Two members of the Colorado State Legislature conducted a town meeting on Dec. 15 in Paonia at the Glennie Coombe Gallery. Sen. Gail Schwartz and Rep. Millie Hamner listened to constituents and answered numerous questions for two hours.
Rep. Hamner said the science is not the same for establishing regulations for driving under the influence of alcohol or marijuana. A bill last year presented by Sen. Steve King failed, but another bill is promised for this next session to look at what the standard should be for motorists under the influence of marijuana.
In regard to recreational marijuana in Colorado, one citizen said that in his opinion the federal government has run over state rights. "I would like to ask you to be aware of state rights and stand up for our state against an overbearing federal government. Federal marijuana laws and drugs laws are essentially illegal according to the Constitution," he said.
Rep. Hamner asked citizens to let the legislators know when they feel state rights issues are not being upheld.
"We get a lot done in a good collaborative environment in our legislature," Sen. Schwartz said in comparing the state legislature with the "log jam" at the federal level.
Asked if there are changes regarding medical marijuana, Rep. Hamner said there are not.
Sen. Schwartz answered a question about Forest Service roads that are closed in Pitkin County. Those are federal, not state roads. The questioner said friends had opened roads themselves to gain access. Sen. Schwartz said they could ask the Forest Service about its road closure policy. "I think what they are trying to do is consolidate this off road traffic," Schwartz said. "It's not good for our habitat. It's not good for our wildlife."
Another man said the United Nations wants to restore half of the land mass in the U.S. to wildlands without any human use.
Sen. Schwartz responded, "That U.N. policy has nothing to do with any of my legislative priorities. That is given more credibility than it deserves, especially in the state of Colorado. I don't know anyone who lives by those provisions."
The man rebutted that, "It is heavily in Colorado." He then gave an example about restricted growth in Durango.
"That's all local control," Schwartz responded. "This speaks to people being engaged locally, being engaged with local policies and local decisions. I am almost offended when people say, 'Oh that's one of those U.N. 21 things.'"
Sen. Schwartz said she has continually fought for the expansion of the coal mines, and now for capturing methane from the mines. "Let's talk about our local priorities and how we are going to solve our own problems."
Rep. Hamner said the state senate "ran out of time" to approve a bill on providing incentives in capturing methane at coal mines. Both the senator and representative want renewable energy credits which monetize the value of the captured gas.
"For the first time in the country, we are able to capture that methane," Sen. Schwartz said. This collaborative endeavor was with Vessels Coal Gas, Oxbow Mining's Elk Creek Mine, DMEA, Holy Cross Energy, Aspen Skiing Company and Gunnison Energy Corporation. The electricity is being sent over DMEA's grid to Holy Cross Energy.
Tony Prendergast who is on the DMEA board said they are very interested in this being included as an eligible resource. DMEA wants Tri-State to be interested and a player in this capturing of methane and converting it to electricity. "Ultimately that would be the best solution," Prendergast said.
Jim Kiger of Oxbow Mine said, "I need to be very clear. The gas source is not from the vents that are going into the atmosphere or the fan. The source of the gas is from underground fractures that we were able to drill into to try and degas some of the coal areas. It's very unique to us. The other mines don't have that situation."
Kiger added, "If we produce the power, we have to find someone to buy it."
He then explained that Oxbow Mine cannot capture methane from the gob vent boreholes on top of the mountain. It would be a lightning rod which could potentially cause a mine explosion. "This project is unique because we are in the bottom of the valley and we can tap the gas resource inside the mine and create a facility that is hopefully safe for our miners."
Sen. Schwartz wants to create a renewable thermal standard. The state has a renewable electric standard already. "We are making a mistake when we have such a great ability to use efficiency and also use renewable thermal resources which are biomass, geothermal, solar thermal and giving that value as well." She plans to introduce five bills in her two remaining years in the senate to advance this issue.
Concerning the Gallagher Amendment which was passed by Colorado, Sen. Schwartz said it hurts rural small towns and businesses more than any other part of the state. "It will take a constitutional convention to unravel some of these fiscal issues." Sen. Schwartz said that TABOR and the Gallagher Amendment have caused a "systemic budget problem and we will never be able to catch up given where we are," Schwartz said.
"Our job is to support local economic efforts at the town, city and county level, and to make sure anything we do at the state level is in support of those efforts and are not working against them," Rep. Hamner said. "We are reaching out to you so you know you can email us and call us about issues that concern you."
Ellen Brett commented, "The state has said it is going to support agritourism . . . Delta County has even been highlighted . . . What happens is people set up a little three-bedroom place for people to stay in or put in a commercial kitchen on their property and suddenly they are being taxed at a commercial level which is just prohibitive."
Sen. Schwartz had a bill several years ago where she tried to exempt small home businesses from being taxed at the commercial rate. "We want to have small incubator [businesses] so they can move up to mainstream. To put the burden on a small business that's just trying to get a foothold makes it really unfeasible," Schwartz said.
Rep. Hamner said selling beer in grocery stores comes up every year in the legislature. Some view it as a convenience, but small liquor stores have opened because there is a niche market. There were 70 liquor stores in her old district that would have been negatively impacted, including loss of jobs, due to selling full-strength beer in grocery stores. "So, I'm a strong opponent. I voted against that. I know that it is being packaged a little bit differently this year. Now it's being talked about as selling craft beers in grocery stores. We're going to have to work through this every year," Hamner said.
Brent Helleckson who owns a family winery said, "Every year we say, 'Should we grow or not grow?' Growth implies hiring people . . . Both the way the federal and state structures are . . . I can't grow by one or two people and put the same amount of money back in my pocket. It has to be 10 or 15. There's a huge threshold you have to get over before you can begin to make the same amount of money."
David Knudsen asked who is looking out for the poor in the state? Is there an organization that is looking at how bills will impact the poor?
Sen. Schwartz said the legislature has brought some oversight to the pay day loans industry. "We were having neighborhoods turning into . . . marijuana shops and pay day loan shops and we were losing the fabric of our commercial core. Let's have a blended opportunity of commercial activity. We have, I think, worked it out with our pay day guys."
Rep. Hamner added, "I think your question is a great one. Who is looking out for the poor? Because the poor are obviously not affording the high-paid lobbyists to lobby for their point of view. So, I see our job as your legislators, [is for that to be] our job making sure that all the legislation that passes is benefiting all the people and not just some people."
Sen. Schwartz commented, "There are advocates for equal pay. It really is actually pretty amazing the level of representation that we have for the underprivileged — be it health, be it education, be it income — there's very strong representation there at the capital."
Oogie McGuire asked if the Cottage Food Act was going to be expanded. "If you look at food safety, it's not going to be a small kitchen that's causing the problems. It's huge factories that cause huge food safety issues. And, even if there is a problem with a small kitchen it's more traceable and limited," she said.
"We're lucky to be where we are quite frankly," Sen. Schwartz replied. "It's very difficult. I have to tell you the health department is formidable . . . Let's give it another year or two to prove how successful the Cottage Food Bill has been. Nobody's gotten sick. If we can get the restaurants to take themselves out as an exclusion [that would help]. It is incremental, and I think meat and dairy are off the table for a while."
"Sen. Schwartz has asked me to carry the clean up of the Cottage Food Bill. Thank you very much Sen. Schwartz," Rep. Hamner said causing laughter among those at the meeting.
It is interesting how often in the midst of discussing very serious issues and various opinions that either the senator or the representative were able to interject humor which made the meeting more convivial.
"Talk to Ken [Nordstrom]. Get him on board because he is basically the state health department here in your county," Schwartz said about the Cottage Food Bill. "The more we can get your local health inspectors to get on board with concepts, it makes our life much more easier."
McGuire added, "If you sell eggs, [when] you obey the rules in the Cottage Food Bill you are in violation of the Colorado Egg Act."
"So, we're fixing that and the disparity between the two," Schwartz said.
Concerning the oil and gas leases in the North Fork Valley, Rep. Hamner said both have been receiving emails from constituents and they cover a variety of opinions. "Just so you know the BLM does not fall under our jurisdiction as state senator and state representative," Hamner said. No representative from BLM was present at the town hall meeting even thought they were invited.
The oil and gas issues raised by citizens were the frequently heard concerns about contaminating water, the BLM using an outdated Resource Management Plan to determine where and how oil and gas leasing can take place, fracking, and harming the profitability of organic farming.
Kathy Sabatke with Sunshine Domestic Water said their small water company has to comply with EPA clean water regulations, but the oil and gas companies don't have to comply.
Jon Schultz said that BLM is not following their complete mission. Resource extraction is not all, he said.
Barb Heck shared that Broomfield became a county six years ago, and believes that forming another county could be beneficial for the North Fork Valley. The new county could establish commercial weight limits on the county roads.
Sen. Schwartz said the number of inspectors for oil and gas wells was increased last year.blog comments powered by Disqus