Busy interim made tolerable by friendly constituents

It’s great to be back home, and I’m settling into the interim schedule, catching up with constituents in person and attending meetings on all sorts of topics around my Senate district.

Given the geographic spread of the eight counties in my district, I’m often on the roads in beautiful Southwest Colorado, enjoying the views even while in construction stops.

I’ve been able to heave a sigh of relief and decompress from the often-contentious session. I’ve not forgotten what happened over the first four months of the year, but being back with my family, friends and constituents helps me remember why I am willing to work in politics in these very partisan times. I also want to thank all those who have given me a “welcome back” handshake, hug or kind word as I know many understand the times we are in and the difficult challenges we face.

The kinds of meetings I attended in June included education-reform efforts, both K-12 and higher education, speaking about the recently concluded legislative session with the Montrose chamber, the Durango noon Rotary and a Cortez community leadership class among others. I’ve also had a guided tour of the Silverton mines water drainage area that affects the water quality of the Animas River, been in discussions about revitalizing Colorado’s timber industry, and have received frequent briefings from the U.S. Forest Service on the Colorado wildfires, especially those near Pagosa Springs

In mid-June, I was asked by the National Conference of State Legislatures to attend meetings in Washington, D.C., to discuss the pros and cons of proposed immigration reforms and their potential impacts on the states. In my view, immigration reform is needed and appropriately done on the federal level, not state by state, given the U.S. Constitution’s direction that the federal government determines matters of citizenship. However, the failure of the federal government to act has led states to pass legislation in this area and Colorado is no exception.

In 2006, Colorado held a special session to address just this topic, and, this year, two new bills were passed granting in-state tuition to all students who attended the last three years of high school in Colorado, regardless of legal residency and allowing driver’s licenses to those in the U.S. illegally. I did not support those bills in the Legislature this year, but I would note that a number of conservative states, such as Utah, have already moved in these directions with similar legislation.

Colorado’s efforts at immigration-reform laws from 2006 and 2013 remain divisive and unresolved in light of the required interplay with federal laws. All the same, the on-the-ground effects often fall on the states, and that was the crux of our conversations in D.C. with numerous members of Congress. Inaction is no answer; status quo has its continued costs, fiscally and socially, too.

The extent and timing of tighter U.S. border security and a pathway to citizenship are the current stumbling blocks to be addressed. Many of the congressional members didn’t appear to have spent much time considering reform impacts on the states, from unfilled jobs and workable employee-identification systems to states’ health-care and educational systems, so the time in D.C. was well spent.

Have a good and safe Fourth of July!

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or by e-mail ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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