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Colorado governor vetoes three bills, including one that may have delayed wolf reintroduction

Polis wrote that the legislation was ‘unnecessary and undermines the voters’ intent’
A gray wolf. (Associated Press file)
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Wolf reintroduction in Colorado is set to continue as planned after Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday vetoed a bipartisan bill that could have delayed the process in an effort to ensure ranchers will be allowed to kill the animals if they attack their livestock.

Senate Bill 256 would have prevented the wolves’ reintroduction on the Western Slope until the federal government designated gray wolves as a “nonessential experimental population.” The designation would give ranchers more flexibility to lethally manage wolves, as opposed to only when they are threatening to human life.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service must complete what’s known as a 10(j) analysis to determine whether to give the wolves the designation. The state expects the designation to be granted before wolves are supposed to be introduced in December.

In a letter explaining the veto, Polis wrote that the bill was “unnecessary and undermines the voters’ intent” and said it could actually interfere with wolves being named as an experimental population.

“If signed into law, this bill impedes the coordination that has been underway for over two years by the US. Fish and Wildlife Service, (Colorado) Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife that includes a $1 million commitment from the state of Colorado to complete the 10(j) draft rule and draft environmental impacts statement,” the letter said. “The management of the reintroduction of gray wolves into Colorado is best left to the Parks and Wildlife Commission, as the voters explicitly mandated.”

Proposition 114, which required the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to reintroduce gray wolves in the state, was narrowly approved by voters in 2020.

The governor last week hinted to reporters that he was going to veto the bill.

“We want to honor the will of voters, avoid delays to the 10(j) process,” he said.

Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, one of the prime sponsors of the bill, said Tuesday that Polis’ argument that the bill could have delayed the 10(j) assessment was “fundamentally wrong.”

“Senate Bill 256 is the insurance policy,” he said. “You prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I may hope I can drive down the road and never get in an accident, but that doesn’t mean I drop my auto insurance.”

Soper added that wolf reintroduction is a top issue on the Western Slope and he hopes the governor will consider signing an executive order with a similar requirement.

Another lead sponsor of the bill, Democratic Sen. Dylan Roberts of Avon, said in a statement Tuesday that he was “deeply disappointed” in the decision to veto the bipartisan effort.

“While I sincerely hope that the 10(j) rule is issued to Colorado before wolves are reintroduced, I fear for the consequences my community may face if this does not happen,” he said.

The other lead sponsors of the measure were Sen. Perry Will, R-New Castle and Rep. Meghan Lukens, D-Steamboat Springs.

Polis vetoes two other measures

Polis vetoed two other measures on Tuesday: House Bill 1147, which offered a cost reduction for low-income Coloradans pursuing driver’s education, and House Bill 1214, which would have changed the clemency application process.

House Bill 1214 would have required the governor’s office to appoint an “executive clemency representative” to notify applicants that their clemency request has been received and if it’s missing any information. It would also have required the governor to consider an applicant’s good character before their conviction, good conduct during incarceration, and statements and supporting materials from the prosecuting district attorney.

Finally, the bill would have mandated that the governor’s office each year report data on commutations of sentences on its website.

In a veto letter, Polis said House Bill 1214 “unconstitutionally infringed on the governor’s exclusive authority to grant clemency.” He said his office made that clear to the measure’s sponsors – Rep. Elisabeth Epps and Sens. James Coleman and Julie Gonzales, all Denver Democrats – through the lawmaking process.

“The Colorado Supreme Court has repeatedly held that granting clemency is an exclusive power of the governor and has held that intrusions into this power are unconstitutional violations of the doctrine of separation of powers,” Polis wrote. “The Colorado Constitution clearly sets out that the legislature may not prescribe the manner of applying for commutations.”

Epps tweeted that 1214 was “crafted by directly impacted folks, well stakeholded, solid, sound and necessary.”

Meanwhile, Polis said he was vetoing House Bill 1147 because it would impose new fees – which the governor estimated to be $10 and the sponsors tried to limit to $2 – on driver’s licenses to pay for vouchers discounting driver’s education courses for Coloradans whose income is less than 200% of the federal poverty guideline.

“While I commend the goal of the sponsors and stakeholders, I am deeply concerned about the increase in cost for driver’s licenses that the creation of a new enterprise and subsequent fee would impose,” he wrote in a veto letter. “The establishment of a new enterprise that adds to the cost of a driver’s license is not something to be taken lightly.”

House Bill 1147 was sponsored by Rep. Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster.

“We need to work toward a solution that both makes our roads affordable and is equitable and doesn’t hinder people from getting their licenses. I look forward to working on it,” Winter said.

The next legislative session begins in January 2024.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.