Jerry Kopel

by Jerry Kopel

It started out looking like a hot war between the governor and the Senate, but it ended with smiles and handshakes between the military and the legislature.

The battle began during the 2001 legislative special session when Sen. Bill Thiebaut (D-Pueblo) raised the issue: Can women serve in the Colorado National Guard without the consent of the governor?

Colorado law in 2001 provided "The governor may authorize the appointment or enlistment of women in the state military forces..." There is no such word as "may" relating to enlistment of men, so there appeared to be a need to revise the law.

From the time the national guard was formed until 1955, women were not allowed to join the Colorado National Guard even though women served in the armed forces during World War II and in Korea. In effect we had a "no women allowed" sign outside the enlistment office.

The Colorado law was changed in 1955 to allow women to enlist for the medical corps, nurse corps and other noncombatant services. And in 1995, the law was changed, removing specific military duties and tying enlistment of women to federal law regarding such enlistment. Only problem was the wording "The governor may authorize" which was left in the 1995 statute.

Sen. Alice Nichol (D-Adams County) joined Sen. Thiebaut in urging Gov. Owens to allow a bill to be introduced in the special session, but Owens and Adjutant General Mason Whitney said all enlistments went to the governor for approval anyway, so the issue was moot.

Thiebaut and Nichol got a 33-0 vote in the State Senate to set up a special committee to review the entire national guard law, not just as to the "may authorize..women". Other military and veterans laws were to be reviewed. Much of the law had not been changed in decades and some language had its origins in the nineteenth century.

Sen. Nichol asked for my assistance, since revising obsolete laws had been a legislative speciality of mine. The national guard bill was approved by the committee and introduced as SB 99, with Nichol as Senate sponsor and Rep. Lola Spradley (R-Beulah) as House sponsor.

The old law mentions fresh pursuit across state borders of saboteurs, but the definition of sabotage in the Colorado statutes was "intentionally tampering with an animal of another person that had been entered into an exhibition.." That's not the kind of sabotage the national guard pursues. "Saboteur" and "terrorist" are now defined.

Discrimination by public and private employers against employing members of the national guard is now a misdemeanor under SB 99 and the law allows those injured to regain attorney fees in a successful lawsuit for damages or equitable relief.

Federal law is actually tougher on employers, but a loophole occurs when the guard is not federalized, but called up to fight disasters such as floods or fire, leaving their fate in the hands of state statutes. Military personnel will also have an easier time to litigate against discrimination in public places.

National Guard members are subject to arrest as any other citizen accused of committing a crime; pay of non-guard personnel will be consistent with the pay of persons under the state personnel system.

The National Guard attorneys either made or accepted major changes to the law dealing with state defense forces other than the national guard. Present statutes regarding what is the "defense force" and what is "national guard" were confusedly mixed.

HB 1139 by Rep. Bill Crane (R-Arvada) also provided additional protections for national guard and state defense forces called to active duty. His measure stayed actions on residential rentals, installment contracts and mortgage obligations, as long as creditors are notified of active duty status. This was an important measure to protect rights of the state military.


(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado legislature.)

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