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Obergefell v. Hodges: Love Wins

"Same Sex Marriage Ruling Celebration "Here’s scene from the rally at the State Capitol on June 26, 2015, as well over a thousand Coloradans gathered to celebrate the marriage equality victory from the US Supreme Court.  In this photo, we are observing a moment of silence to remember the victims of the church slayings in Charleston, SC.  And in my remarks, and in words of several others speakers, we noted that hatred and discrimination are still alive and well in our nation.  As advocates for equality, inclusion and respect we still have a lot of work to do.

Here are some of my favorite passages from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in the case:

“The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach…”

“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.”

“[T]he right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.”

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Click here to read the Court’s full opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges.

 

Far More Colorado

 

My friend and constituent Nancy Ulrich is the host of Far More Colorado, a public affairs program she produces for community access cable tv in the Denver area.  This year she interviewed me on May 2, 2015, the weekend prior to the last three days of the 2015 legislative session.  We had a wide-ranging conversation about some of the biggest issues of 2015, including the budget and the JBC, Felony DUI, IT procurement and marijuana.

 

http://bit.ly/1LCi3CY

 

15 Bills I Passed in 2015

Senate

 

It’s my annual legislative highlights, now with 15 on the list!  Short descriptions with links to the full text and other materials on some of the more notable bills, these are the best and the brightest of my accomplishments this year:

1.  HB 1367 – Prop AA Marijuana Tax Refund

Places Proposition BB on the November 2015 ballot for voters to consider whether all of the new marijuana taxes collected in FY 2014-15 should be refunded or kept and spent on school construction, law enforcement, prevention, substance abuse and youth services.  TABOR is making us vote twice on marijuana taxes.  Please vote YES one more time.

2.  HB 1186 – Expand Children with Autism Medicaid Waiver

Eliminates the waiting list for kids on the autism spectrum that qualify for institutional levels of care and allows them to receive Medicaid therapies.  Changes the eligibility to ensure three years of services, increasing the impact of the program.  New therapies during early childhood make a dramatic difference in kid’s lives.

3.  SB 195 – Earned Time Savings Cap Inmate Phone Rates

Serving on the JBC puts you in a unique position to solve problems.  An earned time bill I sponsored in 2012 has yielded more savings than anticipated, so much more that we had to cap the amount that is re-directed to education programs for inmates.  Then an audit revealed that Dept of Corrections had been profiting from excessive phone rates for collect calls and calling cards and using those profits to subsidize education programs.  SB 195 to the rescue!  Excess earned time savings allowed us to cap phone rates and replace the subsidy they were providing.  Allowing inmates to make affordable phone calls helps them maintain relationships with family and friends, and these positive relationships reduce recidivism by increasing the likelihood of successful transitions back to the community after serving time.  It’s all good.

4.  SB 247 – Update and Expand HIV Drug Assistance Program

Another opportunity to do something great because of being in the right place at the right time.  This bill updates and expands a drug assistance program for low-income people with HIV infection.  Back in the day the medications to treat HIV were very expensive and many people lacked health insurance coverage for the “pre-existing condition” of HIV infection.  Drug assistance programs were necessary.  And they still are, but times have changed.  The Affordable Care Act ensures coverage for pre-existing conditions, and the drugs are more affordable and more effective.  This bill takes advantage of the opportunity to repurpose existing funding into expanded services and prevention efforts.

5.  SB 116 – Needle-Stick Prevention Act

Harm reduction principles continue to make changes to drug paraphernalia laws.  If a person with a dirty needle reveals this fact to a police officer prior to a pat-down search they can’t be charged with the paraphernalia offense.  Anything else they may have in their pocket is a different matter, but this removes a disincentive to disclose needle-stick hazards, making everyone safer.

6.  HB 1344 – CSU Financing for National Western Center

Denver has major plans for the redevelopment of the National Western Stock Show Complex in the Globeville and Elyria neighborhoods on the north side of town.  Colorado State University is a key partner in the plans as their veterinary school will build an equine medicine center on the campus and two other university buildings will house agriculture and water research programs.  This bill provides the financing for CSU’s participation, which is contingent on all of Denver’s financing plans coming together.  With a nod to our past and our Western traditions, this is a big investment in our future.

7.  SB 196 – Hemp Seed Certification Program

Amendment 64 also legalized hemp, and it defined the difference between hemp and marijuana.  Farmers must register to grow hemp, which contrasts with the strict regulations on licensed marijuana grow operations.  But if the seeds the farmers use produce plants that are over the THC limit for hemp, their entire crop is destroyed and they could be in a lot of trouble.  Seed certification will supply farmers with seeds they can safely grow and harvest.  Hemp is well-suited for Colorado’s climate and may become our next cash crop.

8.  SB 240 – Funding Formula for Independent Living Centers

“The General Assembly finds that Independent Living Centers pave the pathways to full participation in professional and community life for all individuals with disabilities.”  These non-profit centers help people access services, find employment and live independently in their communities.  SB 240 increases their funding and sets up a method of allocating resources to all the various centers across Colorado.

9.  HB 1022 – Juvenile Petty Offense Contract

This bill takes aim at the so-called “school to jail pipeline” by creating an alternative to arresting and charging juveniles for minor offenses.  Currently, the police can “lecture and release” or they can arrest and charge.  HB 1022 offers a way to involve parents and make juveniles acknowledge what they did wrong without deepening their involvement in the criminal justice system.  By successfully completing a community service contract and staying in school the juvenile can avoid getting a record.  The more we do to keep kids out of the front end of the justice system the less likely that they’ll end up in jail or prison in the future.

10.  SB 235 – Secure Funding for School Nutrition Programs

A drafting error in a 2014 bill made this bill necessary.  It increases a limit on appropriations for school breakfast and lunch programs because the bill passed last year included appropriations in excess of the then-existing limit (which it failed to adjust).  In our annual Long Bill we reduced last year’s funding to the maximum allowed by the limit in statute, and set the funding for the upcoming year at that same level.  SB 235 then increases the cap and adds back the funding to make it all whole, as originally intended.

11.  SB 241 – Collaborative Management Child Welfare Programs

This JBC bill provided funding while clarifying the accountability for cross-system collaborations that vary by community across Colorado.  Counties and judicial districts bring together a wide array of service providers and systems to intervene in cases of child abuse and neglect, truancy, or juvenile delinquency before they escalate and become a problem.  Social services, school personnel, law enforcement, juvenile justice and community-based resources all work together to keep kids safe and families intact.

12.  HB 1203 – Earned Time Parity for Habitual Offenders Pre-1995

Recommended by the Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice, this bill corrects an oversight that was probably intended, but unfair nonetheless.  For a period of time between 1985 and 1993, people convicted of being habitual offenders for repeat felony convictions faced harsh sentences and no possibility of earned time for good behavior.  After 1993 the sentences were shortened and earned time was again allowed.  HB 1203 can’t change the harsh sentences during this time frame, but it does offer earned time and makes that retroactive to when they began their sentence.  The bill affects 64 offenders in the Dept of Corrections, the first of whom becomes eligible for parole in a couple of years.

13.  SB 166 – School Finance Supplemental Funding

“This bill reduces the negative factor by $14 million” I told the Senate before the unanimous vote in favor of the bill.  Local property tax collections came in above projections, allowing us to apply the unexpected revenue to negative factor reduction.

14.  SB 100 – Annual Rule Review Bill

One of the few bills that must be passed each year, this bill exercises the legislature’s retained authority to review and disapprove of administrative rules adopted by state agencies.  All newly adopted rules are reviewed and must be legislatively extended or else they expire after their first year.  SB 100 extends most new rules, but calls out certain defective rules for expiration.  And it slaps the hand of the Dept of Human Services for one of their over-reaching rules, which they deserved.

15.  SB 278 – Authorize Funding for Restoration of Capitol Building

It sounds a lot sexier than it is.  This bill deletes one word (“dome”) from an appropriation made in 2013 to allow the left-over funds from the repair of the Capitol dome to be used to repair cracks in the exterior granite and replace windows.  About $1 million is made available through this bill, which gets us started sooner than expected on this latest round of repair work.

Gov. Hickenlooper Signs FY 2015-16 Budget

SB15-234LongBillSigned_On April 24, 2015, the Joint Budget Committee and legislative leadership gathered in the Governor’s office to witness his signature on the annual “Long Bill.”  With one stroke of a pen (actually, several strokes using several pens, helped by a long surname) over $26 billion in spending by state government entities was authorized in the upcoming fiscal year.

It takes the JBC over five months to write the annual state budget bill.  This year it was accompanied by 18 other companion bills, most of which were signed into law a week later on May 1, 2015.  JBC had a very productive year, and sponsored a number of bills aimed at improving government efficiencies and accountability.  In particular, our focus on services for people with developmental disabilities has produced several key accomplishments that will have long-term impact on the systems that serve them.

The JBC will meet next in June.

 

Joint Budget Committee

2014LongBill_signed

Gov. Hickenlooper signs the 2014 Long Bill, the state budget for FY 2014-15. Members of the JBC and legislative leadership are assembled with the Governor’s staff to witness the event.

On November 15, 2014 my colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus elected me to serve on the Joint Budget Committee for the 70th General Assembly.  These will be my fifth and sixth years serving on the JBC, and my last in the legislature.

Each year I’ve served on the JBC a different person has been Chairman.  I got to do it once; the House and Senate take turns each year.  Two new people will get that honor for the next two years.  One is veteran member of the Committee, in more ways than one, while the other is newly appointed.  She’ll become Chair in November, 2015.

At the first meeting after the November 2014 general election I made the motion for Sen. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) to become the new JBC Chair.  Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) will be the Vice-Chair.  Their roles reverse next November. I look forward to working with both of them — we’ve got some important work to do!

Staff briefings and budget hearings with Department heads have already begun.  For the latest schedule of JBC meetings click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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