Colorado Public Radio

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.

Colorado voters rejected a tax increase for transportation projects by a decisive margin Tuesday.

Democratic attorney general candidate Phil Weiser called on his Republican opponent George Brauchler this week to denounce an ad against him that calls Weiser a defender of a man convicted of pedophilia.

Weiser said the ad, run by the Republican Attorneys General Association, politicizes the legal profession’s obligations to uphold the constitution and mischaracterizes his work on a 2005 case.

Published 2:07 p.m. | Updated 2:59 p.m.

The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission will not dismiss an ethics complaint filed earlier this month against Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Constitutional Amendment 74 is one of the shortest measures on the Colorado ballot in November. In just two sentences, the proposal asks voters for more protections for private property rights and seeks payment for property owners if they’ve been wronged by government decisions.

The idea appeals to farmers like Marc Arnusch, who saw his wheat crop get hammered over the summer.  

This year is already the most expensive political campaign season in state history, and there are still three weeks to go before votes get counted. Donors have coughed up $186 million for ads and campaign staff and consultants so far, $35 million more than the last record-setting election in 2014.

Just a handful of entities are responsible for the spending spree. The oil and gas industry and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Jared Polis are the most notable.

Colorado voters next month will decide how close is too close when it comes to oil and gas drilling. A statewide ballot measure known as Proposition 112 would keep new wells dramatically farther away from homes and schools, expanding the distance from a 500-foot minimum to 2,500 feet, the biggest statewide setback requirement in the country. It's a change the industry says would threaten its very existence.

Colorado’s two state attorney general candidates agree the state’s criminal justice system needs improving — but they fundamentally disagree on the actual problem.

Democratic candidate Phil Weiser thinks there are too many people in jails and prisons. He supports diversion programs for drug addicts and those with mental illness. Weiser also wants to reform cash bond so people who can’t afford to post bonds don’t stay in jail longer than they should. 

Voters are dissatisfied with both major political parties. Nearly 70 percent say the Republicans and Democrats fail to adequately represent the American people, according to a recent survey from the nonpartisan Democracy Fund.

Like many in rural America, Allen Coyne has multiple jobs. He’s Julesburg’s town manager. He can string utility poles and bring power to people’s homes. He knows how to operate the wastewater treatment plant in a pinch. He even can act as a real estate agent.

“This is the only place that I know of that you can buy the ground from the town and we are actually the real estate agent,” explained Coyne.

Mark Twain was reputed to have said “too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” Colorado seems to agree.

State tax records show spirit sales up 35 percent since 2010, meaning hard liquor sales have grown three times faster than beer in that time. That’s not a knock against the state’s love affair with craft beer. Beer sales, which grew 9 percent, are weighed down by weak domestic brand sales.

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