DENVER– Gov. John Hickenlooper spent two years lobbying to transform asbestos-contaminated Fort Lyon into a rehab center for the homeless. But, after bipartisan members of a committee killed the bill, it magically reappeared as an amendment to an unrelated bill that swiftly passed the legislature – and is now on the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Some lawmakers argue that the bill may violate the Colorado Constitution, which requires single-subject measures – and that issue could be challenged in court.
“This is probably the most blatant unconstitutional process that I’ve seen in the legislature,” declared Sen. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs).
The failed bill, which would dedicate more than $10 million to Fort Lyon over a two-year period for homeless addiction treatment and job training, was later added as an amendment to Senate Bill 210 that would improve wages and working conditions for correctional officers at state prisons.
With the exception of budget appropriations in the Long Bill, Lambert said that bills must have a single subject and the purpose of a bill cannot be altered by a chamber in the legislature, according to Article 4, Sections 21 and 17, respectively.
SB 210 regards employment conditions in the Department of Corrections, he said, and has nothing to do with a rehab center at Fort Lyon under the Department of Local Affairs.
Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), chair of the Joint Budget Committee, agreed with Lambert that the amended bill creates two subjects and is unconstitutional. That, he said, may ultimately be decided by the judicial branch.
As amended, SB 210’s fiscal note also only listed about $4.8 million for salaries of correctional officers for two years – and omitted $8.7 million for Fort Lyon. That funding level does not include an estimated $10 million to mitigate asbestos contamination and improvements.
The Fort Lyon proposal was rejected by the Joint Budget Committee, which crafts the state budget, in January. The measure, House Bill 1261, was rejected by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Friday, and within hours was added as an amendment to SB 210 which was being heard in the House.
“This amendment sets out the guidelines for contracting processes of employee records from the Department of Corrections,” claimed Rep. Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo). “Further, the amendment does directly affect the officers that used to work at the Fort Lyon correctional facility.”
For one dollar, the federal government had temporarily deeded the property to Colorado to be used by the state Corrections Department. When Corrections closed the Fort Lyon facility in early 2011, the property ownership reverted back to the federal government.
Most of the corrections staff members were transferred to jobs in other prisons, but Bent County in southeast Colorado lost a major employer. Local officials and Hickenlooper formulated an economic development plan to transport 200 to 300 homeless individuals, most from the Denver metro area, to Fort Lyon for a two-year rehab program.
“This property no longer belongs to the state of Colorado,” said Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder), vice chair of the JBC.
Fort Lyon “is still under the protection of Colorado,” asserted Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa), who lauded SB 210 sponsors, Democrats Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo and Rep. Crisanta Duran of Denver.
“I really appreciate Senator Giron for thinking this up – pretty slick, pretty slick,” he beamed.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman agreed – in part with Crowder’s assessment of the Fort Lyon bill being tacked onto SB 210 for corrections employment.
“This is slick. This is really slick,” said Cadman of Colorado Springs. “I don’t see any connection to the Department of Corrections unless you’re seeing homeless as a crime in Colorado, which I hope we’re not. There is no connection here.”
“It’s slick – and it’s wrong,” declared Cadman.