What do state legislators do in the summer?

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Don Coram is Colorado State Senator for District 6

My summer was filled with lots of travel for legislative interim committee tours, attending a senior executive program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in July and participating in the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual summit in Chicago.

Back home, I’ve been able to attend meetings with constituents on topics such as the potential consequences of a state-level single payer system proposed as a constitutional amendment, economic development including efforts to establish markets for local biomass products in Durango and Pagosa Springs and visiting with the local Kiwanis on what’s happening at the legislature.

The wildfire and water interim committees that I serve on are in the process of meeting to consider what legislative proposals might be presented as committee bills next session. The deadlines for these proposals are advanced this year due to election season. This rush is unfortunate in the sense that we’ve not had enough time to do the better “deep dive” into the policy topics covered by each committee to produce bipartisan consensus of what, if any, legislation is needed.

That said, the wildfire matters committee, which I chair, did take two very educational field trips to see the important hazardous fuels reduction work being done in many Colorado’s communities facing high risk of wildfire. Water utilities such as Denver Water and Colorado Springs Utilities assisted in the field tours as they want legislators and their constituents to realize how long fire damage lasts and how expensive recovery is in the fire-impacted watersheds. These costs are borne by their ratepayers, so Coloradans are paying for the wildfires long after they are no longer burning.

We visited a Pueblo-based biochar and wood products facility and a combined biomass electricity generation and biochar plant in Gypsum. Good things are happening in the private sector, but challenges remain to achieving long-term profitability. Legislators were especially interested in learning about challenges imposed by governmental bodies and we got useful feedback.

The US Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service joined our tours to provide input and to learn as well. The forest health challenges we face will require collaboration among local, state, federal governments and private land owners.

Underscoring this message, the USFS Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry, Jim Hubbard, and USFS associate deputy chief, Vicki Christiansen, recently visited northern New Mexico and southwest Colorado to see the impressive work being accomplished by the many stakeholders in our combined region.

By joining the visit with the federal officials, their regional directors and others, I had the opportunity to provide them with my state legislative perspective. I’m in complete agreement that we need to work on a watershed basis, rather than on solely political boundaries since fire and watersheds won’t stop at county or state lines. In turn, they emphasized the critical importance of the state’s grant program to reduce wildfire risk as resources are limited at all levels. It’ll be the combined efforts that make the difference.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be attending more water committee meetings where a predominant topic of concern is what progress will be made on the “to do” list identified in the state’s newly minted water plan. Water storage and other proposed efforts to address the impacts of Colorado’s future population growth present more policymaker puzzles to solve.

About the author

Ellen Roberts

Ellen Roberts

Ellen Roberts is the Senator for Colorado District 6 which encompasses Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, San Juan, and San Miguel counties. In 2015, she was elected to serve as the President Pro-Tem for the Colorado State Senate.