2003 Colorado Legislative Review
by Ari Armstrong, May 9, 2003
The politicians were whining throughout the entire 2003 session, which is some indication it was a relatively good one. We can finally relax, now that the legislators are safely away from the capitol. On the whole, though, the legislature made government marginally less oppressive this year, which is a pleasant change of pace.
Two bills expanded the ability of Coloradans to exercise their rights of self-defense. Senate Bills 24 and 25 allowed more people to carry concealed handguns (albeit with a government-issued license) and protected the right to keep and bear arms from city ordinances.
I guess Julia Martinez didn't catch the irony of her May 8 comments in the Denver Post: "Republicans moved the state down a more conservative path... [by] liberalizing gun laws."
Neither bill was without its compromises. 25 still allows cities to ban the open carry of handguns in "specific areas" (whatever that means). And 24 is nothing resembling a true Vermont system in which anybody who can legally own a firearm may also legally carry a concealed handgun, with no government involvement. 24 even further restricts the rights of people who already have a concealed carry permit by preventing them from carrying a handgun into government schools -- precisely where our children are vulnerable to criminal attack and need protection.
As Kieran Nicholson writes in the May 8 Denver Post, some city officials are already thinking of ways to abuse the concealed carry law: "[Denver Mayor Wellington] Webb said he has directed police 'to perform the most rigorous background check on applicants allowed by the new law, and exercise to the fullest extent possible the discretion afforded by the law to deny permits to persons who may be a danger to themselves or others'." If you just put a period after the word "persons," you'll understand what Webb is after.
A bill that would merely fix Amendment 22, rather than repeal it completely as justice demands, nevertheless failed. That amendment requires Brady gun registrations for private sales at gun shows. The fix would have defined a gun show more reasonably, instead of as three people as it does now.
Another bill makes it marginally easier to argue self-defense as an affirmative defense in court, though Matt Smith (R-Grand Junction) watered down the bill considerably before it passed.
Finally, Ron Teck (R-Grand Junction) attempted to impose a new tax on gun sales. He finally changed course when his constituents let him know that wasn't acceptible.
The legislature made two significant advances in the area of criminal justice. It lowered the felony penalty involved with the possession of some drugs, and it reformed parole such that so-called technical violations are treated with greater leniency. Okay, legislators probably passed these bills because of the budget crunch, but at least they did the right thing, even if for the wrong reasons.
Christie Donner and Stephen Raher of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition played a major role in getting these bills passed. Indeed, Donner, a Green, has done more to advance the libertarian agenda at the state capitol than any Libertarian in the state. (CCJRC also played the lead role in the successful effort last year to reform Colorado's forfeiture laws. Yes, a number of Libertarians have done a lot to open up access for minor parties, but these efforts have not directly impacted public policy. Also, Penn Pfiffner was a Libertarian before he became a Republican legislator.)
There were a couple of important setbacks.
First, "meth madness" has swept the political landscape. One bill makes it a crime to sell cold medicine and other common household items, if the seller "reasonably should know" the buyer intends to use the items to make meth. The tendency of requiring regular Americans to enforce nanny-state laws, on penalty of going to prison, strikes at the very heart of our free society. Even though child abuse is already illegal, the legislature also listed as a special case of child abuse conducting a meth lab around children.
Second, at Governor Owens' request, the legislature agreed to spend more money on prisons through "Certificates of Participation," or COPs. This is a dishonest way of calling debt by a new name in order to evade the state's Constitutional requirement of a vote by the people. "Freedom is slavery, debt is participation," you know the routine.
The legislature passed a voucher bill. Conservatives are thrilled, I am not. However, because it's a limited voucher bill, it won't put those currently in the market system on education welfare. Thus, it brings with it far less danger than a universal voucher program. And, hopefully some children will get a better education because of it.
The legislature didn't pass a bill requiring the posting of signs reading, "In God We Trust," in government schools. However, the Republicans still found a way put God in the classroom: by requiring the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Doug Newman has taken the legislature to task for this inane move. But on a certain level, it's appropriate. The Republicans will require children in the socialized education centers to recite a pledge written by a socialist who also served on a committee for the National Education Association. So, given the Republicans are so obviously devoted to socialized education, it's nice that they've tipped their hats to a socialist involved in the teacher's union. (The author of the Pledge, Francis Bellamy, though he was a Baptist minister, didn't include the words "under God" in his original pledge.)
The brilliant thing about putting the Republicans in charge of the socialized schools is that the self-described "liberals" are learning what it feels like to have somebody else's values rammed down the throats of their children. Thankfully, there is an obvious solution for these lefties: homeschool!
As John Sanko related in the May 8 Rocky Mountain News, "Lawmakers had to slash spending by $892 million for the current year, then find nearly a billion dollars to save in the 2003-04 fiscal year beginning July 1."
However, he adds the Republicans also passed a corporate welfare package "that included $10 million more for tourism and $2 million for agriculture."
Obviously, from a libertarian perspective, state spending is still far, far higher than it should be.
Why is it any of the legislature's business what car insurance people buy? The only move that's even remotely justifiable is to require basic insurance when using the government streets. But I'm not convinced even that's warranted. Micromanaging insurance packages beyond that is economic interventionism.
Anyway, the state is going back to a tort system, and the no-fault system is on the way out. Of course, in a completely free market, insurance companies would be free to enter no-fault arrangements with others, if that was good for business.
According to the dire reports of some big-paper columnists, the Republican redistricting move threatens democracy as we know it. For me, it was entertainment. Of course, I've never been a big fan of democracy, anyway: it's the whole "two wolves and a sheep" bit.
What I find riotous is that the Democrats are shocked -- outraged! -- that the Republicans have failed to respect the earlier court ruling setting Congressional boundaries. But weren't these same Democrats arguing in 2000 it's wrong to let courts determine elections?
Democrats have little room to complain. They always preach it's okay to let democratically-elected politicians force people to do what they command. Political power sucks when you're not pulling the levers, eh?
The Republicans also passed a bill that, as proposed, would have destroyed minor parties but, as passed, merely forces taxpayers to fund unecessary primary elections. More than anything, bill 1142 was a warning shot fired by Republicans to teach those uppity Libertarians not to threaten their races. But from what I can tell the effect of the bill was to piss off Libertarians and motivate them to work even harder.
When the legislature has to meet for only a week, we'll know libertarians have made a lot of progress. When the legislature meets for a week every five years, Coloradans largely will have reclaimed their birthright of freedom. Until then, there's little to do other than laugh at the absurdity of it all.