Afternoon headlines January 6, 2017

After Colorado’s 2017 legislative session starts next week, . One proposal that’s sure to generate some buzz: a bill by Representative Jon Becker, a Fort Morgan Republican, to ban the possession and sale of fake urine. Becker claims those who buy fake urine do so to avoid detection of drugs in urine tests, and he isn’t wrong. It’s a problem for probation officers who screen parolees for drug use and employers who seek drug screens as a condition of employment. But those in the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry point out that urine tests are a poor way to check for drugs, especially marijuana, which has been legal for anyone over 21 to use in Colorado since 2013. And synthetic urine, as it’s known, also has legal uses – it’s used to calibrate drug testing equipment and, as noted on the boxes, as an adult novelty in fetish practices. Becker’s bill, which won’t be introduced until the session starts, so far also doesn’t account for online sales of synthetic urine, but he says he’s looking into that, too. Using synthetic urine to mask drug use is fraud, Becker says. It’s illegal to possess or use synthetic urine in at least four other states, but none that has legalized recreational marijuana.

The biggest battle at the Colorado legislature the past two years has pivoted on whether to reclassify a hospital provider fee – a bit of bookkeeping that Democrats and a few Republicans hoped would free up hundreds of millions of dollars for K-12 education, roads and health care. But that battle may be at an end, or at least unlikely to resurface in 2017. House Democrats signaled this week they’re prepared to move on and skip that provider fee battle in 2017. They’ll instead look for other ways to come up with $3.5 billion to pay for badly-needed road and bridge projects across the state. Backing away from the fight is largely a response to a refusal by most Senate Republicans to reclassify the fee.  Outgoing Senate President Bill Cadman was an ardent opponent of the proposal, which would have been a work-around TABOR, Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. Incoming Senate president Kevin Grantham of Canon City also is opposed. Grantham said this week that changing the provider fee is off the table for 2017.

Leslie Weise is a single mom from El Paso County who cares about the air her son breathes. She’s also a whistleblower. After a long fight for documentation about her local power plant, she’s facing possible criminal sanctions for revealing information about air quality violations by Colorado Springs Utilities. Weise had repeatedly asked for an air quality report from the utility company that she expected would reveal noncompliance with sulphur dioxide emission regulations. She was stonewalled. Then she was inadvertently given access to the report over email. Weise returned the report, as requested, but spoke to The Colorado Springs Gazette about what she’d read, including details about sulphur dioxide emissions from the Drake coal-fired power plant. She asked Colorado Springs Utilities to release the report to the public, but the utility instead requested that the Colorado Court of Appeals consider sanctions against her for speaking out about it. More than 1,400 Coloradans have signed a petition asking the utility to release the report, and several of them attended a hearing today demanding that the charges against Weise be dropped. The case will continue with an evidentiary hearing on February 13.

With a new year come new opportunities, and some of Colorado’s most visible journalists are making moves. Ricardo Baca, The Denver Post’s marijuana editor, announced he is leaving the paper for a not-yet-disclosed startup venture that’s currently in “stealth mode” and he says is “not media.” But he said he’d still be writing and publishing. Meanwhile, Associated Press reporter Sadie Gurman is leaving Colorado to join the AP’s Washington, D.C. bureau where she’ll cover federal law enforcement and the Justice Department. Recently, Gurman partnered with Eric Tucker on a major national reporting project about how police misuse databases to snoop on neighbors and colleagues. Gurman was also vice president of The Denver Press Club, a title she has relinquished to Colorado Public Radio’s Nathan Heffel. In TV land, Marshall Zelinger of the ABC affiliate Denver7 is leaving to join 9News. Zelinger was a co-host of Politics Unplugged. In Colorado’s ideologically oriented online news world, investigative scribe Todd Shepherd is leaving Complete Colorado and the libertarian Independence Institute for a gig at The Washington Examiner in D.C.




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