Colorado Public Radio

At one point last weekend — actually, more than a couple of times — John Hickenlooper felt compelled to tell a listener, whether in a church in South Carolina, or over a plate of barbecue in Alabama, why the numbers reflecting his decidedly underdog status in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination shouldn't necessarily be taken at face value.

Public defenders are urging state lawmakers to consider legislation that would shift all drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors — a move that could reduce the state’s prison population.

The bill, getting its first airing this week in the state House of Representatives, lowers sentences to probation and up to 120 days in jail as a condition of — or a violation of — probation. It also allows counties to create drug courts.

A last-minute bipartisan deal in the state Senate to put more money into transportation — a top priority for Republicans — helped the next Colorado budget pass quickly on Thursday, with wide support and no delay tactics or long debates.

But now it’s the House’s turn to take up the budget bill, and several Democrats, who hold the majority in that chamber, are skeptical of the late compromise.

Gov. Jared Polis told Colorado Matters on Monday that although he disagreed with how Immigration Customs and Enforcement was fundamentally doing its job in Colorado, he was not going to interfere with the work between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.

Still reeling from historic losses that put Democrats in charge of Colorado’s government, a group of current and former Republican state lawmakers say it’s time for a different strategy. They created a new organization to recruit and train more moderate candidates. The aim is to appeal to a broader swath of voters, especially the state’s growing segment of unaffiliated voters.

Backers see it as part of a larger rebranding the party needs to stay relevant in Colorado. But it could put them at odds with an existing soft money group controlled by House GOP leadership.

The death penalty, and whether to repeal it, is likely to be one of the weightiest topics Colorado’s legislature will debate this session. It’s a matter of life and death, justice and redemption — with passionate feelings on all sides.

And for some at the Capitol, the issue is deeply personal.  

The Colorado Capitol was busy into the early hours of Wednesday morning, as hundreds of people came to weigh in on a sweeping overhaul of the state’s oil and gas regulations. The marathon 12-hour Senate hearing ended at 2:00 a.m. with the Democratic bill passing out of committee on a party-line vote.

Nearly two years ago, Erin Martinez experienced the worst tragedy imaginable.

Her brother, Joey Irwin, and husband, Mark Martinez, were killed when their Firestone home exploded. Erin Martinez was also in the house at the time, and suffered burns on 40 percent of her body.

Now Martinez is speaking out publicly about the home explosion that investigators have linked to an improperly abandoned flowline extending from an Anadarko Petroleum well.

Colorado used to be on top of the cannabis world. As legalization spreads both in the U.S. and abroad, a lack of investor capital here could be the industry’s undoing.

“Now we are chasing the wagon,” said Dean Heizer, the executive director and chief legal strategist of LivWell. “And we need to get back on the wagon, and we need to get enough capital so that we can actually start driving the wagon again. We are falling behind.”

Corporate investments in renewable energy used to be symbolic. A few solar panels here, a small wind farm investment there. But in 2018 some companies became voracious green energy consumers.

Kaiser Permanente’s Denver administrative office is awash with rooftop solar and solar panels on carports.

The biggest hearing of the 2019 legislative session to date — on the future of sex education in Colorado — brought hundreds of people to the state capitol Wednesday.

The emotional, and at times graphic, hearing wrapped up just before midnight, when the Democratic measure cleared the House Health and Insurance Committee on a party-line vote.

Colorado’s new Democratic majority has vowed to make big changes to how companies drill for oil and gas. Tension between drillers and residents have bubbled for years and culminated in a failed statewide ballot fight last fall over the distance between oil and gas wells and homes and schools.

Critics also say the state oil and gas regulator ought to more closely scrutinize companies for health and safety.

On Friday, Colorado will severely restrict how much interest payday loan businesses can charge consumers — which could force all of them to close.

Voters made the change last November when they approved Proposition 111 by an overwhelming margin.

Colorado’s new legislative session is underway, with Democrats in charge of both chambers and the governor’s office. Blue control might be a game changer for health care legislation. Before, it was a stalemate. Democrats controlled the House and blocked Republican bills. The GOP controlled the Senate and blocked Democratic bills.

Colorado’s House of Representatives is in an exclusive club. It’s one of only two legislative chambers in the country where female lawmakers hold a majority. Overall, women make up nearly half of the state’s 100 lawmakers.

Colorado will need to do more than just cut opioid prescriptions to end its opioid epidemic. That’s according to a new analysis from the American Medical Association, the Colorado Medical Society and Manatt Health.

Published 9:40 a.m. | Updated 1:10 p.m.

The Colorado Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision that ruled that the state’s oil and gas regulators must consider health and the environment in all its actions — from permits for new wells to new industry rules.

Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission can balance health and the environment with other considerations, like protecting property and production rights.

As Gov. John Hickenlooper mulls a presidential run on his way out of office, his most memorable entry into the history books may not be the one he had in mind. Voters wrote that one for him when they legalized regulated recreational marijuana in 2012.

An outspoken opponent of early efforts to legalize, Hickenlooper was suddenly called on by the voters to make it happen with Amendment 64. It wasn’t a role he relished once sales got under way.

Hemp became a boom crop in Colorado after it was legalized in 2014 alongside its cousin marijuana. CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabis extract that — anecdotally — has been labeled as a cure-all is driving the growth.

As extreme drought marched northward from Arizona and New Mexico and parked itself squarely over the Four Corners in early 2018, many turned to one tool to understand the change: the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The map is updated weekly, and it continues to show poor conditions in much of the Southwest.

The state Department of Human Services plans on freezing all state-run beds set aside for people with severe mental illness at Fort Logan and the Colorado Mental Health Institute and use the space for people charged with crimes and in need of competency treatment.

The move, which includes about 20 beds for juveniles, virtually cuts off all state beds for mentally ill people — except those who are currently awaiting competency restoration in jail.

It’s a winter truism that you’re likely to hear from the mouth of any Denverite. Longtime local meteorologist Mike Nelson knows it well.

“The old adage is, if it smells like Greeley it’s gonna snow.”

Unaffiliated voters overwhelmingly supported Colorado Democrats in the midterms. And for some, Gov.-elect Jared Polis’ pledge for 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 was a draw.

“If you think about how… inundated with the fossil fuels that we have become, we need to find something better,” said unaffiliated voter John Noyes who cast his ballot for Polis. “We need to find something more renewable.”

At South High in Denver, cheerleaders in purple and white trot down the aisle of the auditorium as the Rebels marching band rolls in. Up goes a cheer from the students. It seems like a pep rally for the school’s sports team. But it’s not.

“Um, today we’re going to talk about the issue of vaping and Juuling in high school,” senior Colleen Campbell tells the crowd.

Colorado’s economy is expected to add more than 53,000 jobs in 2019. University of Colorado economists forecast growth across all sectors and that the state will rank tops in other key economic measures.

In other words, the winning streak should continue, despite recent spasms in the stock market.

Colorado Republicans are preparing for life in the political wilderness.

After election night’s midterm blue wave receded, the party was left without a foothold in the state government. Democrats won every statewide office and both chambers of the legislature for the first time since the New Deal.

GOP Chairman Jeff Hays said losing a narrow majority in the state Senate was particularly painful.

Immigrant families living in Colorado and seeking asylum are now part of an expedited docket put in place by the Department of Justice to move family units more swiftly through immigration courts than other cases.

Denver’s courts are among a 10-city DOJ pilot project to prioritize moving families through their immigration cases within about a year — this compares to the three to four years it usually takes to assess asylum claims.

When smokers dial 1-800-QUIT-NOW they can work with a coach, over the phone, to understand triggers, manage cravings and grapple with relapse.

The eligibility age for the Colorado QuitLine was 15. Now, with the explosion in teen vaping, the state health department will drop it to 12. The change comes as the state scrambles to head off what public health officials say is a catastrophe.

When governor-elect Jared Polis is sworn in early next year, he'll be entering a capital completely controlled by members of his own party. After Tuesday, Democrats hold both the state House and Senate for the first time in four years.

This clean sweep presents both opportunities and challenges for the incoming governor. Democratic control should make it easier for him to advance his own legislative priorities. But he also faces the possibility of having to veto Democratic-backed legislation he disagrees with, setting up an intra-party fight.

Colorado oil and gas companies landed a significant victory election night as voters rejected sweeping restrictions for the industry.

Proposition 112 would have required any new oil and gas development that's not on federal land to be set back at least 2,500 feet—a half mile—from homes and "vulnerable areas" like playgrounds, lakes and rivers.

Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said workers got involved because their livelihoods were at stake.