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Rhinoceropolis Artist Space In Denver's RiNo Shut Down By Fire Department

Denver Fire Department shut down the longtime artist collective Rhinoceropolis in the city's River North neighborhood Thursday evening, saying its investigators found numerous serious fire code violations.

In a statement, the fire department says it acted after being alerted by police about unsafe conditions at the 3553 Brighton Blvd. location. They ordered five people living in the building to leave immediately.  From a fire department statement:

The displaced individuals were offered housing assistance however that assistance was declined.  Individuals from numerous city agencies will meet with the building owner tomorrow to discuss next steps and those with belongings in the building will be allowed back into the building briefly, under the watch of a Fire Prevention Technician, to collect the remainder of their personal items.

For the past eleven years, Rhinoceropolis has hosted concerts, art shows, and other gatherings.

“It’s not just a dumb party to us," one of the space's co-founders, Warren Bedell, says of those events. "This is our lives. This is like the thing that I’m most proud of that I’ve done with my life.”

Rhinoceropolis, and its neighboring collective, Glob, sit in a once-industrial part of the city that has long drawn artists looking for cheap rents and a gritty vibe. Artist spaces like these foster a creative and accepting environment that’s not profit-driven, Bedell says. But rapid development across the neighborhood is changing that, driving rents up and artists out.

“A huge selection of the community that’s working on their art, they need a place to exist,” Bedell says.

On Twitter, artists familiar with the warehouse space criticized Denver’s action and called it an inappropriate response to the deadly Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, Calif.  There, according to KQED, the city plans to pay closer attention to these so-called DIY communities, balancing a desire to be friendly to artists, but also to prevent dangerous living conditions.

Probe Finds No Evidence Pentagon Favored United Launch In Contracts

The Defense Department's internal watchdog says it found no evidence to support an allegation that the Pentagon showed favoritism toward space contractor United Launch Alliance.

The office of inspector general said Thursday that Brett Tobey, a former vice president of engineering for the Denver-based company, had recanted the allegation and apologized.

The investigation began in March after Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain cited comments Tobey reportedly made to students at the University of Colorado. The inspector general's office says Tobey told investigators he was being dramatic to hold the students' attention.

Neither Tobey nor McCain immediately responded to a request for comment.

United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, puts military and national security satellites into orbit.

The company said it was pleased by the findings.

House Passes Water Bill That Includes Money For Gold King Mine Spill Costs

The U.S. House has approved a wide-ranging bill to fund water projects across the country, and in Colorado. Included in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act: sending money to Colorado for long-term water quality monitoring along the Animas River. That's the river polluted by the Gold King Mine wastewater spill last year in the San Juan Mountains. 

The $10 billion bill passed 360-61 also sets a deadline for the EPA to reimburse local governments for emergency response costs. Some cities and counties in Colorado and new Mexico are still waiting for that money. The bill now moves on the Senate where it may face a tougher time. A main sticking point is proposed aid for California’s drought. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California has vowed to defeat the drought measure.

As Obama Readies To Leave Office, Coloradans In Congress Have Wish Lists

Many in Congress are urging President Obama to act in a number of areas before he leaves office. That includes Colorado’s congressional delegation, some of whom want the president to take executive action on one his major immigration programs.

Colorado’s House Democrats – Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter – want Obama to protect the private data of undocumented immigrants in the DACA program, which protects immigrants who came to the country illegally as children. The idea is to shield those in the program from the threat of deportation.

Those who enrolled in DACA had to submit fingerprints and went through background checks. Democrats worry the incoming Trump Administration will use that data for other purposes.

As for Republicans, it’s more about what they don’t want Obama to do. Sen. Cory Gardner got 22 of his colleagues to sign a letter asking the president not to issue any new government regulations at all before his term is up. And Rep. Mike Coffman is urging Obama not to pardon Army Lt. Bowe Begdahl, who faces military charges for leaving his post while on duty in Afghanistan. 

DeGette-Backed 21st Century Cures Act Heads For Obama's Desk

Congress passed a bi-partisan bill Wednesday that backers say is a major boost for U.S. disease research. The 21st Century Cures Act will provide nearly $5 billion to the National Institutes of Health for research into diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's. Another one billion dollars will go to state efforts to combat the opioid crisis.

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Denver, co-authored the legislation, "so that we can take advantage of things like the mapping of the human genome and computer medical records and things like that to get cures much more quickly to patients."

Some critics, including former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, and the advocacy group Public Citizen, say the legislation was rushed through and allows shortcuts in the approval process for new drugs and medical devices. 

Sanders says the bill provides "no relief for soaring drug prices," but President Obama backs the bill and is expected to sign it.

Voters Passed Medical Aid In Dying, Now This Non-Profit Seeks 'Dialog' On Options

A Denver-based nonprofit launched a bilingual campaign Wednesday to educate Coloradans and medical providers about the state’s new medical aid-in-dying law.

"We're hoping that this increased dialog, and these increased conversations will also permeate into every community and every culture in Colorado, and improve end of life care," said Kat West with the nonprofit, Compassion & Choices. She says the main goal is to get people to talk about the new end-of-life option, with doctors and family members.

West says the bilingual campaign will help ensure that terminally ill patients who seek medical aid to end their lives have an informed network of caretakers. Voters approved the new law by a two-to-one margin. The law is expected to take effect later this month.

Colorado Teacher Evaluation Law Faces Court Challenge

The Colorado Supreme Court will hear a lawsuit Wednesday that challenges a portion of the state’s teacher evaluation law.

Several Denver Public School teachers sued the district two years ago. They said the law unfairly allows school districts to place experienced teachers on permanent unpaid leave if no principal wants to hire them even if they have good evaluations. They also say administrators use the law to get rid of veteran educators and bring in younger, cheaper teachers. They argue that teachers have the right to a hearing before being placed on unpaid leave.

District officials have argued that the old policy forced principals to accept teachers that might not be the right fit for a school.  The Denver superintendent has said he values the district’s experienced teachers but doesn't want to go back to the days of placing teachers in schools that  don't want them.

Prescribed Burn Bill Passes House, Heads To President’s Desk

A bill that aims to prevent wildfires caused by prescribed burns passed the U.S. House Monday and is on its way to President Obama’s desk for a signature. It had already passed the Senate.

The bill prohibits the federal government from authorizing a prescribed burn on federal Forest Service land, if the surrounding area faces extreme fire danger. If the government does go through with a burn, it will have to coordinate with local fire officials. And the Forest Service will need to report the number of burns and their locations each year.

Business Leaders Join Together For Immigration Changes

Colorado business leaders launched a new coalition Tuesday to advocate for immigration reform from the employer’s perspective.

Coloradans For Immigration Reform brings 13 pro-business organizations together to support policies like a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They want to make it easier for migrants and high tech workers to get visas. And the group warned that mass deportations would be a major blow to Colorado’s economy.

“It’s not building walls. It’s creating the types of policies and putting things in place that actually get to the root cause of the problems that support the types of reform that continue to grow America’s economy and move things forward,” said Jeff Wasden of the Colorado Business Roundtable.

Mizraim Cordero with the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce said he believes Republican control of the House, Senate and White House next year increases chances for immigration reform.

“This is a great opportunity to get the immigration reform we need right,” Cordero said. “Perhaps, there should be less focus on a broader deportation effort and more focus on, what are the policies that will move our economy forward and that’s what we’re pushing.”

Denver Adds Homeless Shelter Beds Before Winter Storm

Ahead of a winter storm expected to move into metro Denver on Tuesday, the city and Denver Rescue Mission have added more shelter beds for the homeless.

The city says about 1,500 people stay in shelters on a given night. Hundreds more sleep outside, under bridges and other out-of-the way places. More people are expected to turn to shelters as the weather gets colder.

Most of Denver's homeless shelters have been near capacity in recent months. The city's overflow shelter, near Interstate 70 and Peoria just blocks from Aurora, will add another 120 beds for single men. A bus will transport people from downtown to the shelter.

If shelters do fill up completely, the city says it will use neighborhood recreation centers for emergency beds shelter.