Food, water, wildlife benefit from spring bills

Despite the weather, spring is here, and the end of the legislative session is just around the corner. Though it seems like just last week that we started our work at the Capitol, many of the issues I care about most have seen great progress and growth in the Colorado General Assembly.

Some of the most important pieces of legislation that are nearest and dearest to me have gone through the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee, of which I am a member. The bills that we see in this committee have such a profound effect on our district. Agriculture, livestock and natural resources are all essential to the way of life on the Western Slope. I’d like to share some of the bills that I have seen in committee and find important for our district.

Senate Bill 153, which has been signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper, strengthens the Farm to School task force. Although this program already is in place, the bill continues the task force indefinitely and allows for two more members from the agriculture industry to join. This task force aims to increase local farm and ranch products in school food-service programs, improve child nutrition and strengthen our local and regional farming communities. I think this partnership between education and agriculture strengthens both institutions, and I look forward to seeing the ways they integrate. I am especially proud that Gunnison and Durango School District 9-R are fully implementing this program.

One of the bills I co-sponsored and passed the Agriculture Committee is SB 175. This bill continues the Habitat Stamp Program and the Wildlife Habitat Stamp Committee indefinitely. The Wildlife Habitat Stamp is one of the many ways our state fights to conserve and protect vital habitats, not to mention improve access for hunting, fishing and other wildlife-related recreation. The bill passed through the Agriculture Committee and is on its way to appropriations. I’m very pleased with the bipartisan support the bill has received so far and look forward to the continuation of the Wildlife Habitat Stamp Committee.

Although I was not a sponsor, one bill I have been very involved in is SB 041, which concerns protecting the long-term use of stored water. This bill was written in response to the Supreme Court decision that stated storage in and of itself is not a beneficial use. While reviewing the bill as it passed through the House Agriculture Committee, firefighting and wildfire control were added as reasons to store water. We also amended the bill so that storage for other beneficial uses such as agriculture and municipal use are acceptable forms of storage. This bill protects our streams and wildlife, as well.

After careful and thoughtful consideration, I found that some bills were not in the best interest of the district. House Bill 1231 would have prohibited the routine practice of dairy-cattle tail docking. The ranchers from the 59th district did not support this bill. Best practices in farming and ranching are ever-changing and to prohibit tail docking seems to me like an unnecessary regulation. With bipartisan votes against it, the bill’s sponsor requested the bill be laid over indefinitely, ultimately killing the legislation.

Another bill I did not see fit for the district or state was HB 1096. It would have expanded the types of recipients who are eligible to receive reimbursements and grants for using waste tires. I support the idea of encouraging waste-tire recycling, and I see value in the program, but because of incidents in Ouray in recent years, I understand it is not a good idea for people to collect tires on their property. An excessive amount of hoarded tires can become a nuisance and, more importantly, a health hazard.

This Saturday, I will be giving a presentation about more of what the House of Representatives has accomplished concerning agriculture, livestock and natural resources at the annual La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association Banquet, provided of course, that we end our session in time for me to make my flight and attend.

As always, I am very proud and honored to be your state representative for the 59th District.

Mike McLachlan represents House District 59 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses La Plata, Archuleta, San Juan, Ouray and Hinsdale counties and part of Gunnison County. Call McLachlan at (303) 866-2914 or email mike.mclachlan.house@state.co.us.

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