Education and water bills begin the year

Good morning from the Colorado State Capitol in Denver.

I’m fortunate this year to have a private office, as most legislators have to share their office with one or more other legislators — one of the few perks afforded me as the most senior senator.

Even though I have moved, my phone number at the capitol has stayed the same, as well as my e-mail address.

I’m also fortunate this year to have two Fort Lewis College students working in my office full time. They are Patrick Young from Colorado Springs and Kate Jessen from Paonia. They will earn academic credits for their time here and it will give them some first-hand experience of how the legislative process works. They will be joined on Mondays and Wednesdays by Lauren Latimer from Bayfield. Lauren is a full time University of Colorado student and helped out some last year.

They are catching on quickly, having completed their second week last Friday. They have helped organize the office and even came in last Saturday so that we could sort through our file cabinets and eliminate all the outdated information. They are quickly learning how to track legislation, help constituents and calendar the many events that occur during the 120-day legislative session.

One of the most important things the legislature does every year is to pass the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year. That will be a major challenge this year with the downturn in the state and national economy. In Colorado we have to have a balanced budget.

Unlike the United States Congress, we can’t borrow money. Our budget difficulties are compounded by the fact that the budget we prepared last session for the current fiscal year is now projected to be out of balance by several hundred million dollars. The Joint Budget Committee, which is composed of legislators from both the House and Senate, is working hard to get the budget back into balance. It will take a combination of cuts to programs and departments, transfers of cash balances, hiring freezes and use of reserves. I will write more about this as the plan evolves.

As in past years, I plan to write this column weekly to help keep my constituents in southwest Colorado informed of what we are working on in the Legislature. I will also write about the bills I’m carrying as space allows.

One of my first bills this year is Senate Bill 43, which authorizes the merger of Pueblo Community College and San Juan Basin Technical College. Representative Ellen Roberts will be the prime House sponsor, and others, including Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez, have signed on as co-sponsors. We are all excited about the educational potential of this merger. The new institution will be known as Southwest Colorado Community College and will operate as a branch of Pueblo Community College. This merger will broaden educational opportunities in southwest Colorado and provide for a more seamless transition for students.

I’m working on several water bills again this year and one of my first ones will be a bill to allow for the limited capture of rooftop precipitation. A bill that would have allowed this last year died, primarily because of concerns over the effects it would have had in incorporated areas that were served by domestic water systems. This year there will be two bills and I will carry the one that pertains to the rural areas that aren’t served by domestic water systems. My bill will allow the collection subject to the same conditions and limitations that would pertain to a well that would be allowed on the same property.

If you make it up to Denver this winter feel free to stop by the Capitol. The public is always welcome and I always enjoy seeing people from down home.