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Joint Select committee members to introduce redistricting maps PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marianne Goodland, Legislative reporter   

The Joint Select Committee on Redistricting has ended its work without the promised bipartisan congressional map they had hoped to produce. Instead, however, members of the committee are introducing their own maps, with Senate Democrats supporting a bill introduced last Thursday, April 28 and House Republicans likely to introduce their own bill and map at any time.

The map and bill contained within Senate Bill 11-268 would split the eastern plains into two districts, with the dividing lines roughly along I-70 and I-25. The bill is sponsored by committee co-chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder.

Yuma, Washington and Arapahoe counties would form the southern boundary of the 4th Congressional District under the map proposed in SB 268. The western boundary would end halfway through Larimer County and continue south through Longmont, which was requested by Longmont residents who attended the committee’s February town hall meeting in Loveland.

The district, as drawn by the Democratic members of the committee, would keep U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., in his district, and according to data provided by the Legislative Council, reflects party registration of 27.26 percent Democrat, 38.46 percent Republican and 33.55 percent unaffiliated. Those numbers are based on the 2010 elections.

For the 3rd Congressional District, the northern boundary includes Elbert, Lincoln and Kit Carson counties and a portion of Douglas County, and the district extends west to the Colorado-Utah state line, creating a southern district rather than an exclusively eastern one.

According to 2010 registration numbers, the 3rd District comes out at 30.98 percent Democrat, 41.7 percent Republican and 26.66 percent unaffiliated.

The map and bill to be introduced by the Republicans will likely be one drawn by Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, who gave the Republican members of the committee three maps two weeks ago to present to the committee. The committee also had two other Republican maps that were drawn by co-chair Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial.

Republicans reacted with outrage when the Democratic maps were introduced, and were no less vocal about SB 268 after it was introduced. Committee member Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said that “as soon as they unveiled their maps it became clear their intention was to push this radical idea (of competitive districts). Looking back at the culmination of events it is clear they’ve been setting up this odious and partisan scheme all along.

“I am really disappointed with Senator Heath and Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont. I feel they have deceived the citizens who participated in the hearings and wasted taxpayer money in the process,” Brophy said.

The committee’s Democrats have maintained they drew the districts to be competitive, with two safe seats in the Democratic 1st and Republican 5th Congressional districts, and competitive districts for the other five.

They defined competitive as districts where the registration difference between Democrats and Republicans are 10 percent or less. Committee Democrats also complained the Republican maps were drawn to create as many as five Republican safe seats and two Democratic ones.

Colorado’s current Congressional delegation is four Republicans and three Democrats.

SB 268 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Heath. The date of that hearing has not yet been publicly posted but it likely to be this week.

The bill is sponsored in the House by redistricting committee member Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, but its chances of surviving a House committee hearing, without a compromise with Republicans, are considered poor.

Committee Republicans have said their best chances of getting a fair map would have come through negotiations within the redistricting committee, asserting that Democrats control the Senate, governor’s mansion and the Colorado Supreme Court.

That body rejected a Republican map rushed through the General Assembly in the last three days of the 2003 session and instead ordered the state to adopt one drawn by a Denver District Court judge the previous year.

In other news at the capitol:

A bill that would have granted in-state tuition status to undocumented students died in the House Education Committee on April 25. SB 126 was approved on a party-line vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate during the previous week, but died on a party-line vote in the education committee.

The committee heard more than five hours of testimony on SB 126. The final vote drew a hesitant “no” from Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, the son of a Mexican immigrant. Ramirez indicated he was torn on the issue between encouraging illegal behavior by parents and denying opportunity to their children.

This is the fifth time since 2003 that Democrats have attempted to pass legislation on in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, and the sponsors of SB 126 vow it will not be the last.

The last week of the legislative session will be busier than usual for Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. Sonnenberg, who chairs two House committees and sits on two others, has been temporarily added to the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, replacing an ailing Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs.

Liston had surgery 10 days ago for a detached retina that may keep him away from the capitol for at least a few more days. But Liston’s absence also has put the balance of the House at 32-32, instead of giving the Republicans a one-seat advantage, and that is likely to mean delays in getting controversial bills through the House in the last days of the 2011 session.

In addition to his committee workload, on Monday, April 25 Sonnenberg sponsored a bill that is a key part of the 2011 agenda of Gov. John Hickenlooper.

SB 208 would merge two divisions within the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Division of Wildlife and the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

Under SB 208, the two divisions would be merged into the Division of Parks and Wildlife and a new board is required to come up with an implementation plan for the merger by February, 2012.

Sonnenberg said he supports the merger because it will create governmental efficiency and eliminate duplication of services within DNR.

“Parks do one thing. Wildlife does another,” he said. “Their jobs overlap. Now we will put them together and create a department that becomes more efficient.”

In announcing the merger a month ago, Hickenlooper said about 25 jobs will be eliminated through the merger, but those jobs will disappear as employees retire or leave the department, and no layoffs are planned.

“I’m glad we have a governor who’s willing to say we can do this,” Sonnenberg said.

SB 208 has drawn opposition from hunting and fishing supporters, and concerns that the merger could jeopardize federal funding that goes to the Division of Wildlife and cannot be used for any other purposes.

Rep. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, has pointed out the two divisions were merged several decades ago but had to be separated because federal dollars directed to wildlife were instead used for parks. And the parks division has struggled financially in the last few years, Jones pointed out.

“I think (the merger) will run into the same problems that happened before,” Jones said, one that could cost the state as much as $8 million in wildlife funds in the next two years.

Sonnenberg said the merger will not create a co-mingling of funds and that sportsmen “do not understand” the framework that is being created through SB 208. “We will not jeopardize our federal funding. Nobody wants that to happen or allow it to happen,” he said last week.

SB 208 is co-sponsored by 31 other House members and 22 members of the Senate, Democrat and Republican alike, including Brophy and Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and is considered a near-lock to pass the General Assembly.

Friday, April 29 was Rural Health Providers Day, and the House and Senate passed a resolution honoring their contributions. House Joint Resolution 11-1018 states that “rural residents are older and more likely to be uninsured than urban residents” and that access to health care is essential for a “healthy and vibrant state.”

The resolution notes the contributions of nine rural hospitals, 29 critical access hospitals, 52 rural health clinics, public health departments, community-funded safety net clinics, rural-located community health centers and school-based health centers, emergency medical services and private practitioners.

The resolution is sponsored by Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and seven other House members, including Sonnenberg; in the Senate it is sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood.