#Coleg Notebook: Debating guns, schools and race

Private education tax credit launches a flurry of education amendments

For years, Senate Republicans have been trying to pass a tax credit for private K-12 education. Now that they’re in the majority, they have brought the tax credit to the floor. Democrats used the opportunity to discuss a slew of education issues, many of which had already died in committee this session.

The Democrats proposed to make student loans tax deductible, to create a state-run tuition plan, to make private schools subject to the same standardized tests and evaluations as public schools, and to postpone funding private education until public kindergarten and preschool have full funding.

In the end, one amendment did pass with unanimous support. Carried by President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, the amendment made the tax credit refundable. That means families too poor to pay income tax could still get a check from the state to fund their children’s private education.

Cadman said he supported the move because it would help kids who need it the most.

Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, who sponsored the amendment earlier in the debate, rallied his caucus to support it for a different reason.

Gun debate: What we talk about when we talk about “success” 

On the surface, lawmakers were fighting over a repeal of universal criminal-background checks for all gun purchases. In practice, they were debating how to measure the success of the existing universal background-check law.

Democrats in favor of retaining universal background checks for all firearms purchases — including private, or peer-to-peer sales — said the policy’s success should be measured by how many people were prevented from legally buying guns because they couldn’t pass a criminal background check. That’s nearly 6,000 would-be gun buyers since the law went on the books in 2013.

Republicans advocating a repeal of universal background checks focused on the peer-to-peer sales the bill was intended to cover, pointing out that only three people have been caught and convicted for privately buying a gun without a background check.

This disagreement about how to measure or even talk about the law’s success was never settled. The ships-passing-in-the-night debate lasted several hours. In the end, everyone voted as expected: 18 Republicans shouted “yes” to repealing the background-check law, and 17 Democrats shouted “no”.

Salazar still mulling the mascot debate

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton spoke with us about his provocative bill to make American Indian school mascots subject to approval by a board of tribal members. The debate hasn’t left his mind, specifically the arguments of GOP lawmakers.

“That is the essence of institutionalized racism right there, that we don’t trust American Indians enough to allow them to make decisions about themselves,” said Salazar.  “Anything that you do, we still have to approve like you’re a bunch of children.’ That’s what really got to me, and I wish I had said so more clearly yesterday.”

As for his controversial introduction of the bill, which deployed other racial stereotypes and slurs to demonstrate how Indian students feel when confronted by names like “redskins,” Salazar said he has no regrets.

“This bill challenges social mores and norms, and we meant for that to happen,” he said. “We’re watching a sociology experiment take place with this bill … this is what our republic was set up for.”

“Debating Society” by Isaac Cruikshank, public domain.

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Under threat: Lawmakers work to end digital harassment

Lawmakers and their families face frequent threats; death and rape top the list. Former state lawmaker Amy Stephens, R-Monument, knows this well. In 2011, when Stephens ran an insurance exchange bill, she found herself in the crosshairs of opponents of the Affordable Care Act.

“I had death threats and was being followed when I ran the exchange bill,” Stephens told an audience at a recent Colorado Independent women-in-politics forum. “Did you know that we had to have people in front of my office every day at the Capitol? Did you know that people called my office to say, ‘We’re going to kill your boss,’ to my aides? Did you know that it was awful?”

Stephens is not alone in her experience of threats.

“Death threats? I think we’re up to one or two a day … we’re reporting about one a week to State Patrol,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton.

When contentious issues hit Salazar’s desk, threats pour in. “There are those who like to bring family into it, which is an absolute no-no,” said Salazar. “My family doesn’t take the votes. I do. People will mention my girls or mention my wife. I get very concerned about my family. For myself, it is what it is. I kind of accepted that as a legislator.

“I’m sure there’s a number of other Republicans and Democrats who get all kinds of nasty threats as they go about their legislative careers,” Salazar continued, “but it saddens me that people really think that physically threatening someone is supposed to influence legislation.”

To combat pervasive electronic harassment, Salazar co-sponsored HB-1072, an update to the harassment code. He supports the bill, both for its primary intention to curb cyberbullying among kids and because it would cover repeat harassment and threats made “indirectly” through social media.

Salazar distinguishes trolls from terrorists and appreciates that the bill acknowledges the difference.

“Here are the trolls,” he said, pointing to a printout of an online article. “This is Colorado Peak Politics. They call me ‘Jackass Joe.’ Apparently that’s the name they wanted to run with.”

Does he love the nickname? No. Does he think it should be reported to State Patrol or that HB 1072 will make it illegal? Also no.

“Yes, the First Amendment talks about civil discord,” said Salazar, “but the death threats? The physical threats? No. That’s the line.”

That line and which side of it the cyber-harassment bill falls on are less clear for Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone.

In 2013, Saine ate fried chicken in a legislative task force about poverty in response to a Republican colleague who had said racially insensitive things about foods black people eat.

Commenters criticized Saine for silently protesting in defense of the racially-charged comments.

“I was receiving tweets, phone calls, Facebook messages and they’d be in the nature of, ‘I hope you die,’ and ‘I hope you die this way,” remembers Saine. “It was a semantic workaround. They didn’t actually threaten to kill me, so that’s the difference.”

Saine voted against the electronic harassment bill because she thinks it’s overly broad and would limit free speech.

“If people want to call me names, I’ll defend their right to do so as long as it doesn’t cross that line to: ‘I’m coming over to your house right now, and I’m going to do this,’” said Saine. “If every politician was able to use this bill to say, ‘You’re harassing me,’ that’s really going to chill free speech.”

The Senate is scheduled to debate the bill on the floor today.

Photo by Jonas Seaman

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Footage from the Florida climate denial frontline

This is what political denial looks like in Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott has allegedly banned state officials from uttering the term “climate change.”

Video from a Senate committee hearing finds Bryan Koon, head of Florida’s emergency division, dancing around the term as he responds to questions about the climate change disaster-mitigation plans the federal government has required Florida to prepare.

On one hand, it’s absurd and awkward and funny. On the other, it’s tragic and Orwellian. How long can Republican politicians keep this up?

Colorado U.S. Senator Cory Gardner last fall during his campaign for office was asked in a Denver Post debate to respond with a one-word answer on the matter of whether he believed that (a) climate change was happening and (b) was caused mostly by human activity. But Gardner didn’t want to say “yes” or “no.” Moderator Chuck Plunkett, politics editor at the paper, was forced to explain. “These questions are meant to be answered yes or no because they should come from a core belief that you hold.”

To no avail.

“These are important issues that should be addressed seriously,” Gardner said, before rapidly plunging on. The audience oohed and awed.

This dodging on climate change is the kind of thing that makes for great video — the kind of video that outlives the people it features. The one below from 1994 concerns a different matter and it features corporate CEOs, not the people they pay to run for office, but the effect is the same.

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Newsmaker Q&A: Rep. Dan Thurlow, voting his conscience and taking the heat

Freshman lawmaker Rep. Dan Thurlow, a Republican from Grand Junction, has been making a lot of headlines lately for voting with Democrats. He ran afoul of hard-charging, far-right-politics group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners for voting against a bill that would have made it easier for Coloradans to buy machine guns and hand grenades. He also became the subject of digital recall rumblings after he voted to ban psuedo-science “conversion therapy” for gay people and against so-called religious freedom measures that he thought were too broad and might lead to discrimination. Who is Dan Thurlow? We caught up with him last Friday.

 

So, there’s a “Recall Dan Thurlow” Facebook page? 

Here’s the whole background on me: I came [to the Capitol] with the idea that I’m a guy who’s at retirement age and I wanted to just do something different. One advantage I have is that I don’t have much worry about whether I’m reelected or not. What I think that does is free me up to vote the way I think I should vote.

As you know, the issues down here are not simple. There’s always a complication and usually a good argument on each side. So I try to read the bills before committee, to listen in committee and then I try to make a rational decision based on what I read and what I hear. That’s the only way I know how to do it. That’s what I promised my constituents when I ran for office. That’s what I’m doing. I absolutely understand they have the right to disagree with me and they have the right to vote against me if they want and to vote for me if they agree.

As far as the whole recall thing, I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t think it’s a very big groundswell. It’s a free country. They have the right to do what they want to do.

Have you been hearing good things from constituents about your votes? 

Oh, absolutely. On the votes I’m taking, nine-to-one the response is positive. And what’s funny about it, it’s not just the positive of “I agree with you” … it’s positive as in “That’s how you should go about the process.”

As you know, constituents can’t read every bill — that’s not what a normal person with a life has time to do. If you go and look at the gun bills for instance, there were five of them and they were complicated. There was one I didn’t agree with and I’d be glad to sit down with anybody and explain that vote. So far, everybody that I talk to and explain it to goes, “Oh, I understand why that wasn’t a good bill,” even if you’re Second Amendment proponent, which I am.

This was the machine gun…

Machine guns and hand grenades. The bill wouldn’t have done anything to ban them, it was to make them easier to buy. Machine guns and hand grenades.

So that was the vote that put you afoul of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, right? 

I really didn’t hear much right after that vote. The stuff started after the vote on conversion therapy and on [the religious freedom bills] 1161 and 1171. Those are bills that I’m glad to talk over with anybody. I understand the feelings people have. They were premised as being about religious freedom. Believe me, I support religious freedom, and think we have a lot of it. But the other side of the argument is that we have to allow people to live their lives the way they want to live them.

I believe the conservative position is for government to stay out of our life in a regulatory manner, in a tax manner, and for government to stay out of our bedrooms. That’s what I’ve supported. To me that’s the conservative position.

What’s the feedback you’re getting from your colleagues down at the Capitol? 

Literally every legislator that I’ve talked to that has any experience here has said, “Vote your convictions and, over time, that’s how you’ll be successful.”

So, last weekend state Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call was ousted i a tough election. He was seen as too establishment, too moderate. But he ushered in a big win for the party with Cory Gardner, who won his U.S. Senate seat by pitching himself as a ‘new kind of Republican’ who would lay off social issues. Is the pressure you’re drawing rising from the same fault-line in the party?

I guess I really don’t. I didn’t attend [the party] elections. I was in Grand Junction that weekend. I haven’t been tuned into the intricacies of those politics. I guess I don’t have a viewpoint on that.

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Littwin: Ted Cruz for president, because he seems just like a Republican primary voter

As Ted Cruz took the stage at Liberty University to announce that he’s running for president as the One True Conservative, it suddenly occurred to me that he actually has a chance to pull it off.

The smart money dismisses the idea, and with good reason. The party establishment can’t stand him. His fellow senators can’t abide him. If you look at the early polls weighing the crowded Republican field of would-be candidates, voters don’t seem particularly enthralled, either.

And then, of course, there’s the Cruz unlikeability quotient, which has to be the highest since Nixon. Meanwhile, according to fivethirtyeight.com, which has done the numbers, Cruz is the most conservative presidential candidate in recent memory, even if your memory bank includes Michele Bachmann. There’s conservative (see: Scott Walker) and there’s conservative (see: Ted Cruz). Candidates as far out of the mainstream as Cruz just don’t win. You could look it up.

He can talk the angry, liberty-deprived, Obamacare-oppressed, amnesty-obsessed, climate-change-denying wing of the Republican Party into the idea that he’s the candidate they’ve already talked themselves into voting for.

So, how could he do it? Let’s call it the mirror test. Cruz is betting that he can talk the angry, liberty-deprived, Obamacare-oppressed, amnesty-obsessed, climate-change-denying wing of the Republican Party into the idea that he’s the candidate they have already talked themselves into voting for.

You know his bonafides, and they have nothing to do with Harvard Law School. Running as a longshot outsider, he won a Senate seat in 2012, by which time Republicans had long since dedicated themselves to opposing all things Obama. And yet, somehow, inside of a year, he had become the ultimate anti-Obama figure, who proudly cites his role in the anti-Obamacare government shutdown. John McCain may have called him a wacko bird, but that’s just how you become an anti-establishment Tea Party favorite.

Every four years, Republicans threaten to nominate someone like Cruz. And Cruz, who has been running for president since he got to the Senate, thinks the time is now.

He has made the case often enough that compromise is the real danger for Republicans. Here’s what he told the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin: “It is amazing that the wisdom of the chattering class to the Republicans is always, always, always ‘Surrender your principles and agree with the Democrats.’

“That’s been true for my entire lifetime. The chattering classes have consistently said, ‘You crazy Republicans have to give up on what you believe and become more like Democrats.’ And, I would note, every time Republicans do that we lose.”

In Cruz’s version of history, conservatives win — Reagan, the first Bush’s first run, George W. Bush — and moderates lose — the first Bush’s second run, Dole, McCain, Romney. You can guess where he puts the latest Bush. And despite the conventional wisdom – that he’d be destroyed in a general election – you can guess where he puts himself.

In Cruz’s announcement speech, which he delivered without notes, he called for Tea Partiers and Evangelicals to unite behind him. He told them how his father — a Cuban refugee who had moved to Canada, battled a drinking problem and left him and his mother — had found Jesus, reunited with his family and changed their world. Cruz called upon the Liberty students, who were, uh, mandated to be there, to imagine a world that sounds something like a right-wing fever dream. If you trust the applause, the students were dreaming along with him.

Cruz used “imagine” in the John Lennon sense — if you can imagine Lennon as a Tea Partier — maybe three dozen times. Fortunately Cruz didn’t sing, but you can pick up the tune, from which he imagined a world without Obamacare, without the IRS, with a flat tax, with every word of Common Core repealed, with a president who stands by Israel, with a president who respects the Second Amendment, with a president who respects marriage (not including the same-sex kind), with a president who protects the borders (presumably from child invaders), with a president who calls radical Islamic terrorism by its name. And on. And on.

My favorite part of the speech came when Cruz took a historical tour to show how Americans overcome all odds. He began with Patrick Henry in 1775 giving his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, moved on to the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, to George Washington in 1777 with his troops in the freezing cold, jumping to FDR (in a bipartisan turn) in 1933 telling frightened Americans the only thing to fear is fear itself, to, finally, Ronald Reagan himself.

Here’s the part on Reagan: “Imagine it’s 1979 and you and I were listening to Ronald Reagan and he was telling us that we would cut the top marginal tax rate from 70 percent all the way down to 28 percent. That we would go from crushing stagnation to booming economic growth to millions being lifted out of poverty and into prosperity and abundance. That the very day he was sworn in, our hostages who were languishing in Iran would be released and that within a decade we would win the Cold War and tear the Berlin Wall to the ground. That would have seemed unimaginable, and yet with the grace of God, that’s exactly what happened.”

It’s unimaginable to me that Cruz would have included cutting top marginal tax rates among the courageous moments that have marked American history. One day it’s a tax cut, the next it’s the end of the Cold War.

That may not be the way you were taught the story. But it’s the way that Ted Cruz, champion Princeton debater, can tell it. You know he sees himself in the Patrick Henry role. Now imagine if enough Republicans actually agreed.

[ Photo: Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at 2011 Values Voter Summit by Gage Skidmore.]

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Wiretap: Rotten eggs, weed and Snoop Dogg on Reaganomics

Windfall

Wind turbine maker Vestas held a job fair last week in Windsor, Colorado, in the gas patch just north of Greeley. The Danish company was looking to hire 300 permanent positions — or roughly 10 times the amount of permanent jobs the Keystone XL pipeline promised to U.S. citizens.  Many of the job seekers had been laid off from drilling companies in the boom-bust Weld County oil fields. Job seeker Lindsay Gray via the Greeley Tribune: “The thing I’m really looking for is stability.”

This Stinks

Boulder’s Casey Middle School was rebuilt in 2010 for $33 million as a high-tech renewable-energy-powered facility. Students and faculty enjoy views of the Flat Iron mountains and the Sanitas Ridge – and they are also plagued by an “intermittent stink of rotten eggs.” The Daily Camera quotes Superintendent Bruce Messinger on the leaking hydrogen-sulfide problem: “Significant efforts have been made to identify the source.” A long-promised community meeting on the problem is scheduled for April 2.

Weed Read

The first of the Gazette’s four-part series Clearing the Haze explores various regulatory issues associated with legal pot. Check back over the coming days for “Marijuana and Crime,” “Youthful Addiction” and “Medical Marijuana.”

 

Gun Shy

 

After gun-wielders legally entered two Aurora City Council meetings, members got jittery and passed a ban on the open carry of guns at the municipal building, reports The Denver Post.

 

 

Poor Ratings

 

Colorado’s child poverty rate declined to 17 percent this year, the first drop in five years, reports The Gazette. In rural areas, 23 percent of children still face poverty.

 

Dogging Reagan

 

At SXSW, rap legend Snoop Dogg announced he is temporarily bow-wowing out of hip-hop for a foray into documentary filmmaking. He has formed a partnership with HBO to take a bite out of the impact of Reaganomics on an inner-city family in Los Angeles.

 

 

Making Up

 

Hillary Clinton tries to makes up with the press, but only after offering up a lecture. Via the National Journal.

 

Back-pedaling

 

Netanyahu apologizes for comments about Israeli Arabs. Obama does not seem to be impressed. Via The New York Times.

 

 

Biting the Hand

 

The Tea Party and Medicare: What do you do if you want to cut entitlements and much of your base is already over 65? Via The Hill.

 

Cuckoo’s Nest

 

Andy Borowitz on Ted Cruz: Disturbed man tries to get into the White House. Via The New Yorker.

Photo by Alexis Breaux

 

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#Coleg Notebook: Maximum fight for minimum wage

Minimum wage comes to the Capitol  

Advocates for raising the minimum wage to at least $12.50 an hour rallied on the Capitol steps today in support of two bills facing an uphill climb in the Republican-controlled Senate.

MinimumwagechartAccording to the above poll from Myers Research, two-thirds of voters support raising the minimum wage.

Not over a barrel yet 

Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, plans to take her advocacy for the rain-barrel bill to the Senate. The bill would allow Coloradans to collect run-off from roofs for gardens. Saine was one of the few members in her caucus to support the bill, which she says is just common sense.

“It’s true conservation because it helps everyone,” said Saine, pointing out that water collected in rain barrels and used to water plants eventually ends up exactly where it was headed in the first place – just a little bit later.

For whom the test standardizes

Ricardo Martinez, left, chating at minimum wage protest.

Ricardo Martinez, left, chatting at minimum wage protest.

Not everyone wants to see standardized tests slashed. Activists from Padres and Jovenes Unidos arrived in force at the Capitol today not just to support raising the minimum wage but to support evaluations to ensure a minimum standard of education.

“We want to make sure all kids get access to a great education. And by all, we mean all,” said Ricardo Martinez, a director at Unidos. “We don’t want to have kids of color and poor kids getting lost in the mix. For us, evaluations are a way to measure that opportunity gap.”

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Mining History for Horror

While Colorado mourned the 2014 centennial of the Ludlow Massacre with earnest theatrical reenactments, filmmaker Kirk Loudon was busy cooking up his own morbid take on the event: Diggerz: Black Lung Rises.

The movie reinvents the Ludlow Massacre, the day the Colorado National Guard and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company attacked more than a thousand striking miners and their families and killed 19.

The movie’s antagonist, Black Lung, is a wicked spirit, symbolizing 13 murdered miners. Every fifty years, he returns for vengeance and kills 13 townspeople.

Loudon, a third-time filmmaker, plans to shoot his upcoming gore-fest in Trinidad, Colorado, where he has owned a home for the past five years and has immersed himself in local lore.

“We’re going to rewrite a little bit of Ludlow history,” said Loudon.

Loudon’s last film, Dawn of the Crescent Moon, was a thriller that relied on suspense and mystery to scare the audience. This time, he wants to lure kids with a boatload of blood and guts.

Loudon is casting the film this weekend and plans to shoot over the next year.

For more: Ludlow: One hundred years of silence

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Hick on Vaccines: Strong statement, still no real plan

DENVER — Governor John Hickenlooper has recently made a strong case for the need to raise Colorado’s bottom-of-the-barrel vaccination rates, but he has fallen short of outlining a specific plan to make it more difficult to obtain vaccination exemptions or to address widespread public skepticism toward the science of immunization and fears about its safety.

“Kids that can be vaccinated should be vaccinated,” Hickenlooper told the Independent earlier this month. “There are these urban myths — and in many cases these are now suburban myths and rural myths — that somehow vaccinations increase the probability of autism or other unnamed maladies. But there is no science to support this. The science clearly states that having more and more people unvaccinated puts other children at risk.”

He echoed warnings public health experts have been sounding for years.

“One of the basic principles of community is that we look out for each other,” Hickenlooper said. “In places where we’re clearly not taking on an additional risk but providing greater safety to our neighbors, that’s generally how we should act.”

The point Hickenlooper and so many others have been trying to make is that immunization science is about protecting the health of the community and its weakest members — infants, seniors and immune-compromised people. Vaccinations work in concert to form a larger bulwark against stalking diseases. The point is to prevent fast-moving outbreaks.

‘Live and Let Live’

But Colorado is in many ways still a culturally libertarian “live and let live” state, and that is reflected in its loose rules around immunization. The Centennial State is among 20 that allow parents to cite any personal opposition to immunization in order to opt-out their children. Vaccination rates here for infants and preschoolers have ranked near the bottom nationally for years. In 2013, nearly 550 reported cases of vaccine-preventable illness among Colorado school children lead to hospitalization that cost $29.2 million, according to a report by Children’s Hospital Colorado and the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition.

Colorado experienced a whooping cough outbreak beginning in 2012, where the number of reported cases hit epidemic levels two years running. Yet Colorado still has the lowest vaccination rate in the nation among kindergartners for measles, leading many to believe it’s just a matter of time before that highly contagious and dangerous disease enjoys a run in schools across the state.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

California, home to a popular “alternative medicine” movement that dates back decades, was home to a measles outbreak earlier this year. Facing high vaccine opt-out rates there, Gov. Jerry Brown is supporting lawmakers who are pushing to write new tougher vaccine exemption policies. Five members of the legislature there have said they planned to introduce legislation to abolish all religious and other personal-beliefs exemptions for parents who do not want their children vaccinated before starting school, leaving only exemptions for medical reasons in place.

Such a move seems highly unlikely in Colorado. The legislature here has wrestled with the vaccine question for years to no effect, and this legislative session, the Republican majority in the Senate has voiced sympathy for the wing of the anti-vaccination movement that sees immunization requirements as the kind of state intrusion on personal decision making that it is better in the long run to resist.

Bring on the Quirky

Given the apparent gridlock on the issue, the thinking among state politics watchers has been that Hickenlooper will mount a public-interest education campaign, the kind he has been so good at undertaking in the past, where he makes himself the face of the message. As Mayor of Denver, he famously appeared in winningly oddball public service TV ads, including one that saw him parachute from an airplane, touting the benefits of a proposed unpopular tax increase. “Voting yes … will help lift us up,” he said as he floated away into the ether.

Denver Congresswoman Diana DeGette doesn’t possess the same kind of oddball charisma and she’s not as well known as Hickenklooper, but she took it upon herself earlier this year to campaign for vaccinations. She taped a public service announcement in her offices and gave it to Colorado television and radio stations.

“She recorded [it] after the measles outbreaks became especially worrying,” said DeGette spokesman Matt Inzeo. “She is the top Democrat at the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, which oversees public health, and, after bringing in several top Center for Disease Control and National Institute of Health officials, she thought it was worthwhile… We were grateful so many [broadcasters] have been willing to share it and get the word out.”

But in reply to several requests for comment on the vaccination issue, the governor and his staff — while always clear that the administration fully believed the state’s low vaccination rates were unacceptable — never hinted at plans for a larger advocacy campaign.

That seems out of character. Hickenlooper has shined as a leader when public health and safety in the state have been at risk. His calm and inclusive leadership during the historic floods of 2013 made national news. He was everywhere in the waterlogged regions and all over the media. He successfully tapped local and national officeholders to help green-light material and financial assistance and he encouraged politicians across the aisles to work together — and to be seen working together — to support constituents.

Reacting to floods and fires is the business of disaster relief. Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer, pediatrician Larry Wolk, said Colorado has to begin to work toward vaccine-related disaster prevention.

“We already have the evidence,” he said. “Cases of whooping cough are 200 percent higher here in Colorado due to our below-average immunization rates.”

Wolk would like to see the state tighten the rules around immunization exemptions, but he said the department of public health can’t do that alone. It would take legislation to make it happen.

And that’s where things get complicated.

Forced Group-Think

Even though there has been no bill introduced this session targeting vaccine opt-outs, passionate citizen testimony in favor of broad exemption policy has filled committee hearings on other measures, such as the “Parent’s Bill of Rights,” introduced by conservative Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton. His bill aims to elevate parental-power in relation to the state in the public sphere.

Indeed, hours before Hickenlooper argued in favor of vaccination as a community value, Neville took aim at a bill that would have required naturopaths to notify patients or their parents about the Center for Disease Control’s recommended vaccinations.

“I want to make the point that, if we can do this as a body, what are we doing to dictate next that our doctors or naturopaths must do?”

Democrats and three swing-district Republicans killed the amendment. But the chamber’s Republican leaders all voted with Neville.

Even in the Democratic-controlled House, tightening vaccine exemptions is an uphill battle.

Freshman Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, has been poring over the Center for Disease Control report that puts Colorado last in the nation for early childhood vaccinations.

“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” she said. “If you put ten people in a room where someone with measles has been, nine of them will catch it.”

Lontine was chief of staff for physician-senator Irene Aguliar, D-Denver, two years ago when the state legislature started its most recent debate about immunization rates, and she watched with interest last year as the debate continued.

Last year’s vaccine bill, HB 14-1288, garnered headlines and fueled debate even though its proposed changes to existing law were fairly modest. The measure would have required parents seeking exemptions to provide a doctor’s note or take a 45 minute online course about the medical science of immunization. It also required schools to report student-vaccination rates. The bill would not have removed any existing exemptions.

The measure, co-sponsored by Aguilar and Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, was pilloried as government overreach, a form of enforced group-think and an assault on individual rights. It passed the House and was gutted in the Senate. The final law requires only that school vaccine rates be made available online.

Throwing up Hands and a Winking Opportunity

Lontine said that that history at the Capitol and the partisan edge that characterizes politics in the state more generally presses hard against launching any new efforts on the issue.

“I think people outside of this building want something to be done. But here, at the Capitol, it seems like that really loud vocal minority is the one that gets their way,” she said. “What would work is getting rid of the personal exemption, but that’s a huge battle — and actually getting rid of the religious exemption, too, but that would be an even bigger battle…

“I’m throwing up my hands here,” she said at last. “I really, literally, don’t know the answer.”

But Rep. Pabon isn’t ready to give up. He said he thought all the recent coverage in the state and national media has set opportunity winking on the horizon.

“There are more conversations happening,” he said.

 

Image of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper via Flickr.

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Wiretap: Gun-shop suicide watch; Cruz news; trains off track

Shop Watch

“In Colorado, about 420 people die by suicide each year using a gun,” writes Amy Hamilton, in The Daily Sentinel. Her story chronicles the efforts of The Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Network to educate gun shop owners about signs of suicidal behavior.

Field Research

Boulder-based researchers will conduct 15 flights over oil fields in the West to measure air quality. These scientists from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are on the watch for levels of loose methane. Via the Daily Camera.

Coal Facts

A coal train jumped the tracks near Husdon, Colorado, on Sunday, spilling tons of coal from at least 27 cars, according to The Fort Collins Coloradoan. No injuries have been reported. This derailment is the latest in a spate of many. The number of rail cars carrying crude oil is way up, from 9,500 in 2008 to almost 500,000 in 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads.

Rough Roads

Governor John Hickenlooper imported Shailen Bhatt, from Delaware, to head the Colorado Department of Transportation. Upon arrival, he started making wisecracks about the state’s tax-resistant politics, describing the planned opt-in toll lanes between Denver and Boulder as a “libertarian’s dream.” Via Monte Whaley of The Denver Post.

Bloated Budget

Years behind deadline, Department of Veterans Affairs officials are scrambling to explain the jaw-dropping $1.7 billion budget now tacked to the new Aurora hospital. They failed to listen to the contract; they failed to examine the plans; the plans weren’t complete, they said. Now, some in Washington are refusing to sign away more money to the department without a specific explanation of what went wrong, reports the Aurora Sentinel.

Head Start

Ted Cruz is going to announce today that he’s running for president in a speech at Liberty University, making him the first candidate to be officially in the race. And he just might have a better chance than you think. If you want a great look at Cruz, read this Erica Greider profile — The Man in the Arena – that ran last year in Texas Monthly.

Recorded Facts

Marco Rubio says Obama says nicer things about Iran than he does about Israel. Uh, let’s go to the tape. Via New York magazine.

False Fears

As Obamacare hits its 5-year anniversary — if you start counting from when Obama signed it into law — it turns out that most of the predictions were dead wrong. Via the National Journal.

Shooting Squad

A Southern California lawyer wants to put a “shoot the gays” initiative on the state ballot. The initiative — which would allow citizens to kill gays — obviously can’t go very far, but the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the attorney general may have no choice but to allow signatures to be collected.

Photograph courtesy of Kool Cats Photography

 

from The Colorado Independent http://ift.tt/1LNXW8z
via Colorado Marijuana news