It’s anything but boring at the Capitol

If you’ve wondered at times whether my job at the Legislature is boring, this week’s events should prove to you otherwise.

The contentious week began with a vote on HB 1260, a bill that provides for a new way for two unmarried people to specify in writing who they want their property to go to, and who they want to make health care decisions if they can’t themselves.

After two decades of working with clients on these matters, to me, this bill centered on a person’s private property rights. I supported the bill in committee and on the House floor as the individual’s right to make these decisions seems pretty fundamental to me.

But, because the legal form proposed in HB 1260 could be used by homosexual couples as well as any two unmarried people, there was a fair amount of argument about whether this bill was a way around the failed civil unions ballot initiative a couple of years ago. The bill passed and heads to the Senate for consideration.

Later that day, another controversial topic came up in the Judiciary Committee over a bill that proposes the Legislature abolish the death penalty in Colorado. Under this bill, prosecutors could no longer ask for the death penalty and, in theory, money formerly spent on death penalty cases could be used for unsolved criminal investigations. We heard eight hours of often raw, emotional committee testimony, lasting until nearly 10 p.m.

Some families of murdered victims whose killers are unknown supported the bill to get more resources for cold case investigations. A number of people supported the bill because they feel the death penalty is wrong and ineffective as a deterrent to criminals.

Among those who came to oppose the bill was Attorney General Suthers, who spoke of the implied social contract behind the death penalty. Part of the contract is that the victim’s loved ones, and society as a whole, will not take revenge into their own hands and will allow the defendant to be tried under our criminal justice system.

The state’s cold case investigation unit testified in opposition, saying that the tradeoff presented wasn’t what they needed to solve some of these longstanding cases. Sometimes it is lack of leads, evidence or willing witnesses that prevents a case from moving forward, rather than lack of money.

Victim rights advocates and a number of family members of high profile murders shared their thoughts in opposition as well. In the end, I voted “no” on the bill. I agree with the Attorney General that this matter should be left to the people of Colorado, and not the Legislature, to decide. The bill passed out of the committee.

The transportation bill raising annual vehicle registration fees by an additional $41 for most vehicles also got very heated in the debate before the vote. The money raised by these fees will be used for Colorado’s roads and bridges. While there’s no question that we need to find a long term way to fund transportation in this state, I’m not convinced that this bill is the best proposal to do that. Such a sizeable fee increase will hurt those who are on fixed and lower incomes the most. With federal money coming soon for transportation projects, I think we should have reconsidered SB 108’s impacts. I voted against the bill.

Finally, the bill package to cut over $600 million from the state’s budget was presented to us and I voted for those cuts. That wasn’t easy for me to do, but it was necessary to get to a balanced budget for this year.

Thanks to all who got in touch on these and other bills. Your input educates me on the bills’ impacts on you and helps guide my voting. My computer crashed late this week, so I’m sorry, but it may take a while to get a reply, if you asked for one.