I have had an exciting first year as your state representative. Several of my bills passed through the gantlet of the House, Senate and governor, all with bipartisan support. I am doing my best for House District 59 in Southwest Colorado.
HB 17-1219 has been signed into law. It is a pilot program encouraging farmers to fallow their land, then lease the water to municipalities. It will help maintain the health of the land, retain water rights and assist municipalities.
HB 17-1003 is a priority of mine because it will help address Colorado’s teacher shortage. It is awaiting the governor’s signature. It directs the Department of Higher Education to work with other stakeholders to perform their annual survey of teaching conditions, then report back to the Legislature with specific and strategic plans on how to attract and keep teachers in Colorado. It will also investigate why so few students are applying to teacher education programs.
HB 17-1176 also awaits the governor’s signature. It gives teachers who have retired with PERA benefits the ability to return to rural school districts and teach, without harming those benefits. It will help rural districts find qualified, certified teachers to alleviate the shortage.
HB 17-1306 is ready for the governor. It provides funding for school districts to test for lead, starting with older elementary schools. Larger districts have already tested, which covers 44 percent of Colorado’s student population, so this bill targets middle-sized and smaller districts that may never have found the money for the procedure. There is no safe level of lead in children.
HB 17-1374 died in committee. It offered free, lifetime fishing and hunting licenses to all veterans who have served for at least two years, and who have lived in Colorado for at least two years. It was a way to pay respect to those who have served our country so valiantly.
SB 17-302 is a simple fix for a problem many did not know existed. It adds silvicultural equipment to the property tax exemption list for our agricultural communities. It awaits the governor’s signature. Silviculture equipment, by the way, is used for planting, growing, maintaining or harvesting trees, particularly in our beetle-kill forests.
HJR 17-1015 is naming Colorado Highway 3 in Durango as the Captain Jeff Kuss Memorial Highway. The signs will be installed in June.
While these bills have certainly kept me busy, I have also been proud to co-sponsor legislation that implements the Colorado Water Plan, promotes equal pay for equal work and helps veterans earn college credit for their military training. These bills also focus on paid family and medical leave, accountability for student loan servicers, affordable and accessible health care, attainable housing, broadband and the protection of our public lands for the next generation.
Other big bills the general assembly is working on include:
HB 17-1279 is the Construction Defects Bill. It passed through the gantlet, giving homeowners a strong voice if they discover construction defects, without tying the hands of the construction industry. It is a giant step toward helping the industry start building more affordable homes.SB 17-267 removes the Hospital Provider Fee from the general fund and puts it into an enterprise fund, and out of TABOR revenue constraints. This masterfully crafted bill will end up helping both rural and urban hospitals, small businesses, transportation, education, rural schools and senior citizens.
SB 17-296 is a cooperative effort of charter schools, school boards, rural schools, unions and traditional public schools to share money on an equitable, instead of an equal, basis. It is best for students because the money will follow those in need and is not dependent on the school they attend.
Schools will be getting more per student next year and the negative factor will not increase.
We are required to balance the budget every year, and finding the final pieces of legislation to make that happen took a little longer than usual primarily because those pieces were so large and so important to Colorado.
After late-night sessions Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we all rose to the challenge. It took many difficult conversations, compromises and stakeholders to make good government work.
Barbara McLachlan represents State House District 59. Reach her at email@example.com. During the legislative session, Rep. McLachlan and Sen. Don Coram share this column on alternate weeks.