The Durango Herald, Feb. 3, on end-of-life choices for the terminally ill:
There are many cultural, religious and medical, familial and psychological taboos surrounding death — particularly at one's own hand — and for good reason. Humans are born with an inherent drive to survive, and when an individual's instinct to live is compromised, it should raise concerns for those surrounding him. At the same time, death is just as natural an element of humanity, and finding ways to approach it with dignity, comfort and on one's own terms is an important, if difficult, challenge for individuals, families, physicians, clergy and lawmakers. Once again, Colorado legislators are attempting to broaden the conversation to allow end-of-life choices for the terminally ill, and the effort is both warranted and admirable.
It will not come without significant opposition, though it will be largely philosophical. The focus should remain on the pragmatics of the proposed legislation — two bills; one in the House of Representatives and a second in the Senate — which articulate clear parameters by which terminally ill patients can receive life-ending medication from a physician. It is not a decision to be made lightly, and the end-of-life bills ensure that the path is a considered, safe journey.
A patient seeking aid-in-dying medication would be granted the access only after a series of standards are reached. First, the patient must be diagnosed with a terminal illness, and then have that diagnosis confirmed by an additional physician who, along with the patient's attending physician, determines the patient to be capable of making such a significant decision about ending his or her life. Doctors must inform the patient of alternatives to life-ending medication, including pain management or hospice care. The patient must request the life-ending medication orally twice and then a third time in writing — with two witnesses — neither of whom can be an involved physician nor beneficiaries to the patient's estate. Finally, the patient must administer the life-ending drugs himself.
Underlying these provisions laden with safeguards for patients and physicians is one articulating that patients can rescind their decision to seek aid-in-dying drugs at any time. That, and the high standard of care and consultation by which the process must occur, ensures that the end-of-life measures allowed by the bills pending in Colorado will not be taken lightly, nor lead to the slippery slope opponents worry will emerge.
Instead, the bills give terminally ill patients facing an excruciating, protracted demise some agency in how they end their lives. It is not a comfortable conversation, nor should it be considered a stepping stone to relaxing end-of-life standards. Advocates for people with disabilities or mental illness are concerned that aid-in-dying legislation will be perceived as shifting cultural norms to encourage suicide. Religious opponents echo those concerns, saying measures promote a throw-away culture. In fact, they do the opposite. Both the House and Senate bills require patients facing certain and imminent death to engage with their caregivers and their community in making an informed decision that, if implemented, can alleviate unnecessary suffering in the final days or weeks of life. Doing so gives patients a choice - not to be made quickly or blithely - at a time when few things are within their control.
The Colorado Legislature is courageous in considering the matter and should usher aid-in-dying provisions into state law.
The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, Feb. 9, on Colorado and the federal Clean Power Plan:
Congratulations to Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who has proved herself a genuine advocate of jobs, Colorado's economy and people who struggle to pay bills.
Coffman won a major victory with a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States on Tuesday to stay the Clean Power Plan. President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. John Hickenlooper continue advocating for imposition of the costly federal mandates.
"When you're talking about households with low incomes, when the electric bill increases — whether by 20 percent or 80 percent — it is money that has to come from somewhere else," Coffman told The Gazette, after the ruling. "It comes from food, health care, transportation and education."
With Tuesday's decision, the court gave states permission to halt steps toward obeying the plan until it can rule on a lawsuit by Coffman and 26 other state attorneys general. Hickenlooper is so devoted to the Bennet/Obama plan he asked the Colorado Supreme Court to stop Coffman's involvement in the suit. The state court declined the governor's request, preserving traditional separation of state powers.
Tuesday's highly unusual 5-4 federal decision to impose a stay indicates how the court will ultimately rule in the case, which argues the federal government lacks authority to force energy mandates on states. Coffman and other plaintiffs say compliance would cost billions, eliminate thousands of jobs and harm regional economies.
Until Tuesday, states were to file detailed plans with the federal government by September. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has held compliance meetings, billed as "All Stakeholder" events, throughout Colorado. As reported in this space, meetings have featured panels and select audiences composed almost entirely of activists who support the plan. Most have asked for even stricter mandates.
To obtain the stay, plaintiffs convinced a majority of justices the lawsuit has a "fair prospect" of succeeding. The court also considered whether denying the stay would cause "irreparable harm" to utility companies, such as Colorado Springs Utilities. By imposing the stay, justices decided irreparable harm was likely.
With the decision, Hickenlooper should avoid the cost of submitting a plan until the court makes a final ruling. State authorities should not pursue irreparable harm to the public. Given Coffman's likely victory, continuing the process is foolhardy at a time state government cannot afford essential investments in education and transportation.
Cleaner energy is an important goal. To achieve it, we don't need crude political edicts from Washington. Consumer demand for clean, efficient energy has already created incentive for the private sector to pepper rural Colorado with hundreds of wind turbines. Demand for clean energy has led public utilities and investors to proliferate sprawling solar arrays throughout the country. It has inspired a revolution of natural gas production, long advocated by clean energy advocates who more recently began protesting the gas wells they asked for.
Thank Cynthia Coffman for standing up to Obama and his team of big government allies. She has taken a difficult stand in defense of average Coloradans who need to feed families, run farms and save small businesses and the jobs they provide.
The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Feb. 9, on citizens changing the state Constitution:
Colorado is currently one of 18 states where citizens can bypass the legislature and place proposed constitutional amendments directly on the ballot.
That's an important right because it gives citizens direct access to the lawmaking process. If lawmakers ignore the wishes of constituents, voters have some recourse. But some people, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, think Colorado's Constitution is too easy to amend.
We agree. Voters can use a citizen-initiative process to change both state law and the Constitution. In most circumstances we think statutory changes are more appropriate than altering the Constitution, which should be reserved for bedrock principles. But over the years, our state Constitution has been amended so often it's become an unwieldy document full of contradictions.
When poorly written ballot language or unforseen outcomes conflict with other constitutional provisions, the only fix is to go back to voters. Statutory changes can be fixed by the Legislature. Having a higher threshold to amend the Constitution makes sense since the stakes are higher.
A bipartisan group called Building a Better Colorado has filed proposed ballot measures that affect both the signature-gathering process to get constitutional changes on the ballot and the percentage of votes needed for approval.
Their plan would require signatures for newly-proposed constitutional amendments to be collected in all 35 state senate districts before they qualify for the ballot. At least 2 percent of the required numer of signatures would come from each district. Once qualified, new constitutional provisions would need to receive 55 percent of the vote, rather than a simple majority, to be approved.
The geographic distribution of signatures is especially important to western Colorado and rural areas. Currently, petitioners can get amendments on the ballot by gathering signatures without leaving the Denver metro area.
"Our constitution has become a special interest playground because the bar to amend it is so spectacularly, inexplicably, unthinkingly low," said Greg Brophy, a former Republican state senator.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, ruffled some feathers recently when he told the Colorado Forum that a proposed amendment to create universal health care in Colorado had stifled the relocation of large health care-related companies.
"So I know you guys are looking at why is everything so easy to get on the ballot, I'll carry that flag in a second," the governor said, according to Complete Colorado, which filed an Open Records Act request to obtain audio recordings of the governor's Jan. 6 remarks.
The bar to change the Constitution should be higher. What Building a Better Colorado is proposing only affects future amendments to the Colorado Constitution and not citizen-initiated statutory proposals or the Colorado General Assembly's referred statute changes.
The Denver Post, Feb. 9, on transportation funding:
A Republican bill that would direct an additional (and badly needed) $15 million to Colorado's highways has passed the state Senate and is set for a hearing next week in the House. It's facing near certain defeat there, and deservedly so given how it whacks back local mass transit subsidies. But Senate Bill 11 also makes a serious point about funding priorities.
Several million dollars of the redirected money would come from the state's dubious Bustang service, which began last summer and provides intercity bus commutes involving Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Glenwood Springs.
Why the state should be operating an intercity bus company is a question that has never been convincingly answered — especially when it drains money from repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure. The idea that the Bustang is making, or will ever make, a perceptible dent in congestion along the Front Range is not credible.
Mass transit is an absolutely critical component in local communities and greater metro Denver. But the state is not in a great position to be channeling millions of dollars at a small number of intercity commuters.
In a sense, though, the debate over SB 11 is beside the point, as even an additional $15 million a year isn't enough. As an article last month by The Denver Post's John Frank pointed out, per capita spending on transportation in 2015 in Colorado was just $69, compared with $126 in 1991.
That's why the state is hard-pressed to keep up with maintenance, let alone invest in improvements for which there is a consensus of support. Completing the widening of north Interstate 25 near Fort Collins, for example, is a $1 billion project for which the state has budgeted a mere token down payment.
Meanwhile, the legislature and governor haven't been able to agree on a plan to raise revenue. As a result, a coalition of private groups, including the Colorado Contractors Association, is considering marching into the breach with a ballot measure that would raise money for roads.
As Frank reported, one concept "would increase the state sales tax in exchange for a cut in the gas tax and the guarantee that new money is earmarked for road improvements."
This idea reportedly polls well, but it also appears gimmicky, and might even confuse voters as the election approaches. If voters are going to rule on a transportation ballot measure, we'd prefer a straightforward, modest boost in either the gasoline tax (which makes the most sense as a user fee, but apparently isn't popular) or sales tax.