A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:
The Gazette, Feb. 23, on liberty protections for college faith groups:
Bob the Baptist minister believes marriage consists of one man and one woman. A graduate student at the University of Colorado, Bob joins a campus group established to promote interests of lesbians and gays. The group's pro-gay bylaws offend Bob, especially the part that says group leaders must pledge support of the group's values.
Bob files a discrimination complaint with the university, claiming the pro-gay statement discriminates against Baptist ministers. Administrators pull the group's charter and close its campus office, claiming it violated the university's nondiscrimination rules.
This fictional tale is absurd. No one forced Bob to join the club. Furthermore, this country was founded to defend a free market of values and the freedom of individuals to associate and disassociate with one another. Campus administration would justifiably protect the group's right to uphold its charter and defend its pro-gay values.
Here's the shocking part. Reverse the conflict and our fictional tale becomes real, with a different ending.
At the University of Colorado-Boulder, and on other campuses, students occasionally join campus-based religious groups only to gripe about their values. The trend has become so threatening that Republican Rep. Kevin Priola, a graduate of CU-Boulder, introduced a bill to protect the practice of religious groups enforcing their charters.
Yvonne Williams, founder of CU-Boulder's Real Choices - an organization that advocates abortion alternatives - testified that a student joined the group only to complain about its mission. The new member filed a discrimination complaint, arguing the group's rules discriminate against members who aspire to leadership with opposing views. Amazingly, Williams testified, university officials withheld recognition of the group. The university backed down when push came to shove.
Priola crafted his bill after CU administrators ousted a religious group from its campus office last year because the organization's bylaws required officers to embrace religious principles. Officials reinstated the group after a credible threat of legal action.
"These things are happening all over the country, and it's only to decommission groups that are religious," said Brian Walsh, executive director of the Ethics & Public Policy Center's American Religious Freedom Program in Washington, who testified at the hearing.
David Hacker, senior legal counsel for the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, agreed. He said universities are demanding religious groups accept students who surreptitiously rise to positions of authority only to challenge a group's core principles.
"Religious groups are the targets," Hacker said after the Colorado hearing. "We don't see colleges going after environmental groups. Suppose someone joins an environmental group, advances to a leadership position and then advocates unregulated fracking. The university would understand if the group replaced that person. The same level of tolerance doesn't apply if the core values are religious."
During the hours-long hearing, opponents of Priola's bill made clear their conviction that opposition to same-sex marriage deserves no protection, even in the name of religious liberty.
"We're concerned it would grant license to student groups to discriminate against anyone on a basis of sincerely held beliefs," said a representative of CU-Boulder's Chancellor's Standing Committee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues.
"Would you find it agreeable if a straight Baptist minister became the head of a campus LGBT group?" asked Priola.
"Absolutely," the student assured. "So long as his values didn't conflict."
He abruptly stopped talking, realizing where this had led. The LGBT spokesman inadvertently confessed a need to discriminate against a Baptist minister with conflicting values. If the same can't apply to religious organizations - if they cannot defend their values from internal assault - we mock freedom of speech and religion at state institutions. We allow state authorities to protect modern morality while facilitating wanton destruction of its religious counterpart.
The Denver Post, Feb. 24, on fighting increasing hit-and-runs:
Urban communities around the country, including Denver, have seen a steady increase in the number of hit-and-run crashes involving pedestrians, and no one is quite sure why or what to do about it.
We applaud Denver for launching a campaign, called Heads Up, to raise awareness of people behind the wheel and on the street.
However, the crashes continue, and the community needs to do even more, such as removing the five-year statute of limitations for prosecuting vehicular homicides, increasing driving-while-impaired patrols and continuing to educate the public about pedestrian safety.
Last year in Denver, police documented 5,447 hit-and-run crashes — 14.9 a day — that ranged from minor parking-lot dings to vehicular homicides. Through Feb. 17 of this year, there had been 775 hit-and-run crashes, or 16.1 a day.
Thirty-nine pedestrians have been seriously injured and eight killed this year, including two in hit-and-run cases, according to Denver police.
Nationwide, nearly one in five pedestrians killed on America's roadways is the victim of a hit-and-run crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In large cities, pedestrians account for 40 to 50 percent of traffic fatalities.
For one thing, alcohol seems to be a big problem. Alcohol involvement — either for the driver or for the pedestrian — was reported in 48 percent of the traffic crashes around the nation in 2011 that resulted in a pedestrian fatality, a federal analysis showed.
In addition, pedestrians sometimes put themselves in harm's way by jaywalking, not using marked crosswalks, or being distracted in one way or another.
Denver police say they are using grant money to increase enforcement around bicycle and pedestrian violations. Lt. Rob Rock, of traffic enforcement, said Denver is becoming more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, but more people on the streets means more adherence to the rules is necessary.
Clearly, Denver, we have a problem on our streets.
A story in Sunday's Denver Post by Colleen O'Connor and Joey Bunch said police clear 80 percent of hit-and-run cases. But they struggle to resolve cases against looming statutes of limitations — five years for vehicular homicide and three years for a case involving serious bodily injury.
A longer statute of limitations would allow law enforcement greater time to build a case, and we urge the legislature to consider such a change. It is an important part of a multi-faceted approach to taking on the complex problem of hit-and-run accidents.
The Durango Herald, Feb. 22, on the spending choices behind marijuana sales taxes:
Fans of marijuana have long asserted the drug is not addictive. They have nonetheless demonstrated a keen understanding of dependency and are well on their way to having Colorado state government thoroughly strung out.
Government, of course, does not actually smoke dope. But its drug of choice - money - is, if anything, more habit forming. And legalized-marijuana sales are fueling that addiction at a pace well in excess of expectations.
In the run-up to last fall's election, in which Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana, supporters of the ballot initiative claimed taxes on pot sales would generate $70 million per year in revenue for the state. In fact, a budget proposal released Wednesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper shows the state is on track to take in $98 million in the next fiscal year from sales and excise taxes on marijuana.
That is over and above the $40 million an additional excise tax on marijuana is supposed to generate for school construction.
Hickenlooper plans to spend the marijuana windfall on six programs. The list includes money for youth marijuana-use prevention, substance-abuse treatment, public health, a statewide media campaign on pot use, an effort to fight driving while high and 105 more beds in residential treatment centers.
He says, "We view our top priority as creating an environment where negative impacts on children from marijuana legalization are avoided completely."
Fine - but look at what his spending list does not include: education, highways, prisons, public safety or any other areas where governors and legislators typically want to spend money. How long will that last?
The governor's idea of insulating children from marijuana notwithstanding, the more likely outcome is that, over time, the Legislature will see that almost $100 million revenue stream as irresistible and use it as it would any other funds. Given the state's needs, that is an entirely defensible idea.
But with that, money from pot sales will be woven into the state's budget, its plans and its future. And no one will ever want to give it up.
Another $100 million for the state's budget is certainly welcome, particularly in that most of us will never contribute to it. But make no mistake: Colorado is in the marijuana business now and is not about to back out.
The Greeley Tribune, Feb. 21, on a proposed federal rule affecting livestock feeders:
A proposed federal rule that would make it difficult for ethanol producers, breweries and others to sell their spent grains to animal feeders has us scratching our heads.
According to the rule, providers of secondhand grain would be subject to enhanced food safety requirements under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The proposed rules come as the result of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, which calls on the FDA to come up with food safety standards for animal feed.
One rule would require facilities that distribute animal feed to establish food safety plans similar to those of facilities that process human food. It would require facilities that handle food for animals to have a written food safety plan, prevention controls for likely hazards, a monitoring process and procedures to address any contamination. Facilities would also have to keep all paperwork associated with its food safety plan on hand. This would make it more difficult for distillers to sell — or give — their spent grain to cattle feeders.
Livestock feeders often add spent grains from ethanol producers and other distillers to their overall grain rations to fortify protein content. A number of industry experts say the proposed rule would do nothing but add unnecessary paperwork and expenses to their respective processes.
If the rule goes into effect, distillers ranging from small local breweries to large ethanol or alcohol producers would likely start looking for other ways to dispose of their grain, and livestock feeders would be left searching for another food source. They would likely also face increased costs.
Like everyone else, we want a safe food supply. We also understand that some regulation is necessary to accomplish that goal. However, there's little reason we know of to hamstring distillers and cattle feeders.
The secondhand grain exchange has been a feature of cattle processing for years, and no one has tracked any reported illnesses to the use of spent grain.
In fact, many breweries and distillers already have significant safety procedures in place that come as part of the distilling process. The ethanol production process, for example, inherently eliminates contaminants in the corn.
We support strong, smart regulations where they're needed. However, we have yet to hear anyone say that this rule — as applied to the distillers — would do anything other than cause unintended consequences.