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Standing up for the agricultural community

I’ve had a very busy week at the Capital. A number of you have contacted me regarding House Bill 1188. This bill seeks to clarify river navigation rights in Colorado. Commercial rafting is obviously an important tourist attraction in our district; it generates revenue and employs people throughout southwest Colorado. However, while we are looking at HB 1188, we need to weigh the benefits of commercial rafting with the potential for infringement on private property rights of individual landowners. Commercial boaters and landowners have achieved a mutually beneficial understanding in the past, contributing to the development of a multimillion dollar industry in our region. The bill is currently scheduled to be heard in the Senate on March 2nd. I am working to address concerns and issues about the bill and welcome any comments or opinions you me want to share with the bill’s sponsor about this issue.

This week I had the opportunity to meet with President Brad Bartel of Fort Lewis College and introduce him on the Senate floor. We met with other education advocates to address the funding troubles faced by Fort Lewis. I’m very excited that we are continuing to brainstorm ideas on preventing Fort Lewis College from being disproportionately affected by the state’s funding cuts to education.

I want to thank all of the people who contacted me regarding House Bill 1001. HB 1001 is a very important bill which raises the renewable energy standard (RES), or the amount of energy created by renewables, from 20 to 30 percent by 2020. I have been pleased to see the majority of you are supportive of the bill. This bill is so important to strengthen both the economy and environment and will create countless good jobs in our state.

I have heard from some of you who still have doubts about the bill. I would like to set the record straight: this bill will not raise energy costs or utility bills in our district. Most of us are under Rural Electric Associations (REAs) and I worked hard to make sure REAs were exempt from this bill so they would have time to develop a renewable energy standard on their own terms and in their own timeframe. This bill applies to investor-owned utility companies. Expanding our state’s energy economy is not harmful; it is an investment in our future.

Another bill I’m sponsoring, Senate Bill 25, extends funding for water efficiency grant programs and passed unanimously through the Appropriations committee this week. This bill will extend funding for water conservation and drought mitigation programs across the state through 2020. The bill will be heard on second reading in the Senate in the next few weeks. On another positive note, the proposed $25 million cut to the Colorado Water Conservation Board construction fund failed in the House. As a result, we will continue to have funding for important water projects around the state.

The most enjoyable part of my week was meeting with the Future Farmers of America (FFA), a group of young people dedicated to agricultural education and leadership. Molly, Kaitlyn and Rhonda are college students who have taken a year from their studies to serve as state officers in the FFA. All three young ladies are from rural communities around Colorado and grew up on farms and ranches, like so many young people in our district. They are majoring in agricultural or animal sciences and carrying on their families’ legacies of farming and ranching. Meeting these inspiring women reinforced my confidence in my “no” vote to remove agricultural tax exemptions last week. Agriculture is a critical sector of Colorado’s economy and a proud part of our state’s identity. Even though the state is going through tough financial times now, we should always be conscious of supporting our vitally important agricultural community that puts quality food on our tables.