Partisanship, initiative folly prove frustratingly stubborn

Last week’s hectic pace with four bills in committees will continue this week as well, with my bills moving through committees and floor votes.

My bill reducing the tow operator’s bond was killed on a partisan vote. The Public Utilities Commission is compelled to go forward with enforcing the additional $50,000 bond requirement on all Colorado tow truck operators.

I’ve already received word of tow company layoffs and closures, in my district and in other areas of the state. I can’t fathom how this result fits with the ubiquitous chant from the Senate Democratic majority to be focused this session on jobs and getting people back to work. However, like the line in the Monty Python movie, I’m not dead yet, so I’ll see if there’s another way to get at this unresolved problem causing new harm to Colorado’s economy and small businesses.

Back home over the weekend, state Rep. J. Paul Brown and I held two town hall meetings, in Durango and Cortez, hosted by the League of Women Voters. Because we have no district staff and are in Denver during the week, it was very helpful to have these hosted by the League. They were well attended, especially for a beautiful, sunny Saturday with plenty of other diversions.

I saw some new and some familiar faces at the town hall meetings and heard a number of concerns on constituents’ minds. The most frequently voiced were related to bills introduced that would affect the state’s pension plan – the Public Employees Retirement Association – and the proposed legislation to give in-state tuition to certain undocumented students.

A number of bills have been introduced regarding PERA and, given the amount of resources at stake that affect both the pension beneficiaries and the state’s liability in the event of a pension default, I suspect that’ll be the case every year. What is much less certain is how many of those bills will survive the legislative process. With a politically divided Legislature and governor, only a bill that can find the middle ground and enough consensus will survive.

I hope that member organizations aren’t raising alarms about each and every one of these bills as that unnecessarily torments the concerned PERA beneficiary. Given the importance of the issues surrounding PERA, I hope to meet with interested beneficiaries and constituents throughout the Senate district during the interim to discuss how to protect the long term sustainability of PERA as well as the interests of PERA beneficiaries, whether currently working, now retired or yet to be hired.

At both town halls, other concerns expressed included Colorado’s inability to truly move to better economic times when our state’s Constitution has so many conflicting fiscal mandates. Some constituents are aware that we’re still struggling mightily with the fact that, through Colorado’s ballot-initiative process, we’ve passed incompatible constitutional requirements that become especially evident in tough economic times.

Constitutional and ballot initiative reform is an issue I’ve been actively involved in since arriving at the Legislature in 2007. Efforts to change the initiative process have come and gone, with none making it to a successful end. While I wasn’t a supporter of a constitutional convention in the past, I’m beginning to wonder if that’s the only way we could really get to some of the conflicts now built into our state’s Constitution.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884 or by email at ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us

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