BY FREDA MIKLIN
The June 6 meeting of the Arapahoe County Republican Breakfast Club at Maggiano’s Little Italy in the DTC was billed as a legislative wrap-up from state Sen. Jack Tate and state Rep. Cole Wist.
Before Tate and Wist spoke, club president Myron Spanier introduced Steve Schreiner, local Republican and member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) board of directors. Schreiner told the crowd of 75 that Victor Mitchell, Republican candidate for Colorado governor, had used the NRA logo on his campaign materials without authorization and that he had also misrepresented his NRA rating. He went on to criticize a U.S. Senate bill that is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Schreiner compared it to the Colorado “red flag” bill, defeated in the final hours of the legislative session that just ended. He said that the federal bill, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) represented, “a form of tyranny because there are no civil rights protections for the accused.”
Wist, a sponsor of the Colorado “red flag” bill, addressed Schreiner’s concerns directly, as they applied to the failed state bill, which he sponsored. Recounting being on a family vacation when news reached him on Dec. 31, 2017, that an incident in Douglas County had claimed the life of 29-year-old sheriff’s deputy Zackari Parrish and resulted in injuries to four other law enforcement officers, Wist recalled turning his focus on reports that there had been numerous warnings about the gunman’s known mental illness. Wist then asked 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler why no action was taken. Brauchler’s response was, “Nothing in the current law allowed us to bring him in on a 72-hour (mental health) hold.”
The “red flag” bill was Wist’s attempt to make sure law enforcement officers go home at the end of their shift the next time they are called to a similar situation. He acknowledged having made mistakes in handling the bill but stood firm in his conviction that it makes sense to have a mechanism in the law to remove firearms from people who constitute a danger to themselves or others. Arapahoe County Sheriff Dave Walcher talked about the risks law enforcement officers face every day. He also remembered Dec. 31, 2017, reporting that he received a call from Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock at 6 a.m., saying, “I’ve got four of my guys shot and I need everyone you’ve got.” Walcher thanked Wist for his efforts. He also reported that a recently completed, Use of Force Review, of the incident by the district attorney’s office found that the officers involved had done nothing wrong.
Getting back to the legislative session, Tate said what everyone knew—that the most important issues are education and transportation infrastructure. Due to the strong economy, both areas got more funding in the upcoming budget year than they had in previous years. He talked about the $500 million allocated to transportation next year and his preference for funding roads with money from bonds over the proposed 0.62 percent statewide sales tax increase, being supported by a group led by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. (Denver South Economic Development Partnership is also a strong proponent, having signature-gatherers at all its current events).
Tate talked about the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) having a $50 billion liability, saying it is structurally insolvent. Still, there were changes made going forward by a bill Tate sponsored and was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper June 4. It is the result of much work and many compromises, designed to restore PERA to full funding in 30 years. For now, employees, employers and the state will contribute more in future years, while eligibility for benefits will be more stringent and increases in benefits limited. Despite a much-needed belt-tightening, PERA will continue to provide lifelong benefits to eligible retirees, as well as disability and survivor benefits. Tate also mentioned another bill, signed into law in April, which increased transparency in medical facilities, such that patients are clearly informed whether they are in a freestanding emergency room akin to a hospital or an urgent care facility, more like a clinic. Before he finished, Tate told his fellow Republicans that he was considering a run for state senate president.
On legislative matters, Wist, like Tate, prefers addressing road infrastructure needs through issuing bonds, not raising the sales tax. He talked about the state providing $600 million in new spending for K-12 education in the coming year’s budget. He also brought up the ever-increasing spending of the Department of Corrections (DOC), while prison population continues to decrease. He favors increased accountability to show how DOC is using its money.
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