Born to die 

Bills addressing divisive issues fascinate, but may not survive Colorado's legislature

The bills are about rape, poor people, guns and underdogs — and in all likelihood, many are dead on arrival.

Following the 2014 election, the Colorado Senate became majority Republican, the House stayed majority Democrat, and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper retained his seat. The combination all but assured gridlock this legislative session on any bill perceived as partisan.

But that hasn't discouraged lawmakers from introducing legislation on hot-button issues. They continue to hatch their darlings and send them off to meet their fate in Hunger Games fashion.

Bills like House Bill 1175, which would outlaw gay conversion therapy — it passed the House and is now sitting in the less-friendly Senate. Or already-dead Senate Bill 93, which would have forced local governments that pass anti-fracking laws to compensate the mineral-rights owners for their loss of profit.

Some legislators may hope their bills pass despite the odds. But Joshua Dunn, associate professor of political science and associate director of the Center for the Study of Government and the Individual at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, says the practice of introducing ill-fated bills often has another logic.

"[Legislators] want to push legislation so they can campaign on it, and say that they introduced legislation that was going to accomplish certain things," he says. "They're also trying to force their opponents to take votes on it, so that those votes can then be used against them in future campaigns."

We've put together a list of six interesting bills that are tempting fate this session by addressing issues that raise the passion quotient. As of press time on Tuesday morning, all were still alive and kicking — but for how long?

Consider: We actually did have seven bills on this list, but House Bill 1292 was pulled by its main sponsor, Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Englewood, shortly before our publication, apparently due to mounting opposition. The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, would have ensured that juveniles convicted of Class 1 felonies between 1990 and 2006 would not serve life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Colorado no longer sentences juveniles to life without parole, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that giving such sentences to juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment. But there are still dozens of Colorado inmates who were given such a sentence back when it was legal.

Lee says HB1292, which offered two stiff sentencing options and allowed a judge to ultimately decide whether an inmate was ever released, would have changed that.

"[The U.S. Supreme Court has] told us that our present scheme is unconstitutional, so we have a duty and responsibility as a legislature to create a sentencing scheme that is in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court," Lee said shortly before the bill was killed.

Whether pulled by a sponsor or voted out of existence, it's highly likely that some of the other entries on this list will soon meet a similar fate. But as anyone who has put together a bracket for March Madness is keenly aware, it's hard to predict outcomes. Perhaps one, or even a few, of these bills will beat the odds.

1) House Bill 1220, "Campus Sexual Assault Victim Medical Care"

Hot-button issue: Rape

What it would do: All public institutions of higher education, and any private ones that have performance contracts with the state, would be required to have an agreement in place with a local medical facility or clinic that offers services for rape victims, including forensic evidence collection. The school's website would have to explain where a rape victim can go for these services, and the school would need to have a policy in place that dictates how to help rape victims. Additionally, the state would create a grant program to help fund the collection of forensic evidence from rapes in communities with a higher learning institution.

Odds of staying alive: This bill has House sponsorship from Reps. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, and Su Ryden, D-Aurora, along with co-sponsorship from Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs. The Senate sponsor is Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley. That's some pretty impressive bipartisan support for a bill addressing the R-word.

"When a college or university student falls victim to a sexual assault, appropriate medical care can treat the physical and emotional damage done," Landgraf says of the bill. "House Bill 1220 provides this care by requiring higher education institutions to make it readily accessible and clearly inform their students where the treatment can be obtained. The bill has already passed the state House of Representatives with broad bipartisan support and I believe it will receive similar support in the state Senate."

2&3) Senate Bill 86, "Repeal Gun Transfer Background Check Requirement and Fee"; and Senate Bill 175, "Ammunition Magazines"

Hot-button issue: Guns

What they would do: Remember when Republicans in Congress tried to repeal Obamacare countless times to no avail? Well, these two bills are like Colorado's version of that. In 2013, the Democratic-controlled state legislature passed new gun laws. Those laws so angered Republican gun rights activists that they went after and eventually launched successful recalls of two of their proponents, then-state Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and then-Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo.

While the recalls were successful, attempts to repeal the actual laws have not been. SB86 would get rid of the requirement for criminal background checks for private sales (where the seller isn't a licensed gun dealer). Where background checks are performed, taxpayers would shoulder the cost, not the prospective buyer.

SB175 would repeal a law that prohibits possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, like those used by James Holmes in an Aurora movie theater shooting in 2012 that killed 12 people. The bill would also get rid of the requirement that large-capacity ammo magazines that are manufactured in Colorado have identification markings.

Odds of staying alive: In short, bad. While hugely popular with Republicans, including Colorado Springs' own Sen. Kent Lambert and Rep. Janak Joshi — both of whom are sponsoring SB86 — these bills stand very little chance of clearing the House, let alone avoiding Hickenlooper's veto pen.

4) House Bill 1264, "Homeless Persons' Bill of Rights"

Hot-button issue: Homeless rights

What it would do: This bill would do away with a host of local laws aimed at restricting the movements of the homeless. Under this law, homeless people would be allowed to sleep and rest in a public place. They would be able to accept food donations in public, and they would have greater protections over their personal property (tents, bags, etc.)

The bill is meant to end "harassment" of homeless people trying to meet their basic needs, but is likely to be met with resistance from business owners and residents of urban neighborhoods who say they're adversely affected by the presence of homeless people.

Odds of staying alive: This bill was just introduced in the House by Reps. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, with plenty of co-sponsor support, and a Senate sponsor, Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, already lined up. Still, there isn't a single Republican willing to put his or her name on the bill, which is a bad sign. While Republicans may shy away from the bill because it could be seen to harm business interests and to trample on local government rights, it's easy to see how some libertarian-leaning members could latch on to it, since this bill is all about the freedom of the individual. Still, don't bet on its survival.

5) Senate Bill 45, "Tax Credits for Nonpublic Education"

Hot-button issue: Vouchers

What it would do: The bill would allow parents to claim a tax credit, and in certain cases a tax refund, for their child's private-school tuition or for home-schooling. Tax credits would also be available to those who provide scholarships to kids who attend private schools. This has been called a "back-door voucher" by Democrats, who note taxpayers would be subsidizing non-public education — including religious education — should the bill pass.

Odds of staying alive: This bill just passed the Senate and is moving on to the House, where its likelihood of survival is almost nonexistent.

6) House Bill 1300, "Local Government Minimum Wage"

Hot-button issue: Minimum wage

What it would do: HB1300 would repeal a law that makes it illegal for local governments to set a higher minimum wage than the state. "I'm a firm believer in local control," says Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate. "This bill gives an opportunity for other legislators who say they, too, believe in local control to put their [vote] where their mouth is."

Odds of staying alive: Co-sponsored by Reps. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, in the House (the two are also sponsoring a resolution that would ask voters to up the state minimum wage) and by Merrifield in the Senate, this bill will need Republican support to pass. Even Merrifield acknowledges it will be "tough ... to get it out of the Senate."


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