There are about 500 reasons to cover your eyes as Colorado lawmakers churn out legislative sausage in the middle of the 2019 general assembly.
While this session has had an extraordinary number of controversial bills grabbing lots of headlines and TV newscasts, issues surrounding the Electoral College, oil drilling and sex education are but a few of the hundreds of ways state lawmakers are trying to make your life better. Or not.
While big budget busters, schools and rules are always the main ingredient in meaty sausage cranked out by the general assembly this year, take a look at a smattering of spicy additions that are being cooked up at the state Capitol.
DOPE TO YOUR DOOR
In the HBO series “High Maintenance”, a New York City man illegally delivers baggies of marijuana to zany customers all over the city, all from the two wheels of his bicycle.
But if a bill making its way through Colorado’s House of Representatives becomes law, marijuana deliveries across the state would be a little more professional – and totally legal.
The bill, House Bill 1234, enjoys bipartisan support in both the state House and Senate, including that of Democratic Aurora Rep. Jovan Melton, who is co-sponsoring the bill.
As written, the law change would liberate retail dispensaries to deliver medical marijuana next year and recreational marijuana the following year.
Cannabis couriers would have to pass a state-imposed training to make sure they properly check ID’s, deliver to the right person (and not the customer’s conniving teenager) and protect their personal information.
Other than that, the delivery law would create open season for recreational pot smokers unwilling to put down the Cheetos and fire up the car for a trip to the dispensary.
Given that Aurora isn’t the friendliest city for pedestrians, Melton said, residents would take advantage of the ability to simply answer the door for their pot.
But the biggest boon would be for medical patients, Melton said.
Pharmaceutical companies can currently deliver medicine straight to mailboxes, and with the law change, medical marijuana retailers could as well. That way, medical patients, like those with cancer and seizures, wouldn’t have to rely on other people to give them their medicine or have to drive themselves.
Medical deliveries would be legalized effective January 2020, giving the state a year before recreational deliveries to test the policy on a smaller population, Melton explained.
— GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer
TAMPONS FOR ALL
When Elisabeth Epps was denied tampons in the Arapahoe County Jail earlier this year, she took to social media to voice her frustration.
“Saturday — deputy called to tell me I could have tampons in jail cell,” she tweeted on Jan. 29. “Today — sergeant (superior to deputy) called to say deputy was wrong, no tampons unless bought @ commissary (3-10 day wait). My period is over. But this fight for women’s rights in Arapahoe cage has just begun.”
Most women in the local jail don’t have the access to Twitter, or the nearly 13,000 Twitter followers, Epps has.
But it was that access and those tweets that helped elucidate the lack of access many of Colorado’s female prisoners have to adequate menstrual hygiene products.
Now, with the help of a pair of Democratic state lawmakers, she’s working to change that. Denver state Rep. Leslie Herod and Westminster state Sen. Faith Winter, both Democrats, recently introduced HB19-1224, which would guarantee free tampons and other feminine hygiene products to female prisoners detained in Colorado’s county and municipal jails. The measure unanimously passed out of a House committee last week, and cleared a second reading on the House floor on Tuesday.
“We are asking to pass House Bill 1224 to bring dignity to these women and these guards to ensure we have consistent policies across the state of Colorado that say these products must be offered as a basic need,” Herod said at a committee meeting March 14.
Two years ago, Herod and Winter helped pass a budget amendment guaranteeing access to menstrual hygiene products for female detainees held in Colorado’s state prisons. The recently introduced legislation would expand that guarantee to local and municipal jails, like the facility in Arapahoe County, where Epps was serving a several-week-long sentence for interfering with an Aurora police officer in 2015.
Epps told several Denver reporters in February she began menstruating the first day of her sentence, but was told she wouldn’t have access to the commissary — the only place she could purchase tampons — for about a week.
“She was taken in over the weekend had to get money put on her books and … wouldn’t have … access to the product for five to seven days,” Herod said of Epps’ situation in jail. “So for those of you guys who don’t know, that’s not gonna work.”
Epps, a self-described abolitionist who works to bail people out of jail with the Colorado Freedom Fund, was serving her time on a work-release program, which allowed her to continue her work with the local Freedom Fund, and post to social media, during work hours on weekdays during her sentence.
The financial burden on local governments to provide the hygienic products would be negligible, according to a fiscal note attached to the measure.
“Because most jails already provide some form of menstrual hygiene products, this impact is assumed to be minimal,” according to the fiscal note’s text.
The measure is expected to soon be passed to the state Senate, where Winter will be tasked with shepherding it to the governor’s desk.
— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer
RAILING FOR COMPANY
Trains moving millions of pounds of freight through Colorado will soon be required to carry a little extra cargo.
A measure that would require large freight trains moving through the Centennial State to maintain at least two staff members onboard at all times is on the verge of becoming one of the state’s newest laws.
HB19-1034 has passed both chambers of the state Legislature and already boasts signatures from Democratic House Speaker KC Becker and state Senate President Leroy Garcia. The bill now only needs a signature from Gov. Jared Polis to become law.
Democratic state Rep. Tom Sullivan helped introduce the measure at the beginning of the current session, making good on a promise he made to members of a local labor union who unsuccessfully tried to pass similar legislation two years ago.
“I sat in two years ago in a committee and listened to the testimony on that,” Sullivan said. “It got defeated in the Republican Senate that year, but when it was over, I told the union members should I ever win election, you can count on me to run this bill for you once again.”
The local union for sheet metal, air, rail and transportation (SMART) workers had been lobbying for a law requiring at least two workers on a train for years, Sullivan said.
While large freight trains used to boast crews of five people, rail companies have slowly whittled teams down to two, according to Sullivan. The measure will ensure that minimum doesn’t drop to a single worker, he said.
Sullivan said trains carrying empty rail cars that have transported coal from Wyoming or Colorado to southern states like Louisiana can return west with trains that are nearly four miles long.
“We had to come up with some legislation that says, ‘well here in the state of Colorado you’re going to have at least two people on that train,” he said.
The measure will not apply to light rail cars in the RTD fleet, or trains traveling at low speeds in rail yards. Lawmakers also compromised with rural Colorado farmers who use smaller trains to transport feed short distances within the state.
Workers found in violation of the new law could face fines of $200 for a first offense, and up to $10,000 for a third offense, according to the bill’s text.
Sullivan said Gov. Polis plans to sign the bill at a ceremony in Pueblo following the conclusion of the legislative session.
— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer
A HOMELESS CONSTITUTION
There’s a lot of talk about the state Constitution under Colorado’s gold dome each year, but you likely won’t find the original document that governs the state under the same roof as the state’s legislators.
Two democratic lawmakers want to change that.
State Sen. Kerry Donovan and state Rep. Bri Buentello are carrying a bill that would permanently place the Constitution at the state Capitol. Currently it bounces between the three branches, on a near-constant road trip around Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood where the offices are located. Under SB19-075 that would change.
“The teacher in me thought it would be really cool,” said Buentello, a Pueblo teacher who noted several other states house their state constitution at the capitol building. “Colorado has elements of that, but we don’t have it displayed.”
Buentello said she envisions a permanent fixture that displays the document and educates visitors about the history of the state’s Constitution. Why is a bill required for the move? The exhibition is estimated to cost about $60,000 between the display, security measures for the document and preservation.
The Colorado Constitution was modeled after the U.S. Constitution and established the basic functions of the state government, including the state supreme court and county offices.
“At some point the minutes of the State Constitutional Convention, held in December 1875, were bound in with the Constitution,” according to the state archives. “This 12-page document is written on smaller sized ledger paper. There is evidence that these documents have been rebound several times in their 100 plus years.”
— KARA MASON, Staff Writer
So here’s the dope on Club 420.
Sometime in the hazy, but not-so-distant future, you could walk into a cafe, whip out your pipe and legally smoke your weed in a social setting that’s only legal in places like Amsterdam these days.
A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers intend to take the marijuana industry to the next level by legalizing social consumption at licensed businesses.
You can imagine these places are going to be either very quiet or veritable caverns of high-pitched laughter.
At least, that’s the plan according to Boulder Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Singer, who is sponsoring the bill. He said he’s tried for years to get support for the measure, but the idea hasn’t gotten traction despite trying to address what he sees as a gaping hole in legalized pot consumption here: Where to actually smoke the pot that you have legally bought.
Unless you are in a private residence, like your friend’s apartment or your own house, you can’t legally smoke the stuff; not in parks, restaurants, hotel rooms or in the dispensary you just left.
That leaves tourists in particular to fend for themselves, Singer said, by smoking in public places where they are at risk of a public consumption ticket.
Singer said the priority of the bill is to “bring it out of the shadows” and ensure people can legally use the legal drug, either by bringing their own marijuana into licensed establishments or buying some cannabis in a “tasting room” akin to a distillery or brewing.
When there are legal limits and people consuming together, Singer said, people will be safer. If someone has had too much to smoke, another person can call them a ride, for instance.
The nuts and bolts of the 20-plus-page bill give the state government the authority to regulate and license marijuana hospitality establishments like they already do for cultivation and retail sales.
Licenses would also dole out the amount of marijuana products one could consume at social use joints and prevent “rowdy” atmospheres there.
Not only would tourists and resident pot smokers enjoy the bill, but local governments could finally address a gray area taken advantage of by the City of Denver, which allows social use establishments but has licensed very few.
Singer said he isn’t sure how the law would play out in reality, because local governments could opt out of the law in the fashion of “dry” counties that don’t allow alcohol sales.
— GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer
RED ON YELLOW
Green. Yellow. Red. Slow down. Stop. Heads up. Go. That would have been the sequences of traffic lights had a bill by Republican state lawmaker Hugh McKean gotten initial approval earlier this legislative session.
Instead, the conversation about safety at Colorado stoplights turned into a discussion about states rights. McKean’s bill, HB19-1072, would have required traffic control signals to cycle yellow before cycling green.
“We’re doing a ton of other stuff while we are driving that we probably shouldn’t,” he said during a committee meeting that ultimately killed the bill in late January.
McKean, who represents Loveland in the state House, said he’s been hearing from public safety officials that they have been responding to more red light incursions than ever before.
McKean’s solution? Adding an extra yellow light to traffic stops to signal to drivers and pedestrians that the light is about to change.
It’s a fix that would have been a first in the country. McKean said he got the idea from a paramedic who lived in Poland, where the lights follow that sequence.
It’s not seen in the U.S. because of a Federal Highway Administration rule. McKean was hoping his colleagues would buck federal direction and embrace the 10th Amendment, which gives states rights.
Democratic lawmakers, which make up a majority of the body, in the House Committee on Transportation and Local Government Committee squashed the measure, voting to postpone the bill indefinitely.
— KARA MASON, Staff Writer
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
It’s the worst: watching a driver swerve between the white lines while they type in the next song to play, or peruse an Instagram feed, shifting their glance between the road and the phone.
It can be suicidal – or homicidal – but not illegal.
Data from the Colorado Department of Transportation indicates that distracted drivers, including those tinkering with their phones, caused an average of 40 crashes a day in 2017. In 2016, almost 70 people died in car crashes because they were distracted.
Those numbers are the target of a new bill, which would bring Colorado into the fold of almost a dozen states and U.S. territories that ban using hand-held electronic devices including phones while driving.
These days, it’s only illegal for kids 17 and younger to use phones while driving. SB 012 would extend that to everyone driving in Colorado and also ban using tablets, pagers (for good measure, it seems) and, God forbid, laptops behind the wheel. Colorado is also one of most states in the U.S. that ban texting, but a phone call is still totally within your rights.
If you’re one who uses your phone while driving – and statistically, you are more likely to occasionally drive while looking on your phone than not – despair not. You would still be able to hook your phone up to a hands-free device, like the ones used by Uber and Lyft drivers, and use a hand or two to initiate phone calls or pick a song on Spotify.
Plus, you’d be OK to use your phone in motion to report crimes or call authorities like the fire department.
If a cop catches you slumped over at a traffic light with your nose in a phone, though, you could be on the hook for hundreds of dollars and a misdemeanor fine.
The bill cruised through the state senate earlier this month with opposition mostly from Republican senators.
But don’t wait for the fate of the bill to be determined. Get off your phone and keep your eyes on the car in front of your, whether or not it’s illegal.
— GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer
DON’T SMOKE ‘EM
Barring an unexpected veto from Gov. Jared Polis, the air in Colorado operating rooms is slated to soon become cleaner.
A measure that would require hospitals to create policies eliminating “ surgical smoke” from operating rooms passed a final reading in the state senate last week, essentially clearing the path to Polis’ desk.
The bill, HB19-1041, would require hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to create systems to evacuate smoke created during planned surgeries by spring 2021, according to the bill’s text. Medical centers would have to install surgical smoke evacuation systems by that date barring an unexpected referendum petition aimed at derailing the measure, according to the proposal’s text. Such a referendum is not expected.
The measure’s primary House sponsor, Democratic state Rep. Janet Buckner of Aurora, backed nearly identical legislation that died in committee last year.
A spokesperson for medical device company Stryker told Fox31 Denver earlier this month that being exposed to smoked caused by cauterizing human flesh and fat for an entire day is about the same as smoking 30 unfiltered cigarettes.
Some 500,000 healthcare workers are exposed to the gaseous compounds in surgery rooms across the country each year, according to the Fox31 report.
The measure could negligibly increase state costs for the Department of Public Health and Environment, according to a fiscal note attached to the proposal.
The bill will now land on the desks of Speaker of the House Rep. KC Becker (D-Boulder) and President of the Senate state Sen. Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) before being sent to the governor’s office.
— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer