Afternoon headlines February 1, 2017

Donald Trump’s choice to fill Antonin Scalia’s U.S. Supreme Court seat is Judge Neil Gorsuch, a Boulder resident and conservative judge who sits on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Denver. If confirmed, Gorsuch would become the second Coloradan— Justice Byron White was the first— to be named to the nation’s highest court. At 49, he also would be the youngest on the bench.

Like Scalia, he is a conservative judge who reads the Constitution literally. Unlike Trump he is no combative bombastic. Also like Scalia, Gorsuch is seen as an originalist when it comes to interpreting the U.S. Constitution. That means he looks to what the framers meant when they wrote the founding document. He is also considered a textualist, meaning he looks at the words of laws and not what he thinks lawmakers intended when they wrote them.

In Colorado, Gorsuch is know as conservative intellectual who strongly supports religious rights and judicial independence. He is perhaps best known for his concurring opinion in the 2013 Hobby Lobby case. The craft store chain didn’t want the government to force it to provide insurance coverage for contraception — something it objected to on religious grounds. Gorsuch sided with the appeals court’s majority opinion.

Given the tenor of the times — and the fact that Democrats who are still smarting at the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider President Obama’s moderate choice — Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing may be rocky, political observers told The Colorado Independent. That puts Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Senator, Michael Bennet in a tricky spot. Bennet “takes seriously the Senate’s responsibility to advise and consent on Supreme Court nominations,” is all his spokeswoman Laurie Cipriano would say on the eve of the nomination. “He intends to review Judge Gorsuch’s record carefully in the coming weeks.”

Assaults among inmates in Denver’s jails have increased 784 percent since 2011, and spiked dramatically in the past two years, according to data obtained by The Colorado Independent. The data also show that inmate-on-staff assaults have jumped 620 percent since 2011 – again, with significant increases since 2015.

The surge in violence comes despite efforts by Michael Hancock’s administration over the past two years to enact what the Mayor calls “sweeping reforms” meant to make Denver’s troubled jails safer. Those measures include the 2015 hiring of Sheriff Patrick Firman, whom Hancock has touted as “a change agent.”

According to the city’s data, in 2011, there was a monthly average of 3.66 reported inmate-on-inmate assaults. The number has climbed each year since to an average of 32.37 monthly assaults in the first eight months of 2016.
Inmate assaults on jail staff followed a similar trajectory. The data shows rates of those attacks averaged 1.7 a month in 2011. Like the assaults between inmates, inmate attacks on staffers jumped dramatically over the past two years, to an average of 12.25 monthly in the first eight months of 2016.

In a written statement Monday, the department said it “takes the safety and well-being of staff and inmates very seriously” and is “concerned about assaults in our facilities.” But critics, including the union representing the city’s sheriff’s deputies, say Hancock’s administration hasn’t done enough of its own work to minimize the risks of overcrowding and other safety issues. They say fights break out on a regular basis, and as many as half aren’t reported or reflected in the city’s data.

President Donald Trump’s determination to at least partially repeal the Affordable Care Act has Colorado’s rural hospitals scrambling to understand what happens next. This is perhaps most evident at the San Luis Valley Health Regional Medical Center, a 49-bed hospital in Alamosa which serves large numbers of low-income residents, many of whom have historically been uninsured.

The hospital fears that Trump’s elimination of the Medicaid expansion program could force it to cut important services in the name of keeping its doors open. Medicaid expansion brought a significant increase in federal reimbursement, which allowed the hospital to stay open longer, replace outdated equipment and increase its cancer and orthopedic care services. It also allows patients to see primary care physicians, cutting down on emergency room visits.

If Trump repeals this program, the hospital may find itself having to eliminate less financially viable services to protect its bottom line, its administrators told The Colorado Independent. That economic impact would add to the nearly 2 million dollars in health care cuts Gov. John Hickenlooper recently proposed, in anticipation of overspending under TABOR.

The idea of cutting services is painful for a hospital that has always worked to provide medical care to all, regardless of ability to pay. Spokeswoman Donna Wehe says, “We want to be focused on care, we don’t want to have to be focused on profit. This hospital has never been focused on profit.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper this week selected a permanent head for the Colorado Department of Higher Education, which has been under interim executive directors since last July. If confirmed by the state Senate, Kim Hunter Reed of Louisiana will be the department’s first African-American head and first permanent woman chief.

Reed most recently served in the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama as undersecretary for diversity and inclusiveness. She also led a White House initiative on historically black colleges, which seeks to strengthen those 102 colleges in 19 states.

Reed’s predecessor, former lieutenant governor Joe Garcia, himself a former college president, left last July to become executive director of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education.

Reed’s will start her new job on Feb. 15.

For more on these and other local news stories go to

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