Wildfire prevention, safety, funding consume final days

My first legislative session, one of the most exciting and productive sessions in recent memory, is ending today.

I am sponsoring Senate Bill 264, the Rural Health Bill with Sens. Irene Aguilar, John Kefalas and Rep. Edward Vigil. The bill encourages the Advisory Commission on Family Medicine to support the development of a rural family-medicine program. Our rural communities are lacking physicians, and SB 264 will help to bring more doctors to these areas. Practicing rural family medicine brings a unique set of challenges as well as rewards. This bill will give hospitals our district’s rural communities the opportunity to attract new medical students and educate more family practice doctors about health care.

We have also recently passed several bills regarding wildfire prevention and safety. I am sponsoring Senate Bill 269 with Sens. Jeanne Nicholson and Ellen Roberts and Rep. Don Coram. The purpose of this bill is to create the Wildfire Risk Reduction Program in the Department of Natural Resources, to provide funding opportunities for projects implementing hazardous forest fuel-reduction treatments and to reduce risks associated with wildfires. This bill passed on second reading Friday and will receive a final vote this week. The bill also will appropriate $12 million through two years to address wildfire prevention, as we are not unmindful of the drought we all face.

Another bill I strongly support is Senate Bill 270. This bill is sponsored by Sens. Nicholson, Roberts, Reps. Coram and Randy Fischer, and reorganizes and modifies statutes regarding the Wildlife Emergency Response Fund and the Wildlife Preparedness Fund. WERF provides funding for the initial attack on a wildfire, specifically for the first aerial tanker flight, the first hour of firefighting helicopter operations, or wildfire-hand crews during the first two days of a wildfire. WPF is used for wildfire-preparedness activities in accordance with Gov. John. Hickenlooper’s direction. WPF may also be used to support the purchase of fire shelters by volunteer fire departments. This money is critical to protecting our state, and I believe this bill will create more efficiency when controlling and preventing wildfires.

Last week, I also had the honor of attending two receptions for United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Wednesday evening’s reception at the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center was something of a who’s who in Colorado political and judicial circles. Former Govs. Bill Owens, Bill Ritter and Roy Romer also attended. Chief judges of the 6th and 22nd judicial districts were also in attendance with their wives.

On Thursday, I joined two students from District 59 and one from District 58 who were selected to travel to the Capitol and shadow a representative for a day. Ouray High School ninth-grader Morgan Wright, Gunnison Middle School eighth-grader Ryan Eden and Nucla Middle School eighth-grader Logan Strong were chosen from among many exceptional applicants to meet Sotomayor and have the opportunity to hear her speak. Sotomayor has a wonderful, inspiring story and it was a great privilege to meet her. I would like to thank Eden, Logan and Wright for spending time with me at this special event.

Saturday will be Western State Colorado University’s commencement ceremony. College graduation is a great accomplishment and a special time in one’s life. Congratulations to all of the Western State graduates, and I wish you the best of luck in the next chapter of your life.

After the legislative session ends, I look forward to traveling around District 59 to hear from all of you again. I plan to announce dates for upcoming town hall meetings soon. I am excited to return home to Durango for the summer and to visit with my constituents. I continue to be honored to be your state representative for the 59th District. This has been one of the most challenging and stimulating experiences of my life. Thank you all for giving me this opportunity.

Mike McLachlan represents House District 59 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses La Plata, Archuleta, San Juan, Ouray and Hinsdale counties and part of Gunnison County. Call McLachlan at (303) 866-2914 or email mike.mclachlan.house@state.co.us.

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