- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Gazette, May 12, on a wind farm and property rights:

A small group trying to interfere with property rights has named itself the “El Paso County Property Rights Coalition.” Under the guise of defending property rights, while challenging them in court, the organization seeks to stop a windmill farm that would produce sustainable energy. The club wants to control a view corridor it holds no title to and seems unwilling to buy or lease.

If successful, this organization would deprive incomes to more than 160 private property owners and slow Colorado’s progress toward harnessing the wind to produce sustainable power.

The project these “property rights” advocates dislike would install more than 100 wind turbines south of Calhan considered an imminent boon to the local economy. The windmills would transmit current through 29 miles of above-ground cables. Private property owners have agreed to lease land to developer NextEra Energy Resources for the power corridor.

None of this project involves condemnation. It involves private property owned by individuals who willingly leased their land for the sake of income and, perhaps, a desire to see clean and modern production of electricity. Public servants elected to regulate use of public and private spaces, members of the El Paso County Board of Commissioners, approved the project after hours of testimony.

Opponents, who seek an injunction to stop the project, are mostly upset because they don’t want to see power lines while viewing mountains to the west.

NextEra asked the court for compensation from the view-corridor plaintiffs if they succeed in delaying or stopping the project. A judge complied, though specified no amount. The company plans to invest $400 million just building the windmill operation. Given the company assumes revenues in excess of the initial investment, plaintiffs should have to pay considerably more than $400 million to stop it. But their costs should not end there. The desired outcome would deprive future incomes to the 160-plus property owners who have, in good faith, signed leases with NextEra. To shut down the windmill operation, plaintiffs should compensate them for loss of their future lease incomes.

An unobstructed view of the mountains - one without so much as a few narrow cables in the way - is great fortune. It should not be confused as a property right.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1EAOs74

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The Durango Herald, may 9, on the 2015 legislative session and the right to know:

For anyone concerned with Coloradans’ right to know what their government is up to, the yearly session of the General Assembly typically presents both good and bad. This year was no exception: Some good work got done, some bullets were dodged and some opportunities were missed. On balance, though, not bad.

One clear win was the passage of House Bill 1290. If signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, it will reinforce the right of members of the public to record police actions as long as those doing the recording are not interfering with the police or otherwise breaking the law.

Under the First Amendment, Americans already have the right to record police activities - and with the proliferation of cellphone cameras, they clearly already are. But as recent events around the country have shown, that right is not always understood or respected. By allowing for civil lawsuits against law-enforcement agencies if they seize or destroy a recording, HB 1290 provides a framework and incentive to emphasize in officer training that the public has the right to record. It also outlines a process by which law enforcement can obtain a record made by a bystander. The governor should sign HB 1290.

Two other measures that drew attention did not make it to Hickenlooper’s desk. One would have made the State Public Defender’s Office subject to the Colorado Open Records Act. While a good idea in principle, the motivation for it was questionable. Supporters hoped that it would force Public Defender Doug Wilson to reveal how much he has spent to keep Aurora movie-theater shooter James Holmes from the death penalty, a number that would presumably be used to argue for cutting his budget. The obvious flaw in that thinking is that it is Wilson’s job to defend Holmes - regardless of how many legislators think he should be killed.

Another bill that died was the worst threat to freedom of this session. Ostensibly aimed at drones, it would have made it a crime to photograph or record anyone without their permission in circumstances where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Of course, if one imagines a drone taking video of a woman sunbathing in her fenced backyard, that language sounds good. But what if that backyard was instead the scene of a clandestine meeting at which a public official was handed an envelope full of cash from someone seeking special treatment? Is that covered by a “reasonable expectation of privacy”? And does the state really want to get into the business of regulating drones and photography?

A Senate committee killed a bill that would have required school districts to share spending information with the state Department of Education for posting on the department’s website. That could have been useful.

And a bill was approved that will require a fiscal-impact statement be included with each ballot initiative when submitted to the title board, not just after it makes the ballot. Getting information early is always better than later. Critics complained that will make initiatives more difficult, but that can be seen as welcome, too.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1Iwn6Gy

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The Greeley Tribune, May 7, on the same photoprivacy bill:

In one instance, at least, Colorado’s legislators made the right choice.

They shot down a bill that would have made it nearly impossible for a lot of journalists to do their jobs, and more important, it would have put just about anyone who uses social media at risk of running afoul of the law.

The measure began with the best of intentions: to address concerns about the way the emerging technology of drones may be used to violate someone’s privacy or even stalk someone. But it mutated into a bill that struck at some of our most cherished values as an open society. It would have effectively made it a crime to photograph someone or make an audio recording of someone when that person has “a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

We understand that drones - and their significant eavesdropping capabilities - bring with them a host of regulatory and legal questions that must be debated at all levels of government.

“In trying to strike that balance between allowing the use of these image-capturing and sound-capturing devices and respecting the privacy of individual citizens, we haven’t gotten there,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, one of the bill’s initial sponsors, who had it killed in the waning hours of this year’s legislative session.

We’re glad to hear Lundberg say that. We hope future discussions about these difficult topics will work to find that balance.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1F5bxlS

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The Daily Sentinel, May 12, on a testing compromise bill:

Should lawmakers get a passing grade for their compromise bill to reform standardized testing?

They certainly seem to think so. Through Twitter feeds, many of them expressed triumph upon passage of House Bill 1323, which reduces testing, yet preserves accountability.

At the very least, the bill prevented the troubling status quo from continuing unresolved (although the bill’s failure may have triggered a special session). At any rate, we give them an A for effort, but we won’t know the true measure of the bill as a difference-maker until testing begins anew in the coming school year.

Unfortunately, there’s a reason to be skeptical. The legislation reduces the overall testing load over the course of a child’s academic career, but keeps the state involved in the multistate PARCC consortium with tests aligned to Common Core standards (which we support).

Unfortunately, the poorly understood Common Core has been a touchstone of opposition to the state’s testing system. If parents continue to opt out of testing, House Bill 1323 won’t have accomplished much and lawmakers will be criticized for merely kicking the can down the road.

Worse, if the opt-out movement gains further traction, it could threaten federal education dollars. But HB1323 makes it clear that parents have the right to opt out of tests, even as schools and districts face possible consequences if participation dips too low.

Bill supporters seem to be banking on the premise that parents will appreciate the overall testing reduction enough to set aside any qualms they have about the PARCC tests.

The bill, expected to be signed by Gov. Hickenlooper, will trim back literacy tests for students in kindergarten through third grade; end PARCC tests in 11th and 12th grade and replace 10th-grade PARCC tests with a shorter college-prep test; preserves 9th-grade PARCC English and math tests; allows schools to choose pencil tests instead of online tests; and establishes a pilot program to allow districts to use alternative tests or develop their own - if they shoulder the costs.

HB1323 preserves that accountability and provides a new measure of transparency. Parents will be able to see how much time is devoted to federal, state and local testing.

But is it enough to quell the opt-out rebellion? Stay tuned.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1G3wwYl


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