Aurora lawmakers give 1st OK to repeal pit bull ban, regulate pot delivery permits

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AURORA | Aurora city lawmakers cast first votes Monday to repeal the longstanding ban on three pit bull breeds instead of letting voters decide, while finalizing a “social equity” plan allowing for marijuana delivery within city limits. 

A majority of lawmakers also shot down a proposal to formally prevent Aurora police from cooperating with most federal immigrations enforcement operations.

The city council voted to repeal the ban on American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers. Mayor Mike Coffman and Council members Francoise Bergan, Marsha Berzins and Dave Gruber supported a dueling plan to put the issue to voters in Nov. 2021.

Council members will still have to cast another round of votes to repeal the so-called breed ban. 

“I understand that this is a really contentious issue,” Councilmember Crystal Murillo said while explaining her support for the repeal. But she added that the city’s new dangerous dog ordinance will cover all dogs with behavioral issues, including pit bull breeds, if residents are allowed to legally own the dogs with permits. 

Bergan and others said doing so would be a slap in the face to Aurora voters, who opted to uphold the ban in 2014. 

“For me, it’s about not overturning the vote of the people,” Bergan said. 

Marcano said that it’s up to lawmakers to decide, and that he’ll take political heat for his decision to repeal the ban if necessary. 

Lawmakers also finalized a “social equity” marijuana delivery plan during the council meeting. Council members Marsha Berzins, Dave Gruber and Francoise Bergan voted against the plan, which will give the city’s only delivery permits for three years to Aurorans from government-defined disadvantaged areas and residents negatively impacted by the War on Drugs. 

During study session, a proposal to formalize Aurora policies limiting cooperation with federal immigration operations failed to win a majority of votes. 

Council members Nicole Johnston, Allison Hiltz, Juan Marcano, Alison Coombs and Crystal Murillo all supported the bill, falling one vote short of the council’s approval. Coombs said she plans to bring the package to the floor for a formal council vote regardless. 

The law would formally prohibit any Aurora employees, including police and jailers, from using city funds or facilities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities on enforcement actions, such as detaining illegal immigrants. 

The law would largely support existing policy in Aurora that carves out separate spheres for Aurora police officers and federal immigration agents working in city limits. Aurora police officers usually don’t support federal immigration operations, and they don’t arrest residents solely for civil immigration-related violations. 

Under the new law, Aurora employees and cops could still assist authorities in criminal matters with a warrant signed by a judge, but not when executing so-called administrative warrants penned by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which are less powerful. 

“It’s really important that people in our community know that when they are living here, working and contributing, they know that they can be safe, and that they can access city services and city programs,” Councilmember Alison Coombs said during the meeting. She reiterated that the plan would “clarify policies that we already have in place in the city.”

Aurora employees who violate the law would only be disciplined, not charged or fined.   

The law would also prevent federal immigration authorities from entering “safe space” city buildings. 

Councilmember Dave Gruber blasted the plan as creating “sanctuaries” in city buildings. 

Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said she didn’t want to put officers at risk of obstructing federal authorities, a notion that John Fabbricatore, the region’s ICE field director and a longtime Aurora resident, said could come to fruition if the measure were to become law. Immigration detainers remain a thorny issue between ICE agents and municipalities aiming to make immigrant communities feel at home and not at risk of detention and deportation. 

“…I just don’t believe that we are going in the right direction with this law,” Fabbricatore said. 

Wilson reiterated that Aurora cops handle criminal charges against illegal immigrants, but they shy away from enforcing the typical civil violations that come from crossing the border illegally. 

“It will not affect my ability to enforce the law….” Wilson said of the proposed ordinance. “I will enforce the law based on probable cause and not immigration status, or at least that being a component of it.” 

Fabbricatore also claimed ICE would have to arrest more immigrants if the law passed because investigations would become more difficult. At various points he said that ICE has arrested or detained a “terrorist,” a “murderer” and a “war criminal” to keep immigrant communities and the city safe. 

The long debate involving Fabbricatore, city council members and Denver immigration lawyers from the Meier Law Office delayed most agenda items during the study session, including a proposal to establish an immigrant legal defense fund.