Headlines March 31, 2022
Polis Signs Bill to Prohibit Open Carry of Firearms at Polling Places
Governor Jared Polis signed into law Wednesday a bill to prohibit open carry of firearms near polling places and other electoral facilities. The Vote Without Fear Act was created to prevent intimidation where Coloradans vote and where votes are counted. Colorado law had already banned open carry where legislative hearings or meetings are held.
The Colorado chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action championed the bill. According to their parent organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, Colorado is among the top ten states with the strongest gun laws. Colorado is also often described as having a gold standard system for voting rights.
Bill Could Make Public Transportation Free During Bad Air Days
State lawmakers aim to make RTD buses and trains free to reduce vehicle emissions during hot, smoggy summer months.
The Denver Post reports that a bill passed its first state senate committee vote 4-1 on Tuesday. The bill would make the month of August as the likely month when RTD would run the fare free pilot, with another one possible in 2023.
If it clears both chambers, Senate Bill 180 would set aside $14 million each of the next two summers to help pay for free-transit programs around all of Colorado. The bill also includes $30 million to expand service in coming years on Bustang, the state’s regional bus service.
The main hope of the free-transit pilot is to draw more people onto RTD’s buses and trains at the height of the season when metro Denver’s ozone readings are at extreme levels. They are also hoping the bill tempts more riders back to RTD as it is still recovering from a pandemic ridership plunge.
RTD does have concerns that a larger pilot would strain the agency’s resources while it attempts to fill staffing gaps and get a handle on recent safety concerns.
New Colorado Law Requires Minimum Wage for Some Prison Workers
A new Colorado law says prison inmates who work must be paid at least minimum wage. Prisoners who participate in the Department of Corrections’ Take TWO off-site work program are eligible. About 100 inmates are currently employed in the program. It was created to help released prisoners transition more easily into life as free citizens.
Many private companies pay pennies on the dollar for prison labor, which became more plentiful in the 1990s due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws and a boom in prison construction. The legal framework for underpaid prison labor dates back to a loophole established at the time of the abolition of slavery.
Longmont Waives Development Fee for Veterans’ House Village
Longmont City Council members voted Tuesday to drop almost $200,000 dollars in permitting fees in the planned construction of a village for homeless veterans.
A nonprofit called The Veterans Community Project is raising funds for 26 tiny houses. The organization helps veterans living on the streets transition out of homelessness.
Nonprofit representatives had argued that the permitting fees would delay construction until next year. The project’s building costs are estimated to be over $5 million dollars and about a half million more is needed.
Case of Murder by 96-year-old Dismissed
A judge Wednesday dismissed a murder case against a 96-year-old resident of an assisted living center in Lafayette. Okey Payne was accused of fatally shooting 44-year-old Ricardo Medina-Rojas, a maintenance worker at Legacy Assisted Living. Payne was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial. His attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case and prosecutors did not object. The attack began after Payne accused Medina-Rojas of stealing money from him. Lafayette police say the allegations of theft were unsubstantiated. Payne will be admitted to a secure unit of the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.
Avian Flu in Colorado
Colorado wildlife officials confirmed the first cases of an avian flu in the state. According to news outlet Axios Denver, the virus has spread from the East Coast and was found in wild snow geese and Ross’ geese in Sedgwick County last week. Avian flu is highly contagious and often deadly to chickens. The Denver Zoo decided to move its birds indoors for at least 28 days to avoid exposure to the virus. No chickens in Colorado have tested positive, but across the country there is concern that the disease could devastate the poultry industry.
NCAR Fire Update
The NCAR Fire remains at 190 acres with 90 percent containment. Boulder Fire and Rescue conducted a flyover with special sensor equipment Wednesday. Data showed the remaining hot spots are still being extinguished.
Boulder’s Office of Emergency Management transferred responsibility for putting out the blaze back to the city on Wednesday.
Boulder, Neighboring Counties, No Longer in Drought
Government officials say Boulder County and several neighboring counties are no longer in drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor is now classifying the area as abnormally dry. Nearly half of Colorado is considered to be in a moderate drought. This is an improvement from December, when the entire state was classified as experiencing drought conditions.