About 40 Dolores residents got a chance to hear from Republican state legislators Saturday at the Dolores Public Library.
Rep. Marc Catlin and Sen. Don Coram, both from Montrose, gave updates on bills they support and took questions from the audience.
The lawmakers praised the recent passage of Senate Bill 2, which could put as much as $150 million into high-speed internet for rural communities. The bill has gone to Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign.
“It levels the playing field and will improve our economy,” said Coram, who sponsored the bill in the Senate.
Catlin supported House Bill 1099, which deals with internet providers’ right of first refusal. The Senate approved the bill, viewed as a companion to SB2, and since it was not amended in the Senate, it also was sent to the governor to sign.
HB1099 deals with the right of first refusal, an issue that drew legislators’ attention in Southwest Colorado last year when Elevate, run by the nonprofit Delta-Montrose Electric Association co-op, bid to provide local high-speed fiber optic service.
But CenturyLink had the right of refusal and took over the grant because it had been in the area longer. In Ridgway, CenturyLink then installed the slower copper lines.
“That sounded wrong go me,” Catlin said. “They should have to match the speed and price of the company that won the bid.”
Catlin and Coram also sponsored a bill to increase penalties for harming a police horse. The bill, which was recently signed into law, was the idea of Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin.
To prevent more water from being diverted to the Front Range, Catlin sponsored a bill that would allow Front Range communities to store water in Eastern Plain aquifers, then pump it back out as needed.
“It gives a place for municipalities to store their water, rather than letting it run downstream,” he said.
The Front Range pulls 600,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Western Slope’s Colorado River Basin through transmountain diversion. Catlin said allowing the Front Range to store the water in aquifers will put less demand on Western Slope water in the future. The bill is being debated in the legislature.
Regarding the drought, the Coram and Catlin said pressure should be put on the Front Range to use water more efficiently such as recycle it and increasing regulations for smaller lawns. Once water is used to irrigate an ornamental lawn, it is consumed and cannot be recycled for more use downstream.
“By requiring landscaping on development, we are building our way into water shortage,” said Catlin, a former water manager. “Colorado as a community needs to understand that you don’t need an acre of bluegrass. The point is the transmountain diversion takes water off our farms and ranches in order to irrigate somebody’s rose patch on the Front Range, and that is a problem.”
Catlin and Coram both support the Mussel Free Colorado Act, which would provide funding for more boat inspections on state lakes, including McPhee Reservoir.
The bill proposes to charge state boat owners a $25 annual sticker, and out-of-state boat owners $50 to generate funds for boat inspections. It is being debated in the legislature.
“We cannot have our recreation areas closed because we don’t have people to inspect the boats,” Catlin said.
The audience also peppered the legislatures with questions about gun control, climate change and drought management.
Addressing the question of arming teachers with guns, Coram left the decision up to school districts. He said about 50 school districts in the state, including Dove Creek schools in Dolores County School District RE-2J, allow it. On improving school safety, Coram said having radios in schools that contact law enforcement directly would help.
“Right now, everyone calls 911 and, it overwhelms the system,” he said.
On improving rural school budgets, Coram said schools can expect better funding from the state next year because the state budget came in $1.2 billion higher than projected.
More competitive pay is needed for rural teachers, Catlin said, and a funding source should be from marijuana sales taxes.
“I did not vote for legalization, but when it passed, the promise to voters was that the marijuana sales taxes would be used to support schools, and that is not happening,” Catlin said.