- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Denver Post, Nov. 1, on the Regional Transportation District cracking down on texting-and-driving:

In 2008, the engineer of a commuter train in Los Angeles was texting a minute before his train slammed into a freight train, killing 25 people.

Last December, a school bus driver in Tennessee was texting when his bus crashed into another school bus, killing two students.

The dangers of texting and other types of distracted driving are real and particularly concerning with a large train or bus.

And while reasonable people can disagree about whether cell-phone calls for all motorists ought to be banned (texting already is), there should be no question when it comes to public transportation.

Not surprisingly, the Regional Transportation District agrees, and has a verbal agreement with its union that any driver found texting while operating a vehicle will receive a 20-day suspension for the first offense. The trouble is, the agency hasn’t always imposed that penalty - and such leniency sends the wrong message about the seriousness of the offense.

A recent audit of RTD found 19 incidents of distracted driving involving bus drivers that fortunately did not result in tragedy.

Yet, the incidents are concerning.

One driver was talking on a cellphone while going 75 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone. Another driver was wearing headphones while driving.

Six times drivers were found using a smartphone to either text or check applications while the bus was in motion.

The RTD rules are clear about electronic devices. They are to be powered off and stowed out of reach while a driver is operating an RTD vehicle.

The audit criticized RTD for inconsistent or insufficient disciplinary actions regarding the violators. Sixteen of the 19 operators were disciplined, and none was fired for the offenses.

But the discipline varied from person to person, even for the same violation. Some got a three-day suspension for texting when others received the full 20 days. And yet the financial penalty in loss of salary from a 20-day suspension is clearly more appropriate given the degree of safety risk involved.

Indeed, it is mind-boggling to think a professional driving a bus loaded with passengers would even consider texting.

Fortunately, RTD has agreed to expand upon, standardize and formalize its disciplinary approach.

There are enough tragic examples from around the country to demonstrate why this is an overdue move.

Editorial: http://dpo.st/1LOQ2Jp

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The (Boulder) Daily-Camera, Oct. 31, on partisanship in state government:

When we first heard about Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joining a lawsuit challenging the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which Gov. John Hickenlooper supports, we were reminded of “Adam’s Rib,” the 1949 movie classic in which Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn play a husband and wife who face off against one another in court.

Among the many memorable lines the film produced was this observation from the character played by David Wayne: “Lawyers should never marry other lawyers. This is called in-breeding; from this comes idiot children… and other lawyers.”

But we digress.

The public squabbling between Hickenlooper and Coffman is a lot less charming than the Tracy-Hepburn byplay, particularly in the context of the partisan hostility at the federal level between the political parties they represent. In Washington, it has created a dysfunction that damages the country these officials are elected to serve. The most basic government functions - passing a budget and providing for the nation’s infrastructure, just to name two - are now held hostage to the partisan interests of the two parties. For this spirit of partisanship to infect Colorado’s state government, like a disease spreading throughout the body politic, is not an encouraging sign.

We understand the conflicting principles here, each deeply felt by the respective parties. Thanks to his early history as an oil industry geologist, Hickenlooper is more sympathetic to the fossil fuel industry than many Democrats, which is why it’s important for him to be seen supporting the Clean Power Plan, which establishes standards for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Coffman is representing the widely-held belief among Republicans that the federal government routinely oversteps its constitutional authority in mandates imposed on states, including in this case.

We are sympathetic to the notion that our constitutional system requires constant monitoring by the judiciary of the powers and rights that attach to each level of government, as well as to individuals. To the extent that Coffman and other Republicans are also serving the financial interests of coal companies and other polluters, we are less sympathetic. The financial interests of these companies pale in comparison to a scientific consensus that their current level of emissions cannot continue without producing unpredictable and potentially disastrous changes to the Earth’s climate.

So we support the governor’s appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court to step in and address the question of the powers granted by the state Constitution to the offices of governor and attorney general. We don’t pretend to know the legal answer, but it would be nice to see the public squabbling stop while Colorado’s government still has a better reputation than our nation’s.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/1ka0mD1

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The (Longmont) Times-Call, Nov. 1, on disbursing recovery funds to Colorado farmers:

Two years after the Front Range flood that wiped out crops and damaged fences, farm buildings and machinery, more than two dozen farmers in Boulder, Weld and Larimer counties are waiting for their share of federal funds meant to reimburse them for the repairs they’ve made.

The Denver Post reported last week that of $5.5 million in federal Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds allocated to Colorado agricultural interests after the flood, $1 million has been paid out, with another $1 million to be awarded in the coming month. While 19 Northern Colorado farmers have received aid, another 27 are awaiting reimbursement for costs incurred as a result of the flood.

Why the delay?

According to Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs, which is administering the money, disbursing the funds is an “administrative struggle,” the Post report says.

In particular, farmers interviewed by the Post found the required paperwork to be burdensome and the income limits to be incompatible with the nature of farming.

To be eligible for an agriculture business grant, a farmer must have applied for other financial assistance, such as through the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Further, an affected farmer must provide documentation that may include receipts, bid estimates, cleared checks, bank statements, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits, household income certification and rejection letters from other financial sources, among other items.

The income requirements, in particular, have blocked a handful of farmers, because the government measures gross income rather than net income, according to the Post report. The expense of running a farm is not taken into account, so a farmer who nets a fraction of what he or she grosses could be rejected for financial aid.

Government is charged with wisely spending taxpayer money, so agencies such as Colorado’s DOLA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, through which the federal aid is administered, should require documentation and means testing for aid.

However, when farmers who have so clearly suffered as a result of a natural disaster - six feet of water poured across some farms - the burden is to see that those who need the help get it quickly. When receiving help means wading through paperwork and unrealistic expectations, and waiting more than two years to get help, it’s time the change the process.

The good news is that, according to the Post article, the state is working with the federal government to alter the eligibility rules to take into account the capital-intensive nature of farming.

For many Front Range farmers, the change can’t come soon enough.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/1GL0t1V

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The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Oct. 30, on allocating land conservation funds:

Nearly everyone agrees that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is an important conservation tool. But not everyone agrees on how LWCF proceeds should be allocated. The impasse has stopped the 50-year-old program in its tracks.

Congress established the fund in 1964. Since then, the LWCF has dedicated nearly $17 billion for states and communities to invest in outdoor recreation resources.

The program uses no taxpayer dollars and instead is funded primarily by royalties paid to the government for off-shore oil and gas development.

But some members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, say the LWCF needs reform.

Rather than authorizing the fund under its historic formula - which allows for federal land purchases - Tipton and reformers want to restructure the fund so it supports infrastructure and maintenance of existing lands.

“… land management agencies should focus on managing the lands they already have,” Tipton said in a story reported by The Sentinel’s Dennis Webb on Oct. 3.

This divide over the scope of the LWCF’s mission led to the expiration of the fund. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Denver, sponsored a bill calling for permanently reauthorizing the LWCF. It was supported by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, but it failed by one vote.

Colorado has received approximately $239 million in LWCF funding to protect everything from city parks to the state’s most scenic landscapes.

Regionally, some of the program’s beneficiaries have included the Colorado and Dinosaur national monuments, Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks, and White River and Uncompahgre national forests. The irony, of course, is that Tipton’s sprawling district has received millions in recreation and community projects from the LWCF.

It’s hard to think of a state that benefits more from the LWCF than Colorado. The Outdoor Industry Association has found that active outdoor recreation contributes more than $10 billion annually to Colorado’s economy, supports 107,000 jobs across the state, generates nearly $500 million in annual state tax revenue and produces $7.6 billion annually in retail sales and services across Colorado.

In taking a principled stand, Tipton and his cohorts have idled the fund, robbing local communities of future conservation, historic preservation and recreation opportunities.

We think the LWCF is working just fine and shouldn’t be crimped in any way. Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy depends on growing opportunities, not limiting them to existing spaces. But reauthorizing the LWCF is critical.

So, to Tipton and his like-minded colleagues we say, either get a reform proposal on the table or get out of the way.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/1Myxomr

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