This week the Colorado Legislature passes the point of no return, when bills must either move on to the other house for ten more weeks of bickering or disappear altogether. But even before this session started -- when Senator John Andrews declared that the Ten Commandments should be posted in every school -- it was evident that lawmakers would be going over the edge. To avoid future blunders of biblical proportions, they'd do well to practice what they preach:
1. Thou shalt have no other commandments before me.
The solution was so simple, at least the way Andrews presented it. If every school in Colorado simply posted the Ten Commandments, incidents like that nasty Columbine massacre would never occur. Misguided teens Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold would have checked their plans against the list, found that they were about to violate #6 -- "Thou shalt not kill," according to the King James Bible -- and packed up their guns and bombs and gone home.
In addition to being simple, of course, Andrews's proposal was blatantly unconstitutional -- as Attorney General Ken Salazar (the highest-ranking Democrat in the state) pointed out a good six weeks into the session, after the bill's supporters, all Republican like Andrews, had ample opportunity to embarrass themselves. And even as Andrews offered a last-ditch proposal that would have covered the separation-of-church-and-state issue by posting other important documents -- the Declaration of Independence, the Golden Rule, the lyrics to "Puff the Magic Dragon" -- it was clear his bill didn't have a prayer.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, unless it's the picture of a dead president on a dollar bill.
Collectively speaking, these lawmakers have never met a tax cut they didn't like, several of which are currently sailing through the legislature. So not surprisingly, an effort to expand the metro tax base -- initially a move to make more of the six-county Denver area help pay for the construction of Not-Mile-High Stadium -- didn't receive cash-ringing endorsements. But the problem wasn't simply that Douglas County residents in that coveted, lucrative territory to the south hadn't gotten a chance to vote for Pat Bowlen's new playground in November 1998. By the time lawmakers were finished tacking on their own pet projects, the measure would also have expanded the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and RTD tax bases. Allow actual poor people to ride the bus to pristine Park Meadows? The buck stopped there, and the bill died.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of Douglas Bruce in vain.
Ten years ago, when Douglas Bruce began crusading for his Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment, politicians predicted that the tax-limitation measure would send the state straight to economic hell. But since TABOR's passage, Colorado's coffers have just become more stuffed -- even as assorted bureaucrats keep wishing Bruce to perdition. His petitions so weigh down the Colorado Secretary of State's Office that this year, Senator Gigi Dennis offered a bill that would have restricted citizens' right to petition. Ever the sore winner, after Dennis's proposal was shot down, Bruce whispered a few sweet nothings to her, which she interpreted as a threat. And although Bruce says the reports that he was "ejected" were incorrect, there's no denying Dennis's shot the next day, when she suggested that Bruce might be in need of mental-health counseling. Naturally, Bruce came back swinging: "Citizens outraged by these bully tactics should send the politicians a message by supporting the petition process that she and 21 co-sponsors were trying to kill," he suggested, adding that only six weeks remain to collect all the signatures required for his current tax-cutting petition -- the first to emerge unscathed from the secretary of state's office after 180 previous versions were rejected.
4. Remember thy self-interests, and keep them wholly for thyself.
Because of legislation passed in prior years, smoking is not allowed in any public buildings in the state. Except, of course, the State Capitol itself -- and this year lawmakers made sure they reserved the right to blow smoke.
5. Honor thy contributors and all armed lobbyists.
The NRA giveth, and the NRA taketh away. After all, the Second Amendment is "divinely ordained," according to one legislator.
But even Governor Bill Owens, who argued against gun-control bills last session, saw the light after Columbine and has been pushing a package of modest gun-control measures this round. Starting with raising the minimum age on gun sales to 21, safe storage of guns and background checks at gun sales, they've been shot down one by one, prompting Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley to complain Monday about the "death grip that the NRA has with the Republican Party." That was right after gun- control advocates won a minor victory, killing a bill that would have required the entire state to observe the same firearms regulations. But in order to score that win, they also had to concede that municipalities' homegrown regulations -- say, Denver's ban on assault weapons -- would not apply to motorists passing through, giving new meaning to drive-by shootings.
6. Thou shalt not kill -- unless you're a judge on a death-penalty case.
Because Colorado juries weren't sending death row enough tenants, in 1995 the legislature took the death-penalty decision away from juries and gave it to a three-judge panel. But this system hasn't exactly been knocking them dead, either. Since the first panel was convened last April to consider the case of Robert Riggan, only two convicted murderers (out of a possible six) have been given the death penalty: Francisco Martinez, who led his gang in the brutal rape and murder of Brandy Duvall, and Cody Neal, who killed two women with an ax and raped a third. And so Senate President Ray "Hang 'em High" Powers is once again going for the kill, pushing for a change in the current system -- not, however, by returning the death-penalty decision to a pansy jury, but by handing it over to a single judge who presides over the trial.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery -- unless it's with a member of the opposite sex.
For the fifth straight -- very straight -- year, legislators saw fit to waste their time by considering a measure that would outlaw marriages between members of the same sex (not that they're legal in Colorado, anyway). On February 14, as same-sex partners lined up at the Denver City and County Building to pledge their commitment to each other and sign the city's partnership registry, two blocks away, busybody lawmakers were dictating just which sort of body could legally link with another. But according to Representative Mark Paschall, his provision that a marriage in Colorado be a union "between one man and one woman" is not just aimed at stopping same-sex unions: It's also a slap at "polyamorous" relationships.
8. Thou shalt steal any opportunities to tie legislation to Columbine.
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There is "no government solution" to the Columbine tragedy, Senator Marilyn Musgrave proclaimed in the early days of the session. But she was talking then about proposed gun-control legislation -- not Andrews's Ten Commandments proposal or the current push to punish small businesses that allow too-young teens to work late, thus putting them in harm's way of bullets that would bounce off an eighteen-year-old.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness -- unless, of course, you have the floor.
And then, anything goes.
Next week, #10: Thou Shalt Not Mess With US West.