News and Opinion by Dave Felice
May 4, 2012
Voting 8-to-1, the Colorado Senate Appropriations is indefinitely postponing (“P-I”) SB12-157, the controversial measure purporting to reform the state’s telecommunications regulations. Speaking to the committee, the bill’s sponsors, Senators Lois Tochtrop (D-Lakewood) and Mark Scheffel (R-Douglas County), were visibly angered by the bill’s demise.
Overlooking the potentially destructive nature of the bill, Scheffel repeated his contention that “the people of Colorado are the losers” because the legislation would not get further consideration. Multiple times, Scheffel said it is “unfortunate” that the legislature would not debate the measure. In a near rant, Scheffel acknowledged that he was close to making comments which “might not be appropriate” before the Appropriations Committee.
While well-intentioned, SB12-157 would have eliminated the state subsidies for high-cost service areas, would have severely restricted the incumbent telephone company’s ability to invest in infrastructure, and would have resulted in a near-immediate loss of up to 900 jobs. The bill would also have moved millions in subsidy funds to the control of the Governor’s Office of Information Technology and away from the Public Utilities Commission.
Committee member Senator Ted Harvey (R-Parker) commented that since “there is now plenty of competition in the telecommunications industry, we don’t need to continue the (high cost) subsidy.” Even though the incumbent telephone company (now CenturyLink) is the “carrier of last resort” for areas where there is no competition, Harvey echoed the claim that “the bill will die because we (the legislature) can’t get consensus on saving the ratepayers money.”
Critics acknowledge that some revisions in telecommunications law are necessary, but maintained that SB12-157 was too broad, and too drastic to undertake without proper consideration of the impact.
It is perhaps good that Senator Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) has written a book about how ordinary citizens can deal with the legislature. The process appears deliberately designed to confuse anyone who doesn’t spend a lot of time at the General Assembly.
It seems inappropriate and inconsiderate for members of the committee to be eating breakfast burritos, as they did, while considering legislation. At the very least, the decorum is questionable.
Given the amount of both white and colored paper they produce and carry, the members of the legislature clearly don’t have much environmental consideration. And even Senator Mike Johnston (D-Park Hill), who stopped “just to watch the show,” tossed his aluminum burrito wrapper in the trash bin on his way out of the room.
When SB12-157 first came before the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee in March, I testified in strong opposition to the bill.