Jerry Kopel

What is the worst job in Colorado state government in 1998? It could be as an employee of the Office of Policy and Research in the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA). What's more frustrating than watching many of the Sunset reports and bill suggestions that you wrote being trashed by the Colorado legislature?

Take bingo. This 116-page report detailed scandals in past bingo operations, and reductions by the secretary of state in enforcement and investigations of present bingo operations. The report urged 16 statutory recommendations, including moving enforcement to the Dept. of Revenue and establishing a Charitable Gaming Commission.

The report became two bills, HB 1028 and 1299, assigned to House Business Affairs and sponsored by Rep. Brad Young, R-Lamar and Sen. Tilman Bishop, R-Mesa. HB 1028 was the continuation of Bingo licensing under Article 9 of Title 12. HB 1299 contained the substantive amendments to Article 9 recommended by the DORA policy and research employees.

HB 1028 had the fast track. Heard and approved in House Business Affairs on Feb. 6th, it passed the House Feb. 17th and Senate State Affairs on March 4th. Meanwhile HB 1299, containing the substantive changes, passed House Business Affairs on Feb. 9th, but with a series of amendments that seriously weakened the Charitable Gaming Control Commission while strengthening the power of bingo-hall landlords. HB 1299 then went to House Appropriations.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bishop, apparently concerned about the amendments to HB 1299, and the failure of bingo reform bills in recent years, kept HB 1028 from a second reading vote in the Senate. On the morning of March 27th, House Appropriations killed HB 1299, thus leaving the present bingo statutes intact without any revisions. Later that morning, Sen. Bishop, as chief Senate sponsor, "laid HB 1028 on the table", which killed the continuation bill without the need for a Senate vote.

The two deaths did NOT deregulate bingo. Unless there are late bills to deal with bingo, the present language in Article 9 of Title 12 remains in operation until July 1, 1999. And if nothing is passed in the 1999 legislature, bingo is still NOT deregulated.

Bingo is in the state constitution, Section 2 of Article 18. It sets out "statutory-like" language on regulating bingo and provides that such language is "self-enacting". In other words, if there is no statute, bingo continues, and the secretary of state can still issue rules and regulations based on the constitutional language.

However, NO ONE would be in charge of enforcing the law.

And we have the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) statute, also separated by House Business Affairs Committee into two bills. HB 1007 which continues the PUC statute, has passed both houses and is now before the governor.

HB 1060, carried by Rep. Paul Schauer, R-Littleton, was based on an 81-page report by DORA's Office of Policy and Research. There were 11 recommendations including one giving PUC authority to "directly fine telecommunications companies up to $5000 per day" for each violation. DORA pointed out such authority wasn't unique, referring to similar state statutes. The House heavily amended the bill by adding lots of goodies not recommended by DORA. It passed the House 47 to 18.

Senate sponsor of the bill was Business Affairs chairman Sen. Dave Wattenberg, R-Walden. Westword newspaper alleged Wattenberg was unhappy with the fining authority given PUC in the bill. The fines, claimed Westword, were aimed at U.S. West and Sen. Wattenberg was quoted as saying the bill would not pass his committee. It was killed on March 20th.

Then there was the 108-page report on the State Grievance Board. It begins with a letter from DORA director Joseph Garcia "I am pleased to submit this written report which will be the basis for my office's oral testimony (before the House Health Committee)."

DORA's Office of Policy and Research recommended continuing the State Grievance Board for disciplining all licensed and unlicensed psychotherapists. Citing four possible options, the staff chose the single board approach. "There is no reason to conclude that the public is not protected. Indeed, this review finds that the public is well-served by this model."

So what happens? Bruce Douglas, director of DORA Division of Registrations appears before House Health Committee and supports dividing mental health discipline into five separate boards: Social Workers, Psychologists, Professional Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Unlicensed Psychotherapists.

Dr. Judith Silver, a licensed psychologist and member of the Grievance Board, urged Gov. Romer to veto HB 1072 in the form it left the House Health Committee. "If...enacted into law, it will mean that good sense and consumer protections have become victims of politics, high paid lobbyists and back door dealings."

She referred to secret negotiations between DORA, the National Association of Social Work, and the Colorado Psychological Association. "No one represented the interests of the mental health consumer or the public at large."

Dr. Silver went on to accuse DORA of "purposefully misinforming Grievance Board members and other interested parties" about the House committee hearing held on Dec. 3, 1997. "This tactic prevented anyone who might have testified against this bill (setting up five separate disciplinary boards) from attending the hearing."

In House Appropriations Committee, HB 1072 was amended to restore the Grievance Board as the single psychotherapy disciplinary board and it passed the House in that fashion on March 23d, 52 to 13. The lobbyists for the professional associations plan to restore the bill to the way they want it in the Senate.

And Registrations Director Douglas? He says he "gave his word" (to the lobbyists) and will support their work to overturn the DORA recommendation and reverse the House decision. If the allegations by Dr. Silver are accurate (and they have not been denied), the "word" was broken to the Grievance Board members before the first hearing on the bill.

DORA's Office of Policy and Research produced a 94-page report that was highly critical of the Motor Vehicle Dealer Licensing Board. There were 12 recommendations on how to better protect consumers. In House Transportation, their suggested bill was ignored. Instead, HB 1128, by Rep. Ron May, R-Colo. Springs, which had the approval of Colorado Auto Dealers Assn. lobbyist Bill Barrow, was adopted. HB 1128 eventually added a few DORA recommendations. DORA has always lost recommendations on Sunset bills, but never in recent years, in totals compared to this year. Why is it happening? Because DORA no longer has a legislative constituency. They lost it in 1996 when the legislature passed HB 1159 by Rep. Vickie Agler, R-Littleton. Her bill wiped out the Sunrise-Sunset Committee. Those six committee members, three from each house, four Republicans and two Democrats, had "carried the water" for DORA.

In the early 80's, DORA Sunset recommendations went to Legislative Council, which ignored them. In 1984, the council experimented with a subcommittee headed by then Rep. Carol Taylor-Little on Sunset bills. It worked, and led in 1985 to the Sunrise-Sunset Committee. That committee forced DORA to come up against the reality it would face in the legislature. And the recommendations that survived often had six legislative advocates.

But DORA in 1996 decided they could do better going directly to the legislature and supported Rep. Agler's bill. One of the top DORA officials recently admitted to me they "made a mistake" in 1996, one they are now paying for.

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

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