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Colorado lawmakers may let lobbyists and others to bypass security at the state Capitol

Colorado lawmakers want to create an express lane in the state Capitol for those who can pay.

The aim is to alleviate lines created by enhanced security measures this session, but the $250 price tag is prompting concerns that it grants certain people — particularly lobbyists — special access to the statehouse.

“It’s very much like an express lane on the roads,” said state Rep. Dave Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican and bill sponsor. “You can use it if you are willing to pay for it. But if not, you can … go through the process as it is now.”

The legislation would allow anyone to pay the fee and submit fingerprints for a background check to obtain an identification card that allows entry to the Capitol and legislative buildings without going through a security screening.

Senate president Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, supports the measure, but it is expected to face opposition in the Democratic-led House, where leaders point to the Colorado State Patrol’s problems with the bill.

“I don’t agree with the idea of giving preferential access to this place, in particular, to folks who can pay several hundred dollars, which is a sum of money that is not easy for a lot of folks to come up with,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora.

A similar measure that applied only to lobbyists failed in 2010 after it became known as the “Lexus lane for lobbyists” bill. But the sponsors of the new measure dismiss questions about special access because any member of the public could apply for the card.

“It’s not really a lobbyist bill, it’s for anybody,” said Sen. John Cooke, a Greeley Republican and former Weld County sheriff who is the lead sponsor.

“People that have business here — the public — should have access,” he added. “This is the people’s building, so we should make it as easy as possible for people to come here.”

But the bill’s sponsors acknowledge that the hefty fee — which could rise to as much as $500 — is intended to restrict the pass to those who most often visit the building, such as lobbyists and citizen activists.

Right now, lawmakers, legislative staff, state employees and reporters with offices in the Capitol are able to obtain identification cards to bypass the metal detectors — installed in 2007 after an armed man entered the Capitol and was shot dead outside then-Gov. Bill Ritter’s office.

The State Patrol, which conducts the security screening at the Capitol and legislative buildings, recently began to require people to remove their belts. The lines to proceed through the security checkpoints at the two public entrances also can grow long with schoolchildren visiting the Capitol for field trips.

Trooper Josh Lewis, a State Patrol spokesman, expressed concern that the bill “may limit our ability to provide a safe and secure environment for all persons entering the Capitol complex.”

“As we have seen in the past, it only takes one individual with violent intent to endanger the safety and security of our Capitol,” he said in a statement. “While we are aware that these protocols may momentarily delay a person’s ability to enter the building, the Colorado State Patrol is committed to the safety of legislators, staff members and the public.”

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