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Pen-wielding Ritter swings through town

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A campaign promise Sen. John Morse made to one man was fulfilled Monday when Gov. Bill Ritter signed several bills in Colorado Springs, including one to help families of veterans facing mental-health issues.

During door-to-door campaigning last summer, Morse, a Democrat, asked Donovan Tracy what he thought was the biggest local challenge.

"I told him whether you are for or against the war, we could all get behind the troops," said Tracy, 28, of Colorado Springs, at Monday's signing.

Tracy, a former mental-health worker, told Morse that veterans and their families deserve access to the best care available. From their extended conversation came Morse's Senate Bill 146, which Maj. Gen. Robert Mixon and others praised.

"The idea was so simple and so awesome," Morse said Monday.

It creates a three-year pilot program in the region to provide vets' families with low-cost mental-health services. Ritter said the bill would "help fill a critical gap" in the state system.

"We'll have to sit down with Sen. Morse and start to pull the specifics together," said Lara Shadwick, vice president of community relations for Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group.

Ritter signed three other bills, including one making it easier for families to qualify for the Military Family Relief Program, which provides state assistance when troops are deployed to war.

Another bill, by Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, creates a "second count day" of student enrollment for school districts grappling with Fort Carson's growth. A bill by Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, creates special license plates for Air Force veterans.

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