Jeffco youngsters take radon awareness message to another level

LAKEWOOD – A pair of Jeffco youngsters have a message: Radon can kill.

Christina and Eric Bear have launched RAP-Detect to Protect, a radon awareness program (RAP) urging use of inexpensive, in-home radon detection kits and other measures to mitigate risks.

And they are taking their message to city councils, community events and, soon, to schools, YouTube and the state legislature in hopes of alerting their young peers, teachers and public officials of the need to stem the intrusion of the silent killer.

Lakewood City Council is next on their list. Christina and Eric plan to address Council at its Jan. 10 meeting, and hope to persuade council members to enact an International Building Code provision that would require radon mitigation in newly built homes and other buildings, perhaps even extending the mitigation requirements to renovations.

“We have a grass-roots strategy that we’re working with,” said Christina, 12. “We start at the bottom with teachers and kids,” who spread the word to parents, grandparents, neighbors and others.

“And we’re also speaking at City Council meetings where we can ask them what they’re doing and ask them what we can do to help them and what they can do to help us,” said Eric, who is two years younger.

Radon is a naturally occurring, invisible radioactive gas emitted from uranium and radium in the soil. It can be drawn into a building – a process hastened by some heating systems – where it accumulates to levels that increase the likelihood of lung cancer, especially among people who spend decades in an affected home.

They adopted radon awareness as their cause a few years back while looking for something to occupy their time during a break from school and found a national radon poster contest. As they researched the topic, Christina and Eric became alarmed about the looming presence of radon, which occurs at high levels in the soil across Colorado.

“We know that Colorado is one of the states that has the most radon in the United States,” Eric said.

“It really surprised us that so many people were dying from this gas that you can’t taste, feel or anything like that, and we just wanted to spread awareness about it,” Christina said during an interview at the Jefferson County Department of Health offices in Lakewood.

Jim Dale, epidemiologist for the county agency, said a “broad estimate” based on national figures and bolstered the elevated radon risk in the state suggests 400 radon-caused lung cancers deaths occur each year in Colorado. Based on population assumptions, Dale estimates that 40 of those deaths occur in Jefferson County.

Christina won the national poster contest in 2008 and Eric won the contest in 2010.

With those credentials in their favor, they decided to take their radon detection and mitigation message to the community.

“We were like: We really need to do something about this,” Eric said. “We think it is a really good idea to spread awareness and help people know that there is this stuff out there and we need to fix it.”

Among the fixes: Appendix F of the International Building Code, which suggests several mitigation measures for new construction. The IBC urges such things as polyethylene sheeting beneath crawl spaces, a 3- to 4-inch vent pipe from below grade to the roof that can be modified to accommodate a vent fan where needed and sealed basement joints and the areas where pipes enter structures.

Such measures would cost between $350 and $500, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

And for existing buildings, Eric and Christina to use radon detection kits available from a variety of sources, including Jeffco Health and home improvement stores.

Because radon is contained in soils, basements and ground-floor areas harbor the highest risk for radon exposure.

But homes aren’t the only problem, especially for school children.

“One of the reasons we want to spread awareness is that kids spend most of their time at home or at school and we thought that if one of those has a high radon level then that’s dangerous,” Christina said.

Because schools can pose a risk, she and Eric want to take their presentation to schools, as well, partly because schools are not required to mitigate the intrusion of radon into schools, something both youngsters plan to change.

“Our goal is to spread awareness. Then further down the road, get some laws passed to get it mitigated” in schools as well, Eric said.

When they start lobbying the legislature, the siblings will have plenty of support.

They have enlisted the Colorado Department of Public Health of Environment, the EPA, the American Lung Association and Jeffco’s Health Department in their awareness campaign.

And Jeffco Health spokeswoman Nancy Braden plans to help Eric and Christina compile a YouTube video presentation they can use in their awareness campaign. Braden had high praise for the youngsters.

“Most of us don’t start thinking about medical issues until we are older,” Braden said. “What could be more important in our lives?”

Mayor points to city’s financial health, public safety in year end report

LAKEWOOD – The city fared well during 2010, escaping many of the financial problems that face many of the city’s neighbors, and 2011 offers some promising developments, Mayor Bob Murphy said in his annual Year’s End Report.

“It is time to celebrate accomplishments … some of the things that we accomplished in the City of Lakewood this year,” Murphy told City Council Monday night during the last Council meeting of the year.

Murphy gave credit for the bright outlook to “this council, everybody that works for the City of Lakewood – each and every one of our staff members – and our community, as well, the very, very engaged and active citizenry.”

While most governments in Colorado as well as nation wide are struggling to make ends meet by cutting back on staff, services and other expenses Lakewood has thus far avoided crippling budget problems, adding to the city’s reserve fund for the fourth consecutive year without layoffs or cutbacks in city-provided services, Murphy said.

That came about while the city entered its first full without its long-standing grocery tax, which was eliminated by City Council in response to findings by a city-appointed review panel and a citizen-initiated petition drive that would have sent the matter to a special election.

Among other good news: the city’s crime rate is down for the third consecutive year

“Our fundamental role is keeping Lakewood safe,” Murphy said, praising the Lakewood Police Department as “the best in the state” and acknowledging the role of a vigilant community in safeguarding public safety.

The city also took a large step forward on the issue of government transparency at the beginning of the year, launching The Lakewood Ledger, a searchable online database of the city’s checkbook.

“You can go online and track every single nickel of Lakewood’s revenue and expenses,” Murphy said.

Murphy also noted the city’s role in saving O’Connell Middle School in east-central Lakewood after the school was placed on a Jeffco Public Schools hit-list of facilities to be closed in a money saving measure.

The city lobbied the county school board to spare the school, which serves an economically challenged area of the community. As part of the argument to spare the school, the city revealed plans to launch a Boys and Girls Club at the school, then helped raise the funds to ensure the youth organization could meet its funding goal.

And the city launched a number of small-business initiatives during the year, part of the effort to demonstrate Lakewood is a “small business friendly” community, Murphy said.

Among other 2010 accomplishments on Murphy’s list: a new Head Start preschool center at the new light-rail Garrison Street Station, a Sustainable Neighborhoods Pilot program in the Glennon Heights neighborhood, the Seniors Mentoring Program, the opening of Ortho-Care Colorado Hospital on the St. Anthony Hospital campus, the pending July opening of St. A’s, and the progress of light-rail construction.

Jeffco commissioners unhappy with Library Board decision

JEFFERSON COUNTY – The Board of County Commissioners Tuesday criticized the County Library Board of Trustees’ decision to close libraries on Mondays, a budget-related move announced just a day earlier.

Commissioners also appointed three library board members, two of them from Lakewood, during Tuesday’s meeting. A statement released by the three commissioners said the new library board members were chosen for “their financial and business acumen”, but did not directly link the appointments to the library system’s announcement of the Monday closures.

In addition to putting the system’s 10 libraries and the Library Call center on a six-day-a-week schedule, community libraries in Edgewater, Wheat Ridge and Conifer will reduce the hours they are open. The Traveling Children’s Library will not be affected by the cutbacks.

“The changes are part of a response to significant budget challenges facing the system,” according to a press release issued by the library system.

“The decision to close our libraries on Mondays was not something taken lightly,” said Jeffco Library Executive Director Marcellus Turner. “We are facing a perfect storm of budget challenges requiring us to reduce the operating budget by $3 million over the next two years. The Monday closure will allow us to begin to bring our expenses in line with projected revenues and ensure the future success and sustainability of JCPL.”

But County Commissioners took issue with the move, approving a joint statement authored by Commissioner Kevin McCasky.

“We are disheartened that there have been several fundamental philosophical differences between the Board of County Commissioners and the Library Board of Trustees regarding the Library’s budget and operations, McCasky said. “Most recent disagreements concerned the Library Board’s intent to close libraries on Mondays, a service reduction that this board has publicly stated it adamantly opposes. The Commissioners did everything within our power to prevent this from occurring.”

The library’s press release said the system believes the effect of the closures will be lessened by 24/7 access to its online library site and maintaining full access to book drops at its facilities.

As part of the commissioners’ joint statement, they thanked the Library Board members for their service.

“We thank the appointees on the Library Board who have contributed many hours of service and sincerely believe their actions have been in the best interest of the library. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their work that has contributed to our outstanding library system.”

The new board members appointed by commissioners Tuesday are Buddy Douglass and Ray Elliott of Lakewood and outgoing County Commissioner Kathy Hartman, a south Jeffco resident.

Douglass, is president of FirstBank of Lakewood and treasurer of the Jefferson Economic Council. He also is the treasurer of the Jefferson County Library Foundation Board of Directors.

Elliott, chief financial officer of Controlled Products System Group, Inc., is a former Lakewood City Council member and served on the Jefferson County Citizen Budget Review panel. He is a certified public accountant with 20 years of management and financial experience.

Hartman is the chairman of the Board of County Commissioners and is a board member of the Denver Regional Council of Governments and the Jefferson Center for Mental Health. She is a former executive director of a non-profit agency and a former stockbroker.

They were chosen from 14 applicants for the Library Board.

Dunstan teacher freed on bond amid allegations of fondling students

LAKEWOOD – A Dunstan Middle School teacher bonded out of Jefferson County Jail Friday, a day after he was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and inappropriately touching female students in his classes.

Gary Charles Wegner, 41, was advised of his rights in a video appearance before a Jefferson County judge Friday afternoon and his bail was set at $20,000 and he was ordered to avoid contact with anyone younger than 18 after posting bond.

Wegner surrendered at the Lakewood Police Department Thursday after a month-long investigation by LPD detectives, who interviewed a number of Wegner’s students in the week before his arrest. Wegner, who also was a soccer coach at Green Mountain High School, has been on administrative leave from the Jefferson County School District since the investigation began.

An arrest affidavit indicates no sex acts occurred, but lists a number of incidents a in which Wegner allegedly improperly touched seven of his female students, who were 13- and 14-years-old. In two instances in which Wegner allegedly fondled students’ buttocks, felony charges of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust as a pattern are being considered, according to the document.

In seven other alleged touching incidents, Wegner could face misdemeanor harassment charges stemming from “what detectives believe to have been inappropriate behavior on the part of the teacher,” according to LPD spokesman Steve Davis. The arrest affidavit indicates those charges also involve allegations of inappropriate touching.

Wegner is expected to be in court to hear the charges against him Nov. 17.

He has been a teacher at Dunstan Middle School for about eight years.

Police were contacted after a student told a Dunstan M.S. school counselor she was a victim and described Wegner’s alleged behavior.

“Due to the nature of the charges and the juvenile status of the victims, no further details are available at this time,” Davis said.

Police urge anyone who might have information that would assist investigators with the case detectives to call the Lakewood Police Department at 303-987-7111.

Committee urges City Council to adopt stronger no-smoking rules

LAKEWOOD – An advisory group appointed by the Mayor is urging City Council to revise the city’s smoking ordinance to eliminate some exceptions allowed under state law, enlarge the non-smoking areas at building entrances and prohibit smoking in outdoor areas of bars and restaurants before 9 p.m.

The Mayor’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Lakewood Smoking Ordinance delivered its seven-page final draft recommendations to City Council Monday along with three dissenting reports from committee members at odds with some of the recommendations.

“We had very unplugged discussions. They were unedited, everybody could say what they wanted to and no viewpoints were excluded,” said Ward 4 Councilman Tom Quinn. Quinn was chairman of the committee during its yearlong look at revising the existing ordinance, which was enacted in August 2009 to comply with the Colorado Indoor Clean Air Act of 2006.

If the committee’s recommendations survive a lengthy community “outreach and education” program and pass Council muster in coming months, they would take the city’s ordinance beyond the parameters of state law.

The committee recommends extending the state law’s smoking exclusion zone at public building entrances from 15 feet to 25 feet. The proposed ban on smoking in outdoor areas of bars and restaurants before 9 p.m. would be more strict than the state statute’s requirements, and the state law’s exceptions that allow smoking in tobacco-related “smoker-friendly businesses” including cigar and hookah bars would not be allowed in Lakewood.

Two of the dissenting reports came from healthcare professionals on the committee and each took issue with the committee’s proposed five-year phase-out of existing exceptions for cigar and hookah bars. If adopted by City Council, no new similar businesses could open in the city and those that are now operating would be forced to end smoking in the establishments within five years.

The five-year delay was a concern for committee members Jennifer Merriman, a nurse, and Walter “Snip” Young of Advanced Health Directions.

“This delay in implementation unduly leaves residents of Lakewood exposed to secondhand smoke for an exceptionally long period,” Young wrote in his dissenting letter, recommending instead a three- to six-month implementation period as “sufficient to notify customers and prepare the business environment for any physical or marketing changes that might be needed.”

Merriman concurred with Young’s position on the waiting period and pointed to a specific hookah bar near Alameda High School that she said “is focused on simulating a lounge atmosphere with enticing names for the ‘best tasting’ hookah in town.”

That message, she wrote in her letter, leads young people “to believe this is a safe alternative to cigarettes, which is so untrue….”

In a third letter of dissent, committee member Chad Hotchkiss, who operates Jose O’Shea’s and Chad’s Grill, said the outdoor smoking prohibition for restaurant and bar patios would send patrons of local establishments to eat and drink in nearby cities with less stringent rules.

“”We feel that any ordinance that creates an unfair balance of business from city to city … puts business in Lakewood at a disadvantage by loss in sales,” Hotchkiss wrote.

Hotchkiss also said the proposed expansion of the smoke-free areas at building entrances would be “unenforceable” and that the current 15-foot smoke-free zone is adequate if proposed signage is included in any revision of the ordinance.

Council is not expected to consider the recommended changes until late next year.
The draft report can be viewed on the city’s web site by clicking here.

Firefighters near control of hillside blaze off C-470

JEFFERSON COUNTY – Firefighters hope to completely contain a fire on a Dakota Ridge hillside by dark, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said Wednesday.

“We feel very confident we are going to be at 100 percent contained by nightfall,” said Sheriff’s spokesman Mark Techmeyer,

When the day started, nearly 30 firefighters set out to battle the persistent blaze, which was 60 percent contained as the day broke across the steep brush and grass covered hillside. The fire had scorched about 110 acres, according to estimates.

The fire broke out about 2 p.m. Monday, sending flames racing up the slope immediately west of C-470 and about half a mile south of the Morrison Road exit.

By Wednesday afternoon, weary firefighters were watching the sky for signs of rain, hoping for relief from the afternoon heat and increasing humidity.

The steep, rocky slope of the ridge presented firefighters with the tough task of fighting a wind-driven fire as it raced through difficult terrain, forcing fire crews to walk and climb their way to the flames from a staging area off Morrison Road, more than a half-mile from the flames.

“It’s out there kind of in ‘no-man’s land’ and it’s a real slow process,” Techmeyer said. Because of loose rocks and soil, the crews “have to be real careful where they’re stepping,” he added.

During the initial hours of the fire, traffic backed up for miles after deputies closed the stretch of the major highway, and vehicles were stuck in a miles-long traffic jam that eventually stretched back to Interstate 70, backing up eastbound along that highway, as well.

Closing the busy highway allowed firefighting equipment to ferry water to the base of the slope, where it was off-loaded to feed fire hoses stretching up the hillside.

About 60 firefighters from West Metro Fire Rescue District, Inter-Canyon, Golden, Fairmont and Littleton fire departments battled the blaze for hours as it raced ahead of firefighters late Monday before rising humidity and a dose of rainfall gave fire crews a hand late in the evening.

West Metro crews monitored the fire through the night and were joined Tuesday morning by Department of Corrections fire crews from the Buena Vista correctional facility to continue fighting the blaze, which took off again as temperatures began to rise and humidity levels dropped.

The Colorado Forest Service was on-scene again Wednesday as firefighters pushed for full containment.

“The Colorado state Forest Service did an outstanding job giving these guys support with their engines,” Techmeyer said.

Despite the rugged terrain, there were no injuries among the fire crews, but West Metro paramedics also remained at the scene in case they are needed. No structures were in the path of the fire, although flames came within about 200 feet of a home when it first broke out Monday afternoon. But West Metro firefighters moved in to establish a perimeter around the house and kept the flames at bay, Techmeyer said.

Recent afternoon showers delivered by the monsoon season have dampened some fuels, but others, including the grasses on Dakota Ridge remain vulnerable.

“One of the things the firefighters said … is that (Monday) when they woke up they would never had bet that there was going to be a grass fire because the humidity was high,” said Micki Trost, West Metro spokeswoman.

“But when you look at those grasses, they’re knee-high and brown. That means they are all cured out, that they are really dry,” Trost added.

And the larger fuels, mostly pinion and junipers, haven’t been thoroughly dampened by the recent rain.

“Even though we’re getting short rainstorms everyday, it’s not enough to actually get moisture into them. We need some really long rainstorms,” Trost added.

The cause of the fire has not been pinpointed, but lightning and a cigarette tossed from a passing vehicle are among the prime suspects.

Trost said residents should not be lulled into carelessness because of the summer showers.

“ We always need to be careful and keep an eye on what’s around us, make sure that we are putting things where they need to be, so they are not causing fires out in the community,” Trost said.

Neighbors submit petitions opposing Jeffco Health site rezoning

LAKEWOOD – Neighbors of the Jeffco Health Department campus turned over petitions with nearly 3,000 signatures calling for a city-wide vote challenging a City Council decision to rezone the nearly 18-acre property to accommodate commercial and retail development.

Council in late April voted 7-3 to rezone the parcel, despite concerns from nearby residents that the plan – which would allow up to 150,000 square feet of retail space on the parcel – is too vague to ensure their quiet, rural neighborhoods would remain safe and secure.

“On April 26th, the mayor and City Council passed an ordinance that seems to us to have gone against what the citizens of Lakewood wanted and the referendum seems to be the only avenue left to us at this point,” said Cathy Kentner, one of the leaders of the petition drive.

Kentner’s quiet Bonvue neighborhood is immediately east and north of the county-owned parcel and many of its residents turned out to oppose the rezoning during Council’s public hearing on the rezoning request.

The group delivered petitions containing 2,975 signatures, at least 100 more than needed to meet the required 3 percent of Lakewood voters who cast votes in the last mayoral election. The drive fell short of the 1,000-signature cushion Kentner and her neighbors wanted, but Kenter said she is impressed with the dedication of her neighbors.

One thing I am really proud of is what a grassroots effort can accomplish in a short time,” Kentner said. “They did an awesome job.”

The hoped-for cushion would provide some insurance for the group in case City Clerk Margy Greer invalidates enough signatures to render the petition moot. Greer must verify the signatures submitted are those of active Lakewood voters.

The effort got off the ground only three weeks before Friday’s deadline. The petition drive was cut short by two days because the actual deadline fell on Sunday and the city requires petitions be returned on the last day city offices are open before the deadline.

Had it not been for that quirk, Kentner said, the petitioners would have compiled a much larger cushion.

But she is confident the signatures will stand because “we were out talking to relatives and friends and neighbors,” making it more likely those signing are registered to vote in the city.

If the rezoning is not overturned, it would permit supermarkets, gas stations, banks and financial institutions, fast food outlets, office buildings, convenience stores and low-power telecommunications facilities at the site.

The list of uses is lengthy because the county’s rezoning application was submitted without a definite buyer in mind, resulting in few specifics the neighborhood can rely on.

Jeffco Commissioner Kevin McCasky said the county intends to find developers with potential tenants that would maximize the sales- and property-tax income potential of the high profile site at one of the city’s busiest intersections.

“Our focus is economic development,” when disposing of county properties, McCasky said.

The nebulous nature of the parcel’s future worries residents who live near the site at West Alameda Ave. and Kipling Street, one of the city’s busiest intersections. The issues were aired at the April 26 Council meeting in which the rezoning was approved.

“The proposed (plan) is too vague and is not well-formed,” Terry Ferguson, who lives near the parcel, saying the lack of specifics heightens neighbors’ concerns about traffic, noise and potential “impacts on neighborhoods, parks and schools.”

The potential traffic impacts of a major shopping center at the location also drew a number of comments from the plan’s opponents, who told Council the traffic study submitted by the county and endorsed by City Hall staff is inadequate and contradicts similar studies done by the city.

Dr. Robert Dickinson backed up that claim by displaying the differing versions of traffic figures indicating conflicting estimates of traffic on Kipling and on Alameda.

An earlier city traffic analysis indicates expected traffic volumes of 45,000 cars a day on Kipling and 27,900 cars a day on Alameda. But the Traffic Impact Analysis presented for the county’s rezoning case, Dickinson pointed out, claims 8,000 fewer cars travel Kipling each day and 2,600 fewer on Alameda.

“How can these significantly different traffic reports be explained,” Dickinson asked. “The only answer I can see is that the TIA is fundamentally flawed.”

And Josh Finkler said some aspects of the proposed access and exit routes could lead to “lane-hopping” and, especially at the intersection of the Alameda Frontage Road and Garrison Street, violations of Colorado’s traffic codes.

Finkler, who was instrumental in organizing the opposition to the rezoning request, said the neighborhoods will continue the fight, but did not elaborate.

A spokesman for the city’s Public Works Department said the figures reflect a decrease in overall traffic over the past few years.

Other residents said the county’s plan is not compatible with the neighborhood and would pose a safety risk for kids walking or driving to nearby schools.

The county asked Council to rezone the property at 260 S. Kipling, changing the existing 1-R large lot residential designation to Planned Unit Development (PUD). The Jeffco health agency has operated at the site under special-use permits approved by the city in 1974 and 1988, but has occupied the site since the mid-60s, before Lakewood was incorporated. The current zoning carried over from a similar large-lot residential zoning category originally bestowed by Jeffco.

The county is looking at the increasing cost to maintain a number of properties with an eye toward consolidating some of the facilities. Money from the sale of the Kipling Street acreage will go into the county’s General Fund and could be used to meet much of that maintenance burden, McCasky said.

Kentner and her neighbors, meanwhile, will be lobbying voters.

“It is important that their voice can honestly be heard and they have a say in the land-use of their neighborhoods,” she said.

CCU’s satellite classrooms encourage student’s dream

Camelita Martinez was juggling a job and a family with two small kids in Grand Junction, and worryed that her longtime dream of becoming a nurse was going nowhere. Then the 25-year-old bookkeeper got word that Colorado Christian University was starting a new Bachelor of Science in Nursing program specifically for working adults. She could take some of her nursing courses in a satellite classroom in Grand Junction and take others online, right at home.

”I was thrilled,” she said. “I told CCU that this is going to change people’s lives. It’s perfect for me.”

Although CCU’s main campus is in Lakewood, it will offer satellite classrooms across the state beginning and more than two dozen hospitals and other facilities for hands-on, clinical experience beginning this fall.

In Grand Junction, Martinez will be take the elevator to the CCU branch above a bank—far easier than waiting up to two years for a spot in nursing programs at Mesa State College or Delta/Montrose Technical College.

For Martinez, the program at Delta has the added problem of being 80 miles away. “With a job and a family,” Martinez says, “that just wasn’t do-able for me.”

Before learning of the innovative CCU program, she had been discouraged, yet she never lost her passion for nursing. Martinez, who wants to be a labor and delivery nurse, learned first-hand the importance of nurses when she and her husband Jake, her high school sweetheart, had their kids, Chyen, now 7, and Diego, 3.

When she arrived at St. Mary’s Hospital for Chyen’s birth, Martinez started hyperventilating and passed out. She’ll never forget the two nurses who helped bring her around.

“They didn’t look down on me; they took the time to explain what was happening,” she said. “They helped me to see: ‘OK, I’m not dying!’ They walked me through everything. To think that strangers will take such good care of you—that’s what made me want to be a nurse.”

Now that she can begin her nursing program at CCU, she is spreading the word to friends who also had to put their nursing dreams aside because of long waiting lists and travel times, jobs, and families.

Perhaps no one’s more excited than 7-year-old Chyen, who likes telling people that nurses help people who are sick, and her mom is going to be one someday.

Until now, Martinez would add, “Yeah, someday.”

Now, she can say: “Someday soon.”

Kerr pushes pair of bills through final House votes

DENVER – A proposal to hold deadbeat drivers accountable sponsored by Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, cleared its final test in the Colorado House 44-19 Monday. Two representatives were not present for the morning votes in the House.

Kerr’s HB 1164 would require drivers to appoint their insurance companies to act as their agents in the event that an at-fault driver cannot be located. The bill creates an incentive for insurance companies to locate the deadbeat drivers.

“This policy holds at-fault drivers accountable for their actions,” Kerr said. “Without this bill, at-fault drivers and their insurance companies will continue to be able to evade responsibility for their actions by simply disappearing, even when they have a liability policy in force, leaving injured people without the ability to be reimbursed for their damages.”

Kerr introduced the bill to put an end to at-fault drivers’ attempts to avoid their financial responsibility to accident victim. In many such cases the injured victim, doctors and the trauma centers – and often the state – are left holding the bag for damages and medical bills, according to proponents of the bill, which is sponsored in the Senate by Lois Tochtrop, D-Adams County.

Also Monday Kerr’s HB 1267, which would make leasing solar panels more affordable for homeowners, moved to the Senate after a final 50-13 House vote.

“By working to streamline government, grow business and protect the environment, this bill is a smart choice for Colorado. Homeowners will benefit from the affordability of leasing solar panels, the solar industry will benefit from an increase in business, and Colorado will benefit from an increase in green energy usage,” Kerr said.

HB 1267 will bring more solar panel installation jobs to Colorado.

By leasing, homeowners avoid the expensive up-front costs of purchasing solar panels and offers the benefit of clean energy. Homeowners who sell their house can assign the lease to the new owners.

Under current law, homeowners who purchase solar panels are exempt from the property taxes on them, but those who lease panels are not. Kerr said his bill would “create a level playing field by treating leased and owned panels the same.”

Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, is carrying the bill in the Senate.

Earlier this month, a plan to trim the “fat” from state government failed to muster enough votes to make it out of committee and its sponsor, state Sen. Mike Kopp R-Lakewood-South Jeffco, said the bill, which had bipartisan support, died because of “hyper-partisan” politics.

Kopp’s Senate Bill 165, dubbed a “Blueprint for a Leaner Government”, would have sought out and identified “redundancies and waste” in state government, Kopp said.

SB 165 would have created two bipartisan study groups to examine state agencies and functions and regulatory duties to find more efficient ways of doing business.

But Kopp’s measure failed a crucial test, falling 3-2 in the State Affairs Committee.

“While the bill had bipartisan support, the hyper-partisan State Affairs Committee killed the bill and provided no credible rationale for doing so,” Kopp wrote in his Weekly Capital update.

Kerr’s bill to shore up PERA moves to state Senate

DENVER – A bill to shore up Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association – PERA – is headed to the governor’s office after Tuesday’s bipartisan 36-29 vote in the House, where it was sponsored by Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood.

Senate Bill 1 authorizes several stop-gap measures to stem the depletion of PERA funds and is expected help the fund avoid insolvency in the near term.

More than 400,000 state, school and local government employees in Colorado participate in the retirement program, including delaying retirement for current employees who are not yet vested in PERA.
The bill also reduces PERA’s Cost of Living Adjustment to reflect the Consumer Price Index, but guarantees a 2 percent increase for all retirees, active and inactive participants after one year. The bill also would call on employers will be asked to contribute an additional 2 % (1.5% for schools) and employees will be asked to contribute an additional 2% until the fund is solvent.

“This bill represents the necessary work that needs to be done to protect the retirement future of Colorado employees. Even in these tough partisan times we can come together in a bipartisan manner and do what’s right for PERA retirees,” Kerr said.

The bill was sponsored in the Senate by President Brandon Schaffer, D-Longmont, and Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

House Bill 1, introduced by freshman Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, cleared its final vote in the House last week and moves on to the state Senate.

The bill, which would require large Colorado utilities to increase power generated by use of renewable sources.

Tyler’s bill would increase the mandated requirement – the state’s Energy Standard – from 20 percent to 30 percent by 2020. That would require nearly a third of the power generated by utilities such as Xcel to come from sources such as solar and wind, in the next 10 years.

“This bill represents a huge step forward into the future of renewable energy usage and sets a precedent for Colorado and other states to become less dependent on fossil fuels,” Tyler said “The benefit of renewable energy forms is that they occur naturally:Colorado is not lacking in sunshine, for instance.”
Colorado voters approved the Renewable Energy Standard in 2004 with the passage of Amendment 37, which set a goal of 10 percent by 2015. That standard was doubled and the deadline extended to 2020 by the state legislature in 2007.

State Sen. Mike Kopp, a Republican who represents south Lakewood as part of his south Jeffco Senate District 22, will introduce his “Blueprint for a leaner Government” in the Senate.

“It seeks to streamline and eliminate wasteful bureaucracies so that government costs taxpayers less money in these recessionary times,” according to Kopp.

The measure would create two bipartisan study groups. One would examine “all bureaucratic state functions” to determine which are necessary and which duties could be either eliminated or farmed out to the private sector. A second group that would include business owners would examine regulatory duties of state agencies, compiling a list of regulations that are “outmoded, wasteful and top-heavy,” according to Kopp.