A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:
The Tribune, March 4, on new rules to prepare energy installations for flooding:
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission struck the right balance Monday when it issued new rules for oil and gas drillers in the state about preparing for the effects of a flood.
The commission, which oversees drilling in the state, adopted the new rules that require all new wells to be equipped with technology allowing them to be shut down remotely in case floodwaters keep crews from getting to a site. New and existing oilfield tanks and other equipment also will have to be anchored to resist toppling or floating away. Operators also must install barriers to protect equipment from flood debris.
Significantly, though, the panel rejected a request that it grant local government the authority to impose stricter rules. It also rejected suggestions that it work to discourage companies from drilling wells or installing storage tanks in flood-prone areas.
The rules came after five hours of testimony and discussion that furthered the debate that's been part of a statewide conversation about the role local governments should play with regard to the oil and gas industry, especially in questions about where wells, tanks and other equipment should be located.
Matt Lepore, director of the commission, said the staff wanted to focus on mitigating flood damage, not the location of wells and tanks. Lepore said any questionable location issues could be dealt with in the regular process of approving permits.
We think that's the right approach. We're not likely to have good answers anytime soon about where the line ought to be drawn on questions involving the rights of local communities, property owners and mineral rights holders. That discussion formed the bulwark of the governor's Oil and Gas Task Force debates for six months, and no clearcut answers were found.
It's good that the commission stayed focused on flood mitigation with these rules, instead of getting drawn into yet another round of the seemingly endless debate.
The new rules also require oil companies to give the state a list of their equipment in any 100-year floodplain and to keep an emergency response plan.
The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission chose to review its flood rules after heavy rains pushed rivers out of their banks along the Front Range in September 2013.
More than 48,000 gallons of oil and 43,000 gallons of polluted water spilled from overturned or damaged tanks during the flooding. About 2,650 wells were shut down, but officials said no significant leaks came directly from them.
Of course, it's worth noting that while Weld County faced myriad challenges when the rivers overflowed their banks in 2013, there were virtually no serious problems with oil and gas. The damage to the sewage processing plant in Evans, for example, proved more challenging than oil spills.
Still, that doesn't mean we may not face a problem in a future flood. It's best to be prepared. We think these rules offer reasonable precautions for the future without adding undue burdens to producers or hampering the rights of mineral owners.
The Daily Sentinel, March 4, on services offered at the Mesa County workforce center:
Congress overhauled the federal program that funds workforce centers last year, presenting an opportunity for the Mesa County Workforce Center to shed a layer of state oversight and achieve even greater local control.
The local workforce center already enjoyed more autonomy than other counties in the Colorado Rural Workforce Consortium because it sought an exclusion that allowed it to report to its own Workforce Investment Board. Other workforce centers in the 52-county consortium are run by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
The advantage for Mesa County is that its Department of Human Services administers the workforce center, allowing collaboration between employment services, vocational training and public assistance — programs that a jobless person might have trouble accessing if they weren't conveniently located under one roof.
That's not the case everywhere and the federal government is trying to get more workforce centers to integrate more services as Mesa County has done. The Workforce Investment Act of 2014 allows for any local area to request, from the governor, to be designated as a federally recognized workforce region, which means more decision-making at the local level.
Even though the Mesa County Workforce Center has its own board, it still operates under the authority and expectations of the rural consortium, which can be constricting. The local board had to fight "tooth and nail" to form a healthcare career ladder through a partnership with CMU and Western Colorado Community College, said Tracy Garchar, executive director of the Mesa County Department of Human Services. A change in designation will provide more flexibility and control to tailor programs to the needs of local clients without jumping through state hoops.
The local area must have an institution of higher learning in the community and demonstrate it can responsibly handle the federal funding that goes to the center. The Mesa County Workforce Center meets the criteria but must get the support of local municipalities. One of the requirements of the legislation is assuring the governor that seeking a change in designation will not be contested by any municipalities.
The Grand Junction City Council is on board and Garchar will seek approval from Fruita and Palisade. We can't imagine anyone opposing the idea, especially since the workforce center is able to leverage state and federal programs to move people from welfare to work. A change in designation would allow more local partnerships to achieve that outcome.
But we remind readers that the demand for services provided by the workforce center is a reflection of workforce development efforts. We need to do more to develop a highly educated and highly trained workforce to ensure a prosperous community.
Vail Daily, March 3, on the tire bill:
Given the political tone of the times, it can be something of a surprise when people of different parties can actually share an idea.
That seems to be the case with House Bill 1173. That bill would clarify the state's snow tire and chain law requirements for winter travel on Interstate 70 between Dotsero and the Morrison exit. What the bill does, in essence, is impose the same requirements on both passenger cars and trucks between Nov. 1 and May 15. The current rules require trucks to carry usable tire chains during those months. For passenger cars, the requirement applies to "adequate" tires, chains or traction devices such as the Auto Sock, an easy-to-use cloth alternative to chains.
The bill's sponsors are Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, of Steamboat Springs, who represents Eagle and Routt counties, and Republican Bob Rankin, whose district includes Carbondale.
The two representatives seem to occupy pretty distinct areas of the political spectrum. Mitsch Bush describes herself as a centrist, but in fact tends to favor government-first solutions to many issues.
Rankin has been described by our sister paper, the Glenwood Post Independent, as a Republican with libertarian tendencies, which means he tends to favor limited government intervention in most things.
The fact these two found common ground when it comes to keeping I-70 open speaks volumes about the need to take action to keep the highway open as much as possible.
While the bill is making its way through the Colorado House of Representatives, both Mitsch Bush and Rankin have said they've had to talk about misconceptions or misinformation about the bill.
The main one, worth noting here, is this: This bill doesn't establish checkpoints to look at people's tires or in their trunks. Even if the bill called for it, the costs of checkpoints would be much, much more than the state could afford. Instead, this bill puts the onus where it should be — on motorists. Put simply, if your car closes I-70 during the winter because it doesn't have the right equipment, you're going to pay fines over and above the costs of insurance deductibles and tow trucks.
A recent story from Glenwood noted that Rankin has had to address his more libertarian-leaning constituents who decry the government telling them what they need for their cars. This one's almost too ridiculous to address, but the government already requires all kinds of equipment to use a vehicle on public roads. Decent tires doesn't seem an onerous a demand.
We hope this bill passes. It certainly can't hurt, and given that I-70 closures cost the state millions every year in lost economic activity and a drain on precious taxpayer dollars to state agencies, we're certainly willing to see if this not-terribly-intrusive law could have a positive effect. And we're grateful that a pair of politicians has put good public policy above partisan haggling.
Cortez Journal, March 2, on felonies, DUIs and overcoming mistakes:
While some Coloradans urge the state to follow the lead of other states and designate the third drunken-driving conviction a felony rather than a misdemeanor as is currently, others are considering just how harmful that label can be - sometimes almost forever - to a successful job search or to an education or a choice in living arrangements.
The arguments for the felony category for drunken drivers - getting tough on repeaters of a crime that can cause death - are offset by the uncertainty as to whether that criminal label is actually a deterrent, and to the added costs to the state it brings.
What is beginning to receive some attention is that many Americans with a criminal record - a felony or some misdemeanors - are being precluded from gainful employment in most occupations for years, if not forever. Misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies that are tied to drug use and sales, or perhaps theft and forgeries, which might have happened years ago, are preventing otherwise prepared job-seekers from being able to move past the initial stage of an employment application. Check the box if you have a criminal record, and the possibility of being hired is usually gone.
That box also exists on a college application, a loan application and, in some cases, on apartment and rental agreements. What it means is that after time is served and penalties are paid, offenders continue to have their education, employment and living options severely limited. Employment that corresponds to abilities and goals can be impossible.
A partial solution: Several states with their statutes, and a few of the major big-box retailers with their human-resources policies, have modified job-search procedures to consider only past involvement with the law near the end of the interview and hiring process. That allows a candidate with a record to have his education and experience, and whatever else it is that might make him a good fit for the position, be considered first. Then, with the pool reduced to a handful of possible candidates, does the employer decide whether a particular criminal record should be disqualifying.
This shift in hiring procedures does not come solely from the heart. Employers are wanting to cast the largest net possible in their hiring, seeking the best possible workforce. They recognize that many crimes, especially having taken place some time ago, have no bearing on successfully filling the job at hand.
There is a limit, of course. Someone who has embezzled from their place of work should not expect to be looked favorably on by a bank that is looking for a teller, or a former drug user as a pharmacist.
But in many prospective employee-employer matches, postponing consideration of a past criminal record makes good sense.
The United States has too many of its citizens in prison, and for too long a time, and is not giving them the opportunity to learn the skills they need to return to the workforce. What can be done to partially offset those shortcomings is to make an effort to consider the suitability of a job prospect before weighing whether a criminal record should be disqualifying. That is the right thing to do, and it is good business policy.