Experts help shape wildfire commission bills

The Senate will be consumed this week with what has now grown to six very controversial gun control bills to be heard in committees, then on the floor. The concentration of so many extremely hot-button bills in one week means most, if not all, of the legislators will be stressed from the heightened tension and serious disagreements about the merits of the bills.

I remember a past session when a similar approach of packaging controversial bills together was taken by legislative leadership and the resulting strained relationships among the legislators lasted for at least the rest of the session.

Senate Democratic leadership reduced the committees of reference to a very small size as compared with prior sessions. The result is that just a few senators will hear the bills in committee and ask questions of the witnesses testifying in committee. It’s expected that there will be many people testifying on the bills and there will be a time limit imposed on those testifying to get the bills moved through the Senate this week. Once the bills move to the Senate floor, the debate then will begin among the senators.

Meanwhile, I’ll be working on my bills on other topics. Two of my wildfire commission bills have been heard in committee. One establishes prescribed burn standards for state-initiated burns, and now heads to the House, having passed unanimously from the Senate with a long list of bipartisan cosponsors. Two other wildfire commission bills started in the House and, assuming they pass the House, will be headed to my desk to work on and present in the Senate committees.

Despite recent snows in many parts of the state, there is great concern that the 2013 fire season will be as bad as last year’s, if not worse. There is not much we can do about the weather or drought directly, but I hope the wildfire commission bills and the bill I sponsored that would expand the definition of “beneficial use” of water to include drought mitigation and firefighting will help Colorado have more resources available to help us through these dry, fire prone years. I’ve had the benefit of experts working on these bills to make them relevant and impactful and I appreciate their invaluable participation in the process.

My bills regarding greater use of technology in Colorado’s educational world also are progressing. The bill making it clear that school boards have the authority to allow members’ electronic participation in meetings has passed out of the Senate now and is assigned to the House Education Committee.

The bill that seeks to expand access and affordability of supplemental online classes statewide passed out of the Senate Education Committee unanimously, and I have another committee to take the bill to before presenting it to the full Senate for consideration. The bill also provides for professional development opportunities for teachers so they have the tools to help support a student in the blended learning experience. My intent is that students, particularly those in the smallest schools in my district, will have a chance to take advantage of a course that isn’t already available in his or her school. The bill also provides for accountability and quality measures to ensure that the student is learning as much as possible through this method.

Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, represents the 6th District, which includes Durango, in the State Senate. Reach her at the Capitol by phone, (303) 866-2914 or by fax (303) 866-2218; at home by phone 564-0999 or by fax 564-9236; or by e-mail at eroberts@frontier.net