Interested citizens crowded into the lower portion of Needlerock Brewery, eager to engage with Matt Soper, who was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in November. The legislative briefing was hosted by the Libertarian Party of Delta County on Saturday, March 2. Party chairman Jay Stooksberry introduced Soper, who said it's a "unique and awesome" responsibility to represent his hometown.
During the early weeks of the legislative session, Soper has observed that the 65 members of the House do not normally engage in the partisan bickering citizens see in Washington, D.C.
"I've observed some bills that are strictly party line, but probably 90 percent are not party issues. They may be geographic issues, but they're not always Democrat vs. Republican," he said.
Soper is assigned to the Committee on Legal Services, Judiciary Committee and Health & Insurance Committee.
He had been on the House floor until 10 p.m. the previous night debating the extreme risk protection bill. It was soon apparent that most constituents in the audience were well aware of the bill's provisions. House Bill 1177 creates the ability for a family or household member or a law enforcement officer to petition the court for a temporary extreme risk protection order (ERPO). According to a summary on the Colorado General Assembly website, the petitioner must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that a person poses a significant risk to self or others by having a firearm in his or her custody or control or by possessing, purchasing, or receiving a firearm. If an ERPO is issued, the respondent must surrender all of his firearms to a law enforcement agency or a federally licensed firearms dealer.
Soper explained why he opposes the bill. Number one, in rural western Colorado, the law enforcement and the court system are already at capacity, yet the ERPO process could take precedence over everything else.
He questioned the constitutionality of the proposal, as well as the civil vs. criminal incompatibilities.
One member of the audience told Soper of a nationwide restraining order against an ex-spouse who continues to send her emails at least twice a year, despite the passage of 22 years. If he learned of this bill, she said, he could use it to take away her protection. "If he knows I don't have guns, he can come into my house and finish what he started 22 years ago. What protects me?
"Under this bill, nothing," Soper responded.
The Democrats believe this bill can potentially reduce murders and suicide; Soper believes a better option is to fully fund mental health.
Republicans are trying to chip away at some of the worst elements of the bill, but Soper said he believes it will eventually pass both the House and the Senate, and the governor has already indicated he would sign it into law.
After much give-and-take on House Bill 1177, Soper moved on to the "equally bad topic" of a bill to bypass the Electoral College. This is one issue that is divided along party lines, Soper said. It would Colorado electors to the Electoral College to cast their vote for the winner of the national popular vote. Currently, Colorado electors vote for the candidate who wins in Colorado.
Many members of the audience said they're ready to sign a petition to force the issue to appear on the ballot, if it is ultimately approved by the legislature.
He also discussed a bill requiring comprehensive sex education that was supposed to be a "tweak" of 2013 legislation that allowed school districts, parents and students to opt out. Instead of revision, the bill has been subject to a major rewrite that could take curriculum out of the hands of the local school board.
Soper has introduced two bills of his own. The first, an attempt to get back to teaching life skills in schools, failed on a vote of 32 in favor and 31 against because it takes 33 votes to pass a bill out of the House of Representatives. Soper described this experience as "basic legislator education" and vowed not to give up.
He is also carrying a bill that would allow local governments to post notices of meetings on their website.
Soper touched on a number of other topics of interest before responding to a question about how the residents of western Colorado can make an impact on Colorado politics. First, anyone who wants to testify on a bill that do so at the CMU campuses in Montrose or Grand Junction with the proper notification. Second, communicate with your legislator. Soper said he receives hundreds of emails every day, but generally only one handwritten letter. He asks his aide to put any letter from his constituents in House District 54 on the top of his correspondence. His mailing address is 200 E. Colfax, Room 307, Denver CO 80203, and his phone number is 303-866-2583.
Check Soper's Facebook and Instagram accounts for updates.