Legislative Wrap-Up

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Partisan but productive, that’s how one Southern Colorado Lawmaker describes the 2006 Legislative Session. The Colorado Legislature wrapped up just before midnight Monday night.

One big issue going into the session, how the about 400-million dollars, according to the Governor's Office, of Referendum "C" money would be spent. Voters allowed the state to keep that money last November.

"It went exactly were we promised it would go,” said Representative Michael Merrifield (D) of Manitou Springs. “It went to higher education, it went to K-12 education, it went to roads and to health care. All of them pretty much equally divided."

"Even though we put more money into education, now we can get those results out of the money," said Senator Ed Jones (R) of Colorado Springs.

Senator Jones says the money was spent, but not without debate.

"We didn't want to create any new programs," said Senator Jones.

Later in the session, lawmakers passed a statewide smoking ban. The Governor signed it. The ban starts in July.

"I support the smoking ban, as do about 79 percent of the rest of the citizens of Colorado," said Rep. Merrifield.

Other lawmakers oppose the ban. Senator Jones calls it hypocritical, because it bans smoking in bars, but not in casinos.

During the session, there were also compromises made between Democrats and Republicans. One example of a compromise, according to Rep. Merrifield, the deal struck to help with declining money in the Public Employees’ Retirement Association or PERA accounts.

"Will pay a little bit more out of their upcoming cost of living increases, there will be a few more members to the board and you'll have to be about 5 years older before you can retire," explained Rep. Merrifield.

The session ended 2 days early. Senator Jones says that Helped taxpayers save money.

"Normally we would get out on Wednesday, so we're saving the tax payers money about $15,000 a day by not being up there," said Sen. Jones.

Passed just before lawmakers adjourned, House Bill 1382. That's the so-called "Rest in Peace" bill. It would require protesters to stay 100 feet away from funerals, and not allow them to show up 30 minutes before or after a funeral. It is awaiting Governor Bill Owens' approval.

The bill is in response to the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church's protests of military funerals across the country and in Colorado Springs.

State Rep. Merrifield sponsored the bill and says, "I'm pleased we were able to pass something that will help grieving families in a time when they should not have to worry about being disturbed."

Sen. Jones said, "It was just despicable how some people treat grieving families."

Other new laws out of the 800 bills introduced include certain internet crimes against children and identity theft are now felonies, teen drivers have stiffer rules and penalties than before, and it is a misdemeanor crime to run away from home.