County leaders predict tame legislative session Rick Langenberg

County leaders predict tame legislative session

Rick Langenberg

With divided legislative bodies at the state capitol and considerable partisan bickering, don’t look for too many new laws that could impact Teller County.

In fact, it could be all quiet on the state legislative front for 2015.

And that scenario is just fine for the Teller County commissioners, who often are forced to wear defensive political armor in fending off attacks against gaming impact funds, competitive gambling threats, gun control measures and more environmental regulations. However, Commission Chairman Marc Dettenrieder stated that local elected leaders have to get prepared for a surprise, last-minute assault. “You can never let your guard down,” said the commission chairman, in citing previous sessions in which 11th-hour bills were introduced that could have produced adverse effects for Teller.

The commissioners at their Feb. 19 meeting gave a short overview of some of the pending bills that could have local impacts. In recent weeks, much controversy has erupted over the subject of gun control and Republican efforts to repeal a slew of restrictions enacted in 2013. These counter efforts have been strongly supported in Teller County, which ranks as one of the strongest gun ownership areas in the country on a per capita basis.

But because the state House is still controlled by the Democrats, these anti-gun control plans have mostly gotten shot down. However, a few anti-gun control bills still remain alive in the Senate. These deal with a loosening of restrictions and fees for background checks for non-retail transactions, such as the sale of weapons between friends and family members. Another Senate bill would ease the restrictions for rules against the carrying of concealed weapons.

But the commissioners aren’t overly optimistic about the fate of these measures, joking that they were referred recently to the legislative “kill committee” in the state House. The commissioners don’t expect any changes in the current slew of gun control laws, considered some of the strictest in the Western United States. Still, they believe it’s important to convey the message that most Coloradans and the far majority of Teller residents oppose these laws.

Outside of the gun control arena, the prospects are slightly better for Teller County and the Ute Pass. The commissioners recently spoke enthusiastically about Senate Bill 22, which would allocate $9.8 million for wildfire mitigation efforts through a special fund. This is part of a growing state effort to protect Colorado communities from the threat of wildfires. The Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) group has succeeded in tapping into these dollars to the tune of $1.5 million-plus a year, with a variety of programs in the local area.

Dettenrieder is optimistic that this measure will get approved. “This is a bipartisan measure and something that both Republicans and Democrats should be for,” he said. That’s good news for Teller County and the Ute Pass, which has already snagged millions in wildfire mitigation dollars, with sections outside Woodland Park serving as a pilot area for Colorado in developing unprecedented tree-thinning work.

Another bill with local impacts would open more roadways up to All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) operators, as long as they have their vehicles properly registered and have insurance and proper equipment. This bill, HB 1054, though, would give county officials some say in deciding which thoroughfares could be used by off-highway vehicles.

Legislation is also pending that would reduce the alternative energy quotas for co-ups like Intermountain Rural Electric Association. This effort is being pushed by Republican lawmakers and would push back some of the previous enacted rules that require co-ups to use 20 percent of their energy sources from alternative outlets. But similar to the anti-gun control bills, the commissioners aren’t optimistic about this legislative effort.

Fight Pending Over Internet Gambling Cafes

Luckily, no bills are in the works that would re-ignite the fight over video lottery terminals at Colorado racetracks. Colorado voters heavily rejected a measure last November that would have created mini-casinos at several racetracks, including a future outlet in Pueblo

But as usual, gaming threats are alive and well, with Internet sweepstake gambling cafes abounding in parts of Colorado. These are unregulated cafes located in storefronts, gas stations and convenience stores, offering games that closely mimic traditional slot and video poker devices.

The city of Cripple Creek has taken a major stand in endorsing a measure that would prohibit these Internet gambling cafes. “If it looks like a slot machine, it is a slot machine,” said City Administrator Ray DuBois, in describing these cafes during a recent economic forum. Photos of these outlets display scenes that are quite similar to the action inside a casino in Cripple Creek. According to city figures, at least 16 of these cafes are in business throughout the state, with these outlets growing rapidly.

The new proposal would ban these businesses, and abide by a decision of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which determined that these establishments are engaging in gaming activities outside of those permitted through the state constitution.

The city has submitted a letter that heavily endorses HB 1047 and describes these cafes as “an explosion of illegal, unregulated gambling outfits.” The commissioners also are supportive of this ban.