by Rick Langenberg:
When the state legislative session ends on May 8, the Teller County Commissioners may host a celebration party and wave a sign with one overriding message: Good Riddance.
Last week, the commissioners again highlighted their continual fights over potential legislative bills that could impact the area, snag money from the local government and impose more hardships. From gun control and gaming distribution, to election changes and video lottery terminals, the board gave a dire assessment of actions of the legislature, which is now controlled by Democrats. The current Teller commissioners are staunch Republicans, who have made it clear they aren’t thrilled by the social agenda pursued by the majority of state lawmakers. The 2013 legislative session is highlighted by five gun control bills, but that may just be the tip of the iceberg, based on the commissioners’ assessment of the actions of state lawmakers.
Out of the bombardment of bills proposed this session, the commissioners recently have only cited a handful that they support or see as beneficial to the area. Vice-Chairman Norm Steen cited 112 bills in the current session that have been monitored by the Colorado Counties, Inc, the main lobbying group for county commissioners throughout the state.
On the upside, the commissioners expressed optimism that a measure aimed at altering the way gaming monies are distributed to benefit Gilpin County and Black Hawk, where most of the larger casinos are located, won’t succeed. This effort would have a devastating impact on Cripple Creek and Teller County, costing local governments an estimated $2.5 million collectively a year. Once again, a proposed pro-Gilpin amendment, which would be part of a gaming sunset bill, got delayed last week.
During a report at the April 25 commissioners meeting, Commission Chairman Dave Paul remained optimistic about the prospects of local leaders and business operators in overcoming this threat, at least for this year. But that said, he predicts that the pro-Gilpin amendment will make it to the floor of the state legislature, when the final legislation is debated.
According to Paul, the pro-Gilpin measure probably won’t advance, based on information he has received from key state lawmakers. Similar sentiments are echoed by Cripple Creek officials, who have hired a lobbyist to monitor the legislative action. City Administrator Ray White has indicated that the legislation, which is being spearheaded by representatives from the Gilpin County area, has lacked the necessary votes to move out of legislative committees. But he doesn’t believe the fight is over. “We are still very concerned,” said White.
At the same time, certain changes that could benefit Teller County and Cripple Creek, such as amendments to further define betting devices, may get thrown out. These changes could have helped the local area in fighting off future attempts to complicate the gambling scenario by introducing video lottery slots at Front Range racetracks. “It will go through as a clean bill,” predicted Paul, in describing the gaming sunset measure, which basically sets the stage for allowing gambling to continue through 2022 and establishing the ground rules. In addition, Paul said that local leaders must monitor last-minute legislative attempts to bring a pro-video lottery terminal (VLT) measure to the floor. This has been a frequent ploy of VLT proponents, who are backed by racetrack operators.
Besides the gaming legislation, the commissioners last week voiced opposition against a proposal that would permit people to register to vote on election day. This voter access measure is heavily opposed by Secretary of State Scott Gessler and many key Republican leaders. They see this as imposing more problems for county clerks and adding to the possibility of voter fraud. “It is a red flag to me,” said Steen.
Steen cited some good ideas with this legislation, but stated that the cons far outweigh the pros. More notably, the proposed election changes would add costs for counties, especially large areas like El Paso. According to Steen, El Paso County would incur an additional $700,000 in costs. Teller County also would get hit with additional election costs, according to Clerk and Recorder Krystal Brown. But she estimated that the extra costs for Teller County would be minimal.
Nevertheless, the Teller commissioners have joined forces with Republican state leaders who have opposed more liberal rules that would open the door for allowing more people to register to vote at the last-minute and that would diminish some of the identification requirements. Steen cited a few bills that the commissioners support such as an 800 line for reporting child abuse and a growing effort to secure funds for wildfire relief actions.
But overall, the commissioners have maintained that the end of the 2013 legislative session can’t arrive soon enough.