A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:
Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald, Jan. 26, on some law enforcement officials refusing to enforce any gun control restrictions enacted by President Obama:
When most law enforcement officers start their duties to protect and serve the civilian population in their jurisdictions, they take an oath to uphold the state and U.S. constitutions. Even the president of the United States, as the highest-ranking member of the federal law enforcement apparatus and military, swears to preserve, protect and defend the document created by the Founding Fathers.
Included in that document is the Bill of Rights — the fundamental freedoms of the republic — as well as all of the amendments ratified since the Constitution was created in 1787. And shocking as it may be to some, it also included the powers of the elected Congress to enact laws, for the executive branch to administer them and for the Supreme Court to settle disputes about the administration of those laws.
To some in the nation's law enforcement community, it appears the defense of the Constitution stops and starts with the Bill of Rights — or even after just the first two amendments, protecting freedom of speech and the right to bear arms.
Since the announcement from President Obama that he will pursue tighter restrictions on certain types of weapons and ammunition, the elected sheriffs from several counties in the United States have announced they will not enforce them, determining them unilaterally to be unconstitutional. Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith stated in a Facebook post, "As Sheriff, I will not: Enforce unconstitutional federal laws; Obey unconstitutional laws; Allow others to violate the Constitutional rights of those in my county." Similar missives came from sheriffs in Weld and El Paso counties.
While it's comforting to some to believe a sheriff and his or her deputies would take on the role of a local militia to protect the population from tyranny, the belligerent stance taken by law enforcement against the federal government has the deleterious effect of enabling those who believe any federal rules with which they disagree are unconstitutional. Will local sheriffs refuse to allow the Forest Service to fight fires in their counties because they or some of their constituents disagree with forest management policy? Will they prevent work from the Army Corps of Engineers to site dams, or Medicare-paid physicians to treat patients in local hospitals while they judge the constitutionality of each action?
It was precisely because of the slippery slope of patchwork enforcement that the Constitution includes the separation of powers, with the Supreme Court having the final call on determining the constitutionality of laws and policies.
By respecting that separation of powers can sheriffs show their fealty to the document.
The Daily Sentinel, Jan. 29, on why now is the time to move forward with immigration reform:
Bipartisan efforts began this week to attempt to pass a package of immigration reform laws, and that's a welcome change from the stalemate that has marked this issue dating back to the Bush administration.
However, the fact that four Democratic senators and four Republican ones have agreed in principle to a series of reforms doesn't guarantee they will win congressional approval. Opponents of serious immigration reform are already vowing to fight the measures.
Still, unlike the proposed assault weapons ban, which has been met with nearly universal opposition from Republicans, many in the GOP now recognize the need to support some form of immigration reform if they hope to gain support from Latino voters.
The proposed package includes provisions for better border security and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. It would also include measures to allow more skilled workers to legally enter this country.
The most controversial provision would create a path to citizenship — often dubbed amnesty — for an estimated 11 million immigrants already living in this country illegally.
Many Tea Party Republicans and other conservatives object to any plan that would allow people here illegally to move toward becoming citizens. Such a provision rewards their criminal behavior, critics say.
The flip side, which also merits consideration, is that those already here use taxpayer-funded services and infrastructure. And nobody believes we are going to engage in a mass deportation of 11 million people.
Wouldn't it be better to have those living here illegally on a path to becoming fully engaged, tax-paying citizens rather than living in the shadows and contributing little to the public coffers? That assumes, of course, that the immigrants in question aren't guilty of any crime more serious than crossing our borders illegally.
Census data released late last year showed that the number of illegal immigrants in the country actually dropped over the past few years from a high of near 12 million to a little more than 11 million, as fewer people tried to enter this country illegally and more opted to return to their homelands.
Meanwhile, demographers say they don't expect illegal immigration from Mexico and neighboring Central American countries to again reach the record pace it did in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The slowdown in the U.S. economy is part of the reason for that, but so are improved border security, increased deportations by the Obama administration and a graying population in Mexico and neighboring countries.
Even so, it's well past time for Congress to tackle immigration reform and come up with a sensible plan for dealing with those already here, as well as those whose skills are needed. We applaud the eight senators from both parties, including Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, for beginning that process.
The Durango Herald, Jan. 28, on what the state should apply when drafting medical marijuana applications for growers and retailers:
The Denver Post has reported that the state is drafting new regulations for medical marijuana growers and retailers, and one of the changes is the deletion of a requirement that all such businesses have video-surveillance systems into which state auditors could tap, through the Internet.
That was an expense for the businesses, but — surprise! — the state surveillance never happened.
What is perhaps not so surprising is, now that recreational marijuana use and possession have been legalized, the market for "medical" marijuana has shrunk dramatically, and that industry has shed many of the problems involved with being the only legal way to obtain pot. Cancer and glaucoma patients do not need to be surveilled. The pretense of chronic pain is no longer necessary for marijuana users, although the problem remains severe with other legal medications used recreationally.
Now a task force is working on guidelines for the recreational-marijuana industry. According to the Post, "That task force has divided into five subgroups to discuss issues related to criminal law, social concerns, employment relationships and others. Some of those subgroups have now divided into sub-subgroups to further study the matter."
With its deadline for broad recommendations only a month away, the task force already has urged Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and the state's congressional delegation to work to resolve conflicts that prevent banks from working with marijuana businesses. The proceeds of marijuana sales are no longer money to be laundered but income to be accounted for and taxed.
The much larger issue is that possession, use and cultivation of marijuana are still against federal law. Prosecuting recreational use of marijuana is not a high priority for the Obama administration, which, if it wants to wage a war on drugs, has much larger targets. That policy of not bothering with pot has helped Colorado's medical-marijuana industry flourish, but it leaves the state in a quandary when it comes to regulating an industry that remains technically illegal. Neither Colorado nor the administration has any interest in a coffer-draining states-rights court case about this topic, but a line does exist which Colorado would be wise not to cross.
The process of figuring out how to preserve public safety and a broad list of competing rights is not one that will be completed quickly, but everyone involved — including law-enforcement personnel — needs to know what is allowed and what is out of bounds.
Among other considerations, economic development is at stake. Employers must not be forced to accommodate workers who are recreationally impaired. Laws related to alcohol and prescription drugs can help, in separate ways, but Colorado is out in front on marijuana.
Everyone can hope that the regulations will be less cumbersome and more effective than those applied to medical marijuana. They must be clear and easy to understand. They must be effective. Violations must be prosecutable, in a way that avoids harassment while safeguarding public interests.
If Coloradans do not want "the stoner state" to become the state's defining moniker — and they definitely should not, because there is a whole lot more going on here - the state needs to get this right, in a way it did not with medical marijuana.
The Denver Post, Jan. 28, on Colorado gun owners being charged with a fee for background checks:
The debate over the Second Amendment right to bear arms often seems to include a presumption — at least on the part of some advocates — that it is a right that should be unfettered.
Even a casual reading of the gun-friendly opinions that have come out of the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years shows that is clearly not how justices see it, even the most conservative on the bench.
With these opinions and others in mind, the Colorado legislature would be acting responsibly to impose a modest background check fee on potential gun buyers to defray the costs of the work.
Such a fee could not be a money-maker. It would have to only cover the cost of the work itself.
Given the backlog that exists currently, and the potential that Congress or state lawmakers may approve "universal" checks, which would increase the workload, Colorado lawmakers would be wise to pass a user fee.
The alternatives are longer wait times for a buyer to clear checks, or taking money away from other budget priorities, such as education, to beef up the staff that conducts such checks.
Some opponents of such a fee argue that it's not legal to charge people who are exercising a constitutional right. Or that a simpler way of reducing costs is to eliminate the state level system, InstaCheck, which they say is duplicative.
First, we'll address the InstaCheck argument. It's true that there is overlap between the federal check and the state level check, but InstaCheck includes important databases that the federal check does not.
In 1999, the Colorado legislature allowed InstaCheck to sunset. Shortly thereafter, Simon Gonzales bought a handgun and used it to kill his three daughters and engage in a shootout with Castle Rock police.
Gonzales had a restraining order against him, filed by his wife, that InstaCheck would have caught and prevented him from purchasing a gun. This case is a tragic reminder of the need for checks at both levels.
As to the other argument, that it is illegal to attach a fee to activity protected in the constitution, the courts have, at least thus far, disagreed.
Last year, a federal court upheld New York City's $340 handgun licensing fee, saying it was designed to cover administrative costs for the three-year permit. While government cannot tax a constitutionally protected activity, it can charge a fee to offset costs associated with regulating such activity, the court ruled.
And let's keep in mind the actual cost. Conducting a background check in Colorado, as opposed to New York's extensive permitting process, wouldn't be as pricey. The Colorado Department of Public Safety has estimated the cost at $10 to $12.
Charging a modest fee would be a prudent move that would allow background checks to be conducted in a timely fashion without siphoning resources from other state priorities.