Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three bills into law Thursday in Durango in front of more than 200 appreciative students at Escalante Middle School.
“These guys debate for four months to determine which bills should become laws,” Hickenlooper told students – pointing out four state lawmakers attending the signing ceremony in the school cafeteria. “But once they pass a bill, it doesn’t automatically become a law.
“I have to sign it, and that’s when they become real nice to me.”
The first bill signed, SB18-042, created the Agricultural Workforce Development Program, which will expand beginning farmer education in Colorado by reimbursing qualified agricultural businesses up to 50 percent of the cost of hiring a farm apprentice. The effort was led by farmers and ranchers who are part of the National Young Farmers Coalition, a national farmer advocacy organization with four farmer-led chapters in Colorado.
“It helps farm business owners to take on interns,” said Mike Nolan, president of the Four Corners Farmers and Ranchers Coalition, a local joint chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “It helps farmers get people to help, and it helps bring in younger people to learn about farming.”
The average age for a farmer in Colorado is 60, Nolan said.
“The aging of farmers is a big issue not only in Colorado but nationally,” he said.
Hickenlooper said the bill not only attracts more young people into farming, it also provides incentives to keep water in agricultural use and minimizes temptations from the Front Range to divert Western Slope water across the Continental Divide for use by cities.
The other two bills help aspiring teachers.
The Financial Incentives for Educators in Rural Colorado Act, SB 18-085, increases the number of stipends, each worth $6,000, available to student teachers and adults looking for a career change into teaching. The number of stipends expands from 20 to 60. Stipends come with a stipulation that recipients must spend three years teaching in rural schools.
“The original bill (passed in the 1980s) provided stipends only to student teachers in traditional education programs. This bill expands the program to offer stipends to alternative-certification programs, for professionals looking to change careers into teaching,” said Evan Kennedy, director of rural residency for the Public Education and Business Coalition.
Sherri Maxwell, regional manager for the Boettcher Teacher Residency, an alternative teacher certification program, said the measure will attract people from within communities to fill the teacher shortages rural communities face.
“We’re getting local people to fill positions in our local schools,” she said. “One challenge we face is bringing in people to fill positions, and then they leave.”
State Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, said the measure helps teachers advance in their profession. “Sometimes a teacher is just a few credit hours short of their master’s, and this will help them.”
McLachlan sponsored all three bills signed Thursday.
The second bill that helps young teachers is The Student Teacher Criminal History Record Checks Act.
The measure, SB 18-229, standardizes the required criminal background checks for student teachers and first-year teachers so that procedures and costs are consistent for all Colorado school districts.
It also helps young teachers pay for one background check instead of having to pay for separate checks for every district in which they apply. Background checks will be good for three years.
After signing the first two measures into law, Hickenlooper pounded the portable table where he was seated, looked up, smiled at the students and said, “It’s a law.” Students offered hoots and howls.
On the third bill, students knew the drill. After signing the measure increasing stipends for teachers, Hickenlooper simply raised his hands and students cheered.
Hickenlooper said road shows to sign bills are tiring but worth the effort.
“I’ve traveled 600 miles today, maybe 650. But I love it,” he said. “You get out to a school like this, and the kids are all fired up. It’s a Thursday before a long vacation, and the kids were really well-behaved – probably a good principal, a good assistant principal.”
firstname.lastname@example.orgAn earlier version of this story misstated the name of the National Young Farmers Coalition organization.