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2014 Senate Democratic Caucus

Meet the Senate Democratic Caucus for 2014,

the 2nd Regular Session of the 69th Colorado General Assembly.

 

2014SenDemCaucus_smallFront Row, left to right:  The Leadership Team

Sen. Irene Aguilar, Assistant Majority Leader

Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, Caucus Chair

Sen. Morgan Carroll, President of the Senate

Sen. Rollie Heath, Majority Leader

Sen. Lucia Guzman, President Pro Tempore

Sen. Gail Schwartz, Majority Whip

Second Row:

Sen. Mike Johnston

Sen. Nancy Todd

Sen. Lois Tochtrop

Sen. Linda Newell

Sen. John Kefalas

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger

Back Row:

Sen. Andy Kerr

Sen. Matt Jones

Sen. Mary Hodge

Sen. Cheri Jahn

Sen. Jessie Ulibarri

Sen. Pat Steadman

 

 

Fiscal Year 2014-15 Budget Hearings Begin

colorado-state-capitol-denver-col188The Joint Budget Committee is back at work, getting staff briefings and holding hearings with cabinet directors from all the Departments of state government.  The Attorney General, the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, the Adjutant General of the Colorado National Guard and the Secretary of State – just to name a few of the more prominent roles – all appear before the JBC to defend their budget requests.  It’s the Legislature’s best opportunity to influence how the Executive Branch is implementing the laws.   Click here for our schedule.

Since the JBC last met, Rep. Claire Levy resigned from the Legislature.  Her seat on the JBC was filled by Rep. Jenise May, who has already demonstrated herself to be a strong addition to the committee.  She’s retired from many years in state government working for the Dept of Human Services.  Her knowledge of human services programs and departmental budget processes is going to make her a valuable and effective member of the JBC.  And on our first meeting of the new budget cycle I passed the gavel to Rep. Crisanta Duran who took over as the new Chair of the JBC.  The Chair rotates between the Senate and House each year, so I’m now the Vice-Chair of the JBC for the remainder of the 69th General Assembly.

On November 1, Governor Hickenlooper submitted his budget request for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014.  The total budget is $24.1 billion, with $9 billion of that coming from the General Fund.  Gov. Hickenlooper has asked the Legislature to prioritize the repayment of disaster emergency funds, increasing reserves and funding Higher Education.  Other highlights of his budget initiatives include infrastructure investments such as modernization of DMV computer systems with a goal of reducing wait times for driver’s license renewals.  Also proposed is elimination of another waiting list for developmental disability services, this time for adults.  Waiting lists for kids were addressed in the 2013 session.  Click here for details on Gov. Hickenlooper’s proposed budget.

The JBC spends five months preparing the state budget for consideration by the full Legislature.  The Governor’s budget request is just a starting point for our deliberations; we can write the budget however we want – so long as the Governor signs the bill.  If all goes according to schedule, the Long Bill will be introduced in the Senate on my birthday.  What better way…?

Vote YES on Proposition AA

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This November, Colorado voters will see two tax-related questions on the general election ballot.  I’m campaigning in favor of Proposition AA and I hope you’ll join me in supporting this referred measure.

Prop AA contains the proposed excise tax for legal, regulated sales of marijuana as contemplated by voters with passage of Amendment 64 in November 2012.  As allowed by Amendment 64, Prop AA establishes a 15% excise tax on marijuana cultivated in Colorado for retail sale to adults.  Amendment 64 specified that such retail sales will begin January 1, 2014.  Proceeds of the excise tax will be credited to the public school construction fund which supports the Building Excellent Schools Today program and makes capital improvements to schools across Colorado.

Prop AA also creates a special increment of sales tax for marijuana sold in licensed retail stores.  The sales tax is set at 10%, although Prop AA gives the legislature the authority to lower the tax rate or increase it up to a maximum of 15% without further voter approval.  Proceeds of the sales tax will be used to pay for enforcement and regulation of the legal marijuana industry in Colorado.  The legislature added the sales tax to Prop AA because of a strong belief that this new industry should pay its own way and not rely on the state’s general fund to cover the costs of the regulatory program.

Amendment 64 was a constitutional amendment, and the legislature was required to implement it.  I believe the new laws passed in 2013, including the referral of Prop AA to the ballot for voter approval, are in keeping with voters’ intent in passing Amendment 64.  Moreover, recent policy guidance issued by the US Dept. of Justice indicates that the federal authorities are taking a stand-off approach to Colorado’s experiment with marijuana legalization.  So long as states create and enforce a robust regulatory environment for marijuana businesses the federal government appears intent to not interfere.  Passage of Prop AA will ensure that regulators and law enforcement agencies have the necessary resources to properly control marijuana sales in our state.

A few other things to note about the new marijuana taxes:

  • First, medical marijuana patients will be exempt from paying them.  Currently, medical marijuana is subject to state and local sales taxes, and that will not change.  But medical marijuana will not be subject to the excise tax or the new 10% increment of state sales tax.  Local sales tax decisions in this regard will be made by local voters, and results may vary.
  • Local jurisdictions where retail sales occur will share in the proceeds of the new state sales tax.  Some communities have opted out of retail marijuana sales, so they won’t see any revenue, but for those communities that participate, such as Denver, 15% of the new sales tax collected in that jurisdiction will be credited to the local community to assist with their costs of enforcement and regulation.  Again, retail marijuana will be paying its own way.
  • Amendment 64 specified that the first $40 million of proceeds from the excise tax would be used for school construction.  Current estimates of revenue from the 15% excise tax do not exceed this amount, so all of the excise tax revenues will go to the BEST program.  Economists struggle with revenue estimates in this case because there never has been a legal, regulated market for marijuana so no one really knows what level of sales volume to project, but an estimated $27 million in excise tax will be generated in the first full year of implementation.  Sales volume would have to vastly outpace projections and the industry would have to grow quite a bit before the $40 million threshold is reached.

Naysayers worry that the tax rates are too high, creating an incentive for consumers to continue to purchase marijuana through illegal dealers that don’t collect these new taxes.  Their concerns are valid, and if the tax rate really was too high we might see consumers reluctant to shop with legal, regulated merchants.  But I think consumers are anxious for safe, legal sales and they’re willing to pay the taxes that go along with it.  Marijuana purchased legally through licensed businesses will be tested and labeled for retail sale.  People will know what they’re getting.  That’s why over 55% of Colorado voters favored Amendment 64 last year.  People want marijuana taxed and regulated, and they want to end the days of shady, black-market sales and the involvement of cartels and organized crime.

By referring Prop AA to the ballot for voter approval the legislature has acted consistent with voters’ intent in passing Amendment 64.  Regardless of how you voted on Amendment 64 I hope you’ll vote in favor of Prop AA.

 

To read more about Prop AA, including the full text of the measure, estimates of revenues it will generate, and arguments for and against, Click Here to access the “Blue Book” analysis of the ballot measure as prepared by the nonpartisan staff of the Legislative Council, a staff agency of the Colorado General Assembly.

 

The Real Story Behind HB 13-1166

One of the smallest bills I passed this year was HB 1166, but because of the subject matter it garnered a fair amount of attention from the news media.  The bill repealed the defunct criminal prohibition against adultery and another criminal statute punishing sexual immorality.  Now you can see why the media took an interest…

I first sponsored this bill in 2011 as SB 11-244 and Rep. Daniel Kagan was my House sponsor.  It easily passed the Senate but was defeated by a one-vote margin in a House committee.  Rep. Kagan felt bad that the bill died on his watch so he decided to bring it back in the new legislature as HB 13-1166.

Rep. Kagan told me that one of the reasons he wanted to bring it back was because of the clever way it was constructed.  He called it “brilliant.”  The title is “a bill for an act concerning the repeal of certain crimes that include marital status as an element of the offense.”  The title accurately describes what the bill does.  The media attention focused on adultery, and while they accurately described the bill, the ulterior motive behind the bill has been a well kept secret, until now.

In 2010 I sponsored a bill that then-Rep. Steve King started in the House to reform state laws on indecent exposure and public indecency.  HB 10-1334 corrected confusion between these two criminal offenses, one of which is more serious than the other and results in mandatory sex offender registration.  It seems that Rep. King had a constituent who was ticketed for urinating in public somewhere near the vicinity of Coors Field after the conclusion of a baseball game.  I think the gentleman was a beer drinker.  His offense required him to register as a sex offender.  Meanwhile, flashers exposing themselves to others were not being required to register as sex offenders.  The laws were backwards and HB 1334 intended to straighten them out.  It did prove challenging to define the difference between exposing private parts in sinister ways befitting of sex offenders and doing so in stupid ways like college kids streaking across a football field, or urinating in an alley after a baseball game.  The final version of HB 1334 was not perfect, but everyone agrees that we fixed most of the problems.

As I was working on amendments to HB 1334 I noticed a phrase in the public indecency statute that made me suspicious.  The statute outlawed having sexual intercourse in public, and it also outlawed having “deviant sexual intercourse” in public.  I looked for a definition of “deviant sexual intercourse” and could not find one in current law.  Research from the Office of Legislative Legal Services revealed that this had once been a defined term, but the definition was repealed many years ago when Colorado repealed its law criminalizing sodomy.  As I suspected, “deviant sexual intercourse” was code from a bygone era that meant gay sex.  In studying the current definition of “sexual intercourse” it became readily apparent that this term is defined broadly enough to encompass a broad swath of sex acts.  It was not necessary to separately list “deviant sexual intercourse” in the public indecency law because it was already covered by the preceding subparagraph.  So I amended HB 1334 to repeal it.

Learning this history of how state law once referred to sexual intimacy between persons of the same sex made me wonder if there were other places this offensive, undefined term remained in law.  So I did some more research and discovered the crime of “promoting sexual immorality,” section 18-7-208, C.R.S.  It used the same offensive language, which I was now determined to eradicate from the Colorado statutes.  And as I studied that section, I discovered that it applied only to people who were not married to each other and criminalized their private, adult, consensual conduct.  I believe such laws are clearly unconstitutional in light of the US Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned sodomy laws and recognized a liberty interest in private, adult sexual conduct.

To make the statute all the more outrageous, it created a crime that only innkeepers or people who furnish rooms for unmarried adults could commit.  This was clearly an example of government intrusion into private matters where government does not belong.  The statute was bizarre, rarely used, unconstitutional, and contained the offensive language I was determined to remove from Colorado statutes.  It needed to be repealed.

Enter the adultery statute.  I had always wanted to repeal this law, but it was never important enough to spend much time thinking about.  Years ago, the Colorado criminal code was recodified.  This is when the sodomy law was repealed, and there were suggestions to repeal the adultery law as well.  A bill was drafted to implement the recodification recommendations, but the repeal of the adultery law became controversial and a compromise was reached to leave a criminal prohibition of adultery on the books but specify no penalty.  Without a penalty the law could never be enforced, but its statement remained.

As I contemplated a bill to repeal the “promoting sexual immorality” statute I realized that it could be combined with a repeal of the adultery law under the common theme of criminal offenses for which an actor’s marital status is an element of the crime, and SB 11-244 was conceived.  I successfully argued the constitutional arguments against both statutes and drove home the idea that government should not be in the business of policing marital vows.  Nor should conduct be legal for some people but prohibited for others based solely on differences in their marital status.  Adults have the right to make their own choices about private, sexual behavior without government interference, whether they’re married or not.  And to keep it private they ought to be able to rent a hotel room.

SB 11-244 passed the Senate on a vote of 25 to 9, but it was defeated in a House committee.  This year, HB 13-1166 passed the House on a vote of 37 to 26 and it passed the Senate 23 to 10.  Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 1166 into law on March 22, 2013 in a private ceremony in his office that I alone attended.  Before he signed the bill I told him this story and what the bill really meant to me.  The phrase “deviant sexual intercourse” has now been eliminated from the Colorado Revised Statutes.

 

 

Harvey Milk Champion of Change

harvey_milk_champions_of_change_5_24_13On May 22, 2013, I was honored by the White House as one of ten elected and appointed officials across the country to receive the Harvey Milk Champion of Change Award.  We were invited to the White House to meet one another and share our experiences working to advance LGBT equality.  Stuart Milk, Harvey’s nephew and Executive Director of the Harvey Milk Foundation, was present to congratulate us and offer his perspective on the incredible progress that has been made.  He spoke about his uncle’s motivation to serve in elected office, and he connected each of our individual experiences to the broader movement for equality.  It was a wonderful celebration and I met some amazing people. 

You can read more about the Champions of Change program by clicking here.

The White House Champions of Change Blog features a post about each recipient.  Click here to read my profile.