Jerry Kopel

In 1977 they were called the "House Crazies" the far right fringe of the House Republicans. They were quite effective compared to the "Bunny Rabbits" of 1997, as the present far right fringe of the Republicans refer to themselves. But if a burrowing, herbivorous gregarious mammal is to be their tag, I prefer a March Hare, as in "Crazy as a .....".

One March Hare who begins his last year in the Colorado House in 1998, thanks to term limits, is Rep. Phil Pankey. Rep. Pankey doesn't introduce a bill unless he believes in it. There is nothing hypocritical about what he does. He is not testing the currents, trying to win over the media or the public. What you see is what you get.

One Pankey bill of 1997 (a "late bill" by the way) was HB 1332. It would have eliminated the statewide toll-free phone network poison control services. Pankey's Senate sponsor was Sen. Jim Congrove.

According to the fiscal note prepared for HB 1332, Pankey's bill would have reduced general fund expenditures by $1.1 million but "30,774 persons would seek emergency services if poison control services are eliminated, representing a cost of approximately $10.3 million to private insurers, private pay clients, Medicaid and the Colorado Indigent Care Program."

HB 1332 would have repealed Article 2 of Title 25.5. If you look at this portion of the statutes, the background information is quite misleading, making it appear the law went into effect in 1994.

The Rocky Mountain Poison Control Center phone services began in 1975 with funds provided through the Emergency Medical Services Division of the Health Dept. In 1982, the legislature decided not to fund the phone lines after 1983 unless a specific law was passed establishing it as a state-supported program.

A Rocky Mountain News story in late 1982 by Pamela Avery reflected the fears of the health community if a law wasn't passed. Quoting Nursing Administrator Joan Wilkinson:

"Loss of the phone line will mean loss of lives. If people have to pay, they will delay calling. If they have a child who ate something and they have to pay, they'll wait to see if the child becomes ill. It's completely what we don't want to happen."

So in 1983, then-Rep. Peter Minahan (R) and still-Sen. Jeff Wells (R) sponsored HB 1063 "Concerning Emergency Medical Services and providing for a poison information center to disseminate information on a statewide basis in connection therewith". It passed the House 62 to 0 and the Senate 34 to 0.

There were 27 Senate co-sponsors. Those still there are Sens. Tilman Bishop (R), Ray Powers (R), Jim Rizzuto (D), and Sen. Bob Martinez (D) who was then a House member. There were 24 House co-sponsors including myself.

And here is an anomaly. The only remaining co-sponsor still serving in the House? Rep. Pankey.

* * *

Two other bills introduced by House Republicans in 1997 that died early appeared to be contrary to what the majority party claims to be its motivation: Business competition and local control.

First is HB 1345 by Rep. Doug Dean (R). This "late bill" provided an insurance company could not "cancel, refuse to renew, or otherwise terminate a written contractual agreement with an agent except for good cause."

"Good cause" included certain criminal acts, unreasonable time away from the office, failure to pay money due the company, total disability, or death. The insurance company's insolvency or bankruptcy was "good cause", but NOT the insolvency or bankruptcy of the agent.

Notice one item not included in "good cause" ? Failure to make a profit. As I read Rep. Dean's bill, an agent had a job for life regardless of how poor a job he or she did. Gee, that doesn't sound very conservative.

* * *

While the Dean bill interfered with normal business philosophy, a measure by Rep. Larry Schwarz (R) HB 1307 would have taken away rights of local government laws, ordinances, rules or orders and would have given that authority to the state regarding "sport shooting ranges".

As long as a shooting range noise level did not exceed 130 decibels at any point along the property line of the shooting range, there would be nothing a county or town could do to alleviate noise causing pain and distress to nearby residents. And Rep. Schwarz' bill would have also denied an individual harmed by the noise from suing the shooting range owners based on noise.

To put 130 decibels in perspective, the maximum federal limit for most railroad sounds is 96 decibels. So think of the loudest train noises you ever heard and increase it by 35 percent and you get 130 decibels.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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