House OKs merger for DOW and state parks

Attempt to slow deal for further study fails

DENVER – Wrapping up a busy week in the Legislature, the House approved a merger of the Division of Wildlife and state parks.

Senate Bill 208 passed Friday on a 49-14 vote. Thirteen Democrats and one Republican opposed the plan, which has already passed through the Senate on a 34-1 vote.

Late Thursday night, opponents attempted to delay the merger and study it for a year.

“I think it’s really important that we take our time and decide whether two major departments of state government should be merged or not,” said Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.

But Fischer’s bid to slow down the merger failed on a 22-43 vote.

The sponsor said the merger is all but a done deal, but the public and state workers will have a large say in how it is carried out.

“The fact of the matter is the governor is ready to move forward,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

Both Southwest Colorado Republicans – Rep. J. Paul Brown of Ignacio and Rep. Don Coram of Montrose – voted for the merger.

The bill has to return to the Senate for agreement with minor changes before it can go to Gov. John Hickenlooper for final approval.

With Hickenlooper’s signature, the boards that govern the parks and wildlife divisions will merge and begin developing plans to combine the agencies this summer.

Also Friday:

b Hickenlooper used 16 pens – one for each letter in his first and last name – to sign the state budget.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers each got a souvenir pen to remember the ordeal of adopting the $7 billion spending plan, which required a delicate compromise between tax cuts and school funding.

However, lawmakers still haven’t passed several bills that were part of the budget deal, including a temporary cut in benefits for state employees and a tax exemption for downloaded software.

Democratic and Republican leaders appear to be holding on to each other’s bills as the session nears its end Wednesday. Hickenlooper said if the Legislature fails to pass the budget-balancing bills, he will have to cut school funding by $20 million more and reduce payments to Medicaid doctors by nearly $50 million.

b The House delayed a final vote on Brown’s bill to extend the bear-hunting season.

But Brown won passage of another of his bills, House Bill 1081, which allows people who convert their cars to LP gas to receive tax credits the state gives for alternative-fuel vehicles.

His bill passed 39-24 and now goes to the Senate.

b Mexican restaurants are free to serve Corona Light because of House passage of SB 60.

The bill clears up a law passed last year that would have forbid restaurants from serving low-alcohol beers. Many lawmakers said they were unaware that last year’s law would have the strange effect of allowing high-alcohol beers but prohibiting lighter ones in restaurants.

SB 60 passed the House 61-2 and is headed to Hickenlooper, who supports it.

jhanel@durango herald.com