The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, Jan. 10, on punishing the innocent:
Individuals are assumed innocent in the United States unless proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in court of law. Americans learn this in third grade, if not sooner.
In Colorado, we have a different standard. It is so indefensible, so contrary to American values, members of the Supreme Court of the United States laughed Monday as they tried to make sense of it while hearing arguments in Nelson v. Colorado.
At issue is Colorado's Exoneration Act, which the state uses to justify keeping penalties and fines paid by convicts who later have their convictions overturned. It empowers the state to keep fines unless and until someone proves innocence in a civil trial. No other state has a similar law or practice.
The public seldom hears about the state keeping fines paid by the innocent, but that changed when two people exonerated of sexual assault convictions demanded return of their money and were willing to fight for it. Shannon Nelson and Louis Alonzo Madden were charged and convicted separately of sexual assault. In addition to a prison sentence, Nelson paid about $700 in penalties. Madden was sentenced to prison and charged $4,000 in penalties.
Nelson appealed her conviction. A jury overturned it and acquitted her. By federal law, that means she is innocent and should be treated as if she did nothing wrong. The acquittal means she can never be tried again on the same charges, no matter what, even if new evidence arises and indicates guilt.
Madden's conviction was also overturned on appeal, and prosecutors chose not to try him again. Unless they convict him in a future trial, he is innocent by law.
The state has no justification to punish Nelson or Madden. Despite that, Colorado will not return their money unless each proves innocence in a civil trial.
The notion of proving innocence contradicts the Fifth Amendment, which says no person shall be held to answer for a crime, or "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
Justice Stephen Breyer presented a hypothetical dilemma Monday, highlighting the inanity of Colorado's no-refund practice. He said a corporate defendant could be fined $15 million by the state. If the corporation appealed, he said, state government could say "if you win, we're not going to give you the money back... Now, there's something wrong with that. I'm trying to put my finger on it."
Chief Justice John Roberts said Colorado might just as well charge $10,000 to each person convicted of a crime, then refuse to return the proceeds to anyone who is later found innocent.
Justice Elena Kagan pondered how money charged to convicts, who are later found innocent, could possibly belong to the state.
It is hard to imagine how this patently unconstitutional practice made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States before evoking courtroom laughter and judicial dismay. Based on their reactions Monday, justices are likely to end this unjust practice that makes mockery of law. We won't be surprised by a unanimous decision.
We want a system that is tough on crime. We don't want it tough on those acquitted or otherwise exonerated of charges. Let's hope the Supreme Court makes Colorado a state in which all are innocent until proven guilty.
The Aurora Sentinel, Jan. 10, on banning teens from tanning beds:
If your teen is looking pretty tan this winter and hasn't been outside to account for it, your son or daughter doesn't live in states like Texas, North Carolina and Louisiana.
Those states, despite being bastions of places that shun government regulation in general, have sense enough to ban minors from using tanning beds.
Colorado is among the declining number of states that don't have that good sense.
Despite years of trying, Colorado has been unable to react to the sound and consistent advice of researchers around the globe and prevent teenagers and even pre-teens from using cancer-causing UV tanning beds.
While it's unclear whether a determined House will carry a bill this year that could save untold illness and lives, someone needs to step forward.
For years, reasonable Colorado state lawmakers have tried to make it illegal to allow teenagers inside cancer-causing tanning beds. Each year, the measures move along, simply because the facts are daunting and indisputable. Tanning beds cause deadly cancers and lead to preventable American deaths.
The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Cancer Society, organizations focusing on pediatrics, skin cancer and other wellness groups are united in their message to Americans: Do not let teenagers use tanning beds because they cause skin cancer and death. The message has been consistent, unrelenting and in front of the public for more than a decade.
So how is it that after all this time, Colorado remains one of the few states without any laws regulating the use of tanning beds by minors? It's primarily because the tanning bed industry is made up mostly of mom-and-pop businesses, which many state lawmakers are sympathetic to no matter what kind of business they're in. More importantly, national tanning associations bend and distort data, presenting information to state lawmakers unable to keep the facts straight.
Tanning bed proponents say things like their products are safe when used as directed. Cancer, pediatricians and public health officials are adamant: They are not safe under any conditions, not for anyone — and especially not for minors whose skin is more susceptible to cancer-causing damage by UV rays. Proponents say indoor tanning is beneficial because it stimulates the body's natural ability to produce essential Vitamin D. That's like saying mercury-laden fish is healthful because it provides important omega-3 fatty acids. Both statements are true. Both things can and do kill humans.
The closest parallel to any other industry is tobacco. New tanning beds are being marketed as the filtered "light" cigarettes of the past, and they are successful in getting children to indulge in a lethal habit driven only by vanity.
In the United States, 2.5 million teenagers use tanning booths, many starting as early as age 13. In Colorado, that's legal even though these children are exposed to booths that emit up to 15 times more UV radiation than the sun.
A Yale University School of Public Health study reveals that teenagers who use tanning beds have a 69 percent increased chance of getting early onset basal cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer. Melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer, is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 29, and it's the second most common cancer among people ages 15 to 29. People who use tanning beds once a month before the age of 35 increase their melanoma risk by 75 percent. Melanoma, according to CDC research, kills an average of one person every minute, and the rate is increasing fast.
The threat is real and indisputable. Colorado and other governments have acted consistently in protecting minors from health threats by limiting their access to tobacco, drugs, pornography, cars, machinery and alcohol. Given that there is no reputable evidence showing indoor tanning to be any less dangerous than those hazards, and it is exponentially more dangerous than most of those risks, how can the Colorado Legislature do anything but follow suit and restrict the use of tanning beds for teens?
State lawmakers shouldn't let the sun go down on a winning attempt to right this regulatory wrong.
The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Jan. 6, on Obamacare:
Most people agree that Obamacare needs some tweaks. It's not necessarily a partisan issue, either. There are plenty of Democratic lawmakers ready and willing to work with Republicans to improve the law or replace it with something better.
But the mood on Capitol Hill seems to be one of bloodthirsty action. With majorities in both chambers of Congress, Republicans seem bent on driving a stake through Obamacare at the outset of the new session just because they can. Since President Obama ramrodded his signature bill through Congress, turnabout, it seems, is fair play.
Except for the 30 million Americans whose access to health care hangs in the balance.
Here in Colorado, the Colorado Health Policy Coalition is asking members of Colorado's congressional delegation to pump the brakes on repealing the law without a clear and comprehensive alternative in place.
The coalition, representing much of the health industry and many other businesses and organizations with a stake in health care reform, is worried that a repeal without a carefully thought-out substitute could be disastrous.
We agree. Some form of repeal and delay seems a better course of action for several reasons. If Republicans want to repeal, fine. Just build in a two- or three-year period before the law is extinguished, providing market stability and time for thoughtful — and hopefully, bipartisan — solutions to emerge.
But that's not the hand Senate Republicans are showing. To avoid a Democratic filibuster, they're instructing congressional committees to draft a budget reconciliation bill to effectively repeal the tax and spending provisions of the Affordable Care Act, crippling the financial framework of the law.
A repeal of the individual mandate to purchase health insurance would eliminate the subsidy mechanism to help people buy policies. State health care exchanges would go into a death spiral, leaving millions uninsured.
Is that really what people voted for? Will Americans who voted for Trump and lose their insurance accept that this is part of the bargain to make America great again?
Congressional Republicans, on the whole, may be deaf to dire warnings about an immediate repeal. But Colorado lawmakers shouldn't be. The coalition has laid out clear principles on both the process Congress should follow to bring about necessary changes and the policy they should ultimately adopt.
Using a budgetary maneuver to change national policy eliminates the opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to work together. Moving forward in piecemeal fashion with no plan in place for the future of the nation's health care system feels more like a political stunt than responsible governance.
There's a better way. Even the president-elect himself thinks parts of Obamacare are worth keeping. That should be the launching point for an open debate about how to make health care affordable and accessible for all Americans.
If coalition members Progress Now Colorado and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce can find common on this issue, why can't Congress?
The Denver Post, Jan. 9, on the 2017 legislative session:
Colorado's lawmakers have convened in Denver to try and resolve some of the state's most pressing issues: a better K-12 and higher education system; improved transportation and infrastructure; and increased availability of affordable housing.
Such progress will take major compromise, as again this session Republicans hold sway in the Senate, while Democrats hold power in the House.
Unfortunately an ideological chasm over government spending threatens to derail the hope of significant long-term progress on these issues.
Democrats, led by Gov. John Hickenlooper, have convincingly argued that the state needs additional money. There's very little wiggle room in the discretionary portion of the state budget — the general fund. Further reducing the general fund is the possibility that, without action, lawmakers will be forced to send taxpayers millions of dollars in refunds under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. And while taxpayer refunds are always welcome, they tend to be anemic, and could arguably be better spent toward these needed priorities.
House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, says all options are on the table to resolve the revenue issue. Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, while unwilling to consider removing millions of dollars out from under TABOR without voter approval, said nearly everything else is on the table.
We hope they mean it.
Last year we strongly urged Senate Republicans to approve defining the hospital provider fee — essentially a bed tax on hospital visits — as an enterprise fund. The switch would mean no TABOR tax-refunds for the foreseeable future, but more money for things like schools, roads and child welfare services. That strategy was a nonstarter for Republicans, who argued it was beyond the scope of lawmakers without voter approval. However, the governor's office says a legislative fix would be legal, and Republicans have used legislative changes to enterprise funds in the past.
Whether pursuing a legislative fix or voter approval, Colorado needs some kind of rule change moving forward.
Lawmakers could also decide this session to ask voters for new ways to fund transportation.
Grantham said he would be willing to consider a sales tax increase, or other revenue source, to fund a bond package that would provide around $3.5 billion for needed transportation and infrastructure projects. Duran said she would consider a referred measure asking voters for a dedicated revenue stream.
That sounds like fertile ground for a compromise.
Duran is reluctant to consider reforms that would make it more difficult for multifamily homebuyers to bring suit against developers for defects in construction, legislation this board has long hoped to see. But Grantham seems optimistic that a compromise exists on this issue.
There's no question that high insurance rates for builders are hurting the market for multifamily housing, particularly condominiums, which are often the gateway purchase for first-time homebuyers. We hope Duran is willing to consider reasonable reforms that would both protect consumers while reducing the frequency of frivolous lawsuits that have hampered the market.
Colorado lawmakers balance the budget each year and pass hundreds of bipartisan bills. We also hope they are able to find a middle ground on the more divisive issues this session.