Off season becomes time for listening and learning

Dropping temperatures and fall colors signal our advance into autumn, with winter around the corner. For me, September was spent partly home in Durango and partly in Denver attending interim committee meetings. Spending the summer in my district, meeting with my constituents provided me much-needed respite from last session’s turmoil, and I’m now gearing up for the next legislative session, starting in January 2014.

Two new Republican senators were sworn in last week, replacing the senators from Colorado Springs and Pueblo who’d been recalled by their districts. I’ve had a chance to get to know the new senators, and I look forward to working with them. I’m hopeful that next session there’ll be a greater emphasis on finding common ground in policymaking rather than divisive partisan politics. However, because 2014 is an election year for many legislators as well as the governor and other statewide offices, that may be difficult to achieve.

I’m very grateful to the continued in-depth contact I’ve had during the last several months with my constituents throughout the Senate district on a variety of issues, ranging from economic recovery and development efforts, wildfire mitigation and forest health, discussions of how to engage in the state’s water planning process, welcoming young veterans returning from wars into our communities and addressing health-care workforce issues in our rural corner of the state.

I especially appreciate those in my district who have helped organize group meetings for me because, as a state legislator, I don’t have any staff members in my district who can help with this. However, the meetings produce great information and feedback for me to consider while representing this large and beautiful district.

The two interim committees on which I sit, the wildfire matters and the water-resources committees, have been meeting frequently, and, at length, in Denver. We are still gathering information from presentations made to the committees, including about the devastation caused by the summer’s wildfires and the recent flooding in areas to the north. As I’ve mentioned before, while the workload and travel is great being on both of these committees at the same time, the overlap of issues focused on forest health and our water supplies is very plain to me.

Addressing the threat of wildfires includes not only improving our forest management practices and home mitigation efforts, but also making sure that those who step into harm’s way to help protect Colorado’s residents and their property are given the necessary tools to do the job well and safely. We have an expectation that our emergency-management system exists to protect us, but that expectation must extend to include a system that protects our first responders equally well.

Colorado has suffered from wildfires and flooding that highlights heroes among us, but also lay bare problems that we continue to have with our emergency-management response. I look forward to working with all involved to address these problems. Partisan politics has no place in these conversations, but there will be difficult choices as Colorado faces the challenges of priority setting and funding those priorities to make a improvements and a meaningful difference.

There’s no question that we will have more wildfires and flooding. The question that does remain is, will we have made use of the time before the next disaster to be better prepared for it?

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 at (303) 866-4884 or by email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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