Archive for the 'Colorado State Legislature' Category

Powerful Christian-right group aligned with 33 Colorado Republicans against Planned Parenthood

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Thirty-three Republican members of the Colorado legislature joined last year with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a national anti-choice and anti-LGBT organization, in demanding the Colorado health department investigate Planned Parenthood, according to a letter released by ADF via Colorado State Sen. Kevin Lundberg’s office.

Considered to be one of the most powerful Christian right organizations in America, ADF is well-known at the Colorado legislature for pushing legislation and testifying in favor of the social-conservative agenda.

But it’s rare to see ADF form a direct alliance with so many legislators, as it did in advocating for a Planned Parenthood investigation.

“I’m not surprised to see ADF branching out into working alongside state legislators,” said Robert Boston, author of Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do, via an email. “While I’m not aware of efforts on this scale in other states, I do know that ADF has of late been sending unsolicited ‘advice’ to state and local lawmakers concerning issues like the ability of government clerks to refuse service to same-sex couples. The influx of Tea Party-style Republicans in state governments since 2014 has given the group a host of natural allies in the state capitols, and it’s not surprising to see this relationship growing.”

While its work directly with legislators isn’t widely seen, ADF has a longstanding and multi-pronged history of attacking Planned Parenthood, including efforts to defund the health-care organization and to organize grassroots opposition among people and businesses. The organization’s anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ stances are widely documented.

In a 2015 handbook designed to help religious entities discriminate without facing legal repercussions, ADF equates bestiality and incest with being LGBTQ, participating in adultery, and using pornography.

“We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female,” states the handbook. “These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God. (Gen 1:26-27.) Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.”

The handbook continues: “We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other. (1 Cor 6:18; 7:2-5; Heb 13:4.) We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God. (Matt 15:18-20; 1 Cor 6:9-10.)”

ADF, which did not return a call for comment, campaigned in support of a 2003 Texas lawsuit, arguing that it’s “clearly” true that “same-sex sodomy is a distinct public health problem.” ADF has backed efforts to criminalize homosexuality abroad, according to a report by Media Mattes for America.

ADF has gained attention more recently for providing legal defense for anti-LGBTQ business owners who refuse to serve same-sex patrons.

“ADF and its allies are attempting to reverse something like 50 years of social progress,” wrote Boston, who serves as communications director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a national progressive organization. “They are essentially at war with modernity. Some might argue that this is alarmist, and it won’t happen. But the fact is, reproductive rights have been under constant assault since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, and opponents of legal abortion have made a lot of progress.”

In the September 25 letter to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), GOP lawmakers requested the “standards or criteria that are required to initiate an investigation” of Planned Parenthood, and it asked how a heavily edited video that falsely purported to show illegal dealings in fetal tissue donation would not be investigated.

The video and others like it, part of an undercover series by the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), has been discredited and their creators indicted, but the videos have spawned local and national Republican-led hearings and investigations of Planned Parenthood. No evidence has shown Planned Parenthood to have broken any laws.

The ADF letter, which has not been previously reported on, came after CDPHE, in an August 31 letter, rejected a demand by many of the same state legislators to “initiate an investigation” of Planned Parenthood.

Among the GOP lawmakers listed on ADF’s letter calling for an investigation of Planned Parenthood are State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Westminster), whose fate in November’s election, some say, could determine whether Republicans maintain control of the Colorado Senate, and State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton), who was rejected by Republicans to run against Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet this fall.

State Rep. JoAnn Windholz (R-Commerce City), who’s been asked to resign after blaming Planned Parenthood for being the “true instigator” of November’s deadly shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, was also listed as a signer.

Multiple calls for comment on the letter and ADF’s legislative priorities were made to Rep. Dan Nordberg (R-Colorado Springs), whose name appears first among the lawmakers listed on the letter, were not returned.

Many of the Colorado legislators aligned with ADF were part of an unofficial “hearing” in November focused largely on the CMP smear videos, that turned into a day-long condemnation of Planned Parenthood. It took place just over two weeks before three people were murdered at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, which re-opened fully Sunday.

The ADF letter, which was included in an ADF briefing book distributed to legislators at the “hearing,” also requested public documents from CDPHE, including all correspondence with Planned Parenthood, pursuant to Colorado’s open records law.

It was signed by senior ADF Counsel Michael J. Norton, who left ADF in December to start the Colorado Freedom Institute, which will focus on conservative religious causes.

Norton, who drafted a 2006 amendment that voters added to the Colorado Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman, testified frequently at the state capitol and has been an outspoken advocate for anti-choice campaigns.

Norton did not return emails asking if the lawmakers who joined his former organization’s letter support ADF’s broader agenda of criminalizing homosexuality and defunding Planned Parenthood.

Journalists correctly see challenges faced by candidate who “needed a court ruling to keep his campaign alive”

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

In its report on a Denver judge’s decision to allow U.S. Senate candidate Jon Keyser on the Republican primary ballot, after the Secretary of State had rejected his petitions, The Denver Post’s John Frank and Mark Matthews reported:

Once considered a favorite in the race, Keyser must now overcome other challenges that are injecting questions into this campaign not least among them, the fact he needed a court ruling to keep his campaign alive. [BigMedia emphasis]

It’s unclear just how much of a liability Keyser’s signature-gathering fiasco will be, but the reporters were correct to write that it raises questions–as yet unexplored in detail by journalists–about whether Keyser’s short stint on the campaign trail and in public service has shown him to be competent not only to run a campaign but to be an effective U.S. Senator, to replace Democrat Michael Bennet.

Keyser’s Republican colleague in the Colorado State House, Rep. Justin Everett of Littleton, jumped on Facebook last week to write that Keyser “isn’t ready for prime time,” as evidenced by Keyer’s fundraing troubles, problematic petitions, and other bungles.

Everett: Not to say he won’t cure, suers gonna sue. But what’s interesting here is how close he was in Congressional District 1 (20 signatures), in heavily Republican CD5 (a mere 76 signatures), and CD 6 (75 signatures). If another candidate were to contest the validity of those Congressional Districts, he may be deemed insufficient in other areas. Not to mention his announcement claim that he had $3 million pledged to his campaign but only raised $200K, while contributing $100K of his own money. After serving with him for a mere year in the legislature, it is still pretty clear he isn’t ready for prime time…

“After serving with [Keyser] for a mere year in the legislature, it is still pretty clear he isn’t ready for prime time….”

If you couple that statement with the campaign lapses, you have a bunch of unanswered questions about Keyser’s basic competency that need to be addressed by reporters as the campiagn gears up.

When will a reporter ask Woods why she likes Trump?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

How many times does State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Westminster) have to say she likes Donald Trump before a reporter will ask her the simple question of, why?

In an email to supporters Sunday, Woods wrote that she’d vote for Trump, if he were the nominee, adding, “I have liked Trump and Cruz, and at times I have disliked them both.”

Woods, who’s been more open about her support for Cruz, said earlier this year on KNUS 710-AM of the Republican prez candidates:

Woods: “My favorites are Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.”

Now, with Trump set to roll one step closer today to securing the Republican nomination–and with Woods apparently the only elected official in Colorado to affirmatively and proactively express her fondness of Trump–you’d think a journalist out there would jump on the local angle and ask her why.

Yet, apparently Woods has skated by the press corps, somehow avoiding the scrutiny you’d expect her to receive as the senator whose fate in November’s election will likely decide whether divided government comes to an end in Colorado.

So, with so much at stake, as well as a news hook the size of Trump, you’d think Woods would have explained her feelings for Trump many times over on the record.

To emphasize the point, and as a means to suggest a few obvious avenues of questioning that reporters might pursue in questioning Woods about Trump, here’s a video.

https://youtu.be/3xMMMWNqrj8

How to protect Colorado’s “non-prime population” from being exploited as a “market opportunity?”

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Reporters have done a good job informing us that most people who sign up for predatory loans are struggling.

But there’s a media gap in pointing out just how important the “struggling” part is to the business model of OneMain Holdings, the company backing legislation that would allow it to charge 36 percent interest on more and larger loans.

In a presentation a couple months ago, OneMain boasted to investers about its “Market Opportunity” in the personal loan business.

After noting that “Americans have $3.3 trillion in consumer debt,” and then identifying its “target market” as the 100 million Americans with low credit scores, the company pointed out where its pay dirt lies:

OneMain’s Market Opportunity: “Large non-prime population with limited liquidity–63 percent of American households do not have at least $1,000 in savings, more than 40% have no emergency savings.” [Emphasis added by OneMain Holdings, not by the BigMedia Blog.]

“Non-prime population?” That’s an unfortunate phrase for this company to use, but it spotlights the point.

A lot of poeple are struggling with debt problems, and they need loans. But they obviously need protection from a big company that targets them as a “market opportunity.” How much protection from interest-rate hammering is appropriate?

We’re never going to know exactly how much money OneMain Holdings is really making in Colorado.

We’re just going to get shards of information, like the company representative confirming 30 percent growth in Colorado during the last four years. Or the Colorado attorney general’s office confirming again that access to personal loans is not a problem here. Which indicates that OneMain is happily doing business here.

Objectively, it looks like the company is doing very well, thank you very much.

Except, OneMain claims that it’s not doing well enough, and one key supporter has said, if nothing is done, the company might have to walk away from Colorado!

So if you’re a state legislator, and you know OneMain will never open up its books for review (and you know that people need loans), do you err on the side of protecting those people with little or no personal savings? Or do you respond to the company’s complaints and help it out, to the tune of $9.5 million?

That’s the key question that reporters should zero in on. How much evidence is there that this company actually factually needs to make more money on the backs of Colorado’s “non-prime population?” In fact, is there any evidence at all, except what the company says?

Post reporter stands out for asking predatory-lender about Colorado profits

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

A predatory-lending bill, allowing lenders to make more money on high-interest loans, passed a state senate committee yesterday, with supporters of the bill telling reporters that increased profits are necessary to keep personal-loan lenders in Colorado.

That’s the major argument for the bill. Specifically, backers told the Durango Herald that the one company offering such loans will leave Colorado if it’s not allowed to make millions more here.

The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch was the only reporter to ask Springleaf Holdings, Colorado’s only lender of personal loans (after a merger last year with its competitor), how the company was doing. I mean, that’s the key question.

Is it struggling to make ends meet, like many of the folks it lends money to are? People who pay the company 36 percent interest on a $1,000 loan as it is?

Bunch reported:

Phil Hitz, who represented Springleaf Holdings, acknowledged that the company is very profitable nationally and confirmed the 30 percent Colorado growth over the past four years.

Bunch apparently didn’t ask Hitz if Springleaf would leave Colorado if the bill didn’t pass, but all indications are that it would not.

Last year, when a similar predatory-lending bill was debated, the Colorado Attorney General’s office testified that access to such loans is not threatened under the current interest-rate structure.  Similar testimony was reportedly offered yesterday as well.

So the bill’s backers haven’t refuted the key point that lenders of personal loans are profitable and thriving. Instead, the market in Colorado is actually growing. There’s no indication that the lenders will walk away from Colorado and its money.

To be fair, Hitz told Bunch that Colorado is the company’s lowest yielding state, and other states help subsidize it.

But lowest yielding state compared to what, astronomically-earning ones? We know the company is “very profitable” nationally. So the fact that it’s doing well enough in Colorado is a signal that states should protect consumers, many of them low-income, and adopt Colorado’s humane regulatory framework.

That’s another conversation reporters might have with Hitz.

Breitbart should state that Woods likes Trump, making her involvement in pro-Cruz shenanigans unlikely

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Breitbart’s Julia Hahn reports that four Colorado lawmakers, who are members of Ted Cruz’s “Colorado Leadership Team, voted against a 2015 bill that would have created a presidential primary in Colorado.

Trump has said the absence of a primary or caucus vote helped Cruz trounce Trump in the race for Colorado delegates. And Hahn’s story implies that Cruz supporters in Colorado’s legislature might have been working to squash Trump as early as last year, when they voted against a bill establishing open primary that might have benefited Trump.

“Social media posts, along with Cruz’s campaign website, reveal that Sen. Ted Cruz supporters in the Colorado Republican Party were responsible for crushing an effort to give Colorado the ability to vote in a state primary…The four Republicans who voted against the initiative were Sen. Kevin Grantham, Sen. Kent Lambert, Sen. Laura Woods, and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.”

The trouble with this conspiracy theory is that Woods is actually factually on record as saying Trump is one of her top two favorite presidential candidates. As such, Woods is the only elected official in the state to affirmatively say she likes Trump.

Woods “narrowed the field” after watching the GOP prez debate in Boulder, and she concluded that her “favorites are Ted Cruz and Donald Trump” (here at 25 min, 50 seconds).

Later, Woods “liked” a Facebook post by The Conservative Update, which stated:

‘Like’ if you would vote for Donald Trump if he were the 2016 GOP nominee.

So if Woods was secretly in the tank for Cruz last year, when she voted against the presidential-primary bill, she, at a minimum, had a change of heart after being wowed by Trump at the Boulder GOP debate. But, more likely, she voted against the prez-primary bill for other reasons.

In any case, Hahn should update her post with the fact that Woods praised Trump and said he was one of her favorite candidaates along with Cruz, before she jumped on the Cruz boat.

Predatory-lending bill shouldn’t fly under journalists’ late-session radar

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Sometimes reporters ignore bills in the state legislature that look like they would surely die quickly in the hands of divided government. But here’s a piece of right-wing legislation that surprisingly cleared Colorado’s divided legislature last year, before a being vetoed by Gov. John Hickenlooper: a “predatory-lending” bill.

Similar legislation, introduced just last week, should be scrutinized by journalists, despite the end-of-session onslaught on top of the usual onslaught.

This year’s predatory-lending bill (SB16-185), which could be heard this week, would allow for an increase in interest rates on subprime “personal loans,” which are sold to people whose credit problems preclude them from obtaining loans with more favorable interest rates.

Such loans are convenient–and can actually help struggling families improve their credit ratings. But they’re costly, with the potential to be devastating economically for low-income people.

Lenders are getting 36 percent on the first $1,000 in a personal loan, and 21 percent on such loans from $1,000 to $3,000. Yet the senate bill would set up a mechanism to jack up the rates even more. Last year’s failed bill aimed to set the interest rate at 36 percent for all personal loans up to $3,000.

Personal loans average $6,000 in Colorado. They shouldn’t be confused with pay-day loans, which typically carry an even higher interest rate and can be no more than $500, under state law. So these are completely different types of loans.

In vetoing the measure last year, Hickenlooper was “particularly struck” by the Colorado Attorney General’s assessment that higher interest rates on personal loans would not make them more readily available to consumers.

This validates statements by the bill’s opponents that lenders of personal loans are profitable and thriving–despite allegations by the bill’s opponents last year that higher interest rates are needed to keep lenders from abandoning the business. And the number of personal loans sold last year is the highest since 2009, so the market is actually growing under the current regulatory structure, opponents say.

A number of groups have lined up against the predatory lending bill, including AARP Colorado, Bell Policy Center, Center for Responsible Lending, CLLARO, Colorado Catholic Conference, Colorado Center for Law and Policy, Colorado Council of Churches, Colorado Fiscal Institute, Gary Community Investments, Company, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, One Colorado ProgressNow Colorado Small Business Majority.

Given what happened last year, and the public’s well-known demand to know what lawmakers are doing to help (or in this case hurt) working families, journalists should keep a close eye on this year’s predatory-lending legislation.

Flip-flop exposed. Thank you journalism.

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

You hope that the weakening of journalism doesn’t translate into politicians thinking they can flip flop to their hearts content, without being asked to explain themselves in proverbial print. But you fear fewer reporters means more politicians getting off the hook.

So you’re gratified when reporters, in our diminished media environment, continue to hold politicians accountable, for example, when they vote the opposite way this year than they did last year.

The Durango Herald’s Peter Marcus noticed that J. Paul Bown (R-Ignacio) had voted last year for a program offering contraception to low-income women and teens, but this year he voted against it.

Last week, Marcus asked the question everyone wants journalists to ask, even if they don’t want to pay for it. Why?

Brown: “I still feel that it prevents abortions, but there’s a difference of opinion, and I just felt like I ought to stick with the caucus today with that amendment. There’s a lot of money needed in a lot of different places, it’s tough making those priorities. It’s a tough decision. We have to make some tough priority decisions up here.”

To his credit, Marcus reported that “supporters” of the program, which is credited with reducing teen abortions and pregnancies by over 35 percent, point out that “for every $1 invested in low-cost contraception, Colorado taxpayers save about $5.85 in Medicaid costs.”

Those are actually state government figures, from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

The next time he interviews Brown, Marcus might as him –or others who’ve opposed Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative on budget grounds–if they believe the state figures.

Despite Brown’s opposition, Colorado’s House and Senate passed a budget bill last week with $2.5 million for the Family Planning Initiative, marking the first year Colorado has funded the program, assuming the budget bill is signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The initiative was funded the past six years with private dollars.

 

State senators’ amendment would (again) ban fetal-tissue research with state dollars

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Last week, Colorado Senate Republicans inserted an amendment in the budget bill prohibiting the use of state funds to purchase fetal tissue for research—even though state funds are already barred from being spent for this purpose.

But the sponsors of the amendment, state Senators Tim Neville of Littleton and Laura Woods of Westminster, wanted to “clarify” things in the wake of discredited videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.

The tissue, as university researchers in Colorado have pointed out, is used to help find cures for terrible diseases. It’s obtained under strict federal guidelines that include a consent form from the donor of the tissue authorizing its use in research. A processing charge is allowed but money making on such sales is illegal.

“This is an important issue,” said Woods on the Senate floor (here at 445:30) “We were horrified by the videos that we saw. And the callousness that was associated with those videos. And it deserves our attention…”

“We are not just concerned about Planned Parenthood. We are concerned about the abortions behind this tissue that is being used for research.”

Officials at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Colorado State University rejected demands by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) last year that all fetal-tissue research be halted. They noted that funds for such research come from NIH or private sources, not state dollars.

Richard Traystman, the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Director of Research, said it was “not acceptable” to stop research using fetal tissue.

Traystman said at the time:  “[Fetal cells]  are very often used in research on diseases of the central nervous system, the brain, the spinal cord, a variety of diseases that involve brain abnormalities and diseases, like Parkinson’s disease, for example. They are also used in research on the heart and cardiac tissue and to create vaccines. I could go on.”

Traystman emphasized that researchers who use fetal tissue “must go through the Institutional Review Board process, get consent, and follow all the rules and regulations related to human consent forms.”

All this does not persuade Woods or Neville, whose fetal-tissue amendment is expected to be from the budget bill by a conference committee, sources say.

“We do have moral opportunities,” said Neville. “And I look at this as an opportunity to do the right thing.”

Correction: A previous version of this post stated that the fetal-tissue amendment had been deleted from the budget bill by a conference committee. It has not yet been deleted.

 

Woods and Neville fail to stop teen-pregnancy-prevention program

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

On a voice vote late yesterday, the Colorado Senate rejected an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton) and Laura Woods (R-Westminster) that would have deleted funding for a state-run program credited with decreasing the teen pregnancies and abortions by over 35 percent.

It was a watershed moment for backers of the program, whose efforts to procure state funding were killed last year by Senate Republicans–as chronicled by national news outlets and lowly blogs alike.

But the watershed moment was nearly eclipsed by the water cooler discussion of why in the world Woods would go out of her way to oppose an astonishingly successful teen pregnancy prevention program, given the spectacular bipartisan allure of lowering teen pregnancies and abortions?

Woods doesn’t return my calls, so someone else will have to ask her, but the stakes are about as high as they can get, as control of state government likely depends on who wins Woods’ swing senate district in November.

Politics aside, Woods has been consistent in standing up for her anti-choice and Tea-Party positions, from the day she started running for the legislature until now–as opposed to other state Republicans who’ve essentially re-invented themselves (Sen. Cory Gardner, Rep. Mike Coffman) when faced with tough election campaigns in moderate districts.

Woods didn’t speak at last night’s senate hearing, leaving her co-sponsor Sen. Tim Neville to explain their hostility toward reducing abortions and pregnancies among teenagers.

Neville started out by saying he was concerned about the “widespread and temporary use of sterilization products on women and girls in Colorado.” Arguably, you can describe the program that way, if you must. Under Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative, which has been privately funded, low-income women and girls receive free or reduced-cost long acting reversible contraception (LARC), such as intrauterine devices (IUDs).

Neville, who’s the leading GOP contender to defeat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, went on to say (Listen here at 535:35).

Neville: These IUDs and other issues do nothing to prevent the spread of STDs [sexually transmitted diseases]. There is nothing to suggest that the psychological and medical risks and costs associated with the increased sexual activity will be managed or addressed by these funds or this legislation.

The use of IUDs has never been shown to encourage more sex, as you might suspect. So the psychological risk-benefit analysis should focus on the mental-health impact of being a teen parent or having an abortion versus avoiding an unwanted pregnancy.

Neville, who was bothered by lack of parental notification in administering the contraception under the program, argued that the LARC program isn’t necessary because “birth control is already provided, free, to anyone who needs it who qualifies” under the Affordable care act.

But it’s specifically the use of implants and long-acting contraception that makes the program successful, and some forms of LARC birth control, along with the training needed to provide them, are not covered currently by Obamacare.

Neville’s closing comment was also incorrect and probably the most frustrating to LARC backers. He alleged:

Neville:  “Colleagues, this is a program that, if it went through a vote through the Senate and went through its natural process, would not have made it.”

In fact, just last week the state house defeated an amendment, almost exactly like the one offered by Neville and Woods, with the support of all Democrats and three Republicans. And it’s nearly a certainty that one Republican or more would have joined Democrats in the state senate to pass a stand-alone LARC bill last year and this year. That’s probably one reason Republicans allowed funding in the budget in the first place–to take it off the table.

Neville did not make the anti-LARC argument, among the most popular last year, that IUDs cause abortions, but Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt of Colorado Springs raised it last week,  as quoted in the Colorado Springs Gazette.:

Klingenschmitt: “I would be fine with family planning. I would be fine with some kinds of birth control, but when the taxpayers are funding post-conception abortion pills, that crosses the line.”

Klingenschmitt’s and other GOP objections will be irrelevant once the budget bill clears the state senate today and is signed by Hick.

Then all eyes (or at least the eyes of the political world) will turn to Woods, Neville and other Republicans to see how this issue plays out on the campaign trail.