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Hickenlooper Signs Divisive Bills On Energy, Labor

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Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

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DENVER (AP) – A flurry of final bill signings from Colorado’s Democratic governor Wednesday included divisive measures on renewable energy and labor rights.

Gov. John Hickenlooper added explanations for signing both, an unusual step, but one prompted by intense opposition and his own public ambivalence about the measures.

The energy law requires Colorado’s rural cooperative electric associations to get 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from 10 percent. That’s a lower threshold than required of electricity providers serving most Coloradans, but Republicans vigorously argued that rural residents can’t afford the upgrade.

Hickenlooper told reporters he had “misgivings” about the energy bill, but decided it would contribute to cleaner air and that Colorado can’t wait another year to hike renewable energy requirements even in rural areas. His explanation included assurances that the upgrade won’t raise rates above a 2 percent cap.

“The assertion that this legislation will levy billions in costs to rural consumers is not borne out by the facts,” Hickenlooper wrote.

Opponents weren’t satisfied, taking to Twitter and other social media to decry the decision. Republic Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg called the bill a “war on rural Colorado.”

The firefighter law enhances the rights of professional firefighters to talk about working conditions, even if their communities have voted to ban their use of collective bargaining. Opponents said labor decisions should be a local-control issue.

Hickenlooper threatened to veto the firefighter bill when lawmakers proposed it, something his predecessor had done. Lawmakers changed the bill to clarify that it couldn’t be used to mandate union organizing without a local vote, and Hickenlooper called it a fair compromise.

“Opponents of the bill have raised objections that it authorizes the state to intrude in an area of exclusive local concern and jurisdiction. We do not agree,” Hickenlooper wrote.

The Colorado Municipal League, which lobbied against the bill, sent a statement calling it “an end-run around matters of strictly local concern.”

The governor also signed dozens of bills in private Wednesday, some of them quite controversial.

Those included a measure to allow Colorado residents without legal immigration status to receive driver’s licenses. Another would take firearms from domestic abusers. He insisted the private signings weren’t meant to avoid scrutiny but demanded because of timing.

The governor faced a Friday deadline to sign or veto all bills, and he insisted he didn’t purposely avoid public scrutiny by signing some laws in private. Anything Colorado’s governor doesn’t sign or veto becomes law without his signature after Friday.

Hickenlooper was asked about the lack of vetoes this year. He said it was because his office was frank with lawmakers when they considered something he didn’t like, including repealing the death penalty and some measures to increase environmental oversight on the oil and gas industry.

“Quite honestly, certainly politically, it would have been better to have a few vetoes,” Hickenlooper said.

- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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