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Long Bill equals a long week at the Capitol

The Long Bill is what we call the budget bill at the Capitol because it’s so long — more than 600 pages.

Last Thursday, we stayed on the floor until 8 p.m. debating funding cuts and priorities for the next fiscal year.

I was encouraged by a proposal offered by Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) that would reduce the cut to child welfare from 2 to 1 percent. However, I was disappointed that the money for the proposal could be taken from a fund that encourages organizations like Qwest to provide affordable telephone service in rural areas. While protecting children should be one of our main priorities as a community, I voted against the amendment because rural Colorado cannot sustain further cuts to the already limited programs that serve our needs. I also voted against other budget balancing bills that would have negative impacts on agriculture, water projects and processes, and long-term health care. In the end I did vote in favor of the Long Bill.

During the budget discussion, I encouraged Joint Budget Committee members to follow the House’s example and eliminate a footnote that prevents Fort Lewis College from raising non-resident tuition. Fort Lewis has been singled out and treated differently from other colleges and universities regarding non-resident tuition rates and I don’t support that. From what my colleagues tell me, victories against the JBC are rare, but my arguments ultimately convinced the JBC to withdraw their motion.

Also this week, the Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 171, proposed by Sen. Linda Newell (D-Littleton). This bill creates an independent Ombudsman office to oversee state human services and child welfare and is greatly needed now in light of the 30 child deaths that have occurred over the last three years. The fact that these deaths occurred while the children were under the custody of the state’s welfare system is unacceptable. Under the provisions of the bill, sources to fund the Child Protection Ombudsman program will come from gifts, grants and donations. However, we may have found money in the general fund for this program and we can thank our own Fort Lewis College. I have been working very closely on this issue with Sen. Newell and I’m proud that we may have made some progress. During briefings on next year’s budget, Fort Lewis officials reported that the actual enrollment of Native American students was less than projected, which created a gain in the general fund of about $300,000. Savings identified by Fort Lewis could fund nearly two-thirds of the Ombudsman program and the remaining portion will be raised by private donors. The bill has yet to be approved by the House.

One of my bills, HB 1051, passed out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee 11-1. This bill requires water providers to annually report water use in order to collect data and improve conservation efforts. Originally, this bill was fairly contentious, but I worked hard to bring all sides together. I’m optimistic that the bill will pass in the House and will be heard in the Senate in the near future.

On Wednesday, I attended the Cattlewoman’s Association luncheon and recognized Earlene Antonelli from Nucla and other members from the Western Slope on the Senate floor. That night I also attended the Governor’s 29th annual Holocaust Remembrance Program. That night, we renewed a pledge that “Never Again” will we allow genocide to occur in our world. It was a somber reminder of the atrocities of the past, but I’m also inspired by the ideals we have in place now that protect our personal rights and freedoms.