New state laws discussed at Fort Collins town hall

Samantha Ye

The Colorado attorney general, along with house representatives, heard citizen concerns regarding recent legislation at a Fort Collins town hall Thursday.

Much of the commentary heard by Attorney General Phil Weiser and house representatives Jeni Arndt and Cathy Kipp focused on state legislation passed or brought up earlier this year.  

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With Democrats controlling the state legislature, governor’s office and attorney general’s office, Colorado saw an intense bout of political and legislative activity during the first half of 2019. 

Weiser’s office was no exception. 

Since taking office in January, Weiser joined or filed eight lawsuits against President Donald Trump’s administration, expanded the state’s lawsuit against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma and helped revamp the state’s consumer protection laws, according to The Colorado Sun. 

“Our consumer protection law hasn’t been touched in 30 years, which means the penalties are really low,” Weiser said of old laws. “We’re ranked fourth to fifth in the U.S. It’s got all these loopholes that let scammers get away with stuff, so I go in with a proposed reform, and it passes for the first time in 30 years.”

Weiser said he was lucky to have a legislature that backed his concerns. 

With such an active legislative session, many residents at the town hall asked about the changes, both past and upcoming. 

Bail reform

Colorado attorney general Phil Weiser and representatives Jeni Ardnt and Cathy Kipp
Larimer County Commissioner John Kefalas asks Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser a question at a Fort Collins town hall. (Samantha Ye | Collegian)

Larimer County Commissioner John Kefalas asked about the new ban on cash bail for petty crimes and related upcoming changes, since that is an issue in this county. 

The ban passed this year prevents law enforcement from holding someone in jail if they cannot pay bail for a petty municipal crime such as indecent exposure, which ultimately wouldn’t put them in jail anyway, Weiser said. 

“That was the warm up,” Weiser said.

The attorney general ran on a platform that included criminal justice reform, and his main “meal” is pinned partially on a future bill that could reform the bail system for other crimes such as trespassing or theft. 

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“It shouldn’t be about ability to pay,” Weiser said. “It should be, ‘Do you pose a risk to reoffend or flee?’ If they don’t pose a risk, then let the person out so they don’t lose their job and they’re not apart from their family.”

Vaccinations

A bill that tightened the process for students to be exempt from school-mandated vaccines died in the state senate this year, but could come back next session, according to CPR News.

One resident said the required vaccines are a “really difficult issue” for parents because the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act protects vaccine makers from product liability. 

Weiser said because the act passed at the federal level, he is “iced out” of bringing any litigation against the industry. For federal-level issues, he recommended talking with Joe Neguse, district congressman.

Red Flag gun law

Family members or law enforcement are now allowed to petition judges to order the seizure of guns from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others.

One resident asked how the state plans to enforce this law. Given that Colorado prohibits the maintenance of a gun registry, it would be complicated ensuring all of someone’s guns are confiscated. 

“This is a real challenge that law enforcement will be taking on, and we’re going to get law enforcement guidance on how to do that,” Weiser said.

Death penalty

For the fifth time since 2000, state lawmakers tried and failed to pass a repeal of capital punishment, according to The Colorado Sun.

Weiser said he does not support the death penalty, plus it’s quite expensive, and juries don’t want to administer it (Colorado’s last execution was in 1997).

Repealing the death penalty is difficult because Senator Rhonda Fields has a two-vote party majority, and Fields said she won’t vote to repeal, Weiser said. 

Two of the three men currently on death row murdered Fields’ son and his fiance. 

When asked how state leadership would approach capital punishment, Weiser encouraged people looking at this issue to be “as generous as possible to the other side.”

Arndt said that in the voting process, she does not try to persuade people to vote any certain way. She simply counts the votes and notes when it’s not the will of the general assembly. 

“This is what politics is about,” Weiser said. “There are going to be issues that we may disagree on that are emotional and personal to people, and my desire is to do it in a respectful way.”

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.