- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:

The Denver Post, Jan. 7, on France’s martyrs for free speech:

It is still popular in some quarters to attribute Islamic terrorism to Western policies toward the Middle East. The jihadists are provoked by America’s support for Israel or its war in Iraq, it is claimed. Or by European colonialism of yesteryear. Or even by present attempts to roll back the Islamic State.

Well, the jihadists are provoked by many things, but one of their main objections to the West, we have been reminded yet again, is its freedom. The jihadists object strenuously to free speech.

Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and one of 12 people murdered Wednesday by terrorists determined to silence his publication, practiced a form of journalism that is not everyone’s cup of tea. It was brash, biting, provocative, sometimes juvenile and offensive. But it was also in the proud tradition of the brutally satirical and outrageous journalism that is the birthright of everyone who lives in a free society.

And the fact that he and his colleagues directed their biting wit occasionally to commentary and cartoons that ridiculed aspects of Islam also meant they were not mere pranksters or provocateurs. They were also phenomenally brave.

They stayed their course in the face of rebukes by government officials and even fellow journalists, and despite a destructive bombing of their offices in 2011.

They died as martyrs for free speech and Western values.

Many people find the ridicule of religion offensive, as indeed it can be. But free speech does not - must not - depend on the consent of those it targets, or it is not free speech at all.

And yet time and again in the past few decades, Islamic militants and their supporters have threatened vengeance or perpetrated violence against writers, artists and filmmakers whose work they found offensive or blasphemous.

From Salman Rushdie and Theo van Gogh to the Danish cartoonists of the last decade to Charbonnier and the brave journalists and police at Charlie Hebdo - as well as many others besides - the targets of intolerance only keep expanding.

Charbonnier - or Charb, as he was called - once declared he’d “prefer to die standing than live on my knees.” It sounded melodramatic, but it was not. And the West will require much more of such resolution, for many years, to keep the Islamist radicals at bay.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/1w1cDHD

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The Gazette, Jan. 7, on the Colorado legislative session’s priorities:

Expect fracking, education, tax rebates and pot to dominate this year’s legislative session, which begins Wednesday with a Republican majority controlling the Senate. Gone, at least for now, are the days of one party controlling the entire agenda while racing toward cultural revolution. Gone are cavalier expressions of power that dismissed with any pretense of bipartisan unity.

With a balanced General Assembly, look for a return of the relatively moderate, pro-business Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper Coloradans trusted when they elected him to his first term in 2010.

Though a reliable warrior in defense of Colorado’s oil and gas industry, Hickenlooper was dragged so far to the left by his party in 2013 it almost cost him a second term.

Despite taking the Senate in November’s election, Republicans can’t expect miracles. Control of one legislative chamber isn’t likely to result in successful repeals of gun control laws, the renewables mandate that raises energy costs or a litany of laws that sent hostile messages to the business community.

What balance can do is force Democrats and Republicans to work for good outcomes. It can result in the kind of governance Coloradans remember from years when state government was less partisan and divisive.

Most in this state don’t care much about party or strict political doctrines, which explains the growing dominance of nonaffiliated voters in state and local elections. Coloradans care about public safety, education, transportation assets and economic growth. We want to enjoy our lives in peace. We don’t ask state government to give us good lives but expect public policy that allows us to succeed in a safe and fair environment.

Let’s hope all members of the Legislature - on the right, left and in the center - will keep the wants and needs of the majority in mind while introducing bills and voting this session. Here are a few points The Gazette hopes legislators will consider:

- Love or hate legalized pot, the Legislature should give voters what they asked for: a regulated marijuana trade that funds education. The system we have is national a joke that may cost more than the taxes it generates. Fix it, or ask voters to repeal the whole thing.

- Our state’s shale gas and fracking revolution provides tens of thousands of high-wage jobs and is helping move this country quickly in the direction of energy independence. The energy boom is rescuing our economy, diffusing foreign tyrants and easing life for the middle class and poor. Welcome and assist oil and gas producers, working to keep them in our state.

- Colorado’s construction defects law, imposed in 2005, makes suing condominium builders for construction defects exceptionally easy. The omnipresence of lawsuits has driven insurance premiums for new condos so high few want to build them. It holds Colorado back. Fix this law to increase construction that creates affordable housing.

- Politicians, don’t even ask to keep TABOR refunds without treating our money as if you had earned it.

- Never forget that business and free trade are the primary source of all state funding. Make Colorado the most business-friendly place on Earth.

Legislators can play a role this session in taking Colorado to a higher plane. To do so, they must put the interests of ordinary Coloradans ahead of party, radical agendas and political showmanship.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1AwUOI8

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The Durango Herald, Jan. 7, on the legislative session and tax refunds:

State legislators’ hesitance to refer to voters a measure asking to keep excess tax revenue is wholly understandable. After all, the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights enshrined in the Colorado Constitution the notion of limited government spending and direct voter input on any and all tax-related questions. Under that framework, as well as recent years of recession-induced budgetary limitations, Colorado voters have become accustomed to keeping their fingers on the state’s purse strings.

Because state revenue has grown faster than the inflation rate, plus that of population growth, the state’s economists are projecting a refund as early as this spring. It has been a decade since the state has issued TABOR refunds, though Referendum C, a temporary fix approved by voters in 2005, provided a five-year timeout on returning any surplus to voters. It was essential to keeping the state solvent but not nearly enough to cover the state’s competing essential expenses.

Education, transportation, health care and corrections are among the top priorities for Colorado dollars, and none has received the funding it needs in recent years. The refund, which is as yet not quantified, though a projection for rebates in 2016 estimated the total at $137 million, or $16 per taxpayer, would not completely remedy any one of these problems - the Colorado Department of Transportation, for instance, estimates a $10.1 billion gap in its funding compared to state transportation needs over the next decade - but the money could be put to important statewide use in addressing these enduring funding challenges.

Lawmakers from both parties are reluctant to ask voters for the privilege, though. It is not difficult to see why. TABOR is built upon a fundamental mistrust of government and its ability to contain itself with respect to spending. Never mind that government’s prime function is, in fact, to collect and spend tax revenue, the Colorado mentality has for more than two decades been reluctant to ease voters’ grip on state resources. A legislative suggestion otherwise could trigger an ugly political fight writ large across the state. Why not, say lawmakers, have the request come from the ground up instead?

As Senate minority leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora said, “The voters are probably going to be most skeptical of anything that is originating in this building,” Carroll said. “So, any solution here is likely going to have to be grass-roots, community coalitions that are coming together.”

Doing so would certainly serve to neutralize the polarization that could infect a legislative referendum, but the need to backfill state coffers is obvious to legislators in both parties. Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, who regained his seat in the House, is a staunch fiscal conservative who sees the glaring gaps in transportation funding as problematic. Brown would be comfortable referring a transportation-based question to voters, asking permission to use any surplus to fund road repair throughout the state. That is a bold position for Brown - or any Republican - to take and reflects the consensus that is possible around a surplus in the short- to mid-term.

Perhaps Brown and Carroll can work together - across aisles and chambers - to forge a path forward that is palatable to Colorado voters. Building grass-roots community support with legislative leadership is the best of all possible solutions, particularly if that leadership is bipartisan and bicameral. For $16, voters can have a mediocre meal or a short week’s worth of lattes. For $137 million, the state can invest in far more meaningful purchases.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1tNWl58

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The Daily Sentinel, Jan. 7, on stiffer fines adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission:

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s decision to put more teeth in penalties for violators is good news for everybody, including the energy industry.

Perhaps that’s why the Colorado Oil and Gas Association didn’t make a fuss about Monday’s 5-3 vote approving a new penalty structure, which authorizes fines of $200 to $15,000 per day for violations.

Last year the Legislature raised the daily penalty limit from $1,000 to $15,000 for each violation. Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered the COGCC to review its enforcement and penalty assessment procedures which culminated in Monday’s vote.

With the Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force weighing recommendations to reduce friction between energy companies and communities that want more regulation of drilling, the industry wisely chose to embrace the stiffer penalties as a show of operational excellence.

Acceptance of the new fine scheme suggests COGA members don’t view penalties as a burden for companies that seek to extract oil and gas in a responsible way. Identifying rogue operators is in the industry’s best interest as it seeks to assure the public that it takes its commitment to the environment seriously.

“Overall, we’re on the same page with the COGCC and have the same goal, which is to ensure consistency, clarity and certainty as to how the new rules will be enforced, how penalties will be calculated and how both will be applied to all stakeholders,” COGA official Doug Flanders said in a statement.

COGA members have long maintained that they hold themselves to high standards for environmental protection and community engagement. By not bucking stiffer penalties, COGA put its money where its mouth is.

The new fine structure is the latest in a series of tighter controls for the industry, which include chemical disclosures, water sampling, setbacks and air quality regulations - not to mention what, if anything, the task force recommends to the Legislature.

Commissioner Rich Alward of Grand Junction said the higher fines will transfer the risks of spills from residents to producers.

“Operators will find ways to avoid violating our rules if there are real consequences,” he said.

Hopefully, that’s true. But the violations have to be reported before penalties can be levied. Back in June the Associated Press reported that 240 newly drilled oil and gas wells considered high pollution risks on Colorado public lands weren’t inspected between 2009 and 2012.

Budget cuts and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining inspectors contributed to the backlog, despite a memorandum of understanding that allows the BLM and the COGCC to share inspections in each other’s jurisdictions.

As we await the task force’s recommendations, let’s hope that something as simple as more well inspections is part of the plan to put the public’s concerns about drilling at ease.

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


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