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Public safety impasse resolved

Background-check money not required for firearm permits
Gun dealer Mel Bernstein finishes a sale at Dragonman’s, east of Colorado Springs. Colorado lawmakers on Wednesday passed a Department of Public Safety spending bill without funding for concealed-carry background checks after the measure was held hostage.

DENVER – A showdown over public-safety funding ended with a cease-fire Wednesday when Colorado House Democrats agreed to a spending bill without dollars for firearm background checks.

The issue was specific to concealed-carry permits. The Department of Public Safety needed the Legislature to approve a $369,323 spending authorization for the current fiscal year, which aimed to reduce wait times.

The department said current background check wait times stand at about 54 days. The goal was to get that number down to about 20 days.

The Joint Budget Committee deadlocked earlier in the session on the spending authorization when Republicans opposed the money, even though dollars already are available because of a $52.50 fee paid by concealed-carry applicants. The money likely will just sit in a fund for now.

Senate Democrats attempted to amend a separate public-safety spending bill so the money would be available for the background checks. But controlling Republicans in the chamber shot that proposal down.

But controlling Democrats in the House later amended the bill to include the background-check money.

When the amended bill made it back to the Senate last month to approve the House provision that added the background-check funding, Senate Republicans rejected the change, refusing to send the measure to a conference committee to work on the impasse.

House Democrats were left with a tough choice – to either stand up to Republicans and let the overall $2.2 million in Public Safety funding die because it didn’t include the background-check dollars, or pass the spending bill without the money in question.

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, said it simply was too important to let the bill die, noting money for the state’s toxicology lab, law-enforcement training and testing for rape kits.

“I call it being the adults in the room,” Hullinghorst said after the vote Wednesday, which passed unanimously. “There was very little alternative.”

House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, also encouraged the House to pass the spending bill.

“I dare say ... this is the most important supplemental we can pass,” DelGrosso said from the House floor. “A ‘no’ vote on this motion would be to vote to kill this bill.”

But a larger issue that hangs over the Legislature is the fact that Senate Republicans would not send the measure to a conference committee to resolve the dispute, a commonplace practice when addressing legislative impasses.

Hullinghorst said Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, was “contrite” and “rash” in pushing to move the bill back to the House without negotiation.

A spokesman for Cadman called the speaker’s comments “a bizarre mischaracterization of their conversations.”

The issue is relevant as a spending bill for the Department of Revenue has been held hostage in the name of an immigrant driver’s license program.

Similarly, Republicans on the JBC blocked a spending authorization to fund the program that provides licenses to immigrants in the country illegally, even though the $166,000 is available thanks to a $50.50 fee charged to applicants.

House Democrats amended a separate $2.3 million spending bill for the Department of Revenue to include the money for the driver’s license program, but Senate Republicans rejected the effort.

In this case, however, Senate Republicans agreed to a conference committee to potentially resolve the dispute, which could meet as early as Thursday.

Hullinghorst believes that after the public safety kerfuffle, Senate Republicans are less likely to send controversial measures along without negotiation.

“We’ve gotten that little problem fixed,” she said.

pmarcus@durangoherald.com

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