Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three high-profile military bills into law Wednesday at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, including one that provides $300,000 for a study the state can use to defend the very military institutions the park overlooks from potentially devastating military cuts.
"As we stand here in the shadow of the iconic Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, which really is a testament to our nation's ingenuity and our steadfast dedication to national defense, it really is fitting that we sign these bills here," Hickenlooper said.
Senate Bill 157 will initiate a report to defend Colorado's military installations from an upcoming federal study into cuts known as a base realignment and closure study.
The bill sets aside $300,000 for the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs to hire an outside company to produce an independent and data-driven run-down of Colorado militaryfacilities. That report will be used at BRAC hearings and in conversations with the federal government in a fight to keep the bases open.
"We don't want to presuppose to tell the Pentagon how to run things, but we do want to make sure that they see all the information accurately," Hickenlooper said.
He also signed House Bill 1351 that expanded the role of the Colorado Office of Economic Development to include supporting and promoting the state's military, specifically including lobbying the federal government. Money, roughly $120,000, was included in the state budget for an added position in the office, which could be used to handle the new responsibilities.
A study released this week by the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and Summit Economics tried to capture the impact that the military has on the Pikes Peak region. It found more than 105,296 direct and indirect jobs attributable to the military presence and a $12.6 billion economic impact.
Hickenlooper signed a third-bill Wednesday that book-ended a story he first told in his State of the State address in January.
He spoke of Silvia Buoniconti, who wanted to honor her son, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Frank Buoniconti, with a Colorado fallen soldier license plate.
Buoniconti was not eligible for the plate because her son had not died in a combat zone. Frank Buoniconti served several tours of duty in combat zones but was killed in a mid-air helicopter collision while training at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.
"He was everything you could look for in a war hero," Hickenlooper said, moments before he signed a bill that would allow the license plates to be issued to families of service members who are killed in the line of duty, regardless of the location.
"Since only 1 percent of the population serves to defend our country, it should not make any difference where a service member loses his life," Silvia Buoniconti said after the bill signing. "They should have our respect, gratitude and honor."
Earlier on Wednesday, Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1023 in the historic courtroom at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. That bill authorizes the state to hire eight additional social workers for its 10 juvenile detention centers to work on some of the most serious cases.
Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, modeled the bill after other states where involving social workers in juvenile delinquent cases has reduced the rate of recidivism and decreased incarceration costs.
"This bill is about children," Lee said. "It's about giving them a future after they have made mistakes or committed crimes. It's literally about the future of our communities."
Lee said kids are different than adults: impulsive, argumentative, reckless, oblivious to consequences and driven more by hormones than intellect.
"They too often find themselves immersed in a criminal justice system that was originally designed for adults," Lee said.
Social workers will address the underlying causes of adolescent crime, Lee said, rather than simply incarceratingyoung people.
Kim Dvorchak, executive director of Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition, said her organization wholly supports the new law.
"Juvenile court is supposed to be about treatment and understanding the children," Dvorchak said. "Social workers understand that in a very profound way."
Dvorchak said the bill, coupled with another bill that the governor intends to sign next week - House Bill 1032 - is a big stride forward for juvenile offenders in the state. That bill requires that juveniles be represented by counsel at all detention hearings. Dvorchak said that isn't happening and some youth lack the ability to represent themselves well.
Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 8 at Fire Station 8 on Airport Road establishing a state-run website that will serve as a comprehensive wildfire information center. Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, was a co-author on the bill. The former Colorado Springs fire battalion chief said the new website will bring critical information to one place on such things as active fires, burn restrictions and mitigation efforts.
Later in the day in Pueblo, the governor signed a bill by Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, that sets aside money for a new Colorado Bureau of Investigation building to replace the antiquated lab in Pueblo.
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