Gun, pot bills round out Colorado legislative session
May 17, 2013
The Colorado Legislature ended the first regular session of the Sixty-ninth General Assembly on May 8, with a number of historic bills being passed through the Democratic controlled House and Senate.
One bill regulates the sale of recreational marijuana to people over the age of 21, which was voted into the Colorado Constitution by voters in November. Other bills are one outlawing high capacity magazines for firearms, which goes into effect next month, and a bill legalizing civil unions in the state.
Representatives of Grand County sponsored bills that extended income-tax incentives for homeowners who complete wildfire mitigation work on their property, protect homeowners whose homes are destroyed by wildfires, secured additional funding for tourism in the state, secured $10 million to be distributed to local governments and homeowners associations for wildfire mitigation work, and created a license plate program that will help support the protection of Colorado rivers.
"I am pleased with what we accomplished this legislative session," said State Rep. Claire Levy, who represents House District 13, which includes Grand County. "Although the media focuses on the arguments over just a few bills, the vast majority of legislation passed with strong bi-partisan support."
Regulating recreational marijuana
Colorado lawmakers created a task force to tackle the laws that needed to be put in place after Amendment 64 was passed in November, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana for people over the age of 21 in Colorado.
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Randy Baumgardner, who represents Senate District 8 in the Colorado Senate, which includes Grand County, has been working on the select committee charged with implementing Amendment 64 since the law went into effect. He has helped to create the legislation surrounding the new law and its implementation. Baumgardner did not sponsor all of the bills surrounding Amendment 64, though he was in support of them.
The two bills that recently passed through the legislature set a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, and regulated the growth and sale of the drug.
One bill, HB 1317, placed regulations on the growth and sale of the drug and gives medical marijuana shops first crack at transitioning their existing stores into recreational marijuana stores. Existing shops were given a nine-month period to make the transition before other operations will be allowed to start. The first recreational marijuana stores could be open by Jan. 1. The owner of Serine Wellness in Fraser, Dan Volpe, has indicated he will make the transition to a recreational marijuana store.
"Overall, I can live with the bill on the assumption that as the industry develops we will have to make adjustments," Levy said. "The bill sponsors could not possibly anticipate every scenario given that there are no existing models to follow from other states."
Marijuana tourism will be allowed, however out-of-staters will only be able to purchase a quarter of an ounce under the new law while Colorado Residents will be allowed to purchase an ounce of the drug, the maximum an individual can posses under Amendment 64.
The provision concerning driving under the influence of marijuana was originally part of HB1317, however that provision was stripped from the bill and was passed as part of another bill. Under HB1114, individuals who are accused of driving while under the influence of marijuana would be allowed to rebut the charge.
"I felt it was important to establish a presumption concerning driving under the influence of marijuana to fulfill the promise of Amendment 64 to regulate it like alcohol," Levy said.
Colorado voters will be asked to tax the sale of recreational marijuana heavily during the upcoming November election. Voters will be asked whether to impose a 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent sales tax on the drug.
A ban on high capacity magazines and laws expanding background checks to include requiring background checks for the private transfer of firearms are set to go into effect next month.
The bills were passed to implement stricter controls on firearms in the wake of the Aurora Theater Shooting and the shooting that took place at a Connecticut school.
Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson has questioned law enforcement's ability to enforce the new laws, though also stated he will complete the job he is charged with of upholding the Colorado Constitution.
The ban on high capacity magazines allows for magazines to be grandfathered in, though questions have been raised concerning the ability of law enforcement to prove whether a magazine was grandfathered. High capacity magazines will not be sold in Colorado, which prompted a magazine manufacturer based in Colorado called Magpul Industries to move out of the state.
The law concerning private sale and transfers of firearms has also drawn criticism. The law would require private firearm sellers to complete a background check on prospective buyers. The law would also require individuals who loan their firearms for more than a week to someone to complete a background check on that person, and would require them to complete a background check to receive the firearm back.
"What they did by passing that legislation, that many sheriffs say is unenforceable, is imposed a law on law abiding citizens that I feel is another step away from protecting their second amendment right," Baumgardner said.
Baumgrdner did not support gun control legislation.
A bill legally recognizing committed couples regardless of sex was passed through the legislature this year making Colorado the sixth state to pass civil unions.
Civil unions grant gay couples rights similar to marriage such as hospital visitation rights, personal property transfers, and parental rights, though the unions may not be recognized in other states that have not passed similar legislation.
Local lawmakers helped push through legislation that extended tax incentives to Colorado landowners that offers up to a $2,500 income tax deduction for wildfire mitigation work. The bill allows for landowners to deduct 50 percent of the cost to complete wildfire mitigation work.
A second bill extends protection to homeowners who lose their home in a wildfire that requires insurance companies to offer up to 24 months to rebuild homes destroyed by wildfires, requires a cushion above the face value of the policy if building codes or construction costs have outstripped the increase in value of the policy, and extends deadlines for submitting claims of contents.
"I negotiated very carefully with insurance companies so the bill would not create expensive requirements and drive up the cost of insurance more than it is already going up," Levy said.
River license plates
Baumgardner helped pass legislation that would allow Colorado residents to purchase "Save Our Rivers" license plates, a portion of the proceeds would help to preserve Colorado Rivers.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334