People’s Lobby Trip Up close and personal with the state legislature

A record number of Western Colorado Congress members participated in our People’s Lobby Trip to Denver at the end of February – which was a triumph by many measures! While some of the 19 participants were experienced citizen lobbyists, 10 were first-timers from Mesa County.

WCC sponsors the annual excursion not only to advocate for specific bills, but also to shed light on the legislative process and help folks understand the important role they can play in government. WCC’s community organizers were there to lend support and training. Sol Malick, our legislative liaison in Denver, was on hand to make introductions and provide current information.

Because our team was so large, we split into two groups to meet with as many legislators as possible. In the morning, one group went on the Senate floor at the invitation of Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-5), and the other went to the House floor as the guests of Reps. Millie Hamner (D-61) and Diane Mitsch Bush (D-26).

We also had individual meetings with Western Slope Representatives Mitsch Bush, Dan Thurlow (R-55), Marc Catlin (R-58), Barbara McLachlan (D-59) and Millie Hamner (D-61), as well as Sen. Don Coram (R-6).

Our time spent on the House floor demystified the entire political process for me. It was eye-opening that our elected officials are just people who can be influenced by us. – Cazz Davis, People’s Lobby Trip participant

Leslie Robinson and Rodger Steen, members of WCC’s Oil & Gas Committee, also met with the Air Quality Control Division to discuss the implementation of the new 2013 air quality regulations for oil and gas development in Colorado.

Our lobbyists spoke at length with legislators about the bills detailed below. A recurring theme was economic development on the Western Slope – specifically, how we can support traditional industries like farming and ranching (via bills promoting industrial hemp) and new business opportunities (via broadband bills). We also discussed energy efficiency for low-income households.

A special thanks to Kathleen and Xenti Colucci for supporting the trip by offering us a place to spend our two nights in Denver. Much better than a motel!

WCC priorities for the 2017 state legislature

Gasfield justice Local Government Liable Fracking Ban Oil and Gas Moratorium (HB 1124): WCC opposed this bill at the start of the session so we’re happy to report it’s dead! HB 1124 would have penalized any local government that banned or enacted a moratorium of oil and gas development by holding it liable for the value of the mineral rights.

WCC is continuing to work with legislative sponsors on another bill that would better protect our children from drilling and fracking operations near schools. We have played a leading role in developing this common-sense health and safety measure, which would close a disturbing loophole in state regulations. Once the bill is introduced in the House, it will get an official title and number. WCC supports this bill as this year’s top legislative priority.

Meanwhile, we’re awaiting the introduction of at least two other oil and gas bills that we’ll likely support, one that would increase local governments’ control over land use and another that would improve air quality monitoring.

Clean energy

Electric Utility Distribution Grid Resource Acquisition Plan (SB 145): WCC supported this bill which unfortunately has died. This bill would have pushed Colorado’s electric utilities to move faster in incorporating distributed energy resources (i.e., anything other than centralized power plants) into the power grid.

Public lands

Equal Protection from Federal Employee Personal Attack (HB 1141): WCC was strongly opposed to this bill so again we’re happy to report the death of a bill! HB 1141 would have made federal employees vulnerable to a felony charge for managing grazing on public lands.

Hardrock mining

WCC is working with Western Slope allies on a bill to reform some of the state’s outdated mining regulations that allowed the Gold King Mine wastewater spill to happen near Silverton in 2015. We can’t discuss the particulars of this bill until it has been introduced, but WCC will support it.

Food and agriculture

Recognize Industrial Hemp Agricultural Product For Agricultural Water Right (SB 117): WCC has long supported the growth and creation of hemp as a viable crop in Western Colorado. This bill affirms that industrial hemp is a recognized agricultural product that people can use their water rights to cultivate. A similar bill (SB 109) has been introduced that would recognize hemp as a viable animal feed. WCC supports these bills to give more tools and options to Western Slope family farms and ranches.

Social justice

Wage Theft Transparency Act (HB 1021): In 2014 WCC joined with allied organizations across the state to pass the Wage Protection Act, which created legal channels for workers suffering from wage theft. This bill clarifies that businesses must be transparent about any wage theft claims they are facing. WCC supports this bill.

Reprinted from the Clarion. Article by Emily Hornback, WCC Organizer. Photo by Jeriel Brammeier.

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