Commentary & Community

Colorado Voters to Decide on Tobacco, Vaping Tax Increase

The price of cigarettes and vaping products could be going up in Colorado.


If voters approve Proposition EE, the state government will increase the tax on tobacco products every year until 2027 and impose a new tax on e-cigarette products. The revenue generated would be dedicated to a variety of state funds dealing with health and education.


Under Proposition EE, the state's cigarette tax would increase from its current 84 cents-per-pack to $2.64 per-pack by 2027. The tax rate on tobacco products such as cigars and chewing tobacco would increase form 40% to 62%. Currently nicotine products such as e-cigarettes and vaping supplies are not taxed. Under Proposition EE, they would begin to be taxed at a rate of 30%, which would rise to 62% by 2027. A variety of state programs would share in revenue from this tax increase, including the preschool fund, the rural schools fund, and the tobacco tax cash fund.


Backers of this measure contend that Colorado's tobacco tax is below the national average. They argue that it needs to increase in order to discourage smoking and provide revenue for important government programs. Opponents say this tax will hurt Colorado businesses. They also note that imposing the same tax on non-tobacco nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, will discourage people from switching to them from more dangerous tobacco products.


Do you think that tobacco taxes should be increased? Should nicotine products like e-cigarettes be taxed the same as tobacco products?



Colorado Voters to Decide on Wolf Reintroduction

Among the 11 ballot measures facing Colorado voters this year is one that could result in wolves taking up residence in the state for the first time in 7 decades.


If voters approve Proposition 114, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission would create a plan to reintroduce wolves on state land west of the continental divide by 2023. The proposition also establishes a fund to compensate livestock owners for any losses connected to wolves.


Gray wolves used to be present throughout much of the United States, including Colorado. They were viewed as nuisances by early settlers, however, and often had bounties placed on them. This resulted in wolves being eradicated from much of the U.S. The last one in Colorado was killed during the 1940s. 


Supporters of this initiative say that wolves help establish an ecological balance. They point to the experiences in Yellowstone National Park, where the reintroduction of wolves helped control the elk population. These supporters argue that many environmental benefits will occur once a healthy wolf population is established. Opponents, however, counter that wolves will kill both livestock and endangered species. They say that there will be conflicts between wolves and humans. 


The federal government has reintroduced wolves in some Rocky Mountain states, but not Colorado.


Do you support the reintroduction of gray wolves in Colorado?



Colorado Passes Police Reform Bill

In the wake of protests over law enforcement tactics, Colorado legislators have passed a bill that will overhaul how police in that state operate.


This week, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law SB 217, which both houses of the legislature quickly passed this month. Among other things, this new law will:

  • Mandate the use of body cameras in many instances, and penalize officers who turn off cameras to obstruct justice
  • Allow police to be sued and be personally liable if they violate someone’s civil rights or do not step in to prevent another officer from violating someone’s civil rights
  • Ban police from firing rubber bullets at protestors
  • Establish a use-of-force database
  • Create an oversight board to monitor police actions


Supporters of this bill say that it will help address many of the troubling law enforcement practices that have led to the deaths and injury of suspects. They argue that these reforms will help ensure police protect the rights of people while also upholding the law. Opponents, however, contend that the bill was hastily written and will handicap efforts to protect the public.


Other states are considering similar reform legislation. Next week, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill that will enact some of these measures at a federal level.


Do you think that police officers should be personally liable if they violate someone’s civil rights? Should police be prohibited from firing rubber bullets at protestors?

Colorado Looks to Tighten Vaccine Exemptions

Colorado legislators are considering making it a little more difficult for parents to opt their children out of vaccinations required to attend public school.


Current Colorado law does not mandate that children be vaccinated in order to attend school. Children who have medical conditions can opt out of vaccines, and parents who have religious or personal objections to vaccines can also refuse vaccination for their children. In order to do so, they must file forms that attest to this.

The legislative proposal being considered would standardize these forms and tighten the requirements for exemption. They would also improve data collection on exemption rates. Legislators defeated a similar bill last year.


Sponsors of the legislation say this is necessary to ensure that as many children as possible are vaccinated. They argue that vaccinations are a vital way to protect public health. Opponents, however, say that mandatory vaccination is government overreach. Parents, they contend, should be free to decide whether or not to give their children vaccinations.


Another Colorado legislator has introduced a bill that would require health care providers to give parents information about what he terms “vaccine injuries” and would prevent the state and local governments from taking adverse actions against parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.

Do you think that government should make it more difficult for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children who attend public school?

Gun Control on Colorado Legislative Agenda Next Year

This year, Colorado legislators passed a “red flag” gun law that allows police to seize firearms from individuals they see as threats. This was the first gun control bill passed in the state since 2013. Democratic legislators are vowing more gun bills next year.


The red flag legislation was controversial, leading to an unsuccessful recall campaign against its sponsor. But this has no deterred the Democrats who control the Colorado legislature from exploring more gun control bills for next year’s legislative session.


Among the bills being considered:

  • Mandating that businesses safely store firearms after business hours
  • Requiring individual gun owners to safely store their firearms
  • Make it a crime for gun owners to fail to report if their firearms have been stolen


Other states have adopted similar bills, but such proposals have been a tough sell in Colorado. The state, while trending Democratic recently, has a large rural population.


Supporters of these measures say that they are necessary to prevent gun violence and accidents. They say that law-abiding gun owners have nothing to fear from them. Opponents, however, see these bills as government infringing on their constitutional rights. They also note that criminals are unlikely to comply with the law, so the only people affected are law-abiding gun owners.


Do you support the government mandating how businesses and individuals store guns? Should gun owners be required to report when their guns are stolen?

Colorado Oil and Gas Production May Face New Restrictions

Colorado is one of the top oil- and natural gas-producing states in the nation. But a ballot measure may have a dramatic impact on the future of this industry. Proposition 112 would impose new setbacks that opponents contend would kill much of the state’s energy development. Supporters counter that these new rules are necessary to protect the public.


The oil and gas industry has a long history in Colorado. With the advent of the shale revolution, which led to a significant oil and gas output thanks to hydraulic fracturing, Colorado’s energy production underwent a renaissance during the past decade. This increased production has led to conflicts with some municipalities and residents over pollution claims and noise complaints.


There have been a variety of legislative efforts to curb oil and gas production in the state. These range from local laws to citizen-led initiatives, although many have failed to gain traction or have been shut down in the courts. Proposition 112 is the most significant of these proposals. It would mandate that any new oil and gas development be set back 2,500 feet from homes, schools, playgrounds, rivers, creeks, and anything else local governments determine as a “vulnerable area.” Currently the state imposes a 1,000 feet setback from high-occupancy buildings such as schools, 500 feet from occupied homes, and 350 feet from playgrounds.


The supporters of Proposition 112 argue that oil and gas production, especially when it involves hydraulic fracturing, poses a variety of health threats to the public. These setbacks, they argue, will ensure that these hazardous operations are not too close to people.


Opponents of Proposition 112 say that these setbacks would essentially end almost all new oil and gas production in the state. They contend that few areas would be left to explore for oil and natural gas after the setbacks are put into place. They point out if that happens it could lead to tens of thousands of jobs being lost, the state’s economy taking a big hit, and tax revenue going down. They also argue that Colorado has strict regulations on oil and natural gas development, so a new setback rule is unnecessary.


Both the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor oppose Proposition 112. If the voters approve it, there will likely be a legal fight prior to its implementation.


Do you think that oil and natural gas production should face stricter regulation?

Colorado Landowners Seeking Compensation for Value Lost to State Regulations


States and local governments routinely pass laws and enact regulations that reduce property values. Under a proposed initiative for this year’s Colorado ballot, they may have to compensate landowners when they do so.


The “Colorado Compensation to Owners for Decreased Property Value Due to State Regulation Amendment” would mandate that whenever the state enacts regulations that diminish property values, the state must provide just compensation. This would be an addition to the state constitution’s requirement that the state provides compensation when it takes or damages private property.


A group of ranchers and farmers is backing this amendment. They are primarily concerned about another proposed constitutional amendment that would severely limit landowners’ ability to explore for natural gas and oil on their land. They contend that it is only fair that if the state is going to enact a law that restricts their ability to use their land to make money, then the state should compensate them.


Opponents of this amendment say that it would make it almost impossible for the state and local governments to function. They argue that routine zoning laws could trigger lawsuits. These opponents contend that many laws meant to protect the public reduce the property value of individuals, so it would be a huge financial burden if governments must compensate these owners.


The secretary of state is reviewing this amendment to determine if it has enough signatures to be placed on November’s ballot.

Do you think that the government should compensate landowners if government regulations reduce the value of that land?


Colorado Voters Set to Vote on Banning Prison Slavery


The constitutions of both Colorado and the United States ban slavery and involuntary servitude, but they contain one exception – those who are being punished for a crime can still be forced to work without pay. This year, Colorado voters will face a ballot amendment that would end this practice in that state.


Under Colorado’s constitution, if someone has been convicted of a crime it is legal for the state to put that person to work without paying him or her. Half the states allow such unpaid labor for convicts, while the other half ban it.


Legislators voted to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would, if passed, ban slavery and involuntary servitude completely in Colorado. They placed an identical amendment on the ballot in 2016, but voters narrowly defeated it.


Supporters of this amendment say that the current language allowing prisoners to be forced to do unpaid work is a relic from another time when the dignity of all people was not recognized. They say it will be a positive symbolic change for Colorado to ban slavery in all cases. Opponents of changing the language note that prisons offer a variety of work programs that are aimed at rehabilitating prisoners. They say that amending the constitution may affect the legal status of these programs.


Do you think that prisoners should be forced to work without pay? Or do prison laborers deserve to be paid for their labor?


Who Can Regulate Oil and Gas Production in Colorado?


Colorado is one of the top energy producing states in the U.S. This oil and natural gas development has come with some pushback, however. Local governments are attempting to impose restrictions on oil and gas producers. State courts have generally struck down these local rules, saying such regulatory power lies with the state government. This issue could come to a head on November’s ballot.


Thanks to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, oil and gas production has thrived over the last decade in Colorado. Some residents have pushed their local governments to enact new setbacks for oil and gas drilling rigs or imposes other restrictions on how this energy development can proceed. Some activists are also working with local governments to restrict or ban hydraulic fracturing, which they contend is dangerous.


When cities or counties enact these rules, the energy companies affected have argued that the state government has the authority to regulate oil and gas drilling. They have generally found sympathy from the state’s judiciary, which has ruled that state laws and regulations pre-empt local efforts to enact rules government energy production. The state Supreme Court struck down two high-profile city ordinances that would have banned oil drilling or placed a moratorium on it.


Currently, some Coloradans are collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would enshrine the state power over energy production rules in the state constitution. They say it is necessary to end any confusion that exists over whether or not local governments have this regulatory power. They further contend that there should be one set of rules for energy production across the state, not a hodge-podge of local regulations. Opponents of this measure counter that doing this would remove any potential for local elected officials to respond to their constituents’ concerns over oil and gas drilling.


The backers of this initiative have until early August to collect enough signatures. If they do so, Colorado voters will have the chance to decide in November at what level of government energy production rules should be made. 


Do you think that the state government should set uniform rules for oil and gas production in Colorado? Or should local governments have the power to set oil and gas drilling rules that are tailored to meet their unique circumstances?


Colorado Overhauls Pension System



Colorado’s pension system has a big problem – it doesn’t have enough money to pay its promised benefits. Reforms enacted during this year’s legislative session may be enough to fix these problems, but they will bring changes to the way state employees plan for retirement.


At the beginning of this year, the gap between what the state government promised its retirees and what its pension system had available to pay those promises was between $32 billion and $50 billion. If lawmakers did not find a way to close this gap, retirees would face large benefit cuts in the future.


Governor John Hickenlooper and legislators crafted a bipartisan bill that changed the state retirement system in a number of ways:

  • The percentage of pay that state employees must contribute as their share of paying for the pension plan will go up from 8% to 10%.
  • The retirement age for both teachers and state government workers will go up to 64. Currently, teachers can retire at 58 and state employees at 60.
  • More workers can opt out of the pension plan and instead choose to use something like a 401(k) for their retirement.
  • Current retirees will not have a cost-of-living raise for the next two years.
  • Once that two-year freeze is over, the cost-of-living increase will be 1.5%, down from 2% currently.
  • The state will pay $225 million a year to the pension system to meet its unfunded liabilities.
  • There will also be a .25% payroll tax that the state government and school districts will pay that will go towards meeting pension obligations.


These reforms come on top of 2010 legislation that also attempted to shore up the pension system.


Some unions representing state employees did not like all of the changes, such as raising the retirement age to 64. The proposal also came under attack from some conservative commentators, who say that it does not go far enough to fix the state pension system’s problems.


Do you think that it is fair to ask state employees to retire at 64 instead of 58 or 60? Should retirees’ cost-of-living increase for their pensions be lowered to 1.5% to help shore up the pension fund?


Governor Wants Changes to Colorado Pensions


Colorado has a $43 billion pension system, paying or promising retirement benefits to scores of state employees. However, this pension system faces trouble with its $32.2 billion in unfunded liabilities. In other words, the state’s politicians have promised retirees a more generous retirement package than what these politicians have actually saved money to give them. Unless the state acts, either taxpayers will be forced to cover this large gap or retirees will see their benefits drastically reduced.


Governor Hickenlooper’s recently released budget suggests a few options to deal with this issue. His budget has proposed reducing employees’ guaranteed cost-of-living adjustment from 2% to 1.25%. He would also like to require employees to pay an additional 2% into the pension plan, which would bring their total contribution up to 10%. In return, state employees would receive a 3% pay increase in the next fiscal year.


This plan takes elements from a plan put forward by the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, the board that manages the state pension system. The board’s recommendations included increasing the retirement age for newly-hired state employees, cap cost-of-living adjustments at 1.5%, and increase the amount that state agencies pay into the system on behalf of employee retirement.


State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, supports a reform that require the state to assume a lower rate of return for pension investments. Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg has suggested the state consider moving to a retirement plan that is similar to a 401(k), which relies not on a defined benefit (like a pension) but instead on a defined contribution from the state.


Legislators will take up the issue of pension reform when they convene in January.


Do you think that Governor Hickenlooper is right to require state employees to pay more into their retirement system? Or should Colorado end traditional pensions and move state employees to something like a 401(k)?


Supreme Court Tackles Gay Rights and Religious Liberty


Should a business owner be free to turn down certain work based on his or her religious convictions? Or should gay and lesbian individuals be protected by law from business owners who discriminate against them?

These are the questions at play in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this term.


At issue is a Colorado bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding reception. The owner cited his religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage. The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado commission that enforces that state’s law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. After a court fight, the Colorado Supreme Court decided against the bakers, concluding that he did discriminate against the gay couple. The court held that forcing a baker to make a cake infringed neither upon his free speech nor upon the exercise of his religion.


There is no nation-wide law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, twenty-one states (including Colorado) have such laws. The heart of this case is when laws protecting homosexual individuals from discrimination conflict with the religious-based beliefs of business owners who disapprove of homosexuality or gay marriage.


In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the baker contends that the state law forcing him to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage theme would be a mandate that he condone an activity his religion teaches him to condemn. Those on the other side of the issue say that if a business owner can cite a religious belief to circumvent anti-discrimination laws, these laws will become toothless.


The Justice Department has filed a legal brief supporting the baker’s position. This brief backs anti-discrimination laws, but says that these laws cannot be used to force people to advocate for beliefs that they do not hold. Some observers contend that this brief is part of the Trump Administration’s wider agenda that is hostile to gay rights.


Arguments for this case will be held at some point during the Supreme Court’s 2017 term, with a decision expected in late spring of next year.


Do you think that a business owner has a right to refuse service on the basis of religious beliefs? Or do you think that it is important to ban discrimination regardless of someone’s motives?


Colorado Senate Bill 021


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Colorado Senate Bill 021, Use Marijuana Revenue to Subsidize Housing and Services for Mentally Ill Criminals: Passed 35 to 0 in the state Senate on May 10, 2017.


To establish a rental housing voucher and supportive services program for released prisoners who have a behavioral or mental health disorder. The money would come from marijuana tax revenue.


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Colorado House Bill 1222


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House Bill 1222, Create Family Caregiver Support Fund Tax Check-off: Passed 27 to 7 in the state Senate on April 18, 2017. 


To create a family caregiver support fund in the state treasury and, if space on tax forms permits, allow taxpayers to designate tax funds to provide money for the fund. Money remaining in the fund at the end of a fiscal year would go to Easter Seals Colorado.


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Colorado House Bill 1288


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House Bill 1288, Create Mandatory Jail Terms for Certain DUI Offenders: Passed 34 to 0 in the state House on May 1, 2017. 


Under current law, a person who commits a fourth or subsequent DUI offense commits a class 4 felony. If a court sentences the person to probation, the bill requires the court to order as a condition of probation one of two possible punishments: The offender would be required to serve between 90 and 180 days in a county jail, or between 120 days and two years in a county jail under alternative sentencing programs that allow the offender to be imprisoned only for certain purposes. The bill further requires that the offender be required to complete all of the following: between 48 and 120 hours of community service, an alcohol and drug driving safety education program at the offender’s expense, and possibly other conditions of probation.


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Colorado House Bill 1367


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House Bill 1367, Authorize Marijuana Clinical Research: Passed 35 to 30 in the state House on May 10, 2017.


Create a marijuana research program. The bill would create multiple licenses governing possession of marijuana for research purposes and growing marijuana for research. The bill makes appropriations of $226,000 for enforcement and legal compliance.


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Colorado Senate Bill 301


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Senate Bill 301, Repeal and change certain energy-related programs: Passed 18 to 17 in the state Senate on May 10, 2017 and failed in the state House on May 10, 2017


To repeal certain energy-related programs, including the wind for schools grant program, the renewable energy and energy efficiency for schools loan program, certain programs for which the Colorado energy office is responsible, the green building incentive pilot program, the Colorado Clean Energy Finance Program Act. The bill removes certain responsibilities of the Colorado energy office and transfers others. One program change removes certain authorities related to energy-specific license plates to a nonprofit corporation, Natural Capitalism Solutions. The bill would increase the registration fee on electric motor vehicles.


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Colorado Senate Bill 305


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Senate Bill 305, Restore primary elections for U.S. President and allow unaffiliated voters to participate in primaries: Passed 33 to 2 in the state Senate on May 10, 2017 and 65 to 0 in the state House on May 9, 2017


To conform state election laws with the results of voter-approved ballot initiatives in 2016. The bill would restore the party-based primary voting system for the U.S. Presidential election. The bill requires the general assembly to pay for any presidential primary elections. The bill also provides for unaffiliated voters to receive ballots for primary elections.


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Colorado Senate Bill 183


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Senate Bill 183, Spend $100,000 on grants related to the commissioning of the U.S.S. Colorado nuclear attack submarine: Passed 29 to 6 in the in the state Senate on May 8, 2017 and 65 to 0 in the state House on May 9, 2017


To conform state election laws with the results of voter-approved ballot initiatives in 2016. The bill would restore the party-based primary voting system for the U.S. Presidential election. The bill requires the general assembly to pay for any presidential primary elections. The bill also provides for unaffiliated voters to receive ballots for primary elections.


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Colorado Senate Bill 284


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Senate Bill 284, Mandate physicians give specified information to patients at least 24 hours before an abortion: Passed 19 to 16 in the state Senate on April 13, 2017


To require a physician whose patient has elected to have an abortion to provide verbal and written disclosures that must include any pending disciplinary or legal action against the physician, a detailed description of technical elements of the method of abortion selected, a list of physical and psychological risks associated with abortion, information on reversing certain abortion methods, and details on alternatives to abortion. Providers must also provide an opportunity to view or decline to view ultrasound images and listen to the fetal heartbeat. The disclosures would also require physicians to provide patients with a list of ultrasound providers nearby with particular emphasis on providers that do not charge a fee. Patients could refuse to sign the disclosure if they feel they have not been properly informed.


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