- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The (Loveland) Reporter-Herald, Aug. 22, on Longmont and Fort Collins fracking cases:

Few public policy issues in Colorado have been the subject of more intense debate, discussion and regulatory activity in recent years than the use of hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas drilling.” - City of Longmont, in its opening brief to the Colorado Court of Appeals

Yes. And that’s why the Colorado Supreme Court should take up Longmont’s fracking ban and Fort Collins’ 5-year-moratorium, rather than kick the cases back down to the Appeals Court, which in a rare move last week passed the cases directly to the high court.

Both sides of the local-control argument about oil-and-gas exploration should welcome a Supreme Court ruling, as it can settle a dispute that began three years ago when Longmont voters petitioned, then passed, a ban on fracking within city limits.

That led to a Colorado Oil and Gas Association lawsuit against the city, and made the city ground zero in the battle over fracking. Fort Collins is among the Colorado cities that followed Longmont’s lead, approving a five-year moratorium on the practice. Both Longmont and Fort Collins lost court cases, leading to their appeals.

The entire state is watching, because a Colorado Supreme Court decision can settle the question: Do communities have the right to say no to a state-approved activity?

As noted by the appellate judges, the Longmont and Fort Collins cases “are the most publicized disputes between the state, industry and anti-fracking advocates. They would appear to be the test cases for determining whether county and local governments may regulate or prohibit fracking and related activities.”

With one case a ban and the other a moratorium, a decision by the highest court “will likely determine the fate of similar litigation and regulatory efforts, existing or contemplated, throughout the state and will likewise have profound economic and social consequences,” appellate judges wrote.

While fracking has been used for decades, the boom of the oil and gas industry in the past several years requires a fresh legal look at the practice. The appeals court has no recent precedent against which to measure the current bans.

It’s not known yet if the court will accept the cases, or kick them back to the appeals level. But given the significance of the issue to communities and to the oil and gas industry statewide, the Supreme Court should hear the cases, and soon.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1hFTImC


The Gazette, Aug. 23, on religious freedom:

The death or survival of religious liberty as we know it may be decided in this second decade of the 21st century. In this era, religious freedoms protected by the First Amendment face unprecedented challenges.

Plaintiffs, defendants, courts and civil rights commissions throughout the country continue to grapple with questions of whether commercial artists and other businesspeople must provide services they feel violate their religious convictions. Consistently, courts have told religious bakers and wedding photographers they must provide creative expressions on cakes and in photos for same-sex weddings.

The Denver City Council last week discussed keeping Chick-fil-A out of Denver International Airport because the chain’s CEO expressed support for “biblical” family three years ago and donated to religious groups that opposed same-sex marriage.

Friday brought the latest twist, when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals - the federal branch that serves Colorado - issued a temporary order that protects the Little Sisters of the Poor and other ministries from having to obey Obamacare mandates that effectively cause them to provide abortion-inducing contraceptives. Devout Catholics and some other Christians cannot knowingly fund or in any way facilitate abortion or birth control without violating the tenets of their faith.

The temporary reprieve came a month after the 10th Circuit ruled the nuns have no choice but to provide contraceptive coverage to employees who want it. Friday’s decision lifts the mandate until the Supreme Court of the United States decides whether to hear an appeal filed on behalf of the sisters by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit firm that has defended the religious liberties of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs and Zoroastrians.

If the court agrees to hear the case, a decision expected this fall, suspension of the mandate will remain until its final ruling.

“The federal government doesn’t need the Little Sisters or any other ministry to help it distribute abortion-inducing drugs and other contraceptives,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund. “Yet it not only insists on forcing them to participate in the delivery, it argues that their beliefs against participating are wrong and that government officials and judges can tell the Little Sisters what Catholic theology really requires. That’s wrong, and it’s dangerous.”

This isn’t about abortion rights, which have been secure in all 50 states since the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. And it is not about the right to birth control, which is heavily subsidized and available at an assortment of public and private agencies in all states. Impassioned pro-choice activists could support the sisters in this case without posing the slightest threat to abortion rights or affordable contraceptives. To protect their own moral convictions from attack, they would be wise to do so.

The case involving Little Sisters of the Poor - an organization that helps the poorest of the poor - will determine whether the federal government has authority to force religious organizations to pay for activities fundamentally in conflict with their beliefs. It will determine whether charities such as the sisters, made up of people who will not compromise their beliefs, continue their charitable works.

This country was founded, in large part, to create a free environment for all conceivable beliefs. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights prevents government from interfering with the free exercise of religion.

Denver’s Little Sisters of the Poor are not concerned with politics. They just want to help the poor and live as they believe God has taught them. These woman feel their free exercise has been more than interfered with. It has been quashed by the federal government’s contraceptive mandate.

Let’s hope the Supreme Court hears this case and upholds the First Amendment. This country wasn’t founded to provide employee-funded birth control. It was founded to protect religious freedom for all - believers and nonbelievers alike - from government interference.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1JvtaPe


The Daily Sentinel, Aug. 25, on raising the state’s gas tax:

After serving 18 years on the Colorado Transportation Commission, Grand Junction resident Doug Aden has earned a reputation as tireless advocate for rural road projects.

But the state’s current funding system for transportation can’t cover long-term needs, he warned after leaving the 11-member panel last month. We would be wise to heed his call for change.

Without some kind infusion of revenue, there won’t be enough funding for upkeep of the state’s existing highways, much less pay for new projects. The state needs $500 million a year just to maintain current roads. But the Colorado Department of Transportation’s budget is less than half that.

Aden is calling for an increase in the state’s gas tax, by as much as 10 cents a gallon. Western Slope residents should get behind the proposal or find themselves crowded out at the trough.

The Denver metro area is in the midst of a transportation crisis. The state can’t keep up with the need for repairs or new arteries to alleviate congestion. The current budget can’t provide the funding “without sucking the rest of the state dry,” Aden said.

In the absence of CDOT funds, the Front Range has turned to tollways to solve its transportation woes. Seems like a fair solution, right? Let Denver-area residents deal with their own traffic troubles.

But if Denver’s reliance on private transportation routes continues, it could spell doom for the rest of the state. The more the Front Range turns to tollways, the less appetite it will have to make sure CDOT is adequately funded. Front Range voters will have no vested interest in statewide transportation funding - or approving a gas-tax hike.

Rural Colorado is one of the biggest beneficiaries of CDOT spending. The state spends more per-capita on each mile of road in rural areas than it does on Front Range projects. By not promoting a statewide fix for roadway funding, we jeopardize our share of a dwindling pot. Our fortunes lie with making CDOT funding a priority for everyone in the state.

Raising the gas tax in the midst of an oil glut would give motorists some time to absorb the sticker shock while gas prices are low. It generates revenue without the interest that comes from borrowing. Aden, a retired banker, opposes a legislative proposal to issue transportation bonds, which could raise $1 billion for the Interstate 25 corridor, but “saddle the state with $250 million in debt service for the next 20 years.”

A gas tax would help, but it’s only a piece of the solution. Gov. John Hickenlooper is pushing the Legislature to approve a proposal to exempt the state’s hospital provider fee from TABOR revenue calculations - a move we’ve endorsed.

Taking that money out from under TABOR would free up funding for other needs, including about $219 million a year for transportation.

Aden’s parting words of wisdom should be taken seriously by the rural constituents he served so ably.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1Jw85j7


The Durango Herald, Aug. 25, on funding the Colorado Family Planning Initiative:

In the first six years of a program that provided long-acting, reversible contraception - primarily intrauterine devices and implants - to low-income teens and women in Colorado at little or no cost, the results were staggering. Between 2009 and 2014, teen birth rates and abortion rates both dropped precipitously - 48 percent, in fact. And the resultant savings to the state were correspondingly stark; in the program’s first three years alone, Colorado avoided an estimated $79 million in Medicaid expenses.

Despite this record of dramatic success, the 2015 Legislature failed to fund the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. Politics were the primary culprit, but the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment announced Tuesday that a collaboration of private contributions will keep the program alive for the next year. It is a welcome reprieve that gives lawmakers time to transcend ideology and find a permanent revenue stream in the 2016 session of the Colorado Legislature.

Though it is temporary in nature, the stop-gap money will have life-long implications for the women and teens that access these safe and reliable forms of contraception at vulnerable periods in their lives. Forestalling motherhood, particularly through the teenage years, has many benefits: Women are more likely to finish high school, continue on to post-secondary education and earn above their peers who have children during these formative years. Daughters of teenage mothers are more likely to become teenage mothers themselves; sons are more likely to be incarcerated. For low-income women and girls, this gap is even wider, making access to long-acting, reversible contraception all the more critical - particularly because that access is proven effective.

Colorado’s program providing IUDs and implants - as well as education about contraception and training for health-care workers - had been grant-funded since its inception, but the funding ran out in June. During last winter’s legislative session, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, advocated strongly for the state to take over the program and made a strong socioeconomic case. Politics won the day, though, and Coram’s measure - which was co-sponsored by Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder - passed in the House but died a partisan death in a Republican-controlled committee in the Senate. And, notwithstanding the predictable hand-wringing about whether the Colorado Family Planning Initiative subsidizes teens’ sexual activity or provides taxpayer-funded abortofacients to young women, the decision to withhold state money from a proven program that provides vulnerable women and girls with birth control is indefensible from any standpoint other than ideology. The policy, pragmatic and fiscal arguments all support the notion.

In pledging $2 million to keep the program running for another year, the consortium of funders - which included Kaiser Permanente Colorado, the Buell Foundation, The Ben and Lucy Ana Walton Fund, Caring for Colorado Foundation, Global Health Foundation, the Colorado Trust and the Colorado Health Foundation, among others - will ensure that up to 6,000 women and teens can access free or no-cost contraception in 2015. The long-term effects of that access are incalculable but wholly positive. Had the money not arrived, teen birth rates and abortion rates would likely have climbed - to no one’s benefit.

Colorado’s legislators must commit themselves in 2016 to long-term funding sources for this effective program. In the meantime, the collaboration that temporarily sustains the Colorado Family Planning Initiative is a welcome reprieve.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1hemZEf

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