State Rep. Don Coram gave an update on state politics and bills during the Four Corners Ag Expo on Saturday morning.
Coram represents the 58th District, which includes Montezuma, Dolores, Montrose, and San Miguel Counties
He was joined by J. Paul Brown, a Republican who is running against Democrat incumbent Mike McLachlan, of the 59th District, in the November election.
Coram discussed several topics and bills that he sponsors or supports.
A proposed Rural Broadband law would target funding to be directed toward Southwest Colorado.
Each year, $15 million is raised from a small portion of everyone’s phone bill that is supposed to subsidize technology for rural areas where it is lacking.
But areas that were once rural, like Parker, south of Denver, continue to receive the rural technology funds, Coram said.
“I want to repurpose that money for actual rural areas to apply for,” he said. “Our download times can be hours long, and it gives business a disadvantage.”
The effort to “level the playing field” and provide fair access to broadband across the state has been going on for five years.
“Living in rural Colorado, I know firsthand the need for access to reliable broadband so that rural Colorado can have the same opportunities that broadband gives to our friends in metropolitan areas,” Coram said.
Upcoming roundtable talks on agricultural and water issues are leaving out rural areas as well, Coram said.
Eighty-five percent of water in the state is west of the Continental Divide, but 85 percent of the population is on the other side, he said.
In February, the Colorado House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed HB14-1030, bipartisan legislation to streamline development of small hydropower in Colorado by a vote of 62-3.
The bill was introduced by Coram, and a companion bill is being sponsored by state Sen. Ellen Roberts.
It gives rural areas more opportunity to create hydroelectric power up to 10 mega-watts of electricity by using irrigation canals, flumes, and pipelines.
“The bill will streamline the process and cuts the red tape,” Coram said.
District 59 candidate Brown says the state ballot initiative system needs reform. With enough signatures, a measure can make the ballot that amends the state constitution.
“Colorado is the easiest state in the U.S. to put laws into the constitution,” Brown said. “I would promote changes that require signatures for ballot initiatives come from all districts, not just the Front Range population centers.”
A ballot initiative dubbed the Public Trust Doctrine attempt to revamp the prior-appropriation system of Colorado water rights.
“It is water theft, and turns our water doctrine on its head,” Brown said.
General fear of the Humane Society of the U.S. was expressed. The national organization is far different from the local chapters adopting pets.
“The national Humane Society is anti-meat; they want to put ranchers out of business,” Brown warned. “They want to pass laws that tell us how to run our livestock, and eliminate standard animal husbandry practices.”
Coram relayed a tale of what he believes is government over reach in Hotchkiss of Delta county. A Mennonite chicken farm drew the ire of neighbors who sued to stop it. A judge ruled that it threatened the health of the plaintiff, and the operation was closed down.
“Delta county is a right to farm county, and the judge set a precedent that overruled that right,” Coram said.
Coram responded by meeting with Gov. John Hickenlooper, who flew to Hotchkiss to meet with the Delta County commissioners. The Colorado Attorney General was persuaded to take up the matter and filed an amicus brief on behalf of the state to appeal the judges decision.
“It bothers me because most chicken farms on the Western Slope are corporate operations, and this one was small,” Coram said.
A more fair, balanced budget is a goal of Coram. He wants to prioritize funding for education hit by the so called “negative factor” that hurts rural schools.
“Additional funding for Medicaid in the state will mean funding cuts for education,” he said. “A family of four making $70,000 per year qualifies for Medicaid. In my District those are the rich people!”