A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:
The Gazette, May 21, on eminent domain and energy ballot measures:
As activists battled a make-believe threat of eminent domain abuse in Colorado Springs, a real and active threat went seemingly unnoticed by the ever-vigilant defenders of property rights. If they're looking for a fight, we implore them to redirect their passions toward a genuine assault on liberty that stands to deprive Coloradans of income needed for food, shelter and clothing.
The Gazette's editorial board discussed the dilemma with Gov. John Hickenlooper. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, talked about 12 proposed ballot measures that ask voters to curtail oil and gas production through enhanced local control, excessive setbacks and other government-imposed regulations. He has tried in vain to work a compromise among energy producers and those who would quash property rights.
Hickenlooper described a typical conflict in which residential property owners or renters enjoy the view of a neighbor's vacant lot. The land and minerals beneath it are private property owned by individuals with constitutionally protected rights to make reasonable use of it all. The surface owner can benefit by leasing space for exploration and production. The mineral owner can benefit by extracting and selling fuel.
Drilling operations are temporarily disruptive, much like construction sites. They leave behind wellheads so unobtrusive they can hide in bushes or miniature Tuff Sheds. Yet, contrived environmental threats, fear of disasters and nuisance complaints threaten the industry. If concerns of this nature weighed so heavily in the past, we might not have power lines, freeways or train tracks.
In the United States, people who covet a neighbor's land — including those who would leave oil and gas in the ground to protect a view — have the right to pursue acquisition of the parcel. If they cannot or will not buy the property, it is not theirs to control. Yet, some seek control by government force. They want amendments to the state constitution that allow cities and counties to prevent property owners from harvesting oil and gas.
"Someone owns those mineral rights underground," Hickenlooper said. "And if we tell people that they can't drill in that meadow, government has snatched away private property from somebody, and government should not ever look at doing that."
The proposed ballot measures would facilitate control of private assets without due process of eminent domain, in which a court tries to arbitrate a just and equitable transaction. Local politicians could merely impose control and, voilá, investments would vanish. Mineral-rich lands would sit idle, dashing retirement plans. For others, the spoiled investments would mean no money for college or income for basic needs. Jobs would be lost, along with significant tax revenues for roads, bridges, public safety and schools.
We applaud the governor's commitment to a win-win resolution, but it may be wishful thinking. Colorado's energy producers contend with the toughest regulations in the country, which keep a lot of oil and gas producers away. More regulation may cause most or all producers to flee.
If voters succeed at compromising property rights, they will do so at a cost of jobs and economic stability. They will impose economic hardship for the sake of controlling that which is not theirs. They will erode fundamental property rights essential to production of wealth.
The Daily Sentinel, May 20, on Colorado's "Right To Try" law:
With the stroke of a pen, Gov. John Hickenlooper enacted a law Saturday giving terminally ill patients in Colorado the right to try experimental drugs before they're approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Colorado became the first state to approve "Right to Try" legislation, although Louisiana and Missouri are expected to quickly follow suit. The new law enhances Colorado's reputation as a vanguard in carving out rights for its residents that don't square with federal regulations.
Like Colorado's recreational marijuana law, the Right to Try law authorizes access to drugs that are normally off-limits due to enforcement of federal law or regulations. While some may questions the sanity of legalizing marijuana, there doesn't appear to be any of the same kind of second-guessing with the new Right to Try law — at least among lawmakers.
It passed unanimously in the Legislature. Supporters call it a ray of hope for dying patients trying to navigate the red tape of existing "compassionate use" guidelines for obtaining drugs outside elaborate FDA trials.
After hearing Nick Auden's story, we agree that this common-sense measure simultaneously fills a gap in federal policy and gives the dying a chance to control their treatment, no matter how remote their chances for a prolonged life.
Auden was a melanoma patient who unsuccessfully lobbied a drug company to provide him with medication that had proved beneficial to half of patients in early clinical trials. He died last year at the age of 41 before he could benefit from the law. But not before he helped launch awareness of the obstacles to obtain experimental drugs.
The movie "Dallas Buyers Club" also helped the cause. In it, an AIDS patient smuggled unapproved drugs from Mexico into Texas to help other AIDS sufferers.
Skeptics say this is nothing more than a feel-good campaign that won't help dying patients. Colorado's bill was amended to clarify that health-care providers and health insurers aren't liable if a patient who uses a drug outside clinical trials gets sick or dies.
But the law doesn't require drug companies to provide any drugs outside federal parameters. Hopefully, drug makers will recognize the opportunity to engender good will by making experimental drugs available to dying patients. They might learn something about a drug's effectiveness in the process.
We certainly hope the law is more than ceremonial. Plenty of people with nothing to lose would take comfort in knowing they tried everything to live.
The Denver Post, May 20, on a lawsuit filed against Aurora:
The city of Aurora may want to get its checkbook ready after a lawsuit was filed by innocent motorists detained for two hours at an intersection in 2012 while police searched for a bank robber.
By detained, we don't mean inconveniently stopped. We mean people being forced at gunpoint from their cars, handcuffed and made to sit on a curb while officers rooted through their vehicles.
The suit filed last week on behalf of 14 plaintiffs alleges Aurora police violated the motorists' Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure and excessive force.
Clearly, they did.
Police were searching for a signal from a GPS unit secretly placed with the stolen money by a teller at the bank that was robbed. Yet, the agency lacked proper equipment to pinpoint the exact location of the GPS signal.
Instead, they surrounded 19 vehicles at the intersection where the signal had been detected and treated everyone like a suspect.
The actual suspect had been described as a white male about 130 pounds and 5-foot-6. So why were women and children and others who didn't fit the description forced from their cars, where they were frisked and handcuffed?
Police went car to car searching for evidence while waiting for the FBI to bring a more sophisticated tracking device. But the agent didn't know how to use the device and people had to continue to wait for someone who did — even after police had found the suspect.
We understand at times innocent people's rights can be infringed upon in an emergency. But this is a case where rights were trampled because of police overreach and inadequate technology. If the police department wants to go high-tech, it needs to go all the way with the right equipment, or not go at all.
Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates has called plaintiffs to apologize. While that is commendable, it doesn't change the fact that his department screwed up and his city may be on the hook for it.
Longmont Times-Call, May 20, on jail time for downtown social misbehavior:
Many books have been written about the criminal justice system. In the city of Boulder and at the Boulder County jail, a real-life situation has made news this spring about Boulder's response to offenders of municipal ordinances in certain parts of the downtown area and what should be done about it.
The Boulder City Council, apparently fed up with complaints from the public, has voted to re-instate jail time for "social misbehavior" in the downtown by people who are often poor and may not have long-term ties to the community. Some are genuinely homeless and may be trying to improve their situation. Others may simply be chronic offenders.
The answer, Boulder believes, is to put in the county jail those convicted after they go through the municipal court process. But Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle has correctly pointed out the problems of jailing low level but annoying offenders in the already near capacity 500-bed jail.
Pelle instead has suggested that Boulder build an alternative facility that could temporarily house these offenders. Meanwhile, the city of Boulder may be charged more than $50 per social misbehavior inmate per day if they have to be taken to jails in other counties.
Apart from the cost to the city and the disruption to the county jail that is intended for more serious offenses than panhandling near traffic and "camping" in the downtown area, there are valid questions about whether a city can focus on a part of the population that has less financial means and in a particular area of a city. How does the new, tougher city council approach square with the goal of the Boulder Municipal Court "to provide an accessible, efficient, and impartial forum for all participants in cases involving municipal ordinances"?
It is understandable that Boulder leaders would want to make their downtown municipal government complex including the library grounds, Boulder Creek and other nearby places safe and pleasant to attract visitors and shoppers from all walks of life. But serious constitutional questions will have to be weighed in connection with the get-tough policy.
If Boulder decides to continue with the tougher sentencing approach, the alternative facility should be seriously considered. Another idea would be to ask sociologists, psychologists and marketing experts to look into ways to discourage people from acting badly in downtown Boulder.
Any changes in policy or facilities will likely take months, so in the meantime, when in Boulder, try to obey all laws. Otherwise you might find yourself visiting for a longer period of time than you planned.