Water, education hot topics

Coloradoans should expect new law proposals by May 5.

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The Colorado Legislature has been in session for well over a month now. Legislators have introduced bills protecting everything from the identity of rape victims to the liability of restaurants in obesity-related illness lawsuits.

Fifty bills have hit the Colorado House floor and 47 bills have made it to the Senate floor. Many more bills are still under committee review. Since the General Assembly isn't scheduled to adjourn until May 5, Coloradoans can expect to see many more new laws proposed before it's all over.

As always, water has been an important issue. Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Durango, introduced Senate Bill 35 to protect the water rights of existing users.

In the past, when a water rights owner transferred their rights to another user, other users of the stream or river who believed they would be injured by the transfer had to prove that they would be injured.

This bill, supported by Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, would shift the burden of proof away from the user, and place it on the engineer who must approve the transfer.

"It shifts the burden to protect existing rights," Isgar said.

Education has been a hot topic in the House. State representatives will consider a bill by Rep. Ted Harvey that would outlaw in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

Harvey's bill would make it a law that only Colorado residents are eligible for in-state tuition.

That bill was approved by the House Finance Committee on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the same committee rejected a bill that proposed the opposite. Democrat Val Vigil's bill would have made in-state tuition rates available to illegal immigrants.

The "academic bill of rights," proposed by Rep. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, on Jan. 28, would ban professors from introducing controversial material in the classroom that hasn't been listed on the course syllabus or isn't related to the course. Professors would also be banned from creating a "hostile environment."

Professors would be required to grade students on the class subject, as opposed to their political beliefs.

In response to the Kobe Bryant trial, lawmakers have introduced a couple bills that would protect the privacy rights of rape victims. Senate Bill 46 allows the prosecution in sex crime trials to motion the court for an order to protect the identification of the victim. The law would force the use of a pseudonym in media coverage.

Senate Bill 60, introduced by Sen Bruce Cairns, R-Aurora, goes even further. That bill would require most hearings related to victims' or witness' sexual conduct take place behind closed doors.

All motions, documents and court records would be sealed.

At the other end of the spectrum, Senate Bill 20 limits the liability of a manufacturer, distributor or retailer of food or beverages in cases in which an individual complains that consuming their product made them obese and complicated their health.

In response to the death of a fighter in a "Toughman" competition, the General Assembly is considering a bill that would ban no-holds-barred fights in Colorado.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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