STAND FOR TRUTH & LOCAL NEWS

Accurate information has never been more essential. Your contributions, no matter the size, can help the Colorado Springs Indy continue to provide local journalism.

Help support our mission: TRUTH MATTERS.

Politics

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Update: COVID-19 stalls Colorado legislative session

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2020 at 10:18 AM

ARINA P HABICH / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Arina P Habich / Shutterstock.com
——- UPDATE THURSDAY, APRIL 2 AT 9:50 A.M. ———

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled in favor of state Democrats, saying that the 120 days in the legislative session do not need to be counted consecutively.

State statute and the Assembly's joint resolution "together operate to count the 120 calendar days of a regular session consecutively except during a declared public health emergency disaster, in which case only days on which at least one chamber convenes count toward the 120-day maximum."

This means state legislators should be able to tack on extra days to the end of the legislative session after they return to the Capitol.


——- ORIGINAL POST WEDNESDAY, APRIL 1 AT 3:17 P.M. ——-

After a two-week, unplanned break in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a handful of Colorado lawmakers gathered at the state Capitol on March 30.

The state Assembly had voted March 14 to postpone the session until that date, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But on March 30, neither the Senate nor the House had enough people present — as expected — to establish a quorum, the minimum number of lawmakers required to vote on legislation. (That's 18 senators and 33 representatives, or a simple majority.)

So, both chambers adjourned for at least a few days.

House lawmakers are planning to adjourn again "in some way" when the chamber is scheduled to meet next April 2, says Jarrett Freedman, communications director for House Democrats.

State Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, says the general consensus among Senate Democrats is to "continue the adjournment for the foreseeable future."

(There had been some discrepancy about whether legislators needed to return March 30 to vote on extending the adjournment, the Colorado Sun reports.)

In Lee's view, legislators have a responsibility to follow the stay-at-home order: "For us to go in when we do not have a critical function to perform to me seems foolhardy," he says.

It's unclear when the lawmaking session will resume.

On March 27, however, Gov. Jared Polis signed a batch of bills that had already been passed by state lawmakers. Some of the highlights from that list include:

House Bill 1275, which allows service members, veterans and their dependents to receive in-state tuition at Colorado community colleges;
House Bill 1178, which requires the Colorado Department of Transportation to study whether speed limits can be increased on certain rural highways; and
House Bill 1300, which makes technical changes to the local school food purchasing program.

You can read the full list here.

Meanwhile, House Democrats and Republicans are in the midst of a legal battle over what happens after lawmakers are able to return to the Capitol.

State law says that the legislative session is only 120 days, and that has been interpreted in the past to mean consecutive days.

Democrats — who hold the majority in the House, Senate and governor's office — want the session to be extended past its scheduled end date, due to this unplanned break.

Republicans, on the other hand, want the session to end on May 6, as scheduled. This would greatly hamper Democrats' ability to pass their legislative priorities.

Both sides have submitted briefs to the Colorado Supreme Court, which could issue a decision by the end of the week, CBS Denver reports.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Figure how much of the $2 trillion rescue bill you'll get

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2020 at 11:56 AM

COURTESY USGS
  • Courtesy USGS
Been wondering how much you'll get from the $2 trillion stimulus package just passed by Congress to pump money into the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis?

Marketwatch.com provides a detailed description of how payments will be calculated.

In short, here are the rules, based on that website:

• Taxpayers making $75,000 and below will receive a $1,200 check. Married couples making $150,000 and below will receive $2,400. Taxpayers falling under those caps also will receive $500 per child. Those who file as “head of household” — meaning they are unmarried, have children or dependents and pay more than half of their household expenses — will get the $1,200 check if they make $112,500 and below.

• You won't be taxed on the stimulus check.

• All of that is based on adjusted gross income, which is gross income less deductions. Checks will be based on 2018 tax filings, or on 2019 filings, if they've been made. However, 2019 taxes aren't due until July 15, moved from April 15 amid the COVID-19 crisis.

• Those who receive Social Security benefits will be eligible, as will green card holders.

• The checks phase out for incomes above $75,000 a year and caps for individuals making above $99,000 a year. For married couples, income of $198,000 a year is the cap and those filing as head of household are capped at $146,500 a year, according to the analysis from the office of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

• Checks will be paid via direct deposit to bank accounts taken from taxpayer's 2018 or 2019 returns. If you didn't use bank information for direct deposit on your filing, your check will come in the mail.

Want to calculate your check? Go to the Washington Post's website and plug in your data.

The Post also reports there's a catch to all of this, as follows:
The only catch is that technically a person’s 2020 income is what qualifies them for the payment. Since no one knows their total 2020 income yet, the government is using tax returns from 2019 and 2018 to figure out who qualifies for a check. It is possible that someone may have to pay back some of the money if his or her income this year turns out to be significantly more than it was in 2019 or 2018. That’s expected to be a relatively small share of people, and the money would not have to be paid back until April 15, 2021.
Checks will start going out the week of April 6 and could take several weeks to mail, the Post reports.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

COVID-19 update for March 25: Statewide stay-at-home order announced

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 5:13 PM

Pete Zeitz, Colorado College's campus safety supervisor, and Catherine Buckley, assistant director for community connections, drop off donations of personal protective equipment at Penrose Hospital. The donations of gloves, masks and biohazard bags came from Colorado College Athletics, Campus Safety and the Fine Arts Center. - COURTESY OF COLORADO COLLEGE
  • Courtesy of Colorado College
  • Pete Zeitz, Colorado College's campus safety supervisor, and Catherine Buckley, assistant director for community connections, drop off donations of personal protective equipment at Penrose Hospital. The donations of gloves, masks and biohazard bags came from Colorado College Athletics, Campus Safety and the Fine Arts Center.

Gov. Jared Polis announced a statewide stay-at-home order that will go into effect at 6 a.m. March 26. Under the order, Coloradans must stay at home except for necessary business. "Critical businesses" — like grocery stores, health care facilities and shelters — are exempt from the order. These businesses must comply with social distancing requirements.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 1,086 cases of COVID-19 through March 24, including 122 in El Paso County, and 19 deaths across the state. Five of those deaths have occurred in El Paso County.


Colorado lawmakers voted March 14 to postpone the legislative session until at least March 30 in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. But Democrats and Republicans disagree over whether they should be allowed to tack on extra days to the end of the session in order to make up for lost time.

State law says that the legislative session is only 120 days, and that has been interpreted in the past to mean consecutive days. Democrats, who hold the majority in the state House, Senate and governor's office, want extra days added on after the end of the session, which is currently scheduled for May 6. Republicans want the session to end that day.

The Colorado Supreme Court will consider both arguments in making a decision. Briefs filed in the case were due March 24.


As of late afternoon on March 25, the U.S. Senate was close to passing a $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package that would include direct payments to taxpayers, unemployment benefits and assistance for financially distressed businesses.

The New York Times reports that a final vote on the legislation was being held up by a group of Republican senators who objected to the expansion of unemployment insurance, while some progressives felt the bill was too lenient on corporations.


The Pikes Peak Community Foundation's COVID19 Emergency Relief Fund — created in partnership with Pikes Peak United Way and the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management — had raised $517,000 for efforts in El Paso and Teller counties as of March 20. However, initial requests for funding from organizations was more than double that: $1.3 million.

"It's during times of crisis that our community stands together to support our city, and we are humbled by how quickly and generously our community responds to urgent needs," Gary Butterworth, the CEO of PPCF, said in a statement. "However, there is still much work ahead of us as we support those serving the most vulnerable in our community."

El Paso County organizations that have received assistance through the relief fund so far include Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, Family Promise of Colorado Springs, Fountain Valley Senior Center and more.


In order to accommodate restaurants providing curbside pickups and food deliveries, downtown parking in Manitou Springs will be free of charge until April 30, the city announced in a statement.

"The decision to not charge hourly off-street and on-street parking customers is directly aimed at helping stop COVID-19 by eliminating cashier and kiosk interactions," the statement says.

The Barr Trail Lot and the 400 blocks of Ruxton Avenue and Winter Street will remain paid parking, and residential parking areas will be "monitored and enforced as necessary."

Colorado Springs has also made parking free in metered spots downtown and in Old Colorado City, until April 30.


Local nonprofit Harley's Hope Foundation, in collaboration with Colorado Pet Pantry, is offering assistance to pet owners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The foundation says it can deliver dog and cat food for free to people in El Paso, Teller or Pueblo counties who are under mandatory quarantine, or at high risk of serious effects from the virus (people older than 65 and those with underlying medical conditions). To request food, call (719) 495-6083 or email info@harleys-hopefoundation.org.

Harley's Hope also has $150 vouchers to help pay for pet medications. People who are currently unemployed due to COVID-19, or experiencing other financial hardships as a result of the pandemic, can fill out an application online. Applicants must provide veterinary verification and proof of financial need.

Finally, the foundation is looking for people who can foster animals for people who are temporarily unable to care for them. You can apply online.


Don't fall victim to Social Security scammers in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, warns the Social Security Office of the Inspector General.

The office says it has received reports of Social Security beneficiaries receiving letters in the mail that say their payments will be suspended or stopped unless they call a number listed in the letter. People who call the number may be prompted by scammers to provide personal information or payments, thus making them vulnerable to identity theft and other crimes.

"Social Security will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic," the inspector general's office says in a statement. "Any communication you receive that says SSA will do so is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call."

Those who do receive such communications should not respond. You can report suspected scams online.


On March 24, the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing submitted an 1135 waiver request to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), asking for more flexibility in administering health care to people affected by COVID-19.

Such waivers can cut down on regulatory burdens in state-administered health care systems by, for example, temporarily suspending certain requirements for enrolling providers in the Medicaid network, or waiving requirements that doctors be licensed in the same state where they are providing services.

Democratic and Republican members of Colorado's congressional delegation signed a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, asking for swift approval of the waiver request.

CMS has approved waiver requests in 13 other states since March 17.


More than 300 medical workers from the 627th Hospital Center at Fort Carson will deploy to Washington state to help with the COVID-19 response.

Evans Army Community Hospital "is working to minimize the impact" of the deployment on Fort Carson soldiers, family members and retirees, according to an announcement from the Army installation. People have an upcoming scheduled appointment should contact their primary care manager to confirm the date and time, the statement said.

As of March 25, Washington state had more than 2,460 reported cases of COVID-19 and 123 deaths due to the virus, according to the Washington State Department of Health.


Project C.U.R.E., a foundation that distributes medical equipment and supplies around the world, will host a donation drive for personal protective equipment at UCHealth Park in collaboration with the Rocky Mountain Vibes baseball team.

On March 25 between 12 and 4 p.m., Project C.U.R.E. will collect donations of the following items (unused and in unopened boxes), to be given to local hospitals:

• Eye protection and goggles
• Face shields
• Surgical masks
• Sterile and non-sterile gloves
• Disposable gowns
• N95 masks
• Sanitation wipes
• Personal wipes

UCHealth Park is located at 4385 Tutt Boulevard.


Infinity Shuttle, a local transportation company, is using its shuttle vans to bring food to Sierra High School, and all of the elementary and middle schools in Harrison District 2, according to an email from owner Anthony Perez. Through a collaboration with nonprofit COSILoveYou, the shuttles are also delivering food and supplies to people who can't get to one of the schools or leave their homes.

To collect supplies for the effort, donation drives will be held between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays at the following locations:

• New Life Church, 11025 Voyager Parkway
• Pulpit Rock Church, 301 Austin Bluffs Parkway
• Vanguard Church, 3950 N. Academy Boulevard

The following items will be accepted:

• Toilet paper
• Diapers
• Wipes
• Baby supplies
• Children's cold medicine
• General toiletries


The Air Force Academy's North Gate will be closed to all traffic until further notice, according to a March 25 announcement.

The Academy, which has been closed to visitors since March 13, began offering remote classes and training to cadets on March 25.


Disconnections of water service for Woodland Park customers will be suspended until further notice, the city announced in a statement.

"For customers who are unable to make utility bill payments, the City is working on a case-by-case basis to provide payment options and arrange payment plans during the COVID-19 Virus pandemic," the statement says. "It is very important for customers to maintain open communication with the Utility Billing team if they are unable to make their utility bill payments."

Woodland Park customers who need to discuss payment options and plans, or ask questions about utility bills, are asked to call (719) 686-9680 or email utilitybilling@cityofwp.net.

The city of Woodland Park is also waiving penalties on sales, use and lodging tax penalties for payments due March 20 or later, until Woodland Park City Council rescinds the local disaster emergency declaration for COVID-19.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the correct effective time of the stay-at-home order, as well as additional information about donation drives coordinated by COSILoveYou.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, March 19, 2020

COVID-19: Paid leave, emergency declarations, and what it all means for you

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2020 at 3:42 PM

Congress approved legislation funding paid leave for certain people. - MARTIN FALBISONER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Martin Falbisoner/Wikimedia Commons
  • Congress approved legislation funding paid leave for certain people.

The U.S. Senate voted March 18 to approve legislation granting financial support for individuals, families and businesses impacted by the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.

The act, signed by President Donald Trump on March 19, provides new funding for nutrition assistance, medical care and paid leave related to COVID-19.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act will designate an additional $500 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and $400 million for emergency food assistance. It will allow state agencies to develop plans that would supply free meals for kids whose school districts have closed and designate $250 million for aging and disability services, including home-delivered meals.

The legislation also designates $1 billion for reimbursing health care providers for services related to COVID-19, including testing and office visits, and provides additional unemployment assistance funding for states to distribute.

It also requires paid leave for some people affected by the pandemic, though certain exemptions apply based on company size (and if your company already provides paid leave, this may not apply).

Significantly, the Families First Act requires employers to provide
 family leave for employees impacted by COVID-19, with some caveats: People receiving paid leave due to the need to care for a child (including due to a school closure) must have been employed at their company for at least 30 days. The first 10 days of such leave can be unpaid — after that, employees must be paid at least two-thirds of their salary (up to $200 per day) for eight weeks. Businesses with more than 500 employees or fewer than 50 employees can be exempted from this requirement.

The Families First Act also requires paid sick leave for employees impacted by COVID-19, who can qualify if they are sick or have been advised to self-quarantine. Full-time employees get 80 hours of paid sick time, and part-time employees get paid sick time equal to the number of hours they'd work over two weeks. The amount of leave is the same as regular pay (up to $511 a day). Businesses with more than 500 employees are exempt from this requirement.

The Senate voted 90-8 in favor of the Families First Act, with Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet voting in favor. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner did not vote, as he self-quarantined after learning that a constituent who visited his Washington office has tested positive for COVID-19.

In the House, most of Colorado's delegation voted in favor of the bill, including Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor, voted against it.

The White House has also proposed a $1 trillion spending plan in response to COVID-19 that would include $500 billion in direct payments to Americans. The plan would need approval from both the House and Senate.

ABC News reports that the payments, according to a proposal from the U.S. Treasury, would be distributed to all U.S. taxpayers in two rounds: the first beginning April 6, and the second May 18. The payment amounts would be tiered based on income and household size.


As of March 19,
more than 10,000 cases of COVID-19 and 150 deaths had occurred in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 216 cases and two deaths, both in El Paso County, which has had eight cases.

States across the country are encountering a backlog of tests that means many people who have the virus are yet to be counted in official totals.

"The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is pursuing a strategic approach to testing in the state to steward our state and country’s scarce resources in the face of widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in Colorado," the Colorado health department said in a March 18 statement. "CDPHE is sending testing resources to specific communities that have not yet had testing that will yield vital information about how the disease is spreading."

On March 19, the department planned to set up a testing site in Pueblo that will only serve
"high-risk patients who have been pre-selected by area health care providers" — not walk-up or drive-up patients.

No matter if they've been tested, CDPHE urges people to isolate themselves if they are experiencing any potential symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough and shortness of breath.

This tool from ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization, provides a sobering look at how the spread of the virus could overwhelm U.S. hospitals depending on what percentage of the population contracts COVID-19, and how quickly the virus spreads. It's based on estimates from the Harvard Global Health Institute.

In a best-case scenario — 20 percent of the U.S. population becomes infected over 18 months — the researchers involved in developing the tool say that the country's existing hospital beds would be about 95 percent full.

In the Colorado Springs hospital region, the ProPublica tool shows a shortage of beds in every case scenario. A moderate scenario — 40 percent of people infected over 12 months — would mean the Colorado Springs area needs twice the number of hospital beds currently available.


Separate emergency declarations by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, El Paso County Chair Mark Waller, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and President Donald Trump should free up funding for employees, businesses and families with children who've been affected by the coronavirus.

What exactly do the declarations mean?

This article by Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center, provides some insight into Trump's emergency declaration, issued March 13.

The Denver Post boiled down Polis' emergency powers under the statewide declaration issued March 11 in this article.

Waller's local disaster emergency declaration allows El Paso County to activate the Medical Reserve Corp., a network of volunteers. The declaration will also help providers obtain personal protective equipment, Waller said in a March 14 statement.

Suthers' emergency declaration, issued March 16, makes the city eligible for federal relief funding and gives the mayor more authority to take actions in response to the pandemic.

Other mayors have used emergency powers to close businesses, issue "shelter in place" orders, and freeze evictions, though Suthers hasn't yet taken such actions — the order to close restaurants, gyms, casinos, theaters, coffeehouses, cigar bars, brewpubs and distillery pubs came from Polis on March 16.

This is all the city code says about emergency response powers:

"The Mayor may promulgate regulations which the Mayor deems necessary to protect life and property and preserve critical resources. These regulations shall within fourteen (14) days of issuance, be posted at the Office of the City Clerk and other locations as the Mayor may determine, and may be disseminated to the print, radio, television and other electronic news media unless posting or dissemination would endanger the public or negatively impact security concerns. Emergency regulations may not suspend the provisions of the City Code, the suspension of City Code provisions being reserved to the City Council by emergency or other ordinance."
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, March 12, 2020

COVID-19: 33 cases in Colorado as of 3 p.m. March 11

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2020 at 12:08 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was counting 33 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 as of 3 p.m. March 11.

COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family of viruses, named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces. Some coronaviruses lead to the common cold, while others — such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and COVID-19 — can lead to more serious symptoms in some people.

So far, only one of Colorado's presumptive positive COVID-19 cases has been counted in El Paso County. The patient, a man in his 40s, had recently traveled within the United States, according to CDPHE.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, runny nose, cough and breathing trouble. For most people, the symptoms are mild, but those with other medical complications are at higher risk of developing more severe symptoms such as pneumonia.

Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency in Colorado on March 10 in order to "more effectively contain the spread of COVID-19 and avoid greater disruption."

With the declaration, the state will boost testing capacity for COVID-19 (also known as novel coronavirus), waive testing costs, launch drive-up labs for testing, and ensure paid leave for affected hospitality, food handling, child care, health care and education workers.

The state's first drive-up community testing lab opened March 11 in Denver, for patients with a doctor's order and photo ID.

Also on March 11, the state's Division of Motor Vehicles began allowing Coloradans 65 and older to renew their driver's licenses online for the duration of the governor's emergency order. Visit mydmv.colorado.gov for more information.

To reduce risks due to COVID-19, Colorado College announced March 10 that it will extend spring break by one week, through March 29.

Block 7 will begin March 30 with distance-learning classes only. (Instead of four-month semesters, the college schedules classes in 3.5-week blocks, with four days off in between blocks.) Before Block 8, the school will evaluate whether to have students return for in-person classes in May.

As of March 12, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was still operating normally, but information posted online describes precautionary measures for students who have recently traveled to countries with a high number of cases:

"UCCS Wellness Center staff contacted all individuals on campus from high risk areas to assess travel history and discuss symptoms to monitor for. They are also screening all patients who visit Health Services for travel history, possible exposures to COVID-19 and current illnesses when they come in for a visit."

Meanwhile, the Air Force Academy plans to close to visitors starting at 5 p.m. March 13.

"This restriction does not impact access for on-base residents, Air Academy High School students and faculty, Department of Defense ID card holders, or anyone conducting official business," the Academy said in a statement. "Gate hours also remain unchanged."

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, health experts urge people to:

- Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
- Avoid directly touching frequently contacted surfaces, such as elevator buttons or door handles, in public spaces. (Use a tissue to cover your hand or finger if you have to touch something.)
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home if you’re sick, and keep your children home if they are sick.
- Clean surfaces in your home, and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.

Helpful resources:

For the latest COVID-19 information from CDPHE, visit colorado.gov/cdphe/2019-novel-coronavirus.

For updated case totals, visit CDPHE's Fast Facts page.

If you have general questions about COVID-19, call the CO-HELP call line at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911, for answers in many languages, or email COHELP@RMPDC.org for answers in English.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, March 9, 2020

BLM move to Grand Junction criticized in congressional watchdog report

Posted By on Mon, Mar 9, 2020 at 12:30 PM

The BLM will move its Washington, D.C. headquarters to an office in Grand Junction. - U.S. BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
  • U.S. Bureau of Land Management
  • The BLM will move its Washington, D.C. headquarters to an office in Grand Junction.

Both President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, have touted a decision to move the Bureau of Land Management's headquarters to Grand Junction from Washington, D.C. to keep the agency more focused on the areas it serves.

"Today is a historic day for our nation’s public lands, western states, and the people of Colorado," Gardner said in a tweet the day the move was announced. Other Colorado lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Reps. Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn, have also expressed their support.

But in a recent report, the federal Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency, criticized the Interior Department decision.

"BLM minimally or did not address key practices for involving employees and key stakeholders in the process of developing" agency reforms including relocation, the report found. The GAO also notes that the BLM didn't adequately explain how it would measure the benefits of transferring staff — which, it claimed, would include better management, communications and customer service.

The BLM has about 10,000 employees, 97 percent of whom are already located in the western U.S., where the agency manages around 245 million acres of public land for uses such as energy extraction, mining, timber harvesting, livestock grazing and outdoor recreation.

The decision to move BLM staff from D.C. to the new Grand Junction headquarters, as well as Western offices in Denver and Phoenix, involved relocating 311 positions — or 179 people, since many of those positions were vacant — by July 2020, according to the GAO report.

On Sept. 18, the BLM notified D.C. staff that their positions would be relocated, the report says, and sent them a memo on Nov. 12 giving them 30 days to accept or decline the reassignment. They would have an additional 90 days to move West.

"BLM also created a consideration request form intended to allow employees to ask for extension of their scheduled report date," the report adds. "According to agency officials, employees could also use these forms to ask for reassignments to other positions, considerations of other geographic locations, and reasonable accommodations."

But only about half accepted the reassignment. Another 81 either declined or left their positions, according to the GAO report.

The GAO also wanted more detailed justification for the move based on performance measures:

"BLM developed 5-year and 20-year analyses in which it calculated the cost differential between keeping staff in Washington, D.C., and relocating them to Grand Junction and field locations," the report says. "However, these analyses did not include justifications or explanations for assumptions made. For example, the analyses assumed a baseline attrition rate of 25 percent for positions slated to be relocated. In addition, BLM did not conduct a sensitivity analysis. These analyses also did not include other costs, such as travel to Washington, D.C., from all the new staff locations, or factors such as the effect of staff relocation on productivity."

In its Feb. 28 response to a draft version of the GAO's report, the BLM said it had developed "outcome-oriented performance measures," but would take the office's recommendations under consideration and "follow through as appropriate."

Regarding the GAO's recommendation that the BLM create a strategic workforce plan to fill vacant positions, the agency said that it "has a comprehensive recruitment process underway."

The Center for Western Priorities, a conservation policy and advocacy organization that has long opposed moving the BLM's headquarters, issued a statement further decrying the decision after the report was released.

"In dismantling the BLM headquarters in such a shoddy, irresponsible way, [Interior] Secretary [David] Bernhardt is playing with people’s livelihoods and threatening our public lands," Executive Director Jennifer Rokala said in the statement.

“The GAO report is more proof that Secretary Bernhardt’s only goal was an exodus of civil servants who he thinks stand in the way of doing favors for his former corporate clients,” she added, referring to Bernhardt's past experience as an oil and gas lobbyist. Some Democratic lawmakers have pushed for an investigation into Bernhardt's potential conflicts of interest in this area.

In a March 6 statement following the report's release, the BLM had a different take:

"We have received the GAO report, and while it is worth noting that the report did not fully appreciate the fundamental difference between a relocation and a reorganization, the report did thoroughly refute Chairman [Rep. Raul] Grijalva [D-Arizona]’s assertion that this effort was 'hastily planned,' the statement said. "The report recognizes that the BLM established goals and outcomes for the initiative, used data and evidence to inform its decision-making, took steps to manage and monitor the relocation process, and adopted measures to ensure strategic workforce management.

"The relocation of the Bureau’s headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado and its employees to other Western states is commonsense, and the Bureau will be better positioned to better serve the American public through this relocation in executing its multiple use mission.”
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, March 2, 2020

Colorado primaries: More than 1 million ballots returned as of March 2

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2020 at 4:48 PM

This graphic shows ballots returned as of 11:30 p.m. March 1. - COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE'S OFFICE
  • Colorado Secretary of State's office
  • This graphic shows ballots returned as of 11:30 p.m. March 1.

Two days before Super Tuesday, the presidential primary election for Colorado and 13 other states, more than 1 million Coloradans had already weighed in on who should be the nominee for each of the two major parties.

The Democratic primary accounted for slightly more than half of returned ballots — about 524,000, according to numbers provided by the Colorado Secretary of State's office. On the Republican side, there were nearly 488,000 ballots returned, with 62,400 ballots still in processing as of 11:30 p.m. March 1.

The Democratic edge makes sense for practical reasons: Incumbent President Donald Trump is really the only viable candidate on the Republican side.

Democrats, on the other hand, must choose between a much larger — though rapidly winnowing — field of candidates. Recent polls predict Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will easily win the state's Democratic primary:
  • A Magellan Strategies poll of 500 likely voters, conducted Feb. 24 and 25, predicted Sanders would take 27 percent of the vote, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 15 percent and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, with 12 percent.
  • A poll of 471 likely voters by Data for Progress, conducted Feb. 23 to 25, predicted Sanders would get 34 percent of Colorado's vote, Warren 20 percent and Buttigieg tied with Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, at 14 percent each.
But those polls may not be entirely relevant, as Buttigieg withdrew from the race March 1 —followed March 2 by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was polling in the single digits in Colorado. Both planned to endorse former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination, according to media reports.

If you already voted for Buttigieg, Klobuchar or one of the other Democrats who's already dropped out, it's too late to change your mind.

If, however, you filled out your ballot but haven't dropped it off yet — and have had a change of heart — you can cross out the name of the candidate you voted for originally, and mark the oval next to your preferred candidate, according to Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

Or, stop by any of the county's Voter Service and Polling Centers before 7 p.m. March 3 to request a replacement ballot or vote in person. Visit GoVoteColorado.com to check ballot status, or to find a polling center or ballot drop-off location.

All ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. March 3 to count.

We won't know the winner of Colorado's Democratic primary until a few days after the election, though Colorado Public Radio reports the party plans to start releasing preliminary results March 4.

There's a lot of math involved: Per Colorado Democratic Party rules, 23 of Colorado's delegates will be awarded based on the statewide winner, and 44 will be awarded based on the winner in each congressional district.

So, the Democratic candidate who wins the state's popular vote won't necessarily receive the most delegates. And in order to receive any delegates, a candidate must take at least 15 percent of the vote in a given congressional district or in the statewide race.

Happy voting!
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Health insurance bills take incremental steps toward better coverage

Posted By on Thu, Feb 27, 2020 at 11:22 AM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
When it comes to health care in Colorado, two controversial proposals from Democratic lawmakers have hogged a great deal of the spotlight.

One critical priority: A new, government-run public option for individual insurance. A bill to implement such an option hasn't been introduced yet, though the state released a report with recommendations in November.

You may have also heard some debate over state lawmakers' new attempt to improve vaccination rates among Colorado schoolkids. Senate Bill 163, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 25, would standardize the process of obtaining a vaccine exemption for non-medical reasons. (More on that here.)

On top of those two bills, Colorado lawmakers are considering several others this session that aim to improve health care in the state by adding one coverage requirement at a time.

House Bill 1086 would require health plans to cover an annual mental health exam of up to 60 minutes, comparable to a physical exam. Insurers would not be able to require deductibles, copays or coinsurance for these exams. Sponsored by Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, and Colin Larson, R-Littleton, the bill passed the Colorado House on Feb. 20 and was introduced in the Senate, where it's sponsored by Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora.

House Bill 1158 — sponsored by Reps. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, and Leslie Herod, D-Denver — would require health benefit plans to cover infertility diagnosis and treatment, as well as fertility preservation care. The bill would bar a plan from imposing limits on fertility medications or care that don't apply to other types of prescriptions or services under the same plan.

On Feb. 19, HB1158 passed the House on third and final reading. It headed to the Senate, where Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder, are sponsors.

House Bill 1103 would decrease the age at which insurance carriers must cover colorectal cancer screenings from 50 to 45, in accordance with American Cancer Society guidelines. That bill is sponsored by Reps. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, and Perry Will, R-New Castle. Post-screening, insurance carriers would have to cover a follow-up colonoscopy, if necessary.

The bill passed the House on Feb. 27 and now heads to the Senate. There, it's sponsored by Sens. Fields and Kevin Priola, R-Henderson.

Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, has made decreasing health care costs a central focus of his administration. Laws passed by the Legislature and signed by Polis last year established a reinsurance program to help cover emergency expenses, capped the out-of-pocket costs for insulin (though a recent Denver Post article throws that bill's efficacy into question), and allowed for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Mayor Suthers: Did he sign the letter urging AG William Barr to resign?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2020 at 9:58 AM

Mayor John Suthers didn't sign a letter urging the nation's top law enforcement officer to resign. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Mayor John Suthers didn't sign a letter urging the nation's top law enforcement officer to resign.
Remember earlier this month when more than 1,100 former U.S. Justice Department officials — Republicans and Democrats — signed a letter calling for U.S. Attorney General William Barr to resign?

From Vox:
More than 1,100 former US Department of Justice officials have signed an open letter calling for Attorney General Bill Barr to resign after senior department officials intervened to reduce a sentencing recommendation for Donald Trump’s friend Roger Stone.

“Each of us strongly condemns President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice,” the former Justice Department officials wrote in an open letter published Sunday [Feb. 16], calling Barr’s actions “a grave threat to the fair administration of justice.”
The letter contained this sentence, since then oft-repeated, "Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies."

Well, we got to wondering if one of those who signed might be Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who served as U.S. Attorney for Colorado from July 2001 to January 2005.

It's worth noting that Suthers, a staunch Republican, is a law-and-order guy to the bone. Before being named U.S. Attorney, he served as district attorney in the 4th Judicial District from 1988 to 1997 and was the Colorado Department of Corrections executive director from 1999 to 2001. After serving as U.S. Attorney, he jumped over to the Colorado Attorney General's Office for two elective terms before running for mayor here in 2015.

So he has a long history upholding the rule of law. But when it came to banding together with other legal eagles to challenge Barr and President Donald Trump, he just couldn't do it.

When we asked city mayoral spokesperson Jamie Fabos if he'd signed the letter, she eventually gave us this three-word answer. "He did not."

Suthers also has racked up several other leadership positions in legal organizations, as follows, according to Ballotpedia:

• President, El Paso County Bar Association (1990-1991)
• Colorado Delegate, National Conference on Uniform State Laws (1992-1997)
• President, Colorado District Attorney's Council (1994-1995)
• Senior Vice President, Colorado Bar Association (1996-1997)
  • Favorite

Tags: , , ,

Monday, February 24, 2020

Trump talks up economy and Cory Gardner, slams 'Mini Mike' Bloomberg and 'Parasite' film

Posted By on Mon, Feb 24, 2020 at 9:50 AM

President Donald Trump speaks Feb. 20 at the Broadmoor World Arena. - ZACH HILLSTROM
  • Zach Hillstrom
  • President Donald Trump speaks Feb. 20 at the Broadmoor World Arena.

Colorado Springs is a familiar stomping ground for President Donald Trump.

Back in 2016, he made three campaign stops here while campaigning for his first term in the White House.

While Hillary Clinton won Colorado's popular vote by nearly 3 percentage points, Trump won El Paso County by a landslide — taking 56.2 percent of the vote, while Clinton got just 33.9 percent.

So, it's not particularly surprising that he drew far more people to The Broadmoor World Arena on Feb. 20 than the 8,500 or so attendees the venue can seat. Some people were camped out for days ahead of the rally, according to media reports. Hundreds of others waited outside the arena for hours in hopes of getting a seat.

At 9:27 a.m. — eight hours before Trump came onstage — the Colorado Springs Police Department announced on Twitter that the arena's parking lot was full.

Hundreds of fans lined up hours before Trump's rally. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Hundreds of fans lined up hours before Trump's rally.

The rally was
a key opportunity for Trump to drum up support for Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, whom Trump declared was "with us 100 percent."

"There's no waver from Cory," Trump said soon after stepping out to his legions of fans, a sea of red "Make America Great Again" hats and patriotic apparel. "We appreciate you. Thank you, Cory."

The race for Gardner's seat is one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country, given Colorado's Democratic lean. Democrats see defeating Gardner as a step to gaining the majority in the Senate, while Republicans know keeping Gardner in Congress is crucial to maintaining their ability to stop Democratic priorities from becoming law.

An August poll by Emerson College Polling showed former Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, beating Gardner by 13 percentage points. The poll was conducted a few days before Hickenlooper officially declared his Senate candidacy — since then, he's come under a barrage of attacks from other candidates labeling themselves as more progressive.
At the rally, the speakers sought to portray the somewhat unpopular Republican senator as completely in step with the president, though the two have had their disagreements over the years.

Gardner votes in line with Trump's positions about 90 percent of the time, according to polling website FiveThirtyEight.

After listing Trump's accomplishments — adding new jobs, funding the military, ordering the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, pushing for more border security, appointing conservative judges — Vice President Mike Pence urged the rally's attendees to support Gardner in November.

"Colorado, you all deserve to know that none of that would have been possible without the strong support of Sen. Cory Gardner," Pence said. "So right after you get done voting to give President Trump four more years, we need Colorado to vote to give six more years to Sen. Cory Gardner."

Cory Gardner speaks ahead of Trump's appearance. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Cory Gardner speaks ahead of Trump's appearance.

Colorado Public Radio reports that a VIP reception planned ahead of the rally cost $2,800 a ticket ($25,000 for people who wanted a photo with Trump). The event was hosted by a joint fundraising committee composed of Trump and Gardner's campaigns along with the Republican National Committee.

"Our economy is roaring because of the policies this president and Congress have delivered for the American people," Gardner said at the rally.

Among the accomplishments Gardner suggested he and Trump deserved credit for: relocating the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction; housing the Space Force in Colorado Springs (temporarily, for now); expanding Interstate 25; funding the Arkansas Valley Conduit water pipeline; and securing the federal waiver allowing Colorado to implement a health care reinsurance program (a key priority of Democratic Gov. Jared Polis).

"These things don’t just happen," Gardner said. "The BLM doesn’t just move to Grand Junction. Federal dollars don't just come to Colorado because there are no other priorities. This takes hard work — this takes partnership."
While some pundits anticipated that Trump would announce Colorado Springs as the permanent location of U.S. Space Command, operating from Schriever and Peterson Air Force bases, that news didn't come at the rally.

"I will be making a big decision for the Space Force as to where it's going to be located," Trump demurred. "I'll be making that decision toward the end of the year."

The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC recently launched a large-scale public relations campaign aimed at keeping U.S. Space Command in Colorado. Their efforts included printing T-shirts branded with the message "#usspaceCOm" for members to wear to Trump's rally, and they're encouraging people to use that same hashtag on social media.

"We know that President Trump and his team can make an informed decision in the best interest of national security when they become more familiar with Colorado’s aerospace and defense assets and robust workforce development activity,” Reggie Ash, chief defense development officer for the Chamber & EDC, said in a Feb. 18 statement announcing the campaign's launch.
During his speech, Trump often returned to familiar talking points that have proved popular with his base, including job growth and low unemployment under his administration.

"The average unemployment rate for my administration is the lowest for any United States president in the history of our country," he said, which is true. The average unemployment rate of 4 percent under Trump's tenure is lower than that of any other president, including Lyndon B. Johnson (4.2 percent), according to The New York Times.

Other speakers cited tax cuts under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which led to income tax reductions for most individual tax brackets and for corporations.

"We're supporting working families by fighting for paid family leave and getting it, reducing the cost of child care and giving 40 million American families an average of $2,200 in their pockets directly thanks to the Republican child tax credit," Trump said, to cheers.

Trump became the first Republican to call for paid family leave legislation in his State of the Union address this year. The bipartisan bill Trump supports for paid leave would allow parents to collect a portion of their child tax credits early and receive a smaller credit for the next 10 to 15 years — legislation that progressives feel doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t provide new funding to cover family-related time off from work.

Trump also recently signed a defense spending bill that authorized paid parental leave for federal employees.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to Trump fans. - ZACH HILLSTROM
  • Zach Hillstrom
  • Vice President Mike Pence speaks to Trump fans.
Both Pence and Trump praised the replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with the updated United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, as well as tariffs on Chinese imports.

“We’re reversing decades of calamitous trade policies. America lost one in four manufacturing jobs following the twin disasters of NAFTA and China’s entrance into the WTO [World Trade Organization],” Trump said. (Worth noting: Some economists would place more blame for lost jobs on automation than on global trade agreements.) “But under this administration, all of that is changing. The era of economic surrender is over.”

When he wasn't talking about the strong economy, Trump took every opportunity to taunt Democrats and the "fake news."

"After three years of ridiculous witch hunts and scams and partisan Democrat crusades, the radical left's attempt to ... overturn the last election have totally failed," Trump said.

Among Democratic presidential candidates, much of his ire was focused on former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whom he nicknamed "Mini Mike."

"Mini Mike didn't do well last night," Trump said, referring to the Democratic debate televised Feb. 19 on MSNBC. "I was going to send him a note saying: 'It's not easy doing what I do, is it?'"

Trump also had thoughts on Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, saying Klobuchar's debate performance was "the end of her campaign, in my book" and referring to Buttigieg as "Alfred E. Neuman," the cartoon kid on the cover of satirical magazine "Mad."

There was a jab at former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and one at 17-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, Time Magazine's 2019 Person of the Year and a frequent target of conservatives.
"This year I got beaten out by Greta [for Person of the Year]. You know Greta?" Trump said as the crowd booed.

The president took up around 20 minutes criticizing Neil Cavuto, a Fox News personality who had invited A.B. Stoddard, the associate editor of RealClearPolitics, on his show earlier the day of the rally.

Stoddard said Trump had "disastrous debate performances," suggesting that Bloomberg's poor debate performance didn't rule out his presidential chances.

At the rally, Trump repeatedly insulted Cavuto and Stoddard, and he read off a series of random polls that purportedly showed television viewers had, in fact, approved of his performances in the 2016 presidential debates.

He also expressed his disapproval over "Parasite" winning the Academy Award for Best Picture ("What the hell was that about?"), lamenting that it should have been an American film like "Gone With the Wind."

The crowd cheers at Trump's rally Feb. 20. - ZACH HILLSTROM
  • Zach Hillstrom
  • The crowd cheers at Trump's rally Feb. 20.

Digressions aside, the
overarching message to Trump's supporters was clear: Give Trump another four years in the White House and keep Cory Gardner around Washington, too.

"It's up to us to volunteer with our country parties," Colorado Republican Party Chair Ken Buck said to warm up the crowd. "It's up to us to go to the caucuses. It's up to us to volunteer with these campaigns to make sure that we get the vote out, folks."

The speakers also sought to make the Democratic party synonymous with socialism.

Thanks to the "normalization of socialism" by Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Democrats "are running to the left on a socialist platform," Gardner said. "They want to take our guns, they want to take our health care."
Meanwhile, Colorado Democrats released a joint statement denouncing both Gardner and Trump following the rally.

“Colorado saw through Trump's corruption and divisive agenda in 2016, and the fact that Gardner thinks that we would support Trump after all his assaults on our Colorado way of life just shows just how out of touch Gardner is with our state,” Colorado Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll said in the statement. “...Colorado will show Trump and Gardner the door this November."

State Rep. Marc Snyder, a Democrat from Colorado Springs, cautioned that “Trump has a long list of broken promises and bad policies that have hurt working people.”

“I look forward to November when we can vote both Trump and Gardner out of office, and elect a new President and U.S. Senator who will put hardworking Colorado families first," Snyder said in the statement.
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat from Boulder, pointed out Trump’s latest proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs.

“Just last week — after handing a $1.5 trillion tax break to the wealthiest in our nation — the president put vital programs on the chopping block that Coloradans rely on,” Neguse said,  referring to tax cuts passed as part of the 2017 tax legislation. Freshman Rep. Neguse took part in House Judiciary Committee questioning during the chamber's impeachment of Trump last year, in an inquiry that centered on the withholding of military funds to Ukraine while Trump associates urged the Ukrainian government to investigate the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Speaking of impeachment, Pence declared the Senate's subsequent acquittal had "cleared our president of all charges" from the U.S. House's vote to impeach Trump based on abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

Neither the impeachment proceedings, nor the acquittal, appeared to significantly affect Trump's approval rating — which has hovered between 40 and 45 percent since October, according to FiveThirtyEight.

"Democrats have spent the last three years trying to run down this president, because they know they can't run against this president," Pence said.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Adoring crowds swamp Colorado Springs arena to see President Trump

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 3:27 PM

Many showed up in wheelchairs and walkers to worship a man who mocked a disabled reporter. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • Many showed up in wheelchairs and walkers to worship a man who mocked a disabled reporter.
They came in heavy coats. They came in shorts. They came in jeans and bell bottoms. They came in MAGA hats, Trump capes, Trump masks and flag-decorated clothing.

They came with walkers, wheelchairs and canes.

The young, old, black, brown, rich, poor, female and male — they all came.

They came in droves from Colorado Springs, Denver, Arvada, Aurora, Guffey, Limon, Cañon City and elsewhere.

They flocked to Colorado Springs to show homage to their leader, President Donald Trump, who was due to sweep them off their feet at The Broadmoor World Arena at a 5 p.m. rally on Feb. 20.

They were eager to be swept.
Bill Larkin donned his Trump mask to honor the president.
  • Bill Larkin donned his Trump mask to honor the president.
"I love the man," said Robert Nelson, who moved to Cañon City from Mississippi three years ago. "I want to see him personally. I voted for him last time, because my wife said so. This time, I want to vote for him because I want to."

Nelson went on to emphasize that he's a Christian, and he likes Trump's attempt to restore prayer in public school classrooms. "We need to bring some values back into it," he added. Asked about Trump's values, such as allegedly assaulting women and calling anyone who opposes him names, Nelson said Trump's attacks are merely in response to being repeatedly criticized by others. He chalked up the assaults on women  to stupid things people do when they're younger. "I have to weigh the good things with the bad things."

But Trump's rallies are so inspiring, he noted, that a Democrat friend from the South told him she recently attended a Trump rally and said "she might be converted."

Most of those streaming to the World Arena on Thursday, Feb. 20, were already converted.

A band of four teenagers from Arvada — all too young to vote — lavished praise on the president.

"We love Trump, because he gets what he wants done, like he cuts taxes, slowing down immigration and cutting trade deals," one said.

Sophie Colvard, too, expressed devotion to Trump because of the healthy economy and his opposition to abortion.

An adult with the group asked them, "And if you could vote, who would you vote for?"

All chimed, "Trump."

Trump provides a marketing bonanza. Vendors hawked Trump gear, from hats to bumper stickers, and red stocking hats labeled "Tump 2020." They were flying off the tables and onto adoring heads, creating a sea of crimson as thousands queued up to enter the arena.
trumprally11.jpeg

trumprally10.jpeg
trumprally6.jpeg
trumprally5.jpeg
One vendor said he follows the Trump campaign to every rally and, himself, is pro-Trump. "Why not?" he said. "He's the president. I don't believe everything in the fake newspapers." The vendor said he donates 20 percent of his take to the Trump re-election campaign.

Another vendor from Phoenix, Arizona, Julian Conradson, said Trump's his man. "He does what he's promised in breaking up the corruption in Washington. He's the greatest president we've every had."

Dozens carried clipboards and worked the crowd registering people to vote.
Voter registration experienced a big push ahead of Trump's rally.
  • Voter registration experienced a big push ahead of Trump's rally.
Two Colorado Springs women proclaimed, "We love Trump. We're committed to him."

As a backdrop to the pulsing crowd, which periodically broke into chants of "USA USA USA," a billboard-sized screen broadcast programming generated by the Trump campaign in a talk-show format, with numerous people of color asserting how great Trump has been for minorities.
Many let their garments do the talking in honor of Trump.
  • Many let their garments do the talking in honor of Trump.
The "hosts" also issued an announcement that if anyone detected a "protester," they were not to touch them but to hold a Trump sign over their head and chant, "Trump Trump Trump" until security could "remove the protester."

A retired couple from Guffey, Suzanne and Jim Montague, said they came because they "enjoy listening" to Trump speak.

"He's there for the American people. He's not there for himself or special interests," Suzanne Montague said. "Everything he does is right. You might not see it right away, but you see it eventually."
Supporters seemed to be waiting patiently to see the president outside the World Arena.
  • Supporters seemed to be waiting patiently to see the president outside the World Arena.

Security was thick at the arena, with on-duty police officers providing crowd control, and the city's vehicles blocking traffic on roads that border the World Arena. The city and El Paso County say they aren't charging the Trump campaign (nor do they charge any dignitary) for assets used to support the rally.
trumprally3.jpeg

 
  • Favorite

Tags: , ,

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Hairstyle discrimination ban passes in Colorado House

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 10:45 AM

Members of the public testify at a Black Caucus community hearing, prior to a House committee hearing on House Bill 1048. - COURTESY REP. LESLIE HEROD
  • Courtesy Rep. Leslie Herod
  • Members of the public testify at a Black Caucus community hearing, prior to a House committee hearing on House Bill 1048.
Over the objections of five Republicans from El Paso County, a bill aiming to ban hairstyle discrimination passed the Colorado House on Feb. 12.

House Bill 1048, also known as the "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act" or CROWN Act, clarifies that protection from discrimination in state law extends to people choosing to wear certain hairstyles in the context of public schools, employment, housing, public accommodations and advertising.

This would include protection from discrimination regarding hair texture, hair type, and hairstyles "commonly or historically associated with race," such as "braids, locs, twists, tight coils or curls, cornrows, Bantu knots, Afros, and headwraps."

The bill — sponsored by Democratic Reps. Leslie Herod of Denver and Janet Buckner of Aurora — passed the Colorado House by a vote of 42 to 21, with two legislators excused (including Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain). Included among those who voted against the bill were El Paso County Republicans Terri Carver, Tim Geitner, Larry Liston, Shane Sandridge and Dave Williams.

Before the bill's second reading Feb. 10, Williams spoke on the House floor and urged legislators to oppose it.

"I wholeheartedly agree that racial discrimination is unacceptable... [but] I would encourage everyone here to at least vote your conscience and realize that perhaps there is a need for this, but also recognizing at the same time that this might be redundant or duplicitous," Williams said, suggesting that laws already exist to prevent such discrimination.

Rep. Herod argued the bill was, in fact, needed.

"I want to be clear that we're not just adding something to law just for the fun of it," she said in response, referencing a federal appeals court's decision in a case that was brought by the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission on behalf of an Alabama woman whose job offer was rescinded because she would not cut off her natural locs. The court ruled in 2016 that the company had not violated the Civil Rights Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 declined to hear the woman's case.

"In order to have protection for women and men and people living outside of the gender binary who are of color, who have hair growing ... a certain way and not be asked to cut it or straighten it, we need these protections in law," Herod said.

On Feb. 13, the CROWN Act was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the State, Veterans, & Affairs Committee, where it's scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 24.

In his Oscar acceptance speech, Matthew Cherry, the director of Academy Award-winning short film "Hair Love," called attention to state bills banning hairstyle discrimination. New York, New Jersey and California have passed similar laws already, with additional bans under consideration in 22 states including Colorado.

"The CROWN Coalition, co-founded by Dove in partnership with the National Urban League, Color Of Change and the Western Center on Law, has taken a leading role in organizing support for the bill around the country," a statement on HB1048's passage notes.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Colorado bill would close 'loophole' allowing sex offenders to skip treatment

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2020 at 11:01 AM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
Currently, a so-called "loophole" in state law allows certain high-level sex offenders to enter community corrections before participating in behavioral treatment.

Colorado lawmakers aim to close that loophole with Senate Bill 85, which was approved by the state Senate (32 aye votes, 0 no votes, 3 excused) on Feb. 13 and heads to the House for consideration.

The legislation would make certain requirements for being released into community corrections the same as those for being released on parole.

Thus, an offender would have to have "successfully progressed in treatment" and be considered neither a threat to the community, nor likely to commit another crime, before they're sent to community corrections. The bill also requires the executive director of the state's Sex Offender Management Board to review the relevant criteria and give final approval before releasing someone into community corrections.

Community corrections, an alternative to incarceration in prison, combines residential supervision with special privileges. Offenders in community corrections programs may be employed and required to attend classes.

The loophole in the law applies to those who've committed so-called "indeterminate" sex crimes, which include: felony sexual assault, including drug- and alcohol-facilitated sexual assault; felony unlawful sexual contact by force; sexual assault on a client by a psychotherapist or sexual misconduct by a police officer; incest and aggravated incest; sexual assault on a child, including sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust; enticement of a child; and felony internet luring or internet exploitation of a child.

While those with "determinate" sentences have a maximum number of years in prison, those with "indeterminate" do not. Instead, they must remain incarcerated or supervised until they meet certain requirements.

More than three-quarters of indeterminate sex crimes are crimes against a child, according to a fact sheet (see below) in support of the bill released by the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

But while these individuals must have progressed in behavioral treatment in order to be released on parole, they don't currently have to meet the same requirements before being released into community corrections, where offenders reside in a supervised facility but may be allowed to leave for work or when they're granted privileges.

"We tell victims of these crimes that the indeterminate sentence will be at least four years, and otherwise lifetime supervision and indeterminate, but in reality, these individuals may be released into the community in 16 months," bill sponsor Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, testified at a Feb. 10 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Over the past 20 years or so — since the Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act was passed — close to 150 sex offenders who received indeterminate sentences have transitioned into community corrections through the loophole, testified Amanda Gall, sexual assault resource prosecutor at the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

Among those, Gall said, "there are folks ... who have gone on to commit new felony sex offenses."

"Allowing high-level sex offenders to return to a community setting without treatment is dangerous and unacceptable," bill sponsor Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, testified to the Judiciary Committee.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Water pollution bill progresses in state Senate

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 11:38 AM

SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
A state bill that will increase criminal penalties for violating water quality laws was approved on second reading by the Senate on Feb. 11, and is likely to get the Senate's final approval this week, before it heads to the state House.

Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, would increase penalties for polluting state waters from $12,500 currently to $25,000 per day for “criminal negligence” violations, as well as a year in jail, and from $25,000 currently to $50,000 per day for “knowing and intentional” violations, as well as up to three years behind bars.

Knowing or intentional pollution would be prosecuted as a class 5 felony.

While testifying to the Senate Agricultural & Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 6, Winter said the bill aligns Colorado's own pollution laws under the Water Quality Control Act with the federal Clean Water Act governing the same crimes.

"Federal action has been going down in recent years to protect our waterways," Winter testified, saying that recent reports showed the number of new cases prosecuted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency are at a 20-year low, and that the agency was too short-staffed to adequately police pollution.

No water pollution crimes have been prosecuted under Colorado law, while only two have been prosecuted under federal law in the past 10 years, Jason King testified on behalf of the Colorado Department of Law, which supports the bill.

The bill is also sponsored by Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 7, 2020

El Paso County commissioner calls for Senate bill to inhibit city annexations

Posted By on Fri, Feb 7, 2020 at 3:44 PM

El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller
A bill that would make it harder for cities to annex property is getting a lot of attention, especially in Colorado Springs where the city has shown interest in expanding its boundaries of late.

Senate Bill 147, proposed by Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, would restrict which properties could be sucked into a city's limits. Now, an area can't be annexed unless one-sixth of the perimeter of the land area is contiguous with the municipality. Gardner's bill would enlarge that to one-third.

Gardner was urged to propose the bill by El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller, himself a former state lawmaker, who argues that under current rules, the city calls all the shots and the county has little say-so.

"As we have more pressure on the rural-urban interface, I think we need to have more collaboration in development and annexation policies," Waller tells the Indy by phone.

"Now, cities have complete control of what gets annexed and what doesn't," he says. "The county doesn't have any control. We need to have a seat at the table."

Waller says when the city annexes property without county input, it can end up leaving the county with a big bill to pay for roads requiring upgrades that are left in the county while abutting the city.

The poster child for this, he says, was the annexation of the Air Force Academy's site for a new visitors center, office space and hotel at the north gate. The annexation included Northgate Boulevard east and west of Interstate 25 but didn't include the interchange, leaving that to the county to pick up the $5 million to $10 million tab for an overhaul when the visitors center attracts larger volumes of traffic and makes the work necessary. Waller is quick to explain the county was able to resolve the issue by forfeiting county sales tax toward the project through the city's Urban Renewal Authority.

A map showing the city's annexation of property to bring the proposed Air Force Academy's new visitors center into the city limits. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • A map showing the city's annexation of property to bring the proposed Air Force Academy's new visitors center into the city limits.
"We got rid of the problem," he says, "but we gave up a lot of sales tax."

He calls Marksheffel Road on the city's east side "an absolute mess," and another example of the city's annexation maneuvers. The road flows in and out of the city, changing from two lanes to four and back to two.

Waller thinks a state law that forces more discussion might help, though he says at least one of his commissioner colleagues feels an intergovernmental agreement could accomplish the cooperation needed. Problem is, Waller says, nothing has materialized in the way of an IGA.

"I don't care how we do it," he says, adding that he hopes the proposed Senate bill will bring the city to the table.

That's far from certain, following what City Councilor Jill Gaebler describes as a contentious city-county meeting held last week. Gaebler agrees the city and county need to better-coordinate development, to avoid the city eventually annexing subdivisions that contain roads and other infrastructure built to lower standards than the city requires.

In a Feb. 7 email to the Indy, she says:
As you know, CSU [Colorado Springs Utilities] is currently working to establish an annexation policy that allows us to protect our current ratepayers' water access, while considering how we can annex new areas that are likely to be out of ground water in the short-term. We host our third water workshop next Wednesday before our CSU Board Meeting. These meetings have been open to the public and the County has been invited.

As Commissioner Waller stated in his State of Region address that he wanted more collaboration within our region, it is disappointing to know that he has secretly been working on a bill that would significantly harm Colorado Springs and the 270 other municipalities within our state. And he did all of this without any communication with us, or working with us to draft a bill that would benefit our entire region.
The city also is in the process of annexing more land in its northeast sector and has expressed interest in bringing the business district in unincorporated Falcon into the city to snare sales tax from those businesses.

The Colorado Municipal League is in Colorado Springs' corner on this one, posting an explanation of the bill and why it opposes the measure on its website, as follows:
SB 147 substantially modifies and changes the municipal annexation statue in title 31. Of note, major changes identified in the proposed legislation include:
1. Under current law, municipal annexation requires 1/6 contiguity in order for a parcel of land to be considered for annexation. SB 147 doubles the contiguity requirement to 1/3. This will significantly limit municipal authority to annex, creating a burden on property owners.

2. Would prohibit any annexation from crossing a county road or other county-owned property without consent from the county. This may severely limit an annexation and negatively impact a landowner who has requested to be annexed into the municipality.

3. Currently, municipalities adopt and regularly update a so-called “three mile plan” as a pre-requisite to annexation. SB 147 requires that the municipality put into place a comprehensive annexation plan for the area, and that the plan be adopted at least two years in advance of any annexation. It is unclear if the current requirement of a three mile plan and the new comprehensive plan would be duplicative of one another or two separate requirements.

4. As a new proposal, if at least 1/3 of the land proposed to be annexed has been used for agricultural purposes within the last three years, a county may challenge the annexation.

5. Under the proposed language, counties would be given authority to veto any county-owned land in an annexation absent an IGA. The bill also contains language suggesting that counties may use this power to force municipalities to enter into an “operations and maintenance agreement” before any county-owned facility can be annexed (this is not an enforceable principle and may result in additional litigation between the two parties).

6. SB 147 would require that an IGA between a municipality and county first be settled before a property owner may petition for annexation. This ultimately forces property owners to be responsible for the county-municipality IGA.

For several years, elected officials at the local level have successfully resolved disagreements surrounding proposed annexation. SB 147 proposes to make sweeping changes to the annexation statute without a significant demonstrated need. Prior to introduction, CML and its membership was not notified or consulted on the necessity for statewide legislation, and believes that if changes are to be made, robust conversations between stakeholders need to occur.
The fiscal note from the Legislative Council staff notes the bill would increase administrative workload for cities for annexations, including oversight and legal review. But counties, too, would see higher costs for administration in review of annexation proposals, the staff noted.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Recent Comments

All content © Copyright 2020, The Colorado Springs Independent

Website powered by Foundation