the DOD-related PFAS contamination in our communities," Sen. Carper said in a statement following the announcement. "Otherwise, the DOD will just keep robbing Peter to pay Paul by putting important projects on standby and stretching budgets to clean up PFAS contamination."
Lawmakers are looking to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, which funds the Department of Defense, to procure more funding for PFAS testing and cleanup.

The bill already requires the DoD to phase out all firefighting foam that contains PFAS by 2023. While military installations including Peterson Air Force Base have switched to a version thought to be safer, and have stopped using the foam for training purposes, the military continues to use foam with "short-chain" PFAS chemicals, thought to be safer for public health and the environment.

On June 13, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, introduced an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that would reimburse water districts (including those in Security-Widefield and Fountain) for treating and mitigating PFAS in drinking water.

“In the wake of contamination, local water districts around Peterson Air Force Base took the initiative and covered the cleanup costs to ensure the safety of drinking water for residents,” Bennet said in a statement. “This amendment will ensure these districts receive the full reimbursement they deserve.”

A separate amendment filed by a bipartisan group of senators would expand monitoring and testing of PFAS, and set a deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFAS, two types of PFAS chemicals once found in firefighting foam.
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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Independence Center trains deaf and hard of hearing students to be CNAs

Posted By on Thu, Jun 13, 2019 at 1:29 PM

The Independence Center's CNA training program is now housed next door to its main location. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • The Independence Center's CNA training program is now housed next door to its main location.

Back in January, the Independence Center, a nonprofit serving people with disabilities, received a request from a Denver resident who is deaf.

She'd signed up for a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) class in Denver that wasn't able to provide her with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

"She was very determined and very motivated to become a CNA," recalls Rebecca Hull, CNA training program administrator at the Independence Center. "However, when she actually got into the classwork, she realized that she really needed an equal access to language — and it was just not possible to complete the class for her without an ASL interpreter. So she came to us, and asked us if we would be willing to set up such a class."

This summer, the Independence Center is doing just that, by providing an ASL interpreter at CNA classes that run June 3 to June 27. The training program includes seven deaf students and five hearing students, Hull says. Most of the students are from Colorado, though the Independence Center has received calls from out of state expressing interest.

One student who hails from Maryland hopes to take the skills he learns back to his home country of Sri Lanka, where he'll teach other deaf individuals how to become caretakers.

While it's been difficult for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to break into the medical field, Hull says, their disability can actually prove to be an advantage in certain situations.

"The deaf and hard of hearing population is so reliant on their power of observation, because that is how we get all of our information — by paying attention to the little details that a hearing person might overlook because all of their senses are being overwhelmed," Hull says.

"And being so in tune to details, I feel like it gives the deaf community a gain and advantage to realize 'Oh hey, you seem to be favoring your left side today, and last week you were favoring your right side. Is there something going on?' Just being able to tune into tiny details really can make all the difference in your resident's care plan."

The Independence Center offers CNA training programs once a month, with day and evening hours available. Students who graduate from the program work in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice, rehab programs and home health care, or may choose to go on to nursing school.

The nonprofit has trained more than 800 students since it purchased the program in December 2015, after encountering difficulty filling CNA positions in its own home health program.

"We were having so much trouble finding CNAs, attracting that workforce, that we decided: We're going to train them," Independence Center CEO Patricia Yeager told the Indy in October, after the CNA program's new building opened.

The job growth for CNAs is faster than average, with an 11 percent increase in job openings expected between 2016 and 2026, according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. That growth is driven in part by the fast-increasing population of people older than 65 (in Colorado, that age group is expected to double to 1.7 million by 2050).

The average annual wage for CNAs working in Colorado was $32,600, or $15.70 an hour, in May of last year.

Hull says that if the Denver and Colorado Springs communities express interest, they'll continue to offer training with an ASL interpreter.

"I'm just a big believer in 'Deaf Can,' and I think that a lot of the students in our class are going to go on to make great CNAs," Hull says. "I'm just really excited for them and excited to be a part of all of this."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect appropriate language when discussing deaf individuals.
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Friday, June 7, 2019

PFAS chemicals found in food illustrate scale of toxic problem

Posted By on Fri, Jun 7, 2019 at 12:35 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
The PFAS problem just got a little scarier.

According to a leaked sampling results presented at an international conference in May, Food and Drug Administration researchers detected toxic, man-made PFAS chemicals in produce, meat, dairy, grain and seafood products across the U.S.

"This really is another blow to those who live in contaminated areas who are already experiencing negative economic impacts and fears of elevated health risks from PFAS contamination," says Jamie C. DeWitt, a pharmacology and toxicology professor at North Carolina State University.

A few days after the results were leaked, The Food and Drug Administration acknowledged it's investigating public exposure to the toxic, man-made chemicals through the food supply.

"The widespread use of PFAS and their ability to remain intact in the environment means that over time PFAS levels from past and current uses can result in increasing levels of contamination of ground water and soil," reads a recently added page on the FDA's website. "...PFAS can occur in food primarily through environmental contamination, including contaminated water and soil used to grow the food."

Advocates note that PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge, which contains waste from residential and industrial sources, could spread PFAS to soil when used as fertilizer. Currently, there are no federal regulations requiring testing of sludge for PFAS.

There are more than 5,000 chemicals in the PFAS group. Their use in household cooking products, food packaging, paints, fabrics and firefighting foam was once more widespread, but studies linking two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, to serious health conditions has led to some efforts by government agencies to limit them.

Colorado recently banned the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS (except when required by the military).

And several years ago, the FDA got manufacturers of certain “long-chain” PFAS chemicals, thought to be more harmful to health and the environment, to agree to stop using them in items such as nonstick pans and packaging.

However, little is known about the health and environmental effects of newer, "short-chain" chemicals still in use by manufacturers. Some environmental advocates dispute that they are much safer.

Leaked results obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy organization, show that FDA researchers found PFOS — one of the more widely studied, long-chain PFAS chemicals — in approximately half of the meat and seafood products they tested from across the U.S. But the FDA determined the levels of PFOS in those products probably weren't a health concern.

However, chocolate cake with chocolate icing contained high levels of a little-studied short-chain chemical, PFPeA. That chemical was never approved by the FDA for use in products that contact food, says Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund. Neltner hypothesized that the contamination came through greaseproof paper.

"That may happen because of a loophole in the law that says the company can determine something is safe without ever telling FDA," Neltner says.

The researchers also found PFBA (a short-chain chemical once used to make photographic film) in pineapple samples, and PFHxS in sweet potatoes.

PFHxS, like PFOS, is a long-chain chemical previously used by the military in firefighting foam. Notably, residents who lived near the Peterson Air Force Base while the foam was in use recently tested for blood levels of this chemical 10 times higher than that of the general population.

The leaked results describe how PFAS in firefighting foam contaminated milk samples at a dairy farm in New Mexico near an Air Force base. Those products were determined to be unfit for consumption and discarded.

Finally, according to the leaked presentation, the researchers detected the PFAS chemical GenX and numerous other PFAS in samples of leafy greens grown within 10 miles of a PFAS production facility in the eastern United States — though they determined those levels probably did not constitute a health concern.
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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Gov. Polis signs final bills into law, announces five vetoes

Posted By on Wed, Jun 5, 2019 at 3:02 PM

Polis spoke about his legislative accomplishments at Pikes Peak Community College on June 5. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Polis spoke about his legislative accomplishments at Pikes Peak Community College on June 5.

At a June 3 appearance in Colorado Springs, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said this year's legislative session delivered victories for health care and education.

He emphasized that 95 percent of the 454 bills he signed "were bipartisan: Republicans and Democrats working together to make Colorado better."

Polis vetoed five bills on May 31, three of which concerned state occupational licensing requirements. The vetoes drew consternation from lawmakers in Polis' own party, including Rep. Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge. Duran sponsored House Bill 1212, which would have extended a program requiring managers of homeowners associations, or HOAs, to have state licenses.

“We are greatly disappointed that the work we have done to protect homeowners’ biggest investments in their lifetime — their homes — has been undone," Duran said via a statement from the Community Associations Institute (CAI) Colorado Legislative Action Committee. CAI is an international membership organization for homeowners, HOA managers and businesses that provide services for HOAs.
"Managers of HOAs will no longer have to be licensed, which means they are not required to have background checks, demonstrate any knowledge of core competencies, show they understand Colorado HOA law or get continuing education," Duran continued.

On the other hand, Polis' vetoes drew rare approval from some conservatives.

“Governor Polis is right to veto legislation that makes it harder for Coloradans to find work," said Jesse Mallory, the state director of libertarian and conservative group Americans for Prosperity. Mallory was quoted in a statement from the group.

"Too often occupational licenses—government permission slips to work—are misused to protect entrenched interests, slamming the door on the dreams of would-be entrepreneurs," he added.

With his veto statement, Polis issued an executive order directing the Department of Regulatory Agencies to review existing and potential laws around HOAs and their managers, and recommend strategies for "efficient and effective" regulation.

"Before any unregulated occupation is to be regulated, or any regulated occupation is to be continued, the state should complete its due diligence to ensure that regulation will, in fact, ensure consumer safety in a cost-efficient manner," Polis wrote in his veto letter. "This bill does not meet that threshold."

Similarly, Polis vetoed Senate Bills 99 and 133, which would have required licenses for sports agents and genetic counselors. Both bills were sponsored by Democrats.

"Licensing in the United States over the years has at times prevented minorities and the economically disadvantaged from having the ability to access occupations," Polis wrote.

He also vetoed Senate Bill 169, which would have made changes to the budget submission process for information technology projects, saying that it limited the governor's ability to manage state contracts.

House Bill 1305 would have given tribal governments access to state databases for conducting background checks in child welfare cases. In his veto letter, Polis said the bill contained errors that would have forced tribes to comply with state child protection requirements. So in place of the bill, he issued an executive order allowing tribal governments access to the state databases while leaving out those mandates.

"In Colorado, we respect our government-to-government relationship with the Tribes," Polis wrote. "We also are committed to making resources available to assist the Tribes in conducting their governmental responsibilities."

In other news, here's some highlights from the list of bills Polis recently signed.

EDUCATION

House Bill 1032: "Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education" appropriates money ($1 million annually) for the state’s grant program for schools that want to add comprehensive sexual education, closes a loophole that allowed private contractors to collect government money for teaching abstinence-only classes in public schools and ends an exemption for charter schools to the requirements. It also prohibits schools that have sex ed courses from teaching religious ideology, using shame-based or stigmatizing language, employing gender stereotypes, or excluding the experiences of LGBT individuals.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, and Sens. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Don Coram, R-Montrose
House Bill 1110: "Media Literacy" creates an advisory committee to make recommendations for ways to teach K-12 students how to read news critically, and discern fake news from the real thing. It allocates $19,800 from the state's general fund to the Department of Education for this purpose.
  • Sponsors: Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Evergreen, and Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood
Senate Bill 007: “Prevent Sexual Misconduct At Higher Ed Campuses” requires higher education campuses to adopt policies on sexual misconduct based on minimum requirements set out in the bill. It provides for oversight and requires training on the policies.
  • Sponsors: Sens. Pettersen and Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Reps. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Janet Buckner, D-Aurora

LGBT RIGHTS

House Bill 1039: "Identity Documents For Transgender Persons" makes it easier for transgender and nonbinary people to change the gender on their birth certificates (without court order, surgery or doctor recommendation).
  • Sponsors: Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City
House Bill 1129: "Prohibit Conversion Therapy for A Minor" prevents licensed mental health and medical professionals from attempting to change a minor’s gender identity or sexual orientation through therapy. Democrats, who won control of the Senate last fall, were finally able to pass this bill on the fifth annual attempt.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, and Esgar, and Sen. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder

HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT

House Bill 1176: The "Health Care Cost Savings Act of 2019" creates a task force to analyze the costs of alternative health care financing systems, such as single-payer, and make a report to state legislators. Polis signed the bill, but noted his concern that the bill's appropriation (around $100,000) wouldn't be enough to hire an analyst. He directed the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to let him know in October whether legislators should request more money next session.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Emily Sirota, D-Denver, and Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, and Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette
House Bill 1279: "Protect Public Health Firefighter Safety Regulation PFAS Polyfluoroalkyl Substances" bans firefighting foam that contains certain toxic, man-made chemicals: those classified as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. (An amendment to the bill makes an exception for when PFAS-containing foam is "required for a military purpose.") The bill also requires manufacturers to disclose when personal protective equipment contains PFAS.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, and Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs, and Sens. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Dennis Hisey, R-Colorado Springs
Senate Bill 077: "Electric Motor Vehicles Public Utility Services" requires public utilities to facilitate charging stations and to support the adoption of electric vehicles.
  • Sponsors: Sens. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver

COURTS AND PUBLIC SAFETY

House Bill 1324: "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" adds protections against lawsuits viewed by First Amendment advocates, media organizations and others at infringing upon free speech. Specifically, it allows defendants accused of libel or slander to ask a judge to dismiss a civil case on the grounds that they were simply exercising their constitutional right to free speech or to petition the government.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Cutter and Shannon Bird, D-Westminster, and Sen. Foote
Senate Bill 179: "Enhance School Safety Incident Response Grant Program" adds funding to an existing state program, which funds nonprofit-led school safety training for law enforcement and school districts. The bill appropriates $1.16 million to the Department of Public Safety for the program.
  • Sponsors: Sen. Lee and Rep. James Wilson, R-Salida
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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Point-in-Time count shows homeless population leveling out in Colorado Springs

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2019 at 3:47 PM

Police officers talk to residents in the Quarry homeless camp southeast of downtown. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Police officers talk to residents in the Quarry homeless camp southeast of downtown.

According to numbers recently released from January's Point-in-Time homeless count, the total number of people experiencing homelessness in Colorado Springs appears to have stabilized after three years of consecutive large increases.

Volunteers conducting the count recorded a total of 1,562 people staying outside, in emergency shelters and living in transitional housing — 11 more than last year, representing an increase of less than 1 percent.

Since 2015, when volunteers counted 1,073 people, the city's homeless population has increased by 45.6 percent.

The federally-mandated estimate, considered an undercount, is conducted every year on a single night in January. This year, 180 volunteers canvassed the city conducting surveys and distributing socks, hats, gloves and hand-warmers.

This year's numbers showed a 13 percent decrease in the number of unsheltered people (those staying in tents, in cars or on the streets). Meanwhile, 7.7 percent more people were counted in emergency shelters and transitional housing. The numbers reflect positively on the city's push to add more low-barrier shelter beds this year, where clients don't have to meet sobriety requirements.

Springs Rescue Mission — already a low-barrier shelter — began adding beds in November, for a total of 150 new beds by the end of the season. Meanwhile, the Salvation Army Shelter & Services at RJ Montgomery began removing sobriety requirements for its 220 beds, and plans to add 40 beds for homeless families by the time renovations are complete.

Volunteers counted 131 unaccompanied youths this year, and 137 families (households with at least one adult and one child). Those represent 41 percent and 7 percent increases from the previous year, respectively, though families and children who may be staying temporarily with friends or family aren't counted in the Point-in-Time.

Data collected separately by El Paso County school districts for the 2017-2018 school year showed 449 families and 1,117 students without permanent housing. That data also includes those staying with friends or family, staying in trailer parks and living in motels.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Gov. Polis travels to Colorado Springs, Pueblo for bill signings

Posted By on Tue, May 14, 2019 at 11:21 AM

Gov. Jared Polis speaks at Sierra High School on May 4. - DEREK KUHN
  • Derek Kuhn
  • Gov. Jared Polis speaks at Sierra High School on May 4.

After stopping in Pueblo to sign several health care and agriculture-related bills, Gov. Jared Polis will visit Centennial Elementary School in Colorado Springs on May 14 to sign three bills passed by the state Legislature.

They include:

House Bill 1013: Sponsored by Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, this bill extends through 2028 the state's existing tax credit for child care expenses to low-income families, equal to 25 percent of child care expenses for taxpayers with a federal adjusted gross income of $25,000 or less. The credit is capped at $500 for a single dependent or $1,000 for two or more dependents.

Senate Bill 176: "Expanding Concurrent Enrollment Opportunities" — sponsored by Sens. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village — requires school districts to offer opportunities for qualified high school students to enroll in college-level classes that can be applied to both a high school degree and a college degree. They may include academic courses, career and technical education, or apprenticeship and internship programs.

House Bill 1147: "Revise Traumatic Brain Injury Program" makes changes to the Colorado Traumatic Brain Injury Trust Fund, which provides services for people with brain injuries and funds research and education. Currently, the fund receives revenue from surcharges on DUI convictions, speeding and not wearing a helmet. The bill increases the surcharge assessed for speeding convictions, and expands the types of brain injuries that can be treated, among other changes. The bill's sponsors include two El Paso County Democrats, Rep. Marc Snyder and Sen. Pete Lee.

The bill signing at Centennial Elementary, located at 1860 Chelton Road in Colorado Springs, is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. May 14.

Before that, Polis plans to sign House Bill 1132, "School Incentives to Use Colorado Food and Producers," at Milberger Farms in Pueblo at 2 p.m.

He'll also sign House Bill 1174, "Out-of-Network Health Care Services," and House Bill 1326, "Rates for Senior Low-Income Dental Program," at 1 p.m. at Pueblo Community Health Center.

Polis' first stop in Pueblo is scheduled for 12 p.m. at Crossroads Treatment Clinic, where he'll sign four bills:

• Senate Bill 174, "Dependent Tuition Assistance Program Eligibility";
• Senate Bill 001, "Expand Medication-assisted Treatment Pilot Program";
• Senate Bill 065, "Peer Assistance Emergency Medical Service Provider";
• House Bill 1287, "Treatment for Opioids And Substance Use Disorders."
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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

City launches housing survey for affordable housing plan

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 10:19 AM

COURTESY OF APARTMENT LIST
  • Courtesy of Apartment List
The city's Community Development Division launched an online housing survey to gather information from residents about affordability and other challenges related to finding a place to rent or own.

The anonymous survey, accessible online, will remain open until June 16. It's meant to inform the city's forthcoming comprehensive housing plan, which will lay a framework for adding 1,000 units of affordable housing each year. That plan is due for release later this year.

For more information about the survey, contact Community Development staff at communitydevelopment@coloradosprings.gov or 385-5912.

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Colorado Springs is $1,240 — higher than the national average of $1,180, according to a recent report from Apartment List. Rents here have increased 1.7 percent over the past year, a growth rate below the state average of 2.2 percent (but above the national average of 1.5 percent).

COURTESY OF APARTMENT LIST
  • Courtesy of Apartment List

In May of 2014, median rent for a two-bedroom in Colorado Springs was just $957, according to Apartment List's data. That means the city saw rent increase by 30 percent over five years.

Meanwhile, the city's median household income increased by 7 percent between 2012 and 2017, the last five years for which the U.S. Census Bureau has data available.

A 2014 housing needs assessment funded by the city and county predicted a shortage of almost 14,000 units for households making up to 80 percent of area median income — now calculated at about $65,000 for a family of four — by 2019. The comprehensive housing plan will include reassessing housing stock to determine whether the 2014 predictions were accurate, Community Development Division Manager Steve Posey has said.

Posey told the Independent in March that the city is looking at incentives for developers to reduce the cost of building affordable housing. Those could include breaks on tap fees (charges for connecting new housing to water lines) or building permit fees.

The Colorado Assembly recently passed House Bill 1228, which increases the amount of available Affordable Housing Tax Credits from $5 million to $10 million annually. That will free up more funding for affordable housing projects across the state, awarded through a competitive application process.
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Friday, May 3, 2019

May is Mental Health Month

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2019 at 1:28 PM

NAMI board member Tyra Sandoval speaks at the nonprofit's annual fundraising breakfast. - MIKE PACH
  • Mike Pach
  • NAMI board member Tyra Sandoval speaks at the nonprofit's annual fundraising breakfast.
As Mental Health Month begins, some advocates are celebrating what they regard as recent successes — such as the April 29 passage of House Bill 1269, which strengthens enforcement of parity laws that require insurers to prioritize mental health care to the same extent they do physical health.


And Senate Bill 222, which passed April 30, creates incentives for providers who treat individuals with severe mental health or substance use disorders, as well as strengthening a "safety net system" to expand high-intensity behavioral health treatment programs.

But daunting challenges remain, as highlighted by speakers at the May 2 fundraising breakfast for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Colorado Springs.

"I'm going to share some numbers with you this morning, and you need to buckle up: 445,000 Coloradans have a mental illness that is going untreated," said Tyra Sandoval, a NAMI board member and local realtor. "181,000 of those people report they sought treatment but were unable to get it. 51,000 alone live here in El Paso County. 152 people completed suicide in El Paso County in 2018, and seven of those were teens. 112 were men."

El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly, the vice president of NAMI's board, spoke about his own struggle coping with a family member's mental illness.

"I knew what it was like to feel as if your only two options are to watch the person you care for drown or to hold on knowing inevitably you would drown with them," Kelly said. "No one should feel that lost. Every family deserves a place to go for help, and with NAMI, they do."

Kelly highlighted recent local projects informed and supported by NAMI: teen suicide prevention efforts, the formation of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office crisis intervention team, and the launch of the Man Therapy campaign, which aims to destigmatize mental illness for men.

NAMI provides a variety of free mental health programs and services for the community, including support groups and classes for family members of people with mental health issues.

Your reminder this month: Don't forget you can call the free, confidential Colorado Crisis Services phone line at any time if you find yourself in crisis, or just need a friendly ear. Their number: 1-844-493-TALK (8255). You can also text TALK to 38255 to speak with a trained mental health professional, or chat online.

AspenPointe also operates walk-in crisis center locations at:

115 S. Parkside Dr.
Colorado Springs
(Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

...and...

6071 E. Woodmen Road, Suite 135
St. Francis Medical Center, North Care Building
(Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday - Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday)

The state Department of Human Services, in partnership with Mental Health Colorado, recently launched the Mental Wellness and Addiction Recovery Guide website for people considering mental health or substance use treatment. You can check it out at https://cowellnessrecovery.org/.
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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Measles cases at 25-year peak; Colorado avoids outbreak so far

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2019 at 10:12 AM

The number of measles cases in the United States is at its highest since 2000 — the year measles was "eliminated from this country," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced April 24.
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So far this year, the CDC has recorded 695 cases of measles in 22 states. That includes just one adult case in Colorado.

"The high number of cases in 2019 is primarily the result of a few large outbreaks — one in Washington State and two large outbreaks in New York that started in late 2018," the statement reads. "The outbreaks in New York City and New York State are among the largest and longest lasting since measles elimination in 2000. The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance measles will again get a sustained foothold in the United States."

As reported in the Independent on April 24, Colorado's immunization rates are among the lowest in the country. Some researchers say the state is vulnerable to a measles outbreak, because 90 to 95 percent immunization rates are needed to maintain “herd immunity” — protecting citizens from an outbreak — but the state’s kindergarten MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) fully immunized rate for the 2017-18 school year was 88.76 percent. El Paso County’s was 83.22 percent.

In schools (not kindergartens) MMR fully immunized rates were slightly higher. Across Colorado, 94.46 percent of students are fully immunized. In El Paso County, that number shrinks to 92.14 percent.

State lawmakers recently introduced House Bill 1312, as an effort to boost the state's immunization rates by essentially making it less convenient for parents to get non-medical vaccine exemptions. The bill was set for a vote of the full House on April 25.
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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Dems abandon paid leave program, Denver Post reports

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2019 at 5:47 PM

click image SB188 would have allowed moms to stay home, with pay, to care for newborns. - ROBERT R GIGLIOTTI
  • Robert R Gigliotti
  • SB188 would have allowed moms to stay home, with pay, to care for newborns.

A contentious bill to create a paid family and medical leave program has been abandoned by state Democrats, the Denver Post reported April 24.

Senate Bill 188 was due for a vote of the full Senate this week, but never got that far. Instead, the Post reports, state Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, will introduce a new proposal to establish a series of studies into how the state should develop an insurance fund for paid leave.


The latest version of the bill would have required employers and employees to pay a total of 0.64 percent of an employee’s annual wages into a state-run insurance program, which would provide partial wages for employees who take up to 12 weeks of family-related or medical leave. Employers would pay 40 percent of that premium, while employees would pay 60 percent.

The premium amount could change year-to-year, but would not exceed 0.99 percent of annual wages.

Republicans and business groups largely opposed the bill, labeling it as a tax increase that should be subject to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which requires that any tax increase be put to a vote of the people.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC were both among the bill's vocal opponents.

This was Winter's fifth attempt to pass a bill creating a paid family and medical leave program. Despite the trifecta of Democratic control in the House, Senate and governor's office, the Colorado Sun reports she feared the bill would not draw enough support without major amendments. However, it represents the closest the state ever got to implementing mandatory paid leave.
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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Suthers comes out against paid family and medical leave bill

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2019 at 5:05 PM

FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
Mayor John Suthers came out in opposition to a state bill that would create a paid family and medical leave program, ahead of the Senate vote scheduled for April 23.

In a statement, the mayor said, “I’ve spoken with businesses of all sizes and they’ve made it loud and clear that State Bill 19-188 will be an imposing detriment on the vitality of their operations. Though well-intentioned, the FAMLI [Family Medical Leave Insurance] proposal is the largest and most expensive program of its kind in the nation. The cost imposed upon every employee and employer in the state, as well as state government, will significantly harm our economy.”

The latest version of the bill would require employers and employees to pay a total of 0.64 percent of an employee’s annual wages into a state-run insurance program, which would provide partial wages for employees who take up to 12 weeks of family-related or medical leave. Employers would pay 40 percent of that premium, while employees would pay 60 percent.

The premium amount could change year-to-year, but would not exceed 0.99 percent of annual wages.

Other states that have already implemented similar programs include California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York. None of those programs require employers to contribute.

Supporters of Senate Bill 188 accuse the "corporate lobby" of confusing the public about the bill.

“Despite misinformation spread by lobbyists seeking to sow doubt and confusion, economic experts have proven the program will be fiscally sound and completely solvent," said Judith Marquez, the co-director of 9-to-5 Colorado, an advocacy organization backing the bill. "We all agree that working families need to be able to care for newborns and seriously ill parents, children and spouses without risking their homes and financial security, and passing FAMLI now is the way to do it."

The Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC also released a statement opposing the bill, on April 17.

"Senate Bill 188 is a $1 billion or more tax increase that sets one-size-fits-all rules for paid time off of work, by law, and imposes them on all employers and employees regardless of an employer’s size, location, industry or the specific needs of a given workplace," the statement reads.

A recent amendment does allow local governments to opt out of the program, but Suthers pointed out in his statement that "local government employees could opt in, leaving private sector and nonprofit employees and employers to subsidize their coverage."

You could be eligible for partial wage benefits under the bill if you: have a serious health condition; are caring for a new child during the first year after birth, adoption or foster care placement; are caring for a family member with a serious health condition; have a need arising from a family member's active duty service or notice of an impending call to active duty; or if you or a family member has a serious health condition related to domestic abuse, sexual assault or abuse, or stalking.

Under the bill, an individual would be eligible to receive 90 percent of their wages below the average weekly wage (currently $1,295) and 50 percent of wages equal or above AWW. So, a person making $1,000 a week would receive $758.90 a week while on paid leave, and someone making $1,500 a week would get $1,000 a week on paid leave.

The person making $1,000 would pay about $200 a year into the paid leave program. Their employer would pay $133 a year.

The person making $1,500 would pay about $300 a year. Their employer would pay $200.
Opponents of the bill argue that the bill amounts to a tax increase, and therefore is subject to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which requires that tax increases be approved by a vote of the people. However, the paid leave program would be created as a state enterprise, not as a payroll tax — which would mean, according to a legislative analysis, that it wouldn't be subject to TABOR.

Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, who sponsored the bill, has argued in the past that the premium amounts to about the same cost as a cup of coffee a week, and is a needed protection for Coloradans.

“Many workers simply can’t afford to choose between a paycheck and caring for a recovering spouse without the risk of being evicted or getting behind on utility bills,” she said in an October statement.
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Friday, April 12, 2019

Gov. Polis signs "red-flag bill" into law

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 5:33 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
——UPDATE MONDAY, APRIL 15——

Via a spokesperson, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder gave the following comment:

There is a mental health crisis in this country, in this state and our communities. The Red Flag Bill does nothing to address the underlying mental health of an individual, it only violates in my opinion, the right of a citizen to possess firearms. As I previously stated, I am exploring all available legal options and am committed to vigorously challenging the constitutionality of this law.


——ORIGINAL POST 5:33 P.M. FRIDAY, APRIL 12——

With the signature of Gov. Jared Polis, the "red-flag bill" became law on April 12 — making it legal for law enforcement to seize the firearms of those determined to pose a risk to themselves or others after a court issues an "Extreme Risk Protection Order."

"A strong majority of gun owners, non gun owners, Republicans, Independents, and Democrats agree: Extreme Risk Protection Order Laws save lives and are consistent with our 2nd amendment rights," reads an April 12 post on Polis' official Facebook page.

In fact, more than half of the state's counties, including El Paso, issued resolutions opposing the bill, claiming it violates Second Amendment rights and constitutional due process.

The new law allows an individual to petition the court to remove firearms from a family or household member they feel could endanger themselves or others. A judge would have to hold a hearing that day, or the following day, to determine whether to issue the protection order.

A second hearing must be held within 14 days to determine whether the person's weapons should be kept for up to 364 days. During that time, the person could not legally purchase, possess or receive any firearms.

The law's supporters say it's needed to address Colorado's high suicide rate. The state has the 10th highest suicide rate in the U.S., with 20.3 suicides per 100,000 people in 2017. El Paso County's rate is slightly higher, at 22.8 per 100,000. Half of all suicides were by firearm in 2017.

"While we still need to do more to help those in a mental health crisis access the help they urgently need, this bill provides a highly targeted tool to judges, families, and law enforcement to reduce gun violence, prevent suicide, and protect families and first responders," Polis' Facebook post reads.

Republicans attempting to force recall elections of state Democrats cite the red-flag law as a motivating factor.

At a press conference March 26, Polis said counties had the right to exercise discretion over how to enforce the law, The Colorado Sun reported. He dodged questions over whether he agreed with Attorney General Phil Weiser's earlier statement that any sheriff who would disregard a court order to remove someone's firearms should resign.

Lawmakers were mostly split along party lines in voting on the bill, though Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, a Democrat, opposed it.
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