The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, March 29, on Colorado’s election reforms:
The state’s controversial election reforms have worked well on many levels, according to a national study released last week.
But that’s not stopping Republican state lawmakers from trying to make some tweaks. Two bills that have passed the Republican-controlled Senate would alter the voting environment established in 2013. That year, House Bill 1303 mandated all mail-in ballots in all 64 Colorado counties. It also did away with precinct voting and the need to have an election judge at each precinct. Instead, the bill established vote centers and launched the use of 24-hour, seven-day-a-week drop-off boxes. It also allowed voters to register and vote on the same day, all the way up to election day.
The results? Colorado voter participation improved from eight in the nation in 2010 to fourth in 2014. Election costs decreased by about 40 percent, according to the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts. Nearly two in three voters hand-delivered their mail-in ballots and there was a 98 percent reduction in the use of provisional ballots - the most expensive kind.
But there hasn’t been a presidential election since the voting overhaul took place. Democrats have voiced concerns about tinkering with the law now because of how it may affect voter turnout.
The Senate proposals don’t include the same impediments to voting that other states have thrown up. Arizona recently came under fire for cutting the number of polling places by 70 percent in the state’s most populous county, creating impossibly long lines, especially among Democratic Party voters.
That, according to Michael Waldman, is part of the GOP’s “strategic ferocity” to pass a variety of laws around the country to make it harder for people to cast ballots. Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, was quoted recently by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.
Colorado Republicans want to give counties options to open fewer vote centers during the first week of early balloting when activity is traditionally lower than later. They also want to let voters opt-out of mail balloting and increase the number of ballot drop-off boxes.
These efforts are supposed to increase efficiency. But we agree with House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder. Let’s allow the current system play out in a presidential election before we consider further changes. House Democrats will likely reject the House versions of the Senate bills and preserve mail ballots for all and an “all options” election system.
While the Senate proposals fall short of the most restrictive voting laws - photo IDs, shorter early voting periods, tight restrictions on voter registration drives - we’re reluctant to step away from a system that is well-liked by voters and has boosted turnout.
The Denver Post, March 28, on GMO labeling:
The Colorado Farm Bureau was not terribly happy with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, when he voted recently against a bill to pre-empt state laws that mandate labels on food products containing genetically modified ingredients.
Such a law goes into effect July 1 in Vermont.
“We are surprised that Sen. Bennet would vote against this GMO labeling legislation in the Senate. In 2014, 65 percent of Colorado voters opposed mandatory GMO labeling,” the president of the farm bureau, Don Shawcroft, said in a statement. Bennet “decided to allow one Northeast state to restrict options and increase prices for Colorado residents,” he added.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, voted in favor of the pre-emption bill.
Like the Farm Bureau, we too don’t believe a single state should determine national policy for food labeling, as seems to be occurring. Food giants like General Mills and Campbell Soup Co. already have announced plans to put GMO labels on their products nationwide - with General Mills explicitly blaming the move on Vermont.
So a federal law is very much needed to provide a consistent framework for labeling rather than allow a patchwork of conflicting laws to crop up across the country. Whatever the progress of the “locavore” movement in recent years, the U.S. boasts a national food market - and labeling laws should treat it as such.
Where we part company with the Farm Bureau, however, is on whether there might be a place for GMO labeling in national law. Although there are no scientific reasons involving health, safety or nutrition for GMO labeling, the anti-GMO movement is strong, well-funded and not going away. And we happen to think it is flat wrong in supposing that a small notice stating “produced with genetic engineering” is going to scare droves of consumers away from products - particularly those they have been eating every day for years.
More than 90 percent of the nation’s corn, soybean, canola and sugar beet crops are genetically modified, and one or more of them are used in 70 percent to 80 percent of processed foods.
A GMO food label might serve to demystify the topic.
Bennet spokesman Adam Bozzi told us the senator believes “if we’re going to pre-empt states like Vermont there has to be a higher bar than the status quo,” which the Senate bill basically preserved. He said a compromise wouldn’t have to mandate GMO information on labels so long as it gave consumers access to information for any given product - say, through a QR code or website - without a difficult search.
That’s an attractive option - although whether it can attract enough support is another question. One way or the other, however, Congress needs to deal with the prospect of having Vermont hijack the nation’s food labeling law.
The Gazette, March 24, on states’ rights:
If Colorado were Mexico, Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Legislature might get locked up. Here’s how attorneys general for Nebraska and Oklahoma explained it, in a case filed directly with the Supreme Court of the United States:
“The State of Colorado authorizes, oversees, protects and profits from a sprawling $100-million-per-month marijuana growing, processing and retailing organization that exported thousands of pounds of marijuana to some 36 states in 2014. If this entity were based south of our border, the federal government would prosecute it as a drug cartel.”
The court declined Monday to hear the case, which comes as no surprise. The pot conflict involves federal laws and governing philosophies fundamentally at odds. It is a mess to avoid, through sustained procrastination.
Conservatives, who may be inclined to oppose Big Marijuana, have fought to protect and expand federalism since the Civil War. They invoke “states’ rights” to justify state restrictions on abortion. They argue state governments have rights to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Southern federalists claim states’ rights should prevail in disputes about Confederate flag displays.
States’ rights advocates lean on the 10th Amendment, which seems clear and concise: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
The Constitution, they argue, does not delegate abortion, marriage or flag regulation to federal authorities.
Liberals - tending to favor same-sex marriage and abortion rights - counter 10th Amendment arguments by invoking the Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause. It authorizes the federal government to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States…” They use almost anything - a woman traveling for an abortion or a same-sex couple crossing state lines - to invoke interstate commerce. They also emphasize the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which establishes the Constitution and other federal laws as “the supreme Law of the Land,” as a hedge against federalism.
Conservatives do an about-face on states’ rights when local and state jurisdictions impose gun control. Some applauded the Supreme Court decisions in Heller v. District of Columbia and McDonald v. Chicago, which negated state and local gun laws. Likewise, liberals tend to abandon their embrace of federal supremacy and interstate commerce when anyone advocates enforcement of federal laws against pot.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Raich only aggravates confusion. The 2005 ruling cited the Commerce Clause as justification for the federal government’s criminalization, production and use of home-grown marijuana in states that approve the drug for medical applications. Blurring that decision are Obama administration proclamations that federal officials won’t interfere with state legalization of marijuana in states that adequately regulate.
Hunter Thompson on acid could not have conjured a weirder morass. The court would rather untangle Slinkies coated with tar.
From the conflicting rulings, principles and laws has emerged a states’ rights win for drug use. At least for now.
Freedom from federal intrusion requires a vigilant sense of responsibility. Abuses have long threatened even our most basic rights, including those spelled out in the First and Second Amendments. If we yell “fire” in a crowd, in absence of a fire, we misuse free speech and justify regulation. If Colorado burdens other states with pot, it invites interference.
Soon, we will have a different president and at least one new Supreme Court justice. As such, Colorado’s careless pot market could implode for lack of meaningful controls. Those who value legal pot should insist on regulations that make Colorado less like a foreign cartel. To preserve states’ rights, prove our system won’t continue to burden neighboring states. Nebraska and Oklahoma lost a battle this week. They won’t likely concede the war.
Durango Herald, March 29, on focusing on ways to address mines that pose environmental, health hazards:
The Gold King Mine spill that so abruptly and dramatically captured national attention last August had significant local and regional implications - for water quality and wildlife health, for agriculture and recreation and their corresponding economies, and for politics in communities near and far. The 3 million gallons of metal-laden water formerly trapped behind a bulkhead above Silverton that surged through the Animas River valley triggered a region-wide effort to meaningfully address the leaking mines that compromise water quality in Silverton-area waterways - affecting communities downstream. That spirit of cooperation has cultivated local, state and federal support for a permanent water treatment facility to counter the effects of leaking mines above Silverton, via the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund listing. That cooperation and the solution it produced should be harnessed and expanded to address the hundreds of thousands of similarly problematic mines throughout the West.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said as much on Sunday at a meeting of the Western Governors’ Association, and he is right to seek convergence on an issue that affects environmental and human health far and wide in the West. An estimated 500,000 inactive and leaking mines are wreaking various levels of havoc on waterways, wildlife and critical related resources. That is a staggering figure, brought about by the intersection of high cost, low accountability and congressional intransigence on the matter of reforming the laws that hamstring large-scale cleanup of this widespread and long-simmering problem.
By banding together to study, advocate for and implement multi-level means of addressing the region’s leaking mines, western states can leverage their history of cooperation and positive results - improving habitat throughout the West for the greater sage grouse is one impressive example - achieved by working with the federal government and local communities toward a common goal. Cleaning wastewater from a half-million leaking mines surely qualifies as worthy of the effort.
The Gold King spill has been instructive on many levels: It highlights the complexity of the problem - and the correspondingly multivariate solutions, in terms of legislation, funding and inter-agency cooperation needed to tackle the issue comprehensively. It also demonstrates just how critical local participation is to finding and implementing solutions. Trust was instrumental to the successful effort to find a path forward for cleaning up the mines above Silverton: between local residents, cities, counties, the state, the Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado’s congressional delegation. Similar relationship-building will be essential in any West-wide effort to address the dark side of our mining legacy.
The Gold King example can provide many lessons for broader application, and the Western governors are an appropriate group through which to channel that instruction. While the timeline might not be as expeditious as that which followed the Gold King spill, Hickenlooper is correct to say that “the time is now,” as he told his colleagues on Sunday.
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