- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The (Loveland) Reporter Herald, Dec. 10, on problems with allowing state employees to have take-home vehicles:

A new audit says Colorado is spending $1.54 million a year by letting nearly 1,000 state employees have take-home vehicles to use - but 90 percent of that use is unauthorized.

A recent story in The Denver Post said the usage goes against both state law and federal tax regulations.

Some employees may now be forced to pay back taxes and Internal Revenue Service fines. The state could also be penalized by the IRS for allowing the practice to occur.

Colorado law allows agency executive directors to authorize employees to use a state-owned vehicle for commuting if the use promotes a legitimate nonpartisan state interest, efficient operation of the fleet system and is cost-effective to the state agency.

Employees who get a car are not allowed to use it for personal use, and there are requirements for determining whether the employee will reimburse the state for use of the vehicle in commuting and in what amount.

Agencies are paying for vehicle leases, fuel and insurance.

The audit report said it “found no evidence that the commute had been authorized for any reason other than to promote a legitimate state interest.” But it found “inconsistencies across agencies with respect to how they determined that the commuting arrangements met other requirements” and that the Department of Personnel & Administration “does not have complete and accurate information about employees with take-home vehicles.”

Part of the problem may be that the state’s Department of Personnel & Administration’s fleet management has less than one full-time-equivalent staff member dedicated to managing the program.

Another problem is that some employees have vehicles to speed up emergency response, but under state law that’s not a valid reason for a take-home vehicle.

Some of the employees who have had cars for that purpose include law enforcement officers, avalanche forecasters and highway construction workers.

If emergency response is a priority, and in some of those cases it should be, the law needs to be changed to allow those employees to use state vehicles.

Many state employees may have a legitimate need for take-home vehicles, but probably not as many as have them.

It’s time for the state to crack down on use of state vehicles, make sure the rules are being followed and that the employees who have vehicles are paying appropriate taxes for that use.

Those actions could help save taxpayers the money that purchase or lease and use of those vehicles costs.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2gJueqH

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The Durango Herald, Dec. 7, on possible changes for pot industry under Trump’s administration:

In November, eight more states voted to legalize medical or recreational marijuana. In all, 29 states have approved the medicinal use of marijuana and only six have done nothing to ease the prohibition of pot. Legal marijuana is a more than $1 billion industry in Colorado alone.

All that could be undone by one simple fact: President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to be his attorney general and, as reported by Politico, Sessions has a long history of opposing marijuana and any steps to legalize it. He has called reform of marijuana laws a “tragic mistake” and once said he thought members of the Ku Klux Klan “were OK until I found out they smoked pot.”

A reversal of current policy by Sessions is a real possibility. Under federal law, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic, the same as heroin. With that, he would need no additional authorization or authority to start cracking down on all involved.

That is a problem - and not just for those who like their weed. For starters, everywhere it has occurred, legalization has been accomplished by a vote of the people. Barring a profound constitutional conflict, those votes should be respected.

More than half of all Americans now live in states where medical marijuana is allowed, while 65 million live where recreational marijuana is legal. And, according to Politico, marijuana is now a $6.7 billion industry. Fortune reported in February that it topped $1 billion in Colorado alone.

It also means jobs. A trade publication, Marijuana Business Daily, claims the pot industry employs more than 25,000 people in Colorado. Citing industry sources, CBS News reports that nationwide, the marijuana trade employs roughly the same number of people - more than 100,000 - as there are flight attendants, web developers or librarians.

Moreover, legal marijuana has become a major source of revenue for a number of states. Counting total revenue from marijuana taxes, licenses and fees, Colorado reported that it took in almost $73 million in one year.

That is real money, especially to a state perennially strapped for cash. (One can only imagine how much legalized marijuana will mean for California.)

It would be wrong to let one man upset all that based solely on his own prejudice - and in defiance of millions of voters.

It seems unlikely that the Senate will refuse to confirm Sessions as attorney general, despite his poor record on civil rights and other issues. But there is one other man who could prevent causing trouble over pot. As president, Donald Trump could simply tell Sessions to respect the voters and leave marijuana alone. And Politico quoted U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, urging just that.

“If we don’t take action and hold President-elect Trump accountable,” Polis said, “in one fell swoop, the federal government could damage state economies, and discourage entrepreneurship - placing some of our innovators behind bars, all while eroding states’ rights.”

Polis is right, of course. The question now is whether Trump is listening.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2ggQA4g

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The Denver Post, Dec. 9, on the impacts of state opioid rules:

Katie Conlin says she is living “an existence of suffering.”

Not because her pain is beyond the scope of management by modern day drugs, mind you, but because the powerful opioids that in the past brought her relief have been blacklisted.

In response to the nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse, the pendulum of prescribing these designer drugs appears to have swung too far in the other direction.

The Denver Post’s John Ingold talked to Conlin, others suffering and medical experts about an apparent unwillingness among doctors to prescribe opioids to treat chronic pain.

The reticence has come from new guidelines from both the state of Colorado and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We have been supportive of those guidelines. Undeniably there is an urgent need to get a handle on these destructive drugs that were once peddled as safe alternatives to other pain management tools or surgery.

In 1998 Purdue Pharma released a video featuring six people who suffered from chronic pain titled “I Got My Life Back.” Viewing the clip now can be a haunting experience, given that these days, some 16,000 people a year die from opioid overdoses.

Something needed to be done about the over-prescription of a drug that doctors had been treating cavalierly, given the risk for overdose and addiction.

Patients prescribed large amounts of these pain killers, even high school athletes healing from injuries or adults recovering from dental work, have suffered. Teens have overdosed from their parent’s pills. When the money runs out or doctor shopping fails, these individuals often turn to heroin.

The CDC says that in 2012 health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication, enough for every adult in the U.S. to have a bottle of pills.

Congress responded by demanding that warning labels be put on the drugs, and states and the CDC issued new advice to doctors.

So how do we balance these competing needs with public policy? Colorado’s rules take special care to note “the policy does not suggest the discontinuation of opioid therapy after a threshold is crossed. It does recommend the practitioner closely monitor the pain.”

But Ingold has clearly documented that for too many trying to manage their pain, something is not working. Doctors are unwilling under the new guidelines to write prescriptions for chronic pain.

While it’s still early, the Colorado death rate also hasn’t slowed much since the new rules were implemented: “In 2014, when the state’s guidelines first came out, the death rate from opioids was 6.1 people for every 100,000 residents. In 2015, the rate was 5.8, according to a report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.”

Guidelines need to be revisited by the medical experts who wrote them in the first place to uncover why the system is failing Conlin and others.

Editorial: http://dpo.st/2hjUfgT

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