#Coleg Notebook: Wins under the Gold Dome for IUDs and renewable energy

Colorado’s much-lauded 40 percent reduction in teen pregnancy rates has lawmakers has for now shifted the debate over lady parts at the Capitol, in what seems a productive way. A handful of lawmakers, strange bedfellows to be sure, have stepped off the well-tread pro-choice versus pro-life path and say they’d rather talk reproductive economics than rights.

The bill at the center of this conversation is HB 1194, which would put $5 million annually into a program that offers long-acting reversible contraception (IUDs and implants) to low income teens.

The policy debate surrounding reproductive economics has not only drawn staunch pro-choice and women’s rights lawmakers but also the odd rural Republican male. The bill is co-sponsored by Boulder Democrat Rep. KC Becker and Republican Rep. Don Coram of Montrose. In Montrose, the teen birth rate has dropped by half in the last decade, yet still remains roughly 150 percent higher than the state average.

“This isn’t about whether you think there’s a right to have an abortion or not. It’s about how you most effectively prevent unwanted pregnancies,” said Becker, adding that the bill could wrack up huge savings in Medicaid and public assistance costs.

The bill has already drawn bipartisan support in the House, where it’s likely to pass. The Senate is a different terrain. In the GOP-controlled upper chamber, the bill is still searching for a sponsor.

Yet even in the Senate, opposition is sticking to the reproductive economics discourse.

“I am very pro-life but I’m trying to keep that out of it,” said Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa. “I’m looking at this from strictly a financial viewpoint.”

Crowder recently penned an op-ed for the Denver Post arguing that the state shouldn’t fund the program. It’s not because he thinks it hasn’t worked. He does. It’s also not because he’s stuck on the IUD-as-abortifacient debate — Crowder’s understanding of how IUDs work is precise and his position swings toward better incentivize IUDs than repeat Plan Bs. No. It’s because he thinks the program is no longer needed because there’s a privately funded national equivalent and there is also the expanded provisions of the Affordable Care Act cover contraception, including IUDs and implants, without copay.

“I do think we have to be guardians of the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Crowder, who also confirmed that there’s support in the pro-life caucus for programs like the one HB 1194 would fund because they reduce abortions.

While Becker agreed that the provisions of the ACA that cover birth control are great, she still sees tremendous need for HB 1194.

“I do think this is a transitional issue in terms of the ACA,” said Becker. “There are a lot of patients who are still un- or under-insured.”

 

Driver’s license debate returns to committee

The Senate voted unanimously and quietly on Monday to send the headline-grabbing program that provides undocumented residents of the state with driver’s license to conference committee, where they will consider re-funding the program they defunded. The committee is comprised of the exact same six people, the members of the Joint Budget Committee, who birthed this debate a month ago when they disagreed 3-3 about whether the Department of Motor Vehicles should get to collect and spend more fees to fund the popular program.

“We’ve been over the river and through the woods since then,” said JBC member Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.

 

Yay future energy: House Dems kill bill that sought to undercut renewable energy standard

Republican Senate Bill 44 went straight to the House Democrats’ State Affairs “kill committee” Monday and died as expected on a party-line vote. The measure sought to roll back the current renewable energy standard to 15 percent for all utilities. The current standard is 30 percent for large, urban utilities and 20 percent for rural cooperatives by 2020. The standard was lauded as a vanguard energy policy and a model for the nation. But Republicans here, spurred in part by oil industry political interest groups, have catered to a conservative rural constituency opposed to renewable energy reflexively as some kind of liberal imperialism — even though analysts say Colorado wind and solar power could power the state, and even though renewable energy technology companies here are a thriving sector of the economy bound to grow in decades to come.

Environmental groups gathered at the Capitol cheered the vote.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 9.24.15 PM
 

Top photo by Sam Kramer.

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Wiretap: The frivolous and enormous Obamacare case

Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker that everything about the Obamacare case before the Supreme Court is small — except for the stakes. How big are the stakes in what is basically a frivolous case? Toobin puts it this way: “In a human sense as much as in a legal one, the stakes in King v. Burwell dwarf those of the immigration lawsuit and, indeed, most cases in the history of the Supreme Court.”

Sens. Orrin Hatch, Lamar Alexander and John Barrasso (the more the merrier) co-write an op-ed in the Washington Post, saying that the GOP has a contingency plan in case the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare. Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent reads the op-ed and can’t find even a hint of a plan.

All of your Iran nuclear-deal questions answered by the inimitable Jeffrey Goldberg. Via the Atlantic.

The suspect in the Colorado Springs bombing case told investigators he was targeting an accountant with whom he had beef. But the accountant been dead for six months and records show he never even worked in the building. The NAACP actually does work in the building, and its president, Henry Allen Jr., doesn’t buy the suspect’s professed motive. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney in Colorado John Walsh says “The investigation continues regarding the motive for the attack.” Via the Denver Post.

Colorado Springs police are looking to ban 12 people from the downtown area, citing crime prevention as their primary motive. But documents obtained by the ACLU of Colorado and reviewed by the Gazette show that all 12 are homeless people with only petty offenses on their records. 

Did Hillary Clinton’s exclusive use of personal email as Secretary of State break the rules? Via the New York Times.

Clinton may have used her private email, but the Twittersphere jokes have all gone public. Via the Washington Post.

Byron York writes that Scott Walker has shot to the head of the pack much more quickly than he expected. Now he has to catch up with himself. Via the Washington Examiner.

It’s Tamir Rice’s fault. Really? Via the Washington Post.

If you prefer to be depressed in the morning, read Matthew Yglesias’s essay in Vox on why American democracy is doomed.

A philosopher’s joke? One philosophy professor at CU Boulder is battling a lawsuit for allegedly retaliating against a student who reported sexual misconduct. Another is fighting with his own lawsuit, alleging the school illegally retaliated against him after requesting accommodations for his disability (which is described in the suit as “major depression with psychotic features.”) Plaintiff Dan Kaufman said he made a “philosopher’s joke” in response to the department chair’s asking him if he were suicidal, after which he was banned from campus. The philosopher’s joke? According to the suit, it went like this: “Kaufman assured [department chair Andy Cowell] that he would not try to kill himself or anyone else, including Cowell, ‘unless he was truly evil (or) had Hitler’s soul.’” Via the Daily Camera. 

The hits on Bill O’Reilly just keep on coming. This time CNN plays a tape of a phone conversation that pretty much shows O’Reilly has lied about being at the scene when an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald killed himself. Via Politico.

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Cannabist calendar: 50-plus things to do in March 2015

Cannabist calendar: Stoney events in March 2015 for Denver, Colorado Springs and beyond. Comedy shows, classes, karaoke, food-themed happenings & more.

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POLL: Fair or not? Littering fines in DC are 3X its public pot-smoking fees

The fine for littering in Washington D.C. is $75, while the district’s fine for smoking pot in public is only $25. Is that how it should be? Take the poll.

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VIDEO flashback Cory Gardner: Republicans must ‘show we can govern maturely’

Even if you almost never pay attention to what your representatives are doing on Capitol Hill to make sure the trains run on time or not, you will have heard that the trains don’t even seem to be leaving the station anymore. Congress is doing even less governing than the historic paltry amount of governing it did last year, and the year before that.

On Friday, Democrats in the House bailed out Republican Speaker John Boehner and joined with the chamber’s dwindling Boehner-bloc of Republicans to fund the Department of Homeland Security for another week. Fifty tea party-Republicans earlier in the night humiliated Boehner by rejecting his proposal to extend the department funding for three weeks in order to keep negotiating. The tea party plan is to not negotiate at all but to continue to try instead to force Democrats in the Senate and President Obama to repeal Obama’s executive orders aimed at halting deportations of young undocumented people and their family members. They intend to do this by attaching the repeal proposal to Homeland Security funding. It’s a hopeless plan. Their bill can not pass the Senate, where Democrats will block a vote, and the president would veto it in the extreme unlikely chance it made it to his desk.

They know this is true. They have been here before, and not very long ago. In October 2013, House Republicans led by the far-right members of the caucus tied their votes for the federal budget to proposals to repeal Obamacare. Their budget read like a kidnapper’s ransom note, and the President and congressional Democrats refused to pay the ransom. Did they really think Pres. Obama was going to repeal Obamacare? The federal government shut down for 16 days. Some 800,000 workers were furloughed. National parks and facilities closed. The public blamed the kidnappers.

Congress has been in session less than two months so far this year. Before the ongoing Department of Homeland Security funding debacle, Republicans spent weeks on a bill aimed at green-lighting the Canadian KeystoneXL tar-sands pipeline. They hoped to use the bill to bypass executive branch review of the project. Opponents of the pipeline pointed out the horrible environmental costs it would ring up, the overblown nature of the U.S. jobs the pipeline was supposed to create and the hollowness of claims that it would further North American energy independence. Obama mostly agreed, saying early on that he would veto the bill, which is exactly what he did last week.

The dysfunction in Washington is unfolding exactly as many feared it would.

In the midterm elections last November, Republicans extended their majority in the House of Representatives and seized control of the Senate. Analysts worried at the time that a Republican-controlled Congress of the tea party era would be unable to govern, that the growing hard-right fringe would spend the bulk of its energy trying fruitlessly to repeal Obamacare, hating on undocumented immigrants and catering to fossil fuel companies.

Colorado’s newly elected U.S. Senator Cory Gardner took pains after the election to reassure Americans that his party knew better than to let that happen. On ABC’s “This Week” he told George Stephanopoulos that voters had sent a clear message to lawmakers. “The message is that what is happening in Washington DC isn’t working.”

Gardner was talking about constant gridlock due to instinctive head-banging and political positioning.

“It’s important that Republicans show that we can govern maturely, that we can govern with competence.”

He said Republicans had to send bills to the president’s desk that the president would actually sign, proposals that “have bipartisan support and that [will] show the American people that we are serious about our intention to govern.”

“Does that mean taking things like shutting down the government off the table?” asked Stephanopoulos.

“The government shutdown is a bad idea, anytime anywhere,” said Gardner.

Yet here we are. As Simon Maloy writes at Salon, “this all spells real trouble going forward.”

“The story of the first two months of the all-Republican Congress has been complete dysfunction and the inability to perform the rudimentary tasks of government. The Republicans are fighting amongst themselves and venting obvious frustration with Boehner’s shambolic approach to governing. On Friday night, McConnell passed the one-week CR and then immediately adjourned the Senate for the weekend – putting all the pressure to act on Boehner and sending a clear message that he’s done with this fight. Earlier in the day, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) pleaded with House Republicans to stop the madness. ‘Hopefully we’re gonna end the attaching of bullshit to essential items of the government,’ he said.”

Meantime, earlier in the week, Oklahoma’s James Inhofe, new Republican Chairman of the Senate Environment Committee and lead congressional climate-change denier, did his best to demonstrate how serious he is about governing maturely when he performed a sad kind of Marx Brothers routine in which he managed to lampoon himself as a pompous know-nothing official.

Ihnofe’s “Senator Snowball” routine drew the following response from Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who seemed determined to win back a small measure of dignity for his chamber, however fleeting.

(H/T to The Brad Blog on Senator Snowball.)

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D.C. police chief: ‘Marijuana smokers are not going to attack and kill a cop’

Of the two American localities to recently implement the full-on legalization of recreational marijuana — Washington D.C. and Alaska — the nation’s capital has had the bumpier road. And now the police chief of the District of Columbia is boldly coming out saying that “alcohol is a much bigger problem” than marijuana.

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Worth a shot? Nebraska police find pot in container labeled “Not Weed”

A man in Lincoln, Nebraska, has been cited for possessing pot inside a container that had been slapped with a label reading: “Not Weed.”

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Near-record bust: 15 tons of weed in truck at U.S.-Mexico border in SoCal

Federal authorities have seized more than 15 tons of marijuana in a near-record bust at a border crossing in Southern California.

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Utah: DEA warns of stoned rabbits if state passes medical marijuana bill

Utah is considering a bill that would allow patients with certain debilitating conditions to be treated with edible forms of marijuana. If the bill passes, the state’s wildlife may “cultivate a taste” for the plant, lose their fear of humans, and basically be high all the time. That’s according to testimony presented to a Utah Senate panel (time stamp 58:00) last week by an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration who specifically mentioned stoned rabbits.

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Wiretap: Considering an Obamacare death spiral

If the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare, it will be bad for the millions, of course, who qualify for subsidies in getting their health insurance through the federal exchanges. As of now, that’s around six million people in three dozen states. But that’s not all. The experts are predicting that the prices for everyone else in the individual insurance market may rise as much as 35 percent. There were never any death panels, of course. But there is what economists call the “death spiral,” which is when the insurance pools grow smaller and sicker. And if the death spiral hits, no one is sure how bad it might be. Via Upshot in the New York Times.

In the aftermath of the brazen murder of Boris Nemtsov, Garry Kasparov writes of the culture of fear and death in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Via the Wall Street Journal.

Fifty thousand came to mourn Nemtsov — an outpouring from Moscow’s “intellectual faces.” Via the New Yorker.

The state requires oil and gas companies to fully restore drilling sites. Like so many oil and gas regulations in the state, that one depends upon drillers to basically volunteer to comply. As the Denver Post reports, more than half of the 47,505 inactive wells in Colorado have not been restored. This data shows that current regulations “are probably not acceptable,” said Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission chairman Thomas Compton. “Probably”?

Jackson Diehl: Netanyahu’s dicey bet on his speech to Congress. It’s risky for him here in America and also risky for him back home in Israel. Via the Washington Post.

Colorado Springs voted to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana in 2013 but you still can’t buy it there because the city council effectively blocked pot retail. As conservative Colorado Springs voters might put it: It’s the nanny state, big government knows best! But it’s election time. Voters will elect a new mayor and five council members come April, and they want to know where each of the candidates stand on marijuana. So the Gazette asked them.

The Justice Department will release a report this week faulting the Ferguson police on racial bias. Via the New York Times.

Everyone hates the No Child Left Behind Act, so why isn’t Congress ever going to change it? Via Vox.

It has been a great way to find out about the real lives of young people and develop policies around “risky practices.” For 25 years, the state has been administering an anonymous survey to a large sample of middle school and high school students asking them about sex and drugs. Conservatives in the statehouse and on the board of education are suddenly scandalized. They want the state to seek permission from parents to survey the students. Via the Pueblo Chieftain.

What makes Scott Walker stand out in the early polling is that he is polling well across the entire spectrum of Republican opinion. Via the National Journal.

It’s a lot of numbers, but if you want to take a close look at the demographic changes coming to America — and what it could mean for the electorate — look at the paper from The Center for American Progress.

Sometimes a banana suit is just a banana suit. Via the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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