State legislators target bears, gas tax money in ’11

DENVER – Southwest Colorado’s new state representative wants to repeal a voter-approved law that bans bear hunting in the spring and summer.

Rep.-elect J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, said he will introduce a bill to give the Division of Wildlife the power to allow black bear hunting during summer months. Voters in 1992 banned bear hunting between March 1 and Sept. 1.

“We’re having so many problems with bears in different places,” Brown said. “It kind of ties the hands of the Division of Wildlife so they don’t have the flexibility to allow hunting,”

The Four Corners will have a new slate of lawmakers when the Legislature convenes Jan. 12 for its four-month session.

Sen.-elect Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, is a veteran of four years in the House, but she is new to the Senate.

She does not plan to be the legislation machine she has been in the past.

“I’m carrying fewer bills than normal because I want to focus on the budget,” Roberts said.

In previous years, she usually carried her limit of five bills, in addition to shepherding Senate bills through the House.

In 2011, Roberts wants to try to prevent the state from using gas and oil tax money to balance the budget. The money is set aside for communities affected by drilling, but during the recession, the Legislature has taken the money to keep the state funded and to prevent further cuts to schools.

“There are significant impacts to communities where energy development is happening. It shouldn’t be a place to go in and raid. It’s been a long-standing problem,” Roberts said.

Roberts is running the bill with Rep.-elect Don Coram, R-Montrose.

The bill could put the Republicans at odds with senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, who wants the Legislature to put schools first in line whenever the Legislature discusses budgets.

Roberts also plans to carry a bill to discourage local governments from condemning ranches that have conservation easements. And she will sponsor the Legislature’s annual bill on inheritance law.

Brown, who is new to the Legislature, plans to start slowly.

His first bill seeks to change elections for the Colorado State Conservation Board from every three years to every four years.

“That will kind of help me get my feet wet so I understand the process,” Brown said.

Brown also is working on a bill to give more tax credits to owners of propane-powered vehicles.

Brown still is considering what to do for his final two bills. He is interested in paring back regulations on the gas and oil industry and health insurance companies.

“Let the market and the free enterprise system work and bring those health-care costs down,” Brown said.

The third member of Southwest Colorado’s delegation, Coram, is also a freshman. He won the seat Scott Tipton vacated to run for Congress.

Coram plans to sponsor a bill to bring a new judge to Montrose. Funding is available for the position, Coram said.

He also wants to make it easier for counties to collect payments in lieu of taxes on land owned by the state Division of Wildlife.

A third bill would make it easier to form a regional tourism authority in his district. The current law would require a board of 128 members for the multi-county group, and Coram is seeking a more manageable number.

Later in the session, Coram plans to tackle the pine beetle problem with freshman Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk. Coram met with Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper on the topic last week and came away pleased.

Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, appointed Coram to be vice chairman of the House State Affairs Committee.

In past years, the panel has earned a reputation as the “kill committee.” Both Democratic and Republican leaders stack it with loyal members in order either to kill bills before they reach the full House or to make sure they survive.

Coram said the panel members will do their due diligence on bills.

“As far as I’m concerned, that committee is just like any other committee,” Coram said.

jhanel@durangoherald.com