Legislative Session Ends On Peaceful Note



by Rick Langenberg:

Gilpin County and VLT bills never materialize; gun bills up in the air




The state legislative “session of doom” ended rather uneventfully for local elected leaders and business operators.

Despite dealing with a heavily-controlled Democratic state House, Senate and governor’s office and a less than friendly attitude towards limited stakes gambling, Cripple Creek and Teller County government officials escaped what some described as the “session of doom” unscathed. Moreover, for the first time in recent years, local casino operators didn’t have to prepare for a possible onslaught of video lottery terminals at Colorado racetracks. Plus, local officials don’t have to hide their gaming impact monies inside a secret vault for fear of losing these funds. “They can’t do any more damage,” quipped Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray White, in discussing the end to the 2013 state legislature session at a recent council meeting. At times, state lawmakers, who passed probably the most aggressive new gun control measures in the country and detailed rules regarding recreational marijuana, appeared at odds with the interests of Teller County.

White recently reported that a possible pro-Gilpin County amendment, which was supposed to be attached to a gaming sunset bill, never materialized. Also, no bills surfaced for establishing thousands of VLTs at dog or horse race tracks, or posing more competitive threats for Cripple Creek gambling. However, White cautioned that he expects these battles to resurface next year. He stressed that Cripple Creek merely gained a temporary reprieve. Teller and Cripple Creek leaders have faced a continual threat by Gilpin County officials, who want to change the way gaming revenue dollars are allocated in a way that would heavily benefit Gilpin and Black Hawk, where the largest gambling establishments in the state are located. But under this proposed formula, Cripple Creek, Teller and Central City would emerge as big losers to the tune of more than $2.5 million combined a year.

Gilpin has sought to make this change, arguing that gaming revenue should be distributed based on the amount of taxes collected in each gambling locale, rather than by the amount of gaming proceeds generated, the system used since limited stakes gaming began. Gilpin has unsuccessfully made this same pitch before, and their bid has been denied by the state gaming division staff, the gaming commissioners, the Denver District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals.

But this year, they sought a new attack arena, with state lawmakers and a more Democratic-prone legislature. However, an attempt by key lawmakers who represent Gilpin, to get this allotment system changed never garnered enough votes to move forward. White credits the work of Cripple Creek’s head lobbyist who represented the gaming community on key state issues. “That really made a difference,” said White, who views this as a worthwhile investment for the town government. In addition, the Teller County commissioners took a strong stand on the Gilpin County tax issue and frequently attended the committee hearings. Commission Chairman Dave Paul actually testified at one of the legislative hearings, prior to a pro-Gilpin County amendment getting formally introduced.

Local leaders are basically expressing much relief over the end of the legislative session. With a new Democrat surge at the state capitol, local officials said they faced the prospects of more bills that could work against area interests. Out of the bombardment of bills proposed this session, the county commissioners only cited a handful that they strongly supported or viewed as beneficial to the area. Board Vice-Chairman Norm Steen recently noted that 112 bills in the 2013 session were monitored by the Colorado Counties, Inc, the main lobbying group for county commissioners throughout the state. One of the more controversial areas of state lawmakers hinged on gun control. The state lawmakers passed five gun control measures, actions that put Colorado on the national political map, with rumors even circulating that Governor John Hickenlooper could become a Democratic candidate for president in 2016 or vice-president.

Two of these bills, which call for universal background checks on all gun sales and limits and prohibitions against high-capacity magazines, are being legally contested by 54 county sheriffs, including Mike Ensminger and Terry Maketa, the top law enforcement leaders for Teller and El Paso counties. The lawsuit, financed by the Denver-based Independence Institute, argues that these laws are unconstitutional. A public meeting by proponents of the lawsuit is scheduled today (May 28) in Colorado Springs at the Freedom Financial Services Expo (3650 N. Nevada Ave.), starting at 6:30 p.m. Regardless of the outcome, sheriff authorities say these measures can’t be enforced.

The other controversial piece of legislation igniting a few sparks deals with new requirements for much tougher alternative energy mandates for utility companies. However, this legislation, heavily opposed by the Intermountain Rural Electric Association and other companies, still may not get signed by the governor.