Friday, February 29, 2008


Bill Would Create Autism Commission
to Develop Strategic Plan for Colorado

DENVER—Today the Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 163, which would support research and treatment for people diagnosed with Autism.

Sponsored by Senator Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont), the bill calls for the creation of an Autism Commission to study autism spectrum disorders, identify existing services and gaps in services for people with autism spectrum disorders, and identify best practices in providing services.

“We are making significant progress in learning about and treating autism,” Shaffer said. “This bill would provide a coordinated network of services to kids and families living with this disorder everyday.”

If passed, the Autism commission would develop a 10-year strategic plan for Colorado that would clarify the range and effective coordinated services needed to provide support for people with autism spectrum disorders. The plan would also explore possible sources of funding needed to provide those coordinated services.

According to the Colorado Autism Commission, Autism is a brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate, to reason and to interact with others. The disease is a spectrum disorder that affects people in varying degrees of severity and is often found in combination with other disabilities. Most side affects of the disease can be recognized before a child reaches three years old. The disease is more commonly passed through hereditary genes. In uncommon cases, autism is strongly associated with agents that cause birth defects.

While there is no cure, research shows that early intervention leads to improvements in behavioral, development of functional skills, communication and intelligence.

The 22-member commission would be asked to provide a report to the Governor and to the General Assembly in the fall of 2009.

SB08-163 next heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Bill Supports Energy Independence and
Provides Savings Options for Colorado

DENVER—Today the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee unanimously passed HB-1160, which would expand home-grown energy opportunities for agricultural producers and rural communities statewide.

Sponsored by Senator Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont) and Senator Jim Isgar (D-Hesperus), the bill requires power providers with more than 5,000 customers to credit those customers who produce excess energy in their homes or businesses. Residential customers who generate up to10 kilowatts and commercial or industrial customers who generate up to 25 kilowatts of renewable energy would be able to make up for their retail electricity consumption with the generated electricity.

“This bill preserves local control while encouraging the development of renewable energy systems,” Shaffer said. “Developing renewable energy systems will stimulate economic activity in our state and local communities, and will result in economic development in rural areas.”

If a customer generates electricity in excess of his or her monthly consumption, the additional kilowatt-hours must be carried from month-to-month and credited back to the customer's electricity consumption in subsequent months. Within 60 days after the end of each billing year, the power company is required to credit the customer for any excess generation in a manner deemed appropriate by the utility company.

HB-1160 streamlines the inconsistent patchwork of rural electric association (REA) and municipal utilities’ (MUs) rules for connecting and metering individual wind and solar systems. By creating a uniform statewide standard, all Coloradans will have the chance to harvest part of the renewable energy economy.

The bill next heads to the full Senate for consideration.


Bill Would Provide Scholarship
Incentives for Prospective Teachers

DENVER—Today the Senate Education Committee passed Senate Bill 133, which would encourage prospective teachers to pursue careers in Colorado.

Sponsored by Senator Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont), the Teach for Colorado Scholarship Initiative grants scholarship money to pay for tuition, fees, and books necessary to complete a bachelor's degree in mathematics, science, special education, and other high-demand teaching areas.

“I firmly believe that a high quality education starts with a high quality teacher,” Shaffer said. “I want to remove barriers for prospective educators to complete their teaching degree by offering those students incentives.”

The bill creates a nine-member advisory committee to work with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) to establish the program and designate awards. The committee and CCHE will be responsible for developing an application process, publish written policies and guidelines concerning a student's service commitment, eligibility requirements, and repayment obligations for failure to complete the program. They will also be responsible for awarding scholarship recipients and proving a biennial report to the General Assembly.

Students in the program are required to sign a commitment contract after completing one academic year and prior to beginning the second academic year. However, students who drop out of the program prior to signing the contract are not obligated to repay the award. The bill stipulates money appropriated by the General Assembly, and any gifts, grants, or donations received to fund the program.

If enacted, Teach for Colorado scholarships will be available for students beginning with the graduating class of 2009.

The bill next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Dear Bill Reader, Bert Borgmann, Chuck Howell, Administrators of CHSAA,

It has come to our attention that a request made last November by the Herzl/Rocky Mountain Hebrew Academy men's basketball team to reschedule the regional finals game was recently denied by the board of the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA). The team had asked to be accommodated should they advance to the regional finals, as the championship game conflicts with the team's observation of the Jewish Sabbath. By now you are very much aware of the dilemma you have wrought on these students, who face the possibility of forfeiting the last game of their season because of their devotion to their faith.

The CHSAA mission statement states that “CHSAA will provide diverse and equitable opportunities for participation that encourages all qualified students to take part in the activity/athletic experience.” The athletes of Herzl/RMHA have been provided with neither a diverse nor equitable opportunity to participate in a full basketball season, because their faith would prohibit them from participating in the regional finals game. We are asking that CHSAA show respect for the diversity of their member schools and adhere to their mission.

This situation is not only unfair to the athletes of Herzl/RMHA who have worked so hard both on and off the court to get where they are, it is unfair to their opponents who may very well see the culmination of their season end in a victory by default. This possibility sullies the idea that CHSAA provides, “… an environment that enhances personal development through sporting behavior, character education, teamwork, leadership, and citizenship while increasing values that partner the educational standards of the State of Colorado.” We ask that CHSAA reconsider their decision and do what is right for these athletes.


Senators Support Team’s Schedule Request
With Respect to Religious Observance

DENVER—Today state lawmakers joined Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver), Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon (D-Denver) and Senator Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont) to urge the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) to respect the religious diversity of all Colorado high school students, and to accommodate the Herzl/Rocky Mountain Hebrew Academy men’s basketball team’s observance of the Jewish Sabbath in scheduling their regional finals game.

“We want to encourage young people to excel in sports, and we want to encourage them to be observant of their faith,” Gordon said. “These athletes have worked hard on and off the court to get where they are. As adults, the CHSAA board needs to send the right message to these young people.”

Shaffer said, “CHSAA has said that it would be inconvenient to change their policy for this school. Doing the right thing isn’t always convenient, but what’s right is right, and this is the right thing to do. We call upon CHSAA to do what they need to do in order for these kids to play their game.”

Senators of both parties have signed on to a letter urging the CHSAA board to reconsider their scheduling of the game should Herzl/RMHA advance to

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


DENVER—Democratic and Republican legislative leaders today announced the introduction of a major bi-partisan bill designed to ensure fair and secure elections in 2008.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, House Minority Leader Mike May and House Majority Leader Alice Madden, the bill calls for the use of paper ballots at polling places in addition to early or mail voting and federally-mandated electronic voting machines.

The 2008 general election will likely have a larger turnout than any previous election conducted in Colorado. In order to take pressure off of Election Day, to reduce the possibility of long lines, and allow clerks to start counting votes at the earliest possible time, the bill’s sponsors are encouraging Coloradans to exercise their right to vote by ordering a mailed ballot, or by voting at an early-vote location.

“The election bill filed today will require that the 2008 election be conducted primarily by paper ballot, said Gordon. “We think that this is the method that will best ensure that everyone will be able to vote and that the votes will be counted accurately.”

“We look forward to working with our clerks to provide transparent, accountable and fair elections, even if that means going ‘Old School,’” said Madden.
“It is essential that we do all that we can to ensure that our election process is fair and accurate,” May said. “The legislation we are announcing today is a step in the right direction toward safeguarding that process for every registered voter in Colorado.”

Details of the legislation:

The 2008 election will be conducted primarily by paper ballots. Polling places will be located in precincts, “super”—i.e. combined—precincts, or vote centers. The bill allows counties that have successfully conducted vote center elections in the past to continue to do so.

The counties will educate voters about exactly where to vote as the primary and general elections near.

Voters may still choose and are encouraged to vote by mail-in ballot. All electors are still eligible to gain permanent mail-in ballot status.

The electronic voting machines required by the Help America Vote Act will still be available to voters who wish to use them.

All Colorado voters may continue to cast ballots at early voting sites—early voting sites open 15 days before the general election, and 10 days before the primary election.

The voter information card will now be sent to all registered electors except those who have changed addresses and been designated inactive. The voter information card includes the registered elector’s name and address, precinct number, and polling place, and gives voters the option to choose mail-in ballots permanently.

The bill directs the Secretary of State’s office to convene a working group to consider how to improve audits and recounts.

Monday, February 25, 2008


DENVER—In response to the ruling today on Amendment 41 by the Colorado Supreme Court, Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver) released the following statement:

As a lawmaker I respect the ruling of our state’s highest court, though I am disappointed that we are back where we started. However, SB07-210, which I sponsored with Senator McElhany last year, created a commission that may now begin to answer some of the questions that surround the ambiguity of Amendment 41.


Bill Would Reauthorize Tax Checkoff
For Military Family Relief Fund

DENVER—Today the Senate gave initial approval to House Bill 1035, which would reauthorize the tax checkoff for the Military Family Relief Fund on Colorado tax forms. The fund provides financial assistance for military families who face financial hardship due to military service.

Sponsored by Senator John Morse (D-Colorado Springs), the bill would extend the program created in 2005 to help military families pay for various living expenses, including day care, marital or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder counseling, car or home repair, even mortgage payments.

"Resolutions supporting our troops are important, but real financial support is critical,” Morse said. “With the passage of this bill, every taxpayer has the ability to put their money where their heart is."

The fund is available to all branches of the military, active, reserve and National Guard.

The bill will next be considered by the Senate on third and final reading.


DENVER—Today the Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 82 by Senator Jennifer Veiga (D-Denver), which would allow liquor stores to open on Sundays.

“This is an important step for us,” said Veiga. “It’s time we move ahead as a state in the interest of Colorado consumers.”

Currently, 34 states permit Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages. Since 2002, 12 states have authorized Sunday liquor sales for the first time. Data compiled by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States suggest that in 2006, with 31 percent of the stores open in those new states, sales of alcoholic beverages increased an average of 4.4 percent. Projected statewide increases in the 12 states at full Sunday operation would yield an increase of 9 percent in sales.

State law has banned liquor stores from opening on Sundays since Prohibition ended in 1933.

The bill next moves to the House for consideration.