Politics

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Democrat joins race for 5th Congressional District

Posted By on Thu, Jan 23, 2020 at 2:04 PM

Ryan Lucas, seeking the Democratic nomination in CD5. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Ryan Lucas, seeking the Democratic nomination in CD5.
Ryan Lucas has announced his bid for the Democratic nomination in Congressional District 5, a seat now held by Republican Doug Lamborn, who's seeking his eighth term.

Lucas, 35, who's works for MINES & Associates, which provides managed behavioral health care and employee assistance programs, says in a release his campaign will focus on "bringing a bi-partisan approach to unite the residents of Congressional District 5 regardless of a political party, zip code or socioeconomic status."

“The Fifth Congressional District is one of the fastest-growing districts in the region and deserves a leader that will put the people before the party or party bosses,” Lucas says in the release. “Our campaign will be working to harness the collective power of the people to bring about policy and reforms for the benefit of society at large — through common-sense policy reform on the national level. We must focus on the critical issues from the costs of healthcare, common-sense gun reform and preparing for a new tech-based economy.”

Lucas plans to seek access to the June 30 primary ballot through the petitioning process.

Jillian Freeland also is seeking the Democratic nomination.

It will be an uphill battle for any Democrat against Lamborn, who occupies what's considered a safe seat in a largely red district. In the past, Democratic candidates have garnered only about 40 percent of the vote against Lamborn through the years.
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Friday, December 13, 2019

Lower Drug Costs Now Act passes U.S. House along party lines

Posted By on Fri, Dec 13, 2019 at 11:45 AM

LENETSTAN / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • LENETSTAN / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
On Dec. 12, the U.S. House voted to pass legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug costs with pharmaceutical companies.

The legislation — known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, or simply H.R. 3 — passed on a largely party-line vote. It's a priority for Congressional Democrats, who celebrated their victory in the House. In the Republican controlled-Senate, however, the bill faces an uphill battle, and President Donald Trump has threatened a veto.

So what does H.R. 3 do?

It requires the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to negotiate with drug companies to set maximum prices for certain drugs, including:

• insulin;
• at least 25 single-source, brand-name drugs "that are among the 125 drugs that account for the greatest national spending"; and
• at least 25 that are among "the 125 drugs that account for the greatest spending under the Medicare prescription drug benefit and Medicare Advantage," according to a Congressional summary.

The negotiated maximum prices would also be offered under private health insurance plans unless the insurer opts out.

Under H.R. 3, maximum prices couldn't exceed 120 percent of the drug's average price in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom — or, if that data isn't available, 85 percent of the U.S. average manufacturer price. Drug companies that fail to comply with these requirements incur civil and tax penalties.

Plus, H.R. 3 would require drug companies to issue rebates for covered drugs that cost $100 or more and for which the average manufacturer price increases faster than inflation, and it would reduce the annual out-of-pocket spending threshold.

H.R. 3 also includes provisions to add dental, vision and hearing coverage for Medicare patients.

The Congressional Budget Office and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that H.R. 3 would increase federal spending by about $40 billion and increase revenues by about $46 billion between 2020 and 2029 — reducing the federal debt by about $5 billion over those 10 years.

But their analysis also identified a drawback: Drug companies may be less likely to develop new drugs.

"Those effects would occur because the potential global revenues for a new drug over its lifetime would decline as a result of enactment, and in some cases the prospect of lower revenues would make investments in research and development less attractive to pharmaceutical companies," the CBO noted.

In a Dec. 3 statement, the White House cited an estimate by its own staff that the bill could prevent as many as 100 drugs from entering the U.S. market. Trump is widely expected to veto the bill on the slim chance it passes the Senate.

"Heavy-handed government intervention may reduce drug prices in the short term, but these savings are not worth the long-term cost of American patients losing access to new lifesaving treatments," the White House statement argued.

Colorado's four Democratic representatives voted in favor of the bill, while its three Republicans, including Rep. Doug Lamborn of El Paso County, were opposed. Reps. Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, both Democrats, signed on as cosponsors.

"People in our community cannot continue to be gouged by these historically high prices, while at the same time Big Pharma makes historically high profits," Rep. Jason Crow, another Colorado Democrat, said on a press call Dec. 6.

State Rep. Janet Buckner, a Democrat from Aurora, also noted on the press call that Colorado recently became the first state to pass a bill capping the cost of insulin.

"I'm a member of the health insurance committee, and I heard so many stories of people who were struggling with these costs of health care and prescription drugs, and they sometimes have to choose between their basic living needs and their prescription drug," Buckner said. "This is unacceptable."
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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

‘Faithless electors’ petition wins support of 22 other states

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Secretary of State Jena Griswold. - COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE
  • Colorado Secretary of State
  • Secretary of State Jena Griswold.
Twenty-two states joined Colorado in formally asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision that, according to Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, “undermines voters and sets a dangerous precedent for our nation.”

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that three members of the Electoral College should not have been forced to vote for Hillary Clinton after she won Colorado’s popular vote in the 2016 presidential election.
Three Democratic party electors had planned to vote for Republican John Kasich as part of a failed national attempt to deprive Donald Trump of enough votes to win. Only one, Micheal Baca, actually did vote for Kasich, and he was promptly replaced as an elector by the office of then-Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

The appeals court ruled that Baca should not have been replaced.

Griswold and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser first petitioned the Supreme Court to review that decision in October.
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Friday, November 22, 2019

Rep. DeGette's Wilderness Act heads for House vote

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2019 at 9:29 AM

The Wilderness Act would protect 17,900 acres in Browns Canyon. - BOB WICK
  • Bob Wick
  • The Wilderness Act would protect 17,900 acres in Browns Canyon.

Rep. Diana DeGette, the Democrat representing Colorado's 1st Congressional District, has introduced a version of the Colorado Wilderness Act each year since 1999.

This year, for the first time, it was referred by a House committee to be voted on by the full chamber.

“This bill will permanently protect 32 unique areas across our state from the threat of future development and the destruction caused by drilling for oil and gas,” DeGette told lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee. “It will help grow Colorado’s thriving tourism economy, and our multi-billion-dollar outdoor recreation industry.”

The bill would designate more than 600,000 acres of public land in Colorado as wilderness areas, the federal government's highest level of protection. Wilderness areas are open to hiking, camping, hunting and other types of non-motorized outdoor recreation, but closed to development.

COURTESY REP. DIANA DEGETTE
  • Courtesy Rep. Diana DeGette
Committee members on Nov. 20 moved 21-13 to approve the Wilderness Act for a vote.

Here's a few of the proposed protected areas:

• 35,200 acres in the Beaver Creek wildlife area about 20 miles southwest of Colorado Springs.
• 17,900 acres in Browns Canyon National Monument, a popular whitewater rafting site southeast of Buena Vista.
• 25,600 acres in Demaree Canyon, an area northwest of Grand Junction with hiking opportunities.
• 33,300 acres in the Dolores River Canyon in southwestern Colorado, near the Utah border.
• 32,800 acres in Grape Canyon, a ravine area south of La Junta.
• 26,700 acres at Handies Peak, a fourteener east of Telluride.
• 28,200 acres in the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area, northeast of Grand Junction.
• 38,200 acres at Redcloud Peak, a fourteener southeast of Ouray.
• 37,600 acres at Sewemup Mesa, a popular  hiking area southwest of Grand Junction.
• 26,600 acres at the Palisade, a rock formation southwest of Grand Junction.

Republican committee member Rep. Doug Lamborn, whose district includes Colorado Springs, declined to support the bill.

Lamborn said that while he appreciated DeGette's efforts to make sure areas used by the military for high-altitude aviation training could still be used for those purposes, he found the wilderness designation to be overly restrictive.

He added that Mesa, Montezuma and Dolores boards of county commissioners had all issued resolutions opposing the bill. One concern was that a wilderness designation could restrict fire mitigation near residential areas.

Another bill protecting wilderness areas in Colorado, which recently passed the House without much Republican support, is the Colorado Recreation and Economy Act, or CORE Act. That bill creates about 73,000 acres of new wilderness areas, protects 80,000 acres for outdoor recreation, and prohibits oil and gas development on 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide.

The CORE Act could face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Sen. Cory Gardner, the Republican from Colorado, has yet to declare his support. 
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Pete Lee, Juaquin Mobley talk criminal justice reform

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2019 at 9:23 AM

Juaquin Mobley directs Colorado Springs Works. - BRYAN GROSSMAN
  • Bryan Grossman
  • Juaquin Mobley directs Colorado Springs Works.
As the director of Colorado Springs Works, Juaquin Mobley works to transform crime prevention and anti-recidivism efforts in Southeast from The Community barbershop.

The work — which involves everything from career preparation to cognitive behavioral therapy to acupuncture to something called Drug Dealers Anonymous — aims to "enrich our communities and reestablish our greatness and confidence," he says.

Mobley says those efforts have helped reduce recidivism (the percentage of offenders returning to jail or prison) among his program's participants to 1 percent, compared with the state average of nearly 50 percent.

They're made possible in part by the work of state Sen. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat who's pushed for criminal justice reform at the state Legislature. A bill that Lee sponsored as a state representative in 2017, titled Justice Reinvestment Crime Prevention Initiative, reduced the amount of time inmates can serve for technical parole violations.

With the money saved, the bill created the Transforming Safety grant program to fund efforts designed to keep people out of the criminal justice system in Aurora and Southeast Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs Works, a chapter of the nonprofit Community Works, received a $193,000 grant in 2018.

Mobley and Lee came together Nov. 19 for an event at Colorado College titled "From Incarceration Nation to Opportunity for All."

Sen. Pete Lee champions restorative justice. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Sen. Pete Lee champions restorative justice.
Lee began by discussing his work in restorative justice. That includes sponsoring five bills aimed at diverting people from jails and prisons and reducing recidivism — in part by fostering dialogue between offenders and their victims.

Restorative justice can "transform our criminal justice system from one of retribution and punishment to one of responsibility, accountability, restoration and healing," Lee said.

But despite a diversion pilot program showing shocking success rates in terms of reducing recidivism (an 8.8 percent recidivism rate among 1,000 juvenile offenders), and legislation making widespread adoption possible, district attorneys have failed to adopt restorative justice practices on a bigger scale, Lee said.

That includes El Paso County District Attorney Dan May, Lee said, who sends more people to prison than any other judicial district in Colorado.

But Lee pointed to Mobley's efforts in Southeast as a successful example of finding community-based solutions to crime that don't include incarceration.

Mobley has his own history in the criminal justice system.

Serving years in prison for a 2006 armed robbery showed him that crime was a "community issue," and inspired him to make a difference.

"You have to understand that the kids I grew up with were equally as ambitious as Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, but without a community that knows how to support that unbridled ambition, that ambition can turn toxic for us," Mobley said. "So we start looking for other avenues ... to become entrepreneurs or become the next Mark Zuckerberg."

Colorado Springs Works, along with a sister chapter in Aurora, hopes to "restore vitality to these neighborhoods that have been discarded and referred to as hopeless and incorrigible."

Mobley's team does that not only through teaching "hard skills" through career preparation programs, but by providing emotional healing through therapy and acupuncture. It also finds ways to work directly with the community.

For example, the "Drug Dealers Anonymous" program provides a way for participants to apply skills they may have gained through selling illegal substances to instead selling bowties and T-shirts in the community. And The Community barbershop holds public events such as cornhole matches, art therapy and Cypher Saturdays, an open mic-style event for rappers, singers and poets.

"Overall, we help remove all barriers and impediments that are placed in a participant’s path to greatness and redemption," Mobley said. "...Our methods will enrich our communities and reestablish our greatness and confidence."
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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Colorado's Medicaid payment system is "endangering patients," hospitals claim

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2019 at 4:33 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
State policies governing Medicaid patients are "endangering patients, putting their health information at risk, and ignoring the agreed-upon contracts and reimbursements with hospitals," which pushes cost of care onto hospitals, a group of hospitals executives said in a letter to Gov. Jared Polis on Nov. 21.

The letter, also addressed to the state's Department of Health Care Policy & Financing (HCPF), notes the signatories represent more than 80 percent of hospital care in Colorado.

The executives represent both hospital systems serving Colorado Springs — Centura Health which operates Penrose-St. Francis Health Services and UCHealth, which runs the city-owned Memorial Hospital System.

"At a time when we all need to work to reduce medical costs, Colorado’s Medicaid office is increasing health care expenses and providers’ losses, while overall Medicaid reimbursements have fallen to the lowest level in eight years – just 69% of overall costs," the letter says.

The hospital executives asks Polis and the HCPF to "work with us" to fix the problems within the next 90 days and that the state honor agreements made with providers.

At issue is how the state's Medicaid office reimburses hospitals for care and the mechanics of achieving that.

In the letter, the hospitals express concern the state has "lost its focus" on uninsured and Medicaid patients, "as evidenced by an 8% drop in Colorado Medicaid participants while the rest of the country saw only a 2.3 percent decrease."

Polis has boasted in recent weeks about the state's efforts to provide health coverage for Coloradans. Just a day ago, Polis issued a statement touting that because of health care reforms installed by the state under his leadership, citizens will save 20 percent on average when buying health insurance through the state exchange. He also noted the state's efforts to adopt a prescription drug importation program and work toward a public option.

But none of that affects how Medicaid patients are handled. The hospitals noted in their letter:

• HCPF’s new system requiring prior authorizations and reviews delay surgeries and admissions for "urgent health care needs" by a week or more, which impacts patients' outcomes negatively.

• While HCPF recently embraced a national standard for admission notification, it still requires manual upload or faxed information, antiquated means that place patients’ protected health information at risk, causes time delays and adds cost. "Our hospitals and systems have hired additional employees just to handle and fax this paperwork."

• Even if patient receives prior authorization, Colorado Medicaid may still deny a patient's claim, leading to months- or years-long appeals.

• Tens of thousands of claims for patients placed in observation for 48 hours have been denied since 2017, complicating the placement of patients for rehab and long-term care.

• HCPF regularly refuses billing responsibility for behavioral health patients, pawning it off on behavioral health organizations, which also refuse, resulting in patients being denied the post-hospital behavioral health care they need.

• HCPF’s refusal to reimburse hospitals for the cost of the drugs they administer to patients has caused hospitals to eat more than $30 million in losses since 2016. A single high-priced drug can lead to a loss of over $80,000 because HCPF reimburses less than hospitals' costs for the drug. "Nationwide, there is consistency among state Medicaid programs with high-cost drug policies to reimburse at 100%," the letter says. This concern dates to 2017.

The HCPF is run by former Gov. John Hickenlooper appointee, Kim Bimestefer, who ran a health care consulting company and before that she served as president of Cigna Mountain States.

We've asked Hickenlooper, who served from 2011 to January 2019 when Polis took over and is now running for U.S. Senate, to comment and will update when we hear from him.

We've also reached out to Polis' office for a comment and will circle back when we hear something.

Read the letter here:
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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Malkin thumped from conservative speakers list

Posted By on Tue, Nov 19, 2019 at 4:48 PM

Michelle Malkin: fired by conservative group. - CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN REPUBLICAN FORUM AD IN 2012
  • Cheyenne Mountain Republican Forum ad in 2012
  • Michelle Malkin: fired by conservative group.
Michelle Malkin, an ultra conservative columnist who lives in Colorado Springs, has been bounced from Young America's Foundation, a nonprofit that booked Malkin for speeches across the country for nearly two decades, the Daily Beast reports.

YAF fired Malkin due to her "hobnobbing" with Holocaust denier and alt-right white nationalist, Nick Fuentes, as reported by the Washington Examiner, itself a conservative newspaper.

From the Dailey Beast:

Among other things, Fuentes marched in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, and praised what he called a “tidal wave of white identity” after the rally. Fuentes has also used his internet video show, America First, to deny the Holocaust, and claimed that segregation was “better.”

Malkin has praised Fuentes and his fans, calling on establishment conservatives to engage with them. In a speech last week, Malkin called Fuentes “one of the New Right leaders.” ... She has also frequently echoed their talking points calling for further restricting legal immigration, claiming that continued immigration will doom the Republican Party.
The Examiner took aim at Malkin in its editorial, going so far as to say Malkin is "unworthy of America":

It would be easy to mistake Malkin's pivot for a meltdown. After all, she has peddled the lethal pseudoscience of anti-vaxxing amid a global health crisis spurred by that very movement. But Malkin knows exactly what she's doing. She's a single-issue pundit, willing to get in the mud with "race-realists," even if they deny the Holocaust and support segregation because she sees them as the most potent allies available to back a militantly xenophobic agenda.

It's not racist or anti-American to question our ability to assimilate legal immigrants at their current rate of influx. Nor is it racist to admit that immigration, legal and illegal, strains our welfare system and ability to artificially maintain wages for people already here. These are policy questions that we can debate without mentioning for one moment the race of the people involved. But getting in bed with folks such as Faith Goldy, the anti-Semite caught smirking in Charlottesville a second before one of her basement-dwelling buddies murdered a peaceful protester, Fuentes isn't putting America First. It's throwing every principle of liberty and equality that made this nation great in the first place in the trash to advance white nationalism.
Given that Malkin's columns have been a mainstay on the Colorado Springs Gazette's editorial pages, we asked what, if any, action the daily would take in response to these revelations about Malkin.

Crickets.

If we hear something, we'll circle back with an update.
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Thursday, November 7, 2019

Manitou Springs arts and cultural tax edges to victory by three votes

Posted By on Thu, Nov 7, 2019 at 4:36 PM

BRYCE CRAWFORD/FILE PHOTO
  • Bryce Crawford/file photo
Natalie Johnson, Manitou Art Center executive director, found out what a difference a couple of days can make, especially with election results.

The day after the election, Nov. 6, early unofficial results showed the Manitou Springs Arts, Culture and Heritage (MACH) sales tax measure had been defeated.

But on Thursday, Nov. 7, El Paso County released the final unofficial results showing the tax, which would raise $400,000 a year, passed by a mere three votes.

"We're feeling very hopeful," Johnson says, noting the county will canvass the vote later this month.

If the vote spread remains tight, within a half a percentage point, an automatic recount will be triggered.

When the results came in on election night, Johnson felt saddened, she says. "You can't help but feel it was a loss for the community. Then there's my personal feelings just knowing I've spent 60 to 80 hours a week working toward these things, and feeling the community didn't think it was important, that all my work didn't matter."

But now, when it looks like the measure was adopted after all, she's eager to show the community why it's a smart move to invest in the Carnegie Building, Miramont Castle, Manitou Art Center, Manitou Springs Heritage Center and Hiawatha Gardens property.

"We're going to have to do our best to make everyone proud and feel it was worth it," she says.

In another reversal, Fran Carrick appeared to have won a Fountain City Council seat on election night by a mere two votes, but the final unofficial results show her losing by 89 votes to Detra Duncan.

Still outstanding, however, are military and overseas ballots that needed to be postmarked by Nov. 5 and received by Nov. 13. So stay tuned.
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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Cigarette, vaping taxes pass in several Colorado cities and counties

Posted By on Wed, Nov 6, 2019 at 3:35 PM

Cities and counties on the Western Slope passed new taxes on nicotine products. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • Cities and counties on the Western Slope passed new taxes on nicotine products.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a bill allowing cities and counties to impose their own taxes on nicotine products without losing out on their share of proceeds from a state tobacco tax.

So, this fall, local governments across the state jumped at the chance to ask voters whether the government could collect new taxes, ostensibly aimed at curbing teen vaping.

Voters approved the measures by sweeping margins.

As part of their respective ballot initiatives, Crested Butte, Vail, New Castle and Glenwood Springs will impose a tax between $3 and $4 per pack of cigarettes, and a 40 percent tax on nicotine products other than cigarettes.

Crested Butte and Vail will tax $3 per pack, New Castle will tax $3.20 per pack and Glenwood Springs $4 per pack. Boulder, which has already banned flavored vaping products, approved a 40 percent tax on e-cigarette products.

Voters in Eagle, Summit and Pitkin counties also approved a nicotine tax mirroring the one passed in Glenwood Springs. Those counties' teen vaping rates are among the highest in the state, according to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

That survey showed 27 percent of Colorado teens vape, the highest statewide rate in the country.

The new taxes come on the heels of a nationwide outbreak of a mysterious vaping-related illness that has claimed the lives of 37 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had logged more than 1,800 total cases as of Oct. 29.

Colorado has seen 11 cases of the vaping-related illness, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

Out of the 1,364 patients nationwide for which the CDC has data on age and sex:
  • 70 percent are male.
  • The median age is 24, and ages range from 13 to 75 years.
  • 79 percent of patients are under 35 years old.
States reporting 100 or more cases include California, Utah, Texas and Illinois.

The CDC reports that most people affected by the outbreak reported vaping products that contained THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. However, the CDC has not determined a cause of the illness.

Instead, the agency continues encouraging the millions of Americans who vape to stop vaping, though it has issued some new advice recently:
  • "If you are an adult using e-cigarettes, or vaping, products, to quit smoking, do not return to smoking cigarettes. Adults addicted to nicotine using e-cigarettes should weigh all risks and benefits and consider utilizing FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies."
  • "If people continue to use an e-cigarette, or vaping, product, carefully monitor yourself for symptoms and see a healthcare provider immediately if you develop symptoms like those reported in this outbreak."
The CDC urges people not to buy black market vaping products, or modify products in ways not intended by the manufacturer.
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State measure CC fails, Colorado Springs tax measures get thumbs up

Posted By on Wed, Nov 6, 2019 at 12:32 PM

Pete Lee: Back to the drawing board on state funding. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Pete Lee: Back to the drawing board on state funding.
The results of the Nov. 5 election in Colorado mean the state won't "start fixing things" any time soon, it appears.

That was the tagline used by backers of Proposition CC, which went down in flames — 55 percent to 45 percent — unlike two local spending measures, which were approved by Colorado Springs voters. More on that later. (El Paso County voters defeated CC by a margin of 62-38.)

CC would have allowed the state to keep money collected in excess of caps imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR). That excess, which could reach billions of dollars over years to come, will continue to be refunded to taxpayers, unless the state seeks voter approval again to retain it.

The CC money, if retained, would have been spent on infrastructure such as transportation, education and higher education.

Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, tells the Indy that so far there's not a fallback plan beyond Gov. Jared Polis' proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which was issued recently and does not include money from the CC retention measure.

"There was optimism [Proposition CC] might pass," he says. "We have not developed an alternative plan. The budget was submitted last week, and it was premised on the idea of existing revenues..., so we are proceeding with a budget that does not include the $300 million that CC would have provided."
Colorado's roads won't get an infusion of cash after voters defeated Proposition CC. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Colorado's roads won't get an infusion of cash after voters defeated Proposition CC.
Given the dire condition of the state's transportation system and the rising $9 billion to $10 billion backlog of projects, Lee says an infusion of cash is needed to fix roads.

"The gas tax hasn't gone up since, what, 1992, which is the primary funding mechanism," he says. "We also are constrained by TABOR and other spending limitations."

The failure of CC, he says, sets up a competition among the state's top priorities: health care, transportation and education. Another demand comes from the criminal justice system, on which the state expects to spend $1 billion next year, he says.

"There's only a limited amount of resources," he says, adding that Democrats will be willing to work with Republicans to find ways to fund those priorities, including discussing a massive bond issue. "I think all options are on the table. I don't think we should preclude anything."

The other state measure, Proposition DD, which directed taxes on sports betting to the state's water plan, edged out a win by the slimmest of margins, 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent, according to unofficial results on the Colorado Secretary of State's website. (El Paso County voters defeated it by a 54-46 margin.)

While supporters contended DD would generate about $27 million toward the state's water plan, Coloradans for Climate Justice said that amount is "tiny" and gives citizens a sense of false security that the state's water needs will be met.

The group said in a statement:
The supporters of Prop DD spent about $2.5 million in this election. We spent zero dollars opposing DD. We opposed DD out of the principle that the public taxpayer should not pay for climate damage to our rivers and water supply caused by fossil fuel corporations. The damage caused to our water supply and economy by climate change will likely be in the billions of dollars. Further, the amount of money DD would raise for the Colorado Water Plan is tiny, and it will likely only replace money that was already allotted for the Colorado Water Plan, not add to it. So let the betting begin, but betting against climate change is a bad bet that only a lousy gambler would make.
The Colorado Sun reports only 36 percent of registered voters in the state cast ballots.

El Paso County voter turnout was the same, but unlike statewide, voters were in a generous mood when it came to Colorado Springs. They handed Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers two victories to continue his undefeated record for several tax and fee measures he's proposed since taking office in 2015.
Mayor Suthers: "Thanks, citizens!" - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mayor Suthers: "Thanks, citizens!"

Measure 2C, approved 65-35, continues the special tax to fund street improvements, but lowers the tax to .57 percent from .62 percent enacted by voters in 2015 for five years. The new tax takes effect Jan. 2, 2021.

Measure 2B, which allows the city to keep $7 million in TABOR excess money to spend on parks, passed by a lesser margin — 57-43. City officials have previously said the money would be spent on various projects, including overhauls of three downtown parks: Alamo Park, Antlers Park and Acacia Park.

Suthers issued this statement:
On behalf of the Council and myself I want to express our gratitude for the confidence and trust the citizens of Colorado Springs have placed in our efforts to improve critical public infrastructure. In 2015 we had an infrastructure deficit of $1.5B – primarily, our roads and stormwater system. We could not have solved the problem without the cooperation of our citizens, but we have secured the citizens’ support and we are solving the problems. And as we predicted, the public investment in our city is being matched by massive private investment.

Other local balloting results, all of which can be found here:

Manitou Springs
• Only 24 votes kept a sales tax increase measure from passing in Manitou Springs. The new money would have funded improvements to Manitou Art Center, Manitou Springs Heritage Center and Miramont Castle, among other projects.
• But voters overwhelming approved, by a 76-24 margin, allowing the city to spend $182,000 from the public facilities fund on downtown projects.
• John Graham defeated Alan Delwiche in the mayor's race by a 52-48 margin.

Colorado Springs School District 11 voters elected incumbent Mary Coleman, Darleen Daniels, Jason Jorgenson and Parth Melpakam to the school board.

Fountain
• Voters defeated a 10-year road tax by a 58-42 margin.
• Only two votes separate third and fourth place finishers in the race for two at-large City Council seats. Richard Applegate won a seat handily, but neighborhood activist Fran Carrick edged out Detra Duncan by only two votes for the other seat. 

Teller County
In Crippler Creek, 54.3 percent of voters elected to recall Timothy Braun, the Cripple Creek-Victor School District president. Mary Bielz, the founder of a Cripple Creek nonprofit, will replace him.

The recall followed efforts by a group called Hear Us: For Better Schools to unseat three school board members who it claimed had violated state statutes and district policies. The other two targeted school board members, Treasurer Dennis Jones and Secretary Tonya Martin, resigned in June.

Schools and fire
While three school districts — Lewis-Palmer 38, Miami Yoder JT60 and Calhan RJ1 — saw debt measures defeated, Tri-lakes Monument and Stratmoor Hills fire protection districts won approval of their tax measures. Two other fire districts, serving Peyton and Hanover, saw tax measures defeated.

As for various marijuana issues across the state, the Colorado Municipal League reports:
BAYNARD WOODS
  • Baynard Woods
• Mead voters said no to medical marijuana businesses and retail marijuana establishments. Center and Loveland’s questions allowing cultivation, manufacturing and testing in addition to sales were also defeated. Loveland voters also turned down a tax on marijuana sales.

• Craig voters approved three marijuana questions: to allow retail sales; to allow cultivation, manufacturing, testing and storage; and a tax on marijuana sales.

• An initiated ordinance passed in Alamosa banning the outdoor growing of personal marijuana and overturning outdoor growing regulations previously adopted by the city council.

• Louisville voters opted to permit retail marijuana cultivation facilities within the city’s industrial zones, as well as the corresponding retail marijuana cultivation facility excise tax.

• A retail marijuana sales tax also passed in Las Animas.
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Monday, November 4, 2019

Vote now! Election Day is Nov. 5

Posted By on Mon, Nov 4, 2019 at 9:33 AM

Fine a ballot box near you and vote. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY CLERK AND RECORDER'S OFFICE VIA GOOGLE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office via Google
  • Fine a ballot box near you and vote.
Tomorrow, Nov. 5, is Election Day, so hurry your ballot to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office.

Voters in the Pikes Peak region will decide issues that include taxes for roads, parks funding and two state issues, while also electing a mayor of Manitou Springs and members to various school boards.

From the election office:

All ballots must be returned to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office by 7:00 p.m., Election Day, Tuesday, November 5, to be counted. Postmarked ballots that arrive after the deadline cannot be counted. Please urge citizens to return their voted ballot early in advance of Election Day.

§ There will be 7 Voter Service and Polling Centers open in the county. Voters can use any VSPC in the county. Click here for a list and map of VSPCs and hours of operation.

§ We have added 10 additional secure 24-hour ballot drop boxes totaling 26 throughout the county. All boxes are open until 7:00 p.m. Election Day.

§ Click here for a list and map of all ballot drop box locations.
Results will be released from the Citizens Service Center, located at 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road, starting at 7:15 p.m. for ballots counted through 5 p.m. on Election Day. Updated results will follow at 8 p.m., 8:45 p.m., 9:45 p.m. and 10:45 p.m., although that could change depending on election operations.

Final unofficial results will be released eight days after the election.

To check in on results, click here.

More from the Clerk and Recorder's Office:
Results and the Possibility of a Recount:
• Unofficial election results may change slightly after the final post on election night. Some reasons for that include the fact that military and overseas ballots are afforded extra time for delivery after Election Day, and voters with signature or identification issues have time to resolve their issue. Voters in those categories have eight days after the election to resolve their issue or return their ballot.

• The Clerk’s Office will not “call” a race for a candidate or issue. Certainly some results will not be in doubt, but the Clerk’s Office does not consider results to be official until after the bipartisan canvass board validates the results.

• There is always the possibility of an automatic or requested recount. Under Colorado law, an automatic recount is only triggered when the vote margin between two candidates or an issue is 0.5% of the next closest candidate or issue result. This is not the same as there being a 0.5% margin between two candidates.

• Should an automatic recount seem possible, the Clerk and Recorder’s Office will release additional information about the process, cost, and recount timeframe. 
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Friday, November 1, 2019

CORE Act passes House over Lamborn, Tipton objections

Posted By on Fri, Nov 1, 2019 at 2:18 PM

Proposed Sheep Mountain Special Management Area. - MASON CUMMINGS, THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY
  • Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
  • Proposed Sheep Mountain Special Management Area.

A bill that adds protections for 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado passed the U.S. House on Oct. 31, along mostly partisan lines.

Just five Republicans voted in favor of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act — and Colorado's own GOP representatives weren't among them.

The CORE Act's narrow victory might appear to cast a shadow on its odds of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, especially given a White House policy statement threatening to veto the legislation, as reported by the Colorado Sun.

But Colorado's Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet — who has worked over the past decade to craft a bill that he says accounts for perspectives across the political spectrum — remains optimistic about the CORE Act's prospects.

"We can't find a similar precedent in the history of America where a president of the United States has reached out to threaten to veto with a bill like this bill," Bennet said on an Oct. 31 press call. "It's never happened. I'm shocked that it happened here, especially when it has such a broad bipartisan consensus of support in Colorado and there's such tremendous support at the local level."

"We're not going to let that dissuade us," he continued. "We're going to continue to work with the Coloradans that have worked so hard over the last decade to get this bill passed."

(See our previous reporting for a brief recap or detailed summary of the CORE Act.)

Rep. Doug Lamborn, whose 5th Congressional District includes Colorado Springs, refused to support the bill, arguing on the House floor that it does not take local concerns into account.

"While the goals of the public lands legislation in this bill are certainly admirable and well-intended, and I have great respect for the bill's sponsor...it is clear that this proposal lacks the type of local consensus required for a bill of this scale," Lamborn said on Oct. 30.

He and Rep. Scott Tipton, the Republican representing Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, said some stakeholders and local leaders affected by the CORE Act (the majority of which concerns Tipton's district) didn't feel their voices had been heard by the Democratic legislators crafting the legislation.

"This week alone, we received letters from Montezuma County, Dolores County, Rio Blanco County, Montrose County, Mesa County, all of which have various concerns about the CORE Act today," Tipton said during the debate. (Most of those counties do not contain land impacted by the legislation but are adjacent to an area it protects from future oil and gas development.)

Lamborn and Tipton also said they were concerned that a high-altitude aviation training site for the Army National Guard could be jeopardized by proposed wilderness area expansions included in the bill.

Rep. Joe Neguse, the bill's House sponsor, disputes those characterizations.

"We have yet to receive any opposition from a community in the state of Colorado to a provision of this bill that impacts that community," Neguse says, noting that commissioners in Pitkin, Ouray, San Juan, Eagle, Summit, Gunnison, San Miguel and Garfield counties support the CORE Act, as do several towns and municipalities.

The next step for the CORE Act is a Senate committee hearing.

Bennet says he's already spoken with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, about placing the CORE Act on the committee's hearing schedule. He expects that won't be an obstacle.

A potentially larger hurdle for the CORE Act will be obtaining the support of Colorado's Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who has expressed some hesitation. While the legislation could pass without Gardner's support, such a feat would be tricky given that Republicans control the Senate.

Gardner recently told the Colorado Sun that he hasn't ruled out voting for the CORE Act, but would like to see changes related to water rights and livestock grazing.

Gardner's Democratic challengers for his contested Senate seat next fall have already seized on the possibility of his opposition — apparently counting on Colorado's natural landscapes to pull on voters' heartstrings. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper's Senate campaign, for example, has already launched digital advertisements urging Gardner to support the CORE Act.

“Coloradans need a Senator who will stand up for public lands and listen to local communities,” Hickenlooper said in an Oct. 31 statement. “Now that the CORE Act has passed the House and is heading to the Senate, I am calling on Senator Gardner to join me and Coloradans from across our state in supporting it.”
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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Trump administration limits fee waiver eligibility for would-be citizens

Posted By on Wed, Oct 30, 2019 at 4:04 PM

USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli. - U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli.
In order to become naturalized U.S. citizens, immigrants must have been lawful permanent residents (green card-holders) for at least five years, speak English and pass a civics test.

They also must pay a $725 application fee — which since 2010 has been waived for people who receive public benefits through Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and Supplemental Security Income.

But an incoming change by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services means those who receive such benefits won't automatically be eligible for the fee waiver. Instead, fee waivers will be limited to those at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or $25,365 per year for a two-person household. Applicants who successfully "demonstrate financial hardship" in some other way can still qualify.

Immigrant advocacy organizations threatened legal action in response to the move.

“Waivers of the $725 application fee make it possible for thousands of hard-working people to become U.S. citizens,” Anna Gallagher, executive director of Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., said in a statement from her organization. “This change is a roadblock on the path to the American Dream."

CLINIC estimates that 40 percent of people who apply for naturalization currently receive a fee waiver.

In an Oct. 25 statement announcing the change, USCIS argues that the changes were necessary given that income and eligibility requirements for public benefits vary from state to state.

"The revised fee waiver process will improve the integrity of the program and the quality and consistency of fee waiver approvals going forward," USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli is quoted as saying.

The agency estimates that the total dollar amount of fee waivers increased by more than $23 million between 2016 and 2017, from $344.3 million to $367.9 million. Last year, though, USCIS granted $293.5 million worth of waivers. Revenue from application fees accounts for more than 95 percent of the USCIS budget, the statement notes.

Unless activists secure a court injunction to stop the change from taking place, it will go into effect Dec. 2 for anyone applying for naturalization.

Sound familiar? The federal government has recently drawn ire with two other proposals that make it harder for people to upgrade their immigration status and receive public benefits.

A USCIS rule change allowing immigration officials to deny green cards to immigrants deemed likely to use public benefits was recently blocked in federal court. Opponents said it would discourage those in need from applying for nutrition and health care assistance.

Another proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture would mandate that individuals aged 18 to 59 making between 130 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level could no longer receive SNAP benefits. Parents in that income bracket could only receive SNAP benefits if they also qualify for at least $50 in other federal assistance each month.
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Friday, October 18, 2019

Recall fails against Sen. Leroy Garcia; only 4 signatures submitted

Posted By on Fri, Oct 18, 2019 at 4:21 PM

Senate President Leroy Garcia is in the clear on recall attempt. - COURTESY COLORADO GENERAL ASSEMBLY
  • Courtesy Colorado General Assembly
  • Senate President Leroy Garcia is in the clear on recall attempt.
Republicans in Colorado who have attempted to recall several state officials are batting zero.

On Oct. 18, the Colorado Secretary of State's Office deemed petitions to recall Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, as insufficient. Petitioners submitted a mere four signatures, when 13,506 were needed.

Republicans earlier this year tried to recall Democrat Gov. Jared Polis, Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood.

The GOP was sore after losing every state level office in November 2018, and Republicans were really steamed when Democratic lawmakers began carrying out the agenda on which they campaigned.

For example, here's the wording on the recall petition for Lee:

Senator Pete Lee, representing Senate District 11, should be recalled because he sponsored legislation to create a paid family and medical leave program to be funded by a mandatory tax on businesses and employees, disingenuously referring to it as a “fee” instead of a tax, and he voted for the passage of:

1) SB 19-042 (National Popular Vote), enacting and joining Colorado into an interstate compact to elect the president of the United States by national popular vote;
2) SB 19-181 (Comprehensive Oil and Gas Reform), reforming the regulation of the oil and gas industry in Colorado despite the voters’ defeat of Proposition 112’s drilling regulations;
3) HB 19-1032 (Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education), mandating comprehensive human sexuality education and appropriating one million dollars annually in grant funds for its dissemination; and
4) HB 19-1177 (Red Flag), creating the ability for a family or household member to petition the court for a temporary extreme risk protection order to prohibit an individual from possessing a firearm.
Here's what Democracy First Colorado had to say in a release:

"The scammers behind this year's recalls have flamed out in spectacular fashion — but not before lining their pockets and loading their databases with money and personal data from unsuspecting Colorado voters," said Curtis Hubbard, a spokesman for Democracy First Colorado. "These efforts have been deceptive to the bitter end, and we are not at all surprised by this outcome, despite recent reports to the contrary. Senator Garcia is serving Pueblo well — a sentiment voters across the district reaffirmed in the thousands of conversations we have had over the last 60 days."
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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

District attorney candidates bring in the cash

Posted By on Wed, Oct 16, 2019 at 5:32 PM

Commissioner Waller leads the fund-raising race. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Commissioner Waller leads the fund-raising race.
The battle for the Republican nomination for top prosecutor in the 4th Judicial District is shaping up to be a well-funded race on both sides, according to campaign finance reports filed Oct. 15.

El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller has brought in $35,895, of which $10,000 was a loan by the candidate and has $33,583 on hand.

Waller's backers include a number of developers, including Vince Colarelli, Gary Erickson, Mark Long, several employees of Classic Homes and Danny Mientka. So it's not surprising that he's also won support from the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen

Waller also drew contributions from former State Sen. Bernie Herpin and his wife and fellow Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen, who's not held elective office before, has raised $21,750 and has $14,928 on hand.

Notables in Allen's camp include downtown developers Sam and Kathleen Guadagnoli, former CEO of the El Pomar Foundation Bill Hybl and El Pomar board member Thayer Tutt Jr., downtown entrepreneur Perry Sanders, Mayor John Suthers, City Councilor Jill Gaebler and the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association.

So far, the two Republicans are the only ones seeking to succeed DA Dan May, who's held the seat for three four-year terms and is term-limited from seeking a fourth.
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