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That Fits the Bill

Need some special-interest legislation? Here's how this year's session measures up

In the meantime, HB 1358 was introduced by Tim Foster, who, when he is not being a lawyer for the Clifton incorporation group is busy being an elected representative from Mesa County. The bill, which was still alive early this week, would require a majority vote prior to annexation of an area.

SB 48: This bill, bureaucratically labeled as a measure concerning "land use-1041 powers," was in fact one of several separate attempts designed to attack a single situation unpopular with a handful of Front Range cities.

For years these cities have depended on water from the Western Slope. In fact, they are entitled to it by law, although how each deal is struck is left up to individual local governments. In 1985 Colorado Springs and Aurora applied to divert water from Eagle County.

In 1987 the county held hearings on the application. The hearings, in which county officials heard the testimony of dozens of witnesses (later converted to a 4,000-page transcript), lasted four days. At the end, Eagle County decided the Front Range cities' proposed diversion plan did not do enough to protect the environment, and their application for the county's water was denied.

The two cities took the case to district court and then the Colorado State Court of Appeals, which in 1994 agreed with Eagle County. Next the cities appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. Colorado Springs and Aurora made one final attempt to get Eagle County's water through the courts, but early this year the U.S. Supreme Court, too, refused to hear their case.

What to do next if you're a jilted city? "They lost in the courts, so they said, 'Let's see what we can do in the legislature,'" says Monique Gilbert, a staff member for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. SB 48, sponsored by Senate president Tom Norton and Colorado Springs representative Andy McElhany, would have reduced a local government's powers to regulate, among other things, water diversion.

The bill was killed, but another bill, SB 145, was quickly introduced (and postponed indefinitely soon thereafter). Although its title vaguely alluded to "water rights," Gilbert says a section was later quietly added that would have given one public entity the right to claim a takings violation against another--if, just for example, one municipality was angry at another for not giving it water.

McElhany, the Colorado Springs Republican who co-sponsored the measure, says the bill absolutely grew out of his city's dispute with Eagle County, which he still feels strongly about. Colorado Springs and Aurora "met everybody's requirement except those manufactured by Eagle County," he says.

McElhany adds that while the issue that spawned it was specific, SB 48 would have other applications, although he can't name other cities who have tangled with Western Slope water-bearers. He also says that Colorado Springs has since worked with Eagle County on another water-diversion project.

"It's all part of Colorado Springs' and Aurora's plan to win what they lost in court," Gilbert says.

This Bill's for You
It is illegal to pass a law that specifically benefits a single person or party. If written narrowly enough, however, some legislation can come pretty close.

SB 100: This measure would permit nonprofit health-insurance companies to convert to for-profit companies. It doesn't mention any companies by name, but maybe a process of elimination would be helpful:

There are three types of health-insurance companies in Colorado: HMOs (e.g., Kaiser), for-profit (Aetna, etc.) and not-for-profit. Only five companies in the state fall under the last category. Three are small and very specific--dental or vision--plans. A fourth is a slightly larger company in Fort Collins. It has expressed a tiny interest in becoming a for-profit insurer.

The fifth is the giant Rocky Mountain Hospital and Medical Services, also known as Blue Cross/Blue Shield. It has expressed a very big interest in converting. In fact, if the governor signs this bill--as he is expected to do this week--it will do so. (In return, the state will get a public trust whose worth will be that of the nonprofit Blue Cross when it converts to a profit-making enterprise.)

HB 1039: This bit of legislation would have authorized the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to issue a concealed-handgun permit to any retired law officer. It was introduced by Representative Jim Congrove, an Arvada Republican--and a retired law officer.

Congrove explains that he recognized the need for such legislation after bumping into a man at the Capitol whom he'd once arrested. But HB 1039 was shot down when House State Affairs Committee members said they were having a difficult time justifying legislation benefiting such a small segment of the population.

HB 1125: This piece of legislation would for the first time permit a non-physician to hold the position of Colorado state health director. Although the bill doesn't name any particular person, it's timing is nevertheless unusually helpful to one individual: the health department's current acting director. Patti Shwayder, a non-physician, was temporarily holding the job until a medical doctor could be found to replace her. Temporarily, that is, until HB 1125 was passed. (The state medical society initially opposed the bill but compromised when sponsors agreed to create a new position of chief medical officer.)

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