Afternoon headlines April 21, 2017

TIME magazine Thursday named undocumented immigrant, Denver resident and longtime activist Jeanette Vizguerra as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Vizguerra is included on the prestigious list as one of 20 “icons,” alongside the likes of Colin Kaepernick, RuPaul and Viola Davis.

Wrote actress America Ferrera in the TIME blurb honoring Vizguerra, “She shed blood, sweat and tears to become a business owner, striving to give her children more opportunities than she had. This is not a crime. This is the American Dream.”

It’s an honor Vizguerra, 45, is proud — and humbled — to accept. Originally from Mexico, she has worked as an advocate for undocumented immigrants in Colorado for more than a decade.

But unless Vizguerra hears from U.S. immigration officials soon, she won’t be able to make it to the prestigious TIME 100 Gala in New York next week to accept the award.

Since February 15th, she has been living in the basement of the First Unitarian Church in downtown Denver, where she chose to take deportation sanctuary rather than appear for a scheduled check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. On the day of the appointment, her most recent stay of deportation had expired and she still hadn’t received word from ICE about her request for an extension, so she feared that showing up would land her in detention.

Vizguerra, who has lived in Denver for more than 20 years, has an adult daughter and three young children. She currently has a pending application for a U-visa, available to victims of violent crime who cooperate with law enforcement.

Thousands of Coloradans are expected to march on downtown Denver tomorrow morning in the name of science, defending the vital role it plays in society in the face of increasing political attacks.

The march is part of a global day of action, with more than 600 marches planned in six continents. Preparations for Washington event began on the day of the international women’s march, and satellite marches quickly followed.

Organizers bill the events as a “diverse, nonpartisan group” calling for political leaders and policymakers to enact policies based on evidence, and which are in the public interest. The march has generated debate about the role of politics in science, and whether scientists should involve themselves in political causes. In response, organizers have called attention to the threat of climate change, asking, “Can we afford not to speak out in its defense?”

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget calls for a 30 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, or NOAA, could see hundreds of millions of dollars cut from coastal climate research programs.

Tomorrow’s march will begin in Denver’s Civic Center Park at 10 am.

The state Capitol erupted Thursday morning into a loud blame game over the state budget, as well as a bill to ask voters to pony up more in sales taxes for transportation and a separate measure that would free up millions for hospitals, rural roads and rural schools.

Both the transportation bill and the hospital measure are on life support. With the legislative session scheduled to end May 10, Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City, the transportation bill’s co-sponsor, admitted he doesn’t have the votes from the Senate Finance Committee’s Republicans to get the bill to the Senate floor. The finance committee is scheduled to hear the bill next Tuesday. “We’ve worked on this for five months and we have five days to figure this out,” he said. The sticking point is asking voters to hike the state sales tax.

The hospital provider fee bill, a maneuver to exempt hundreds of millions of dollars from the state revenue limits, was supposed to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday morning. But ten minutes before the hearing, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, one of the measure’s co-sponsors, angrily said he was done negotiating with House Democrats. “I have come more than halfway…I’m done talking. If we’re not going to have negotiations in good faith, there’s no point in having the damn bill.”

Republicans say that if the hospital provider fee is reclassified to become exempt from state revenue limits, then those limits must be lowered accordingly to keep state spending down. Democrats say lowering the limits would eventually lead to another budget crisis.

Both of these bills are holding up the completion of the state budget.

The Colorado Independent has given clean air advocate Leslie Weise its 2017 Whistleblower Award for open records court battles and personal struggle in trying to find out whether a municipal power plant in Colorado Springs is polluting the air her 11-year-old son breathes.

When Weise filed a Colorado Open Records Act Request for a 2013 report about air quality the public utility commissioned she was denied. She sued for the report, but lost. In the appeal process, a court administrator inadvertently gave her the information she was seeking. The court said she had to give it back and not make copies. Weise complied, but she also spoke publicly about what she saw in the report, saying it showed the plant consistently exceeded federal limits on sulfur dioxide emissions. A utility spokesperson says the information Weise saw was “not official air quality data,” and said all of the monitoring data from the state show that the plant is in compliance.

The utility tried to punish Weise with sanctions that could have included jail, but it ultimately dropped its case against her. Weise likewise dropped her appeal.

“Leslie’s fight for the power plant data took moxie and guts,” said Colorado Independent editor Susan Greene. “As Coloradans, we all benefit from this kind of dogged pursuit of public information. It’s in all of our interests to support whistleblowers in exposing what government is trying to hide from us. Leslie has a long record of blowing the whistle in the public interest. This award is our small way of honoring her efforts.”

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