Cripple Creek Escapes Legislative Gunfire Unscathed

Head lobbyist reports good session, despite bad behavior from lawmakers

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

Despite all the legislative warfare that ignited between Colorado Republicans and Democrats in the last general assembly session, the city of Cripple Creek escaped the volley of bullets relatively unscathed.

Still, it was a rough and brutal political season filled with many battle casualties and a tough playing field for conservative areas like Teller County.

This was the final analysis of Solomon “Sol” Malick, the head lobbyist for the city of Cripple Creek.

During a presentation before the city council last week, Malick made no pretensions about a dreadful partisan atmosphere between the Democrats, which now control the two chambers and the governor’s office, and leading Republicans. He said many party leaders from both sides of the aisle deserve an F-minus for their behavior

According to Malick, the attitude of Democrats was, “We are now in charge and we are going to do what we want.” And then, the Republicans then replied, “Well, we are going to make the process as difficult as possible for you.”

The end result:  a daily boxing match over such issues as climate change, clean energy regulations, education funding, gun restrictions, and more, with the Dems scoring major knock-out punches, but not before getting their share of black eyes. 

But on the upside, the issues that really matter for Cripple Creek, such as sports betting, got okayed with no obstacles. And better yet, the gaming community escaped with minor regulatory wounds. “All in all, it was a pretty good session for us. We remained pretty unscathed,” said Malick, when describing the 2019 general assembly season. “For Cripple Creek’s priorities, it was a very good year.”

Luckily for the Creek, the lobbyist said they were not part of the showdown over climate change and oil and gas development legislation. The latter legislation, which will give local governments much more say over future oil and gas developments in their communities, emerged as a symbol for the highly partisan environment, according to the Creek lobbyist. This bill, SB 181, was passed following much debate but drew the battle lines between the Democratic majority and nearly all Republican lawmakers.

“It goes to the heart of how this legislative session played out,” said Malick, in describing the partisan process. “It was very disappointing.”

Many lawmakers in the region were bothered about how this legislation got through when Colorado voters killed a similar proposal in the last election.

And although the Dems won the fight over energy and climate issues, Malick believes the new rules aren’t going to have much of an impact. In counties where gas and oil developments are prominent, local leaders there aren’t going to approve staunch restrictions, noted Malick. “We are not a socially liberal state,” said Malick, who like many lobbyists from areas like Teller, believes the Dems went too far in pushing a progressive agenda better suited for Boulder. Instead, he contends that much of Colorado is known for their natural resources and agricultural areas

Cripple Creek Legislative Priorities

As for the big issues impacting Cripple Creek, Malick cited sports betting, the ban for electronic cigarette exceptions, family medical leave rules, and local plumbing regulations.

Out of this list, sports betting emerged as the big winner for Cripple Creek, but still many questions remain. With the strong passage of HB 1327, the stage is set for local casinos to serve as outlets for sports betting on major professional games. But this okay will have to be affirmed by the majority of Colorado voters in the November election. Also, a local ballot issue must be approved in Cripple Creek to allow casinos to become outlets for these bets

Malick stated last week that the local vote could be done almost in a stream-line fashion under the state question placed on the November ballot. However, no matter how the ballot is compiled, City Administrator Mark Campbell made it clear last week that the most local voters must give the okay through a formal ballot issue. Originally, some questions were raised about whether local approval was required with this legislation. “It looks like we are going to have a local ballot issue,” said Campbell, who stated that city officials have researched this issue with their attorney Erin Smith. 

Regardless, the technicalities should get approved, based on preliminary estimates.

“When this bill is approved by state and local voters, the goal is to have everything in place to be able to fully implement by March 2021,” said Malick in a report presented to the council last week.

Part of the legislation also could allow the city and Teller County to apply for monies through a “hold harmless fund,” which deals with areas impacted by the sports betting activity. This focuses on a six percent fund of certain sports betting revenue generated, which  could go to areas, such as Cripple Creek and Teller County, that experience demonstrated needs by displaying “harm due to the passage of the referendum.”  Again, this part of the bill has raised more questions than answers. Campbell said when the final legislation is finalized, local officials wants to clarify this issue by making it into more of an overall impact fund for the affected cities and counties.

This sports betting bill is heavily supported by most local leaders and gaming operators. But questions still are circulating about how much actually betting money will be generated through this activity. This legislation is a byproduct of a U.S. Supreme Court decision to do away with sports betting prohibitions, which only permitted these bets to occur in Las Vegas and Nevada. Now, all states can join the sports betting caravan, as long as they establish their own regulations.

As for other big issues, Malick said they mostly tried to lessen the wounds from other bills that posed more restrictions. For example, state lawmakers got rid of the exceptions permitted through the Clean Indoor Act involving electronic cigarettes. But Malick said the gaming communities got a sight grandfathering provision okayed that allows customers to still smoke e-cigarettes in areas close to the main door.

Still, this law could have an extra negative impact on Cripple Creek, which has fought over anti-smoking regulations for years. Councilwoman Melissa Trenary, who works in a local casino, stated that the law would pose a definite impact on the industry. “This is going to make many of our customers unhappy,” said Trenary.

Malick also mentioned a number of other bills that would create more regulations. In most cases, he said they tried to lessen the local impacts, such as one calling for tougher plumbing inspections.

In looking at the big picture, the lobbyist spoke highly of the way Cripple Creek is viewed inside the legislative arena. “Cripple Creek continues to be a leading voice when discussing bills that involve local governments, local regulations, historic preservation funding, and other industry related priority areas that are legislated….Every year, Cripple Creek’s profile continues to grow and continues to galvanizes its place in the legislative arena.”  

His advice to the local council: “Stay vigilant and keep up your guard.”