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The Rocky Mountain Range in Colorado, USA. (Image: Kyle Wasinger via Flickr)

Colorado editorial roundup

The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel

April 5, on gun safety

Despondent people and guns are a poor mix. Unfortunately, stating this obvious fact makes some people nervous that suicide-prevention efforts could be co-opted to advance a gun-control agenda.

So we applaud the brave gun shop owners in western Colorado who are willing to put those fears aside and acknowledge a sobering truth — places with high gun-ownership rates have high rates of suicide involving firearms.

As the Associated Press reported in Monday’s paper, suicides account for nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths — far outnumbering gun homicides.

“It’s very expedient for people to commit suicide by a firearm without too much forethought,” said Keith Carey, a gunsmith in Montrose. “Unfortunately, it’s generally effective.”

In 2014, according to federal data there were 33,599 firearms deaths; 21,334 of them were suicides. That figure represents about half of all suicides that year, but in several western Colorado counties, more than 60 percent of suicides involve firearms.

Carey and other gun dealers have agreed to participate in the Gun Shop Project, a state-funded program to raise awareness about suicide. Shops are given wallet-sized cards with information about a suicide hotline and posters offering advice about how to keep guns from friends or relatives at risk of killing themselves.

Whether the Gun Shop Project makes an immediate or discernible impact on suicide rates in western Colorado, it serves an important role in bringing a taboo subject out from the shadows.

“In the past, people shut up about his issue because they thought raising it mean raising the issue of gun control,” said Catherine Barber, a suicide prevention expert at the Harvard School of public health. “It makes so much more sense to look at gun owners as part of the solution.”

Meghan Francone, who coordinates the Gun Shop Project in Routt and Moffat counties constantly reassures gun owners and sellers that the outreach program poses no threat to the right to bear arms.

“Keep your guns. Keep a dozen. I don’t care. But please make sure they are locked and out of the reach of someone who’s in crisis,” she said.

Montrose Police Cmdr. Keith Caddy also has had to assure some gun shops that the Gun Shop Project wasn’t a gun-takeaway program in disguise. Caddy convinced Carey to get on board.

“Suicide is one of those morose subjects that a lot of us don’t want to talk about,” Carey said. “But it’s all too common. I believe any method of suicide prevention is worth a good hard try.”

The Rocky Mountain region has the highest suicide rates in the nation. The underlying cause varies, but those who attempt suicide with a gun die 85 percent of the time.

The Denver Post

April 1, on the hospital provider fee

Yes, Colorado lawmakers, it’s still important to deal with a projected budgetary crunch triggered by future tax refunds even if they are no longer likely in the next fiscal year.

The problem is only being delayed for one year. Refunds will almost certainly be required in the following years under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights unless the economy entirely tanks. And yet they will come at the expense of critical transportation, capital maintenance and education funding. Indeed, transportation funding is already slated to decline in next year’s budget.

In other words, lawmakers still have urgent reason this session to reclassify the hospital provider fee into a separate “enterprise fund” to allow the state to remain below TABOR revenue limits without refunding money.

Shouldn’t putting the budget on a sustainable path remain a high priority even without the pressure of impending refunds?

Unfortunately, House Bill 1420, which reclassifies the hospital fee and is sponsored by House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, and Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, faces rough sledding, at least in the state Senate. And one reason is the belief by some lawmakers that if they take the hospital fee out of the general fund, they are obliged to lower the state revenue limit, too — essentially canceling out the benefit to the budget.

Their fear would have more weight if the hospital fee had existed before the current revenue limit was established. Yet that’s not the case. It was created in 2009, after the current TABOR cap was established by voters.

In a hearing this week in the House appropriations committee, the director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, Henry Sobanet, explained that the state has been consistent in how it moves fee-based services into enterprise funds. If a fee existed before a revenue cap was in place, then the cap is lowered. But if the revenue limit predates the fee, then the cap has remained the same.

Why should the hospital provider fee be treated any differently? The answer is that it shouldn’t — not unless lawmakers are simply looking for an excuse to oppose a plan they would want to vote against anyway.

The Aurora Sentinel

April 5, on fracking legislation

Colorado lost its best chance to protect both the rights of homeowners and the state’s vital oil and gas industry this week when legislators killed a bill offering a real, workable compromise between competing interests.

Republicans enlisted the help of fellow Democrats Monday to kill House Bill 1355, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Su Ryden, of Aurora, and Mike Foote, of Lafayette.

It was a short-sighted mistake the oil and gas industry will likely come to regret.

For the past few years, oil industry proponents have dug in deep against any effort to allow for local control of drilling rights, arguing that oil and gas is like all other state-protected mineral rights. Meanwhile, a huge increase over the past several years in drilling and fracking operations near urban and developed areas has seen pushback from homeowners and urban officials. They argue that the highly industrial use should fall under local control to ensure the rights of neighboring residents who have to live with the highly mobile operations.

Colorado has been at a stalemate to balance those rights for years. Among threats of statewide ballot issues from anti-fracking proponents, plummeting oil prices, and outright fracking and drilling bans enacted or threatened by a handful of Front Range cities, state lawmakers and officials haven’t been able to produce anything resembling a compromise that protects developer and homeowner interests.

Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is moving slowly, too slowly, through a laundry list of recommended changes as part of an attempt to compromise, but leaders of groups protecting the rights of homeowners say they’re not enough anyway.

The bill killed this week would have allowed counties, towns and cities to impose local zoning codes on oiloperations in their jurisdictions in allowing them to regulate things like setbacks from homes, structure height, masking, noise and odor. It’s not too much to ask.

Oil and gas production is unlike any other protected water and mineral rights in that technology allows for operations to be set up relatively inexpensively and just about anywhere in the state. The compromise bill wouldn’t permit cities to ban the use outright, but it would allow local officials and experts to determine what’s best at each and every drilling site.

Opponents argue that state regulators can and would do the same thing. If they had or could, the move to get meaningful control over these industrial operations would have fizzled long ago.

What drilling industry proponents overlook is the vast and extreme environmental, demographic and socioeconomic contrasts across Colorado. There is no acceptable one-size-fits-all set of rules, regulations and practices that address a rig several feet away from a home in northeast Aurora and a different type of rig in the high, rural plateaus of western Colorado. Statewide standards tempered by local management are the only way to create an acceptable solution to both sides without endangering either one.

Opponents of the measure say Colorado must first wait for the state Supreme Court to decide the local banning cases. It’s an excuse to buy time hoping that with reduced production caused by falling oil prices, fracking and drilling opponents will lose interest.

They won’t. Instead, oil industry proponents now risk a much less compromising state ballot initiative that will be easier to pass because far fewer jobs and rigs are at risk because of depressed prices.

It’s not too late to try again.

Durango Herald

April 2, on water rights

The remaining holdouts on a Colorado Senate committee at last suspended their subscriptions to radical water rights dogma, when House Bill 1005 was given clearance for action on the Senate floor, where it swiftly passed. Now the measure heads, finally, unimpeded to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk. It is a welcome resolution to an enduring argument about implausible scenarios fueled by strict water-related ideology. In the end, Coloradans who rely on municipal water supplies will at last be within the law when collecting rainwater for use on their outdoor plants. It should not have been this difficult.

In the 2015 session, lawmakers scuttled a bill that would have allowed rain barrel use, largely due to concerns about upsetting Colorado’s enshrined notion of prior appropriation — the underpinning of water law in the state — which determines that those water rights that were claimed before another’s are senior and therefore cannot be compromised by taking water out of the system. Ostensibly, homeowners who collect rain water in barrels are capturing that which would otherwise flow into rivers and streams, and eventually into the hands of awaiting water-rights holders downstream. The concern, though, is wholly theoretical and not one likely to play out in any operational manner. The silliness was underscored by the fact that those whose water comes from wells are already allowed to collect rainwater — and the state has not dried up as a result.

Nevertheless, water law being what it is in Colorado — namely, incredibly complicated and somewhat arcane — this theoretical concern is sufficient to raise legislators’ and water interests’ collective eyebrows. It need not. While it is perhaps possible that if every residence in metro Denver had a rain barrel, the overall water availability in the region’s streams, rivers and aquifers would drop, that scenario is sufficiently far-fetched as to be irrelevant.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, chairs the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, and has long worried that allowing homeowners two 55-gallon rainwater collection vessels would deplete agricultural users and others of their water rights. Nevertheless, Sonnenberg allowed a vote to move HB 1005 to the full chamber. It passed the committee 6-3 — Republicans Ray Scott, Grand Junction, and Randy Baumgartner, Hot Sulphur Springs joined Sonnenberg in opposing the measure — and won the full Senate’s endorsement with a 27-6 vote Friday. It should have long ago, but the victory is nonetheless significant for wise water use in Colorado.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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