CASTLE ROCK— The Board of Douglas County Commissioners are expected on Tuesday to declare Douglas County a mask-free and vaccination-free friendly jurisdiction.
The commissioners have drafted a resolution declaring that the more than 350,000 residents of the south metro Denver area county are free to choose how they handle protecting themselves from COVID-19.
“Any expected local enforcement of the mask order is an unfunded mandate, leaving the obligation of enforcement to local jurisdictions and the business community but denying any local control over the restriction itself,” the resolution reads in part.
According to the resolution, there is now a better understanding of the virus and effective treatment options. There are now vaccines available, and the severity of COVID-19 hospitalization and deaths continues to decrease or remain manageable.
In the resolution, the commissioners say there are numerous, legitimate reasons an individual may not be willing or able to show proof of vaccination, including religious objections, medical privacy health and disability issues, and First Amendment concerns.
“Amongst others that should not result in the deprivations of basic rights,” it reads. “The citizen concerns around the mask orders focuses mostly on the concept of vaccine “passports” where people will be treated less favorably based on their eligibility or willingness to show proof of vaccination.”
The resolution says the commissioners are not only opposed to any ongoing mask mandate or requiring proof of vaccination but anything that could disenfranchise their citizens from the right to make their own health care decisions.
The resolution makes it clear that “Douglas County shall not require masks or proof of vaccination in any county facilities,” and “residents are free to choose how to protect their lives and livelihoods regarding mask wearing, mask requirements, and vaccination passports, and such requirements shall not be mandatory in any indoor space in Douglas County.”
Further, there will be no fines or penalties for failure to wear a mask or present a vaccination passport in any indoor space in Douglas County.
Commissioner George Teal said, while businesses still need to be cognizant of state licenses they hold, the resolution was necessary to speak for the people of Douglas County and how they are feeling about all the mandates.
“It’s about where we are right now in terms of the mask mandate and specifically his [Governor Polis'] last executive order seeming to tee up a vaccine passport and the private use of that,” Teal said. “It’s a real concern down here that vaccine passports can control the access of our residents to services and businesses are going to be placed in the hands of private businesses that might not be focused on individual rights.”
A bill introduced in the Colorado legislature would grant school districts broad discretion to turn down charter school applications if opening a new school would negatively affect long-range plans, enrollment, or district finances.
If successful, the change would represent a major shift in the balance of power between school districts and charter schools in a state with some of the most charter-friendly policies in the nation.
Bill sponsor state Rep. Jennifer Bacon, who also serves on the Denver school board, said declining enrollment in many school districts makes opening new schools more challenging, and that means charter law needs to change.
“Despite where it might feel like this sits in these old arguments between district and charter schools, the reason I brought this bill is that we as school districts are approaching harder times, and we’re trying to figure out how we can plan and support all our schools, including our charter schools,” Bacon said.
But advocates for charter schools say the legislation would make it virtually impossible for schools to successfully appeal a denial.
“The provisions are so sweeping and broad that you could justify almost anything,” said Dan Schaller of the Colorado League of Charter Schools. “This would be tipping the scales in a dramatic fashion.”
Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run schools. They can be authorized by a local school district or through the state Charter School Institute. Colorado charter schools range from robust networks like DSST or Colorado Early Colleges to single-site schools that address specific needs, such as providing a public Montessori option or serving students in recovery from addiction.
In their applications, charter schools have to describe their educational and financial plans and show that there is sufficient parent and student interest. If a school board turns down a charter application, the school can appeal to the State Board of Education, a separately elected body that can order school districts to reconsider their decisions.
Colorado law gives charter schools the ability to appeal twice to the State Board of Education. State Board decisions on second appeals are considered final. The State Board of Education makes its decisions based on members’ interpretation of the best interest of students, the school district, and the larger community.
Current law doesn’t explicitly limit the reasons that school boards can turn down charter applications, but State Board of Education decisions have led most people to interpret the law to mean that school districts can’t base a denial primarily on how the opening of a new school would affect the rest of the district, such as by attracting students who would otherwise attend district schools or taking per-pupil dollars that would otherwise go to district schools.
Instead, the legal advice given to school boards is that denials should be based on concerns about the charter school’s educational programming or financial viability.
“Charters advocate for themselves and that’s cool, but we at a district level have to figure out how to balance an entire landscape,” Bacon said. “School districts are counseled that if you have to go to the State Board, all you can talk about is quality of plan.”
Out of 193 charter appeals since 2000, the State Board of Education has upheld district decisions 64 times and sent them back for reconsideration 62 times, including recently in an appeal by DSST of a Denver school board decision. On just 15 occasions has the State Board established a charter school against school board wishes on a second appeal, and just five times the State Board has overruled a decision to revoke a charter. In other cases, the parties reached a settlement or the appeal was dismissed on technical grounds.
That track record leads people like Schaller to ask: What is the problem we’re trying to solve?
But Bacon said the issue isn’t whether the State Board is biased in favor of charter schools. She said school board members feel constrained in how they vote on charter applications and will approve schools out of fear of losing an appeal.
House Bill 1295 would create a presumption that school districts were acting in community interest in their charter decisions. To overcome that presumption, charter schools would have to show that the decision was not in the community interest.
Charter schools already have the burden of proof for appeals in current law, but the bill would make it explicit that school boards could consider the impact of new schools on district enrollment, district finances, or an overall strategic plan in denying a charter application.
As written, the bill would apply to both new schools and renewals, but Bacon said she plans to bring an amendment that the bill would only apply to new schools. She doesn’t want existing charter schools to feel threatened, and districts already have leverage over existing schools because those schools have to comply with a set of agreements they made with the district.
Bacon said the stakes are high. Many districts in the metro area, including Denver, Jefferson County, and Aurora, face difficult decisions around small schools and school closure, even as charter schools are also closing or consolidating due to low enrollment. Opening new schools in that environment makes it even harder to ensure existing schools have nurses, counselors, and other basic services, she said.
Charter schools have long enjoyed bipartisan support at the Capitol, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools frequently ranks Colorado No. 2 in the nation for its charter-friendly policies. Gov. Jared Polis is himself a founder of two charter schools. Past efforts to change the appeals process or give school boards more authority haven’t gotten traction.
This bill has a long list of Democrat co-sponsors, potentially giving it a boost in a legislature where Democrats control both chambers, but also a long list of organizations opposing it, including Democrats for Education Reform, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, and Stand for Children.
The State Board of Education voted last week to oppose the bill. State Board member Rebecca McClellan said she has frequently sided with districts in the appeals process, but the bill would block high-quality charter operators who may be meeting a community need.
“The conditions are so broad that no charter operator could count on access to an appeals process,” she said. “The likelihood of conflict with the local board’s existing long-term plans is a condition a district could preplan.”
Opponents were unsuccessful at derailing three ballot initiatives that would cost local governments more than $1 billion in property tax revenue as the Title Board on Friday stuck by its original decision to award a ballot title to the measures.
On April 21, the three-member board concluded Initiatives #26-28 contained a single subject, as the state constitution requires, and consequently set a title that would appear before voters. But objectors Carol Hedges and Scott Wasserman challenged the board's finding, trigging a rehearing at the Title Board's final meeting to screen proposals for the 2021 statewide ballot.
As introduced, the initiatives would all reduce the residential property tax assessment rate from 7.15% to 6.5% and cut the assessment rate for all other property from 29% to 26.4%. Nonpartisan fiscal analysts estimated the tax cut would constitute a $1.03 billion hit to local governments, affecting services such as K-12 education and police. Because Colorado's school financing scheme requires the state to backfill funding for local districts, there would be an extra $258 million in additional state spending each year.
Partially offsetting the sizeable loss in local government revenue would be $25 million that the state could temporarily direct toward localities — if excess income exists that normally would be refunded under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The three proposed initiatives would funnel the money toward fire protection, toward reimbursements for the senior homestead tax exemption, toward general relief.
Because of the large overlap between the initiatives, proponents must choose one variant to take the ballot.
Hedges, who leads the Colorado Fiscal Institute, and Wasserman, who is president of the Bell Policy Center, argued the spending offset constituted a second subject separate from decreasing tax rates, and that "offset" was not even the appropriate term to describe the hypothetical $25 million in the wake of the dramatic revenue loss.
“This is anything but an offset. It’s just not an offset," said Edward T. Ramey, an attorney representing the objectors. He also expressed confusion about localities' eligibility for the $25 million expenditure under the text of the measures.
The designated representatives for the initiatives, Suzanne Taheri and Michael Fields, argued that not only were their measures clear, but the offset provision would indeed give back what the rest of the proposal seeks to take away.
“If you look at what this cut would do to fire districts, it’s projected to be $40 million to $60 million dollars," said Fields, and "$25 million is a big chunk of that."
"This issue isn’t about fairness, and the proponents don’t have to negotiate [the level at which] we put our offset," Taheri said.
She similarly rejected the notion that the proponents were committing "logrolling," which is the improper combination of two unrelated subjects in a single initiative so that supporters of each would be motivated to vote for the package. Taheri and Fields advocated for changing the ballot titles to emphasize that cutting taxes was the subject of the measures, rather than shrinking revenues.
"This whole discussion has pointed out why the title needs to be reset because if the title talked about taxes instead of government revenue, we wouldn’t have to have this discussion," Taheri said.
While the Title Board is charged with informing voters about the implications of a yes vote on a ballot initiative, they do not consider all of the potential effects of the proposal. Consequently, two board members dismissed pleas to address the changes in state spending for K-12 education, saying they believed the measures adhered to a single subject.
Board Chair Theresa Conley, representing Secretary of State Jena Griswold, admitted she had concerns about the relationship of the $25 million diversion to the subject of cutting property taxes.
“It seems to be trying to massage the tax cut by saying there’s an offset that feels temporary and unclear," she said.
Nonetheless, the board voted to reject the challenge to the initiatives. Members did elect to tweak the title slightly, honoring the request of Fields and Taheri to indicate in the ballot title that cutting taxes was the purpose of the measures.
Absent an appeal to the state Supreme Court, the proponents will be on the path to begin collecting signatures for ballot placement. Earlier this year, the Title Board set a ballot title for a similar proposal that would cut property tax rates, reduce revenue by $1.2 billion and not include an offset.
It’s not hard to understand why people are frustrated with health care.
Electricians, plumbers and mechanics can send us a simple bill with a price for their work, but doctors and hospitals send us bills with sticker-shock prices that they know will be marked down later.
Our health insurance isn’t really “insurance” but rather a system of prepaid financing. We have few choices except how much we’re willing to pay out-of-pocket.
Few of us still have the same insurance or doctor as ten years ago when President Obama assured us, “If you like (them), you can keep (them).”
Navigating health care customer service is rivaled only by the futility of trying to talk to a real person at Comcast or Century Link.
That much I get. What I don’t get is what makes anyone think that putting Colorado state government in charge of health care could possibly make it better.
In just the past year, our state grossly mismanaged unemployment benefits, resulting in at least $30 million in fraudulent payments. That amount would be much worse except that thousands of honest Coloradans threw away the debit cards they received for unemployment benefits they had never claimed.
Colorado has an even more dismal record providing health care benefits to 1.3 million residents on Medicaid. Failures of the Colorado Benefits Management System cover more than 20 years, at least four governors, and numerous computer system overhauls.
A 2005 rebuild ran $75 million over budget. A 2006 audit uncovered more than $90 million in improper payments. A 2009 audit found CBMS routinely paid more than allowed for health care and paid for treatment of patients who were deceased. Ten years later, an audit found Medicaid patients routinely receive contradictory information regarding their eligibility for services. Department officials said that could take two years to fix.
Incompetence is the only constant in state government’s record as a benefits manager. So, why hand bureaucrats a monkey wrench to tinker with everyone’s health care?
Yet that’s what House Bill 1232 would do. Sponsors Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) and Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Avon) don’t say as much, but even after the obnoxious original version was revised, they still empower the unelected Commissioner of Insurance to mandate arbitrary price reductions based on a number picked by politicians.
The resulting policy fails Economics 101.
Government can set prices, but it cannot reduce actual costs. If Colorado ordered gas stations to sell fuel at 20% below the market price, gas pumps would soon be empty because profits on fuel sales are far less than 20%. Gas stations can’t stay open if they lose money on every sale. What good is “affordable” fuel if our fuel tanks are empty?
With HB 1232, hospitals that won’t accept this arbitrary price reduction can be fined $40,000 a day, and the Commissioner can shut them down by revoking their license. Doctors, specialists and other health-care providers can be fined up to $5,000.
Why the sledgehammer to force compliance if this plan is so innovative? In truth, the Colorado Option – or whatever it may now be called – isn’t optional at all. What good is “affordable” health care if your doctor has moved out of state?
Politicians hate to admit that most of the problems in today’s health-care system are the result of political mandates that ignored basic economics and created price distortions. The way to solve a market distortion isn’t by imposing a worse market distortion.
Finally, consider the shameful record of politicians here and elsewhere during our COVID-19 experience. We know that governors, mayors and other politicians didn’t live by the strict rules they imposed on the rest of us. They traveled when we were told not to. They broke quarantine when we stayed at home. They visited relatives when we couldn’t.
Gov. Jared Polis deemed Colorado legislators so “essential” that he gave them access to the COVID vaccine before schoolteachers. Do you think Coloradans shared those priorities?
With this record of incompetence and nepotism, politicians and bureaucrats have no business meddling further in a system they’ve already damaged so badly.Mark Hillman served as Senate Majority Leader and State Treasurer. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com