…Thirty Years Ago This Week in the Colorado Statesman … Ahhh, those were the days before the long arm of Amendment 41 arrived on the scene — a little heard of show was in town: Legislators on Ice, er, at least on the snow … all funded by lobbyists who just wanted to make sure their favorite lawmakers were getting in some time for much-needed recreation.
Three dozen Colorado lawmakers participated in an annual legislative outing sponsored by Colorado Ski Country USA and the Colorado Association of Ski Towns, where they were treated to two days of skiing at Purgatory Ski Resort outside of Durango. Much like one of those time share schemes, the legislators, of course, also took part in informative sessions conducted each morning by the tour sponsors.
During these sessions, Colorado Ski Country and Ski Towns took the opportunity to lobby their pet concerns.
But first, the butter: “The ski industry,” said Ski Country President John Lay, “is the single largest employer on the Western Slope, with a total employment of 44,500 in 1985, which in two years had risen eight percent.”
Lay also pointed out that the ski industry took in $47 million in tax receipts for the state in 1985. While a large portion of the revenue directly benefited the West Slope communities, a substantial amount of the money also directly benefited Denver. “Tourism,” Lay summarized, “is a very important issue for the whole state.”
Pancho Hays, who lobbied at the Legislature on behalf of Ski Country, then eased in toward the punch line, mentioning the sluggish economy, but adding there was one bright aspect. “Capital investment has paid off,” Hays said, “and you ought to continue to invest in that product which is selling — tourism.”
Comfortable the legislators were fully enjoying their complimentary ski days, Hays then proceeded to tell them they should raise the tourism promotion tax from 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent. The proposed legislation, under the sponsorship of Rep. Scott McInnis, would generate an estimated $11.6 million annually for tourism promotions, Hays explained.
If enacted, he continued, the bill would put Colorado in the top ten states nationally with tourism budgets. Each $1 of tourism expenditures would result in $2.55 in direct and induced economic impact.
… Twenty Years Ago … Republican tensions continued to rise down in El Paso County. Tom Minnery, vice president of Focus on the Family, fired off a response to critical remarks made by El Paso County Chairman Bob Gardner about the orchestrated effort of the “Triple R” (radical, religious right) coalition’s aim to dominate the local and state party organizations.
Minnery enclosed a memo regarding “Press Statements by Republicans against Republicans,” with a letter promoting his campaign for vice chairman of the county GOP, mailing the little package off to members of the El Paso County Central Committee.
“In recent days, one of our party leaders has spoken critically in the press about fellow Republicans, saying, essentially, that he fears their ascent to party office because of their religious beliefs,” Minnery wrote. “As a party officer, I will never disparage party members in the press. When I have differences with people, I will seek them out personally.”
Minnery referred to Gardner’s negative reaction to an “invitation only” meeting the previous week of the “Triple R’s.” Gardner, party Vice Chairwoman Mary Anne Carlos, Secretary Sarah Jack and a member of the “public press” were singled out as uninvited guests and criticized for crashing a private meeting.
… Ten Years Ago … Big tobacco was the talk of the town. Five smoking bills in the Legislature were doing their darnedest to asses the “heart of the matter,” according to a tongue in cheek Statesman headline.
The five tobacco bills were introduced at the start of the 2007 Legislative session. Three of them were aimed at loosening the restrictions created by the 2006 Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act and two wanted those same restrictions tightened.
But the bill that had garnered the most controversy was Senate Bill 07-103 by Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, which would have allowed for “optional special liquor licenses that allow smoking in establishments” that already have a license to serve alcohol. The bill would have also “prohibited local authorities from enforcing smoking regulations that are more stringent,” and would have required that if a business applied for a special license, it must provide six weeks of unemployment benefits to its employees. But alas, the pro-smoking/pro-labor effort was squashed in committee on a 3-2 vote.
Tochtrop said she introduced her bill because many small bar owners were being hurt by the state law. “These are adult establishments, and several of them have gone out of business in less than a year,” she said. “They were promised that they would not lose business, but they have.”
One of the two bills aimed at tightening the prohibitions on smoking was introduced by Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver. She was done with all the smoke in the Black Hawk casinos apparently. Her House Bill-07-1269 would have repealed the smoking exemption in Colorado law for “the retail floor … of a licensed casino.”
HB 1269 was the shortest of the tobacco bills, but it had the longest list of sponsors. Aside from McGihon, 22 sponsors from the House placed their names on the legislation. In the Senate, Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver, introduced the bill and eight other senators co-sponsored it. But only one of the 32 names on the bill was a Republican, the smoke-odor averse Sen. Steve Johnson.
McGihon said the employees at casinos would benefit from her legislation.
“I am very concerned about the health of the 8,000 employees (at casinos) … Some of these folks do not have a option in where they work and many of them commute to the mountain communities,” she said. “These are high paying jobs that don’t need a great deal of skill, so they would have to choose between their jobs and paying for their house.”
When the Colorado Indoor Air Act was passed, concerns were raised about a potential loss in casino earnings if they were included in the ban. The gaming industry had not been vocal about HB 1269, more or less staying out of the fray.
“The Colorado Gaming Association has taken no position on the bill,” said Lois Rice, the executive director of the association. “To my knowledge no one is speaking publicly against this.”
McGihon said she did not think a lot would change for casinos.
“What has been shown to occur when a smoking ban has been put in place is that there is a temporary slow down in business, but it has been slight and there has been a return to normal levels — and sometimes an increase,” said McGihon.
The two other “pro-tobacco” bills introduced were HB-07-1108 by Republican state Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, as the sole sponsor, aiming to close a loophole in the Clean Indoor Air Act by clarifying the cigar-tobacco bar exemption, and HB-07-1196, introduced by House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, which would allow for smoking areas in assisted living facilities. Because, at least give the poor old folks their one sinful pleasure for Pete’s sake.