Attorney General Phil Weiser submitted an amended budget request Tuesday to the Joint Budget Committee, seeking additional funds for staff salaries, to combat the state's opioid epidemic and to set up an energy advisory unit to guide local governments on energy development.
“Budget is policy," said Weiser in a letter to the JBC. "Whether fighting the opioid epidemic, protecting the public health, safety and environment, or handling some of the most complex and demanding civil and criminal cases in the state, each of these requests is critical to the Department’s ability to protect and serve the people of Colorado."
The department's initial request was for $88.8 million. Weiser's amended request seeks an additional $4.7 million, including:
• $2.1 million for additional salaries "to better position the Department of Law to retain and recruit top legal staff."
• $535,820 in 2019-20 and $565,607 for the following year to bolster the AG's efforts to manage current and future litigation involving the opioid epidemic, improper prescriptions and deceptive sales practices by drug companies.
• $388,429 in 2019-20 and $412,873 in 2020-21 to establish an Energy Advisory Unit "to provide technical assistance and guidance on best practices to local governments regarding energy development."
Weiser also wants more staff "to keep pace with the quantity and complexity of the criminal appellate case backlog," as well as additional dollars for water law-related legal services.
Weiser, a Democrat, is also proposing the resurrection of a "Conviction Integrity Unit" to help district attorneys review past convictions and identify possible cases of wrongful conviction. Similar units have recently been established in Boulder by District Attorney Michael Dougherty, Weiser's former primary opponent, and in the 18th Judicial District by George Brauchler, the Republican Weiser defeated in last year's election. Weiser's predecessor, Republican Cynthia Coffman, eliminated the unit at the attorney general's office in 2014.
Weiser spokesman Lawrence Pacheco told Colorado Politics that the energy unit will advise local governments about permitting and surface rights issues, for example, when the governments are dealing with oil and gas companies.