Cops and firefighters who approach passing motorists for charity—a familiar sight across the country every Labor Day weekend—will be assured right of way statewide, regardless of local laws, under a measure OK’d by a legislative panel today at the Capitol.
Senate bill 270, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk, and approved by the Senate Local Government Committee, clarifies when and where public-safety personnel, such as firefighters, can solicit funds from motorists. Local governments would be required to approve permit applications submitted by firefighters to do their fundraising on roadways.
Firefighters and others long have been a fixture of busy traffic intersections as they solicit for causes like the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon, asking motorists to fill a firefighter’s boot for the charity. Concerns have been raised in recent years that the activity may inadvertently flout local ordinances against roadside panhandling and other traffic-safety laws. If enacted, the new statute would supersede such rules.
Nicholson contends her bill is really about public safety.
“As long as we can say when and where—this bill protects firefighters and others by law,” said Nicholson. “Because they are professionals, they are aware of the public-safety of the situation.”
However, that was not the primary concern of the measure’s opponents. Speaking for the Colorado Municipal League, Kevin Bommer told the panel that the measure would infringe upon local authority.
“It’s a matter of common sense,” said Bommer. “It is absolutely wrong for the state government to pre-empt the local government…regulation of a local street is of strict local concern.”
Agreeing with Bommer was Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who said passage of the proposed measure would “open a Pandora’s Box.”
Equally concerned with the legal ramifications was Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, who said she would support SB270 for the time being but would seek additional input.
“I am voting yes because I came in here today saying I would but will need to talk more with (legislative staff),” said Aguilar.
Sen. Bill Cadman, R- Colorado Springs, opposing the bill, said the measure raised a question of local control—and a constitutional one.
“(SB-270) is a total usurpation of local control. It tries to carve out an exemption from local laws, for a specific group, raising serious constitutional issues,” said Cadman. “It’s a good public service but bad public policy…the ends don’t justify the means.”
The bill is now headed to the full Senate for consideration.
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