Economy, education key issues

The 2014 legislative session began Jan. 8 and as we get underway, I want to highlight what my colleagues and I will be working on until the conclusion of the session in early May.

Natural disasters plagued many parts of Colorado in 2013. Throughout the summer, we suffered wildfires across the state including in Pagosa, Vallecito and the Southfork fires in southwestern Colorado. Shortly after wildfire season, we had the most destructive flood in state history sweep the northern Front Range in September. While there has been incredible progress made to help these communities recover, there is still significant work to be done to ensure these communities make the fullest possible recovery. The first bills that were introduced in the House this session are designed to speed and assist the ongoing recovery efforts. I am looking forward to supporting these bipartisan bills.

I will be carrying a number of bills this session. One will provide a tax exemption of up to $5,000 for an agricultural producer who donates his produce or livestock to a charitable organization. This will help make sure that any surplus food is not wasted, but instead used to feed those who are hungry and in need. Another bipartisan bill I am sponsoring with Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, would clarify tax collection on entities or joint ventures owned by Native American tribes to ensure that tax collection is enforced while also respecting tribal sovereignty.

Another focus of this session will be on increasing the economic security of all Coloradans. We want to encourage small businesses across the state, and I will support a bill to give small-business owners a break on business personal property taxes. There also will be an emphasis on expanding advanced industries across the state, following up on a bill I sponsored in the 2013 session.

Future economic security is tied to education, and I am proud to be involved in the effort this session to increase access to education. Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, and I will be the House sponsors of Senate Bill 1, which will restore $100 million to higher education this year. Colorado’s education budget, especially the budget for higher education, was one of the hardest-hit sectors during the budget cuts that were enacted as a result of the recession. Restoring $100 million will help higher-education institutions across the state, including Fort Lewis College.

I have also been encouraged by bipartisan talks surrounding parts of our education package from last year, namely increasing transparency in schools and expanding programs for English-language learners. I also will support efforts to enhance teacher training and increase access to early-childhood education.

I am excited about the prospect of increasing broadband access for all of rural Colorado and bringing Internet access to all of our school districts – especially the Ridgway and Silverton school districts, which have been underserved for years. Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, is working with a bipartisan coalition on legislation to help expand broadband in rural parts of our state, and I plan to work hard to ensure it benefits underserved parts of my district. Not only will this be a boost to education by increasing access to information, but it also will be a boost to economic development and tourism by guaranteeing visitors to our great state are not without Internet. Gov. John Hickenlooper signaled his commitment to this issue in his State of the State address. As a result of starting the process early and involving all stakeholders this year, I believe we will find a solution that works for everyone.

As always, I am honored to serve as your elected representative in the Capitol and am committed to addressing problems that will move Colorado forward. I will continue to serve on the Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources and Judiciary Committees. I always enjoy hearing from constituents, so please don’t hesitate to contact my office.

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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