From the Senate: on ground water, coal rolling and charter schools

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 2:30 PM

These have been interesting times in the General Assembly. The worst of government rears its ugly head every now and then. That has been the case these past few days.

In my last column, I mentioned that Senate Bill 36, “Appellate Process Concerning Groundwater Decisions,” had recently passed the Senate 35-0. This exact bill passed the House last year with 60 votes, only to die in the Senate. Powerful men and big money did not offer any opposition in the House last year, but they put a full-court press on Senate leadership to kill the bill.

This year is exactly the opposite. Water investors and municipalities have once again rallied their expensive lobby corps to pressure legislators. What amazes me is that people who voted for the bill last year, at least twice, and some cases, three times, are now suddenly opposed. Unconfirmed reports have told me that northern water in Weld County is the driving force behind the opposition.

As someone from rural Colorado who understands the issues of rural Colorado, I am amazed that legislators who portray themselves to be pro agriculture – as men standing up for the little guy, the second- or third-generation farmer or rancher who is just trying to survive and hopes that the next generation can pay off the mortgage – can be in opposition to this bill.

What has happened is investors buy groundwater and then go to the Ground Water Commission and file for a change of use in hopes of exporting the water from the groundwater basin and sell it to the municipalities. If the investors lose in the appeal process, they claim new evidence. The farmer must hire a lawyer and water engineer to defend his water once again at thousands of dollars. One family has spent around $900,000 on attorneys fees. The fastest way to break a farmer is through litigation.

It is disappointing to me that a legislator can turn 180 degrees from one year to the next. The exact same bill should be treated the same. If you liked the bill last year, you should like it this year. Likewise, if you opposed it last year, I would expect the same this year.

I just had a bill die in the State Affairs Committee. This bill was drafted to curtail what is referred to as “coal rolling.” Coal rolling is done by altering a vehicle’s computer with a chip to feed more fuel to a diesel engine. It sends more fuel than can be burned, thus causing heavy black smoke. Walkers, bikers, small cars and outdoor diners at restaurants seem to be the target of this harassment. The bill was amended to exclude vehicles engaged in commerce and agriculture.

I had a lot of support from Senate District 6 for this bill from both sides of the district. About 15 people testified for the bill and no one was in opposition. I do not know why leadership wanted this bill dead, but they did.

I promise the residents of Senate District 6 I will always work for you, my constituents. The residents of Senate 6 will always come first. I know that every decision has two sides, but I was elected to represent the will of the majority. Now that I have leadership’s attention, it looks like the bill may be revived. Wish me luck.

Senate Bill 61 is the most talked about issue as of now. Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, a school must distribute revenue it receives from ongoing local property tax mill levies equally, on a per-student basis, to the school district’s charter schools. Some districts help fund charters quite a bit, others a little and some not at all. Each district has different financial constraints. This seems more like a matter of local control. Trying to legislate such a complicated mechanism, where one size fits all, is not the best for education. I encourage all parents to be active in your childrens’ education, but a mandate from the state may not be the best program for where you live.

Parents need to attend school board meetings, run for school board and make a difference.

Don Coram, R-Montrose, represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Rep. Coram at (303) 866-2955 or at During the legislative session, Sen. Coram and Rep. McLachlan share this column on alternate weeks.