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Two bills on the topic of wildfires

Looking back over the events of last week, we had a number of agricultural groups at the Capitol.

I was very honored to receive the Pinnacle Award, the top legislative award from the Colorado Farm Bureau, and I was invited to speak with the Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union membership about current legislative issues and bills. The Colorado Association of Wheatgrowers also held their legislative day.

While the vast majority of Colorado’s population is urban, it’s important for all legislators to know that the agricultural industry contributes $40 billion to Colorado’s economy and supports 170,000 jobs.

Although the snowy weather played havoc with plane schedules, it’s great to see moisture at home. On the flight on Friday, the parched nature of the state was all too apparent looking out from the plane’s window. A winter wildfire of about 800 acres in the southeast corner of the state broke out over the weekend, another sign of just how dry things are in Colorado.

This week, I’ve several bills in committee, two on the topic of wildfires. Through the Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission and stakeholder meetings since the commission’s hearings, we have a bill establishing parameters for state initiated prescribed burns.

The bill incorporates Colorado’s local control emphasis, but also addresses the reality of the dangers presented by the combination of statewide drought conditions and the large hazardous fuels load, easily ignited by Mother Nature or humans.

A fellow senator and I’ve been working closely on the bill with the director of the state’s fire prevention and control division and a number of interested people, including residents of the Lower North Fork burn area, firefighters, fire chiefs, land managers from the state and national forest services and other state agencies, and agricultural and environmental groups.

We’ve been collecting input, concerns and proposed changes to the first draft of the bill. Hopefully, by doing this outreach in advance of the bill’s hearing, it’ll receive more support than if we’d waited to have this contact with the various stakeholders. We’ll present an amended version of the bill to the Senate judiciary committee for its consideration and for public testimony to be received.

Another commission bill that I’m co-sponsoring that’ll be heard this week creates an out of session (interim) legislative committee looking more broadly than the Lower North Fork commission on identifying the issues and possible proactive steps to take to address Colorado’s risk of catastrophic wildfires. This committee would have a broader mission that could more fully address such areas as statewide forest health and Colorado’s timber industry.

My bill on electronic participation for school board members was passed unanimously by the Senate Education committee, with an amendment expanding it to include executive sessions if local board policy allows that option. That bill now moves to the Senate floor this week for further consideration.

It’ll be a busy week as I’ll also have in the education committee my bill seeking to expand students’ supplemental online course options in a “blended learning” environment, which is using digital learning with onsite teacher support. The bill includes provision of professional development opportunities for teachers. I’m hopeful that we’ll also see improved broadband access in our region as that, too, will be critical in providing all of Colorado’s students, rural and urban, with the same learning opportunities.

This story was posted on February 14, 2013.