Looking back through 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 Farmers Union membership about current legislative issues and bills. The Colorado Association of Wheatgrowers also held their legislative day.
While the vast majority of Colorados population is urban, its important for all legislators to know that the agricultural industry contributes $40 billion to Colorados economy and supports 170,000 jobs.
Although the snowy weather played havoc with plane schedules, its great to see moisture at home. On the flight Friday, the parched nature of the state was all too apparent looking out from the planes window. A winter wildfire of about 800 acres in the southeast corner of the state broke out last weekend, another sign of just how dry things are in Colorado.
This week, Ive several bills in committee, two on the topic of wildfires. Through the Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission and stakeholder meetings since the commissions hearings, we have a bill establishing parameters for state-initiated prescribed burns.
The bill incorporates Colorados 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 have been working closely on the bill with the director of the states 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.
Weve been collecting input, concerns and proposed changes to the first draft of the bill. Hopefully, by doing this outreach in advance of the bills hearing, it will receive more support than if we had waited to have this contact with the various stakeholders. Well present an amended version of the bill to the Senate judiciary committee for its consideration and for public testimony to be received.
I am cosponsoring another commission bill that will be heard this week to create 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 Colorados risk of catastrophic wildfires. This committee would have a broader mission that could more fully address such areas as statewide forest health and Colorados 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 will be a busy week as Ill 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 on-site teacher support. The bill includes provision for professional development opportunities for teachers. Im hopeful that well also see improved broadband access in our region as that, too, will be critical in providing all of Colorados students, rural and urban, with the same learning opportunities.
Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorados General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.