Valley legislators outline priorities for 2011 session
State Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village) said Friday she believes confrontational action toward her by a Republican member of the state House on Wednesday was an isolated incident rather than a sign that partisan bickering will plague the redistricting of congressional boundaries.
State Rep. David Balmer was asked to leave the Senate floor Wednesday when a Senate sergeant felt Balmer was boisterous and gesturing toward Schwartz in an inappropriate manner, according to numerous media reports. Both lawmakers are on a 10-member committee charged with the redistricting.
Balmer has been banned from the visiting the Senate for the rest of the session. He must also formally apologize on the House floor for the incident.
“I personally don’t want to get distracted” by the incident, Schwartz said while attending a town hall meeting in Basalt Friday. However, she said, legislators must be assured they are in a safe setting where they can concentrate on getting their work done.
“I think we need to set a standard for civil discourse,” she said.
The bipartisan committee is designed to bring cooperation to what has been a bitter partisan battle in the past. Redistricting is required every 10 years. Last time, it ended up in court.
Schwartz didn’t offer details of Wednesday’s incident. Other reports said Balmer became animated when Schwartz became upset that a public hearing on redistricting that was scheduled in Glenwood Springs was moved to Grand Junction.
Schwartz said she was looking out for the best interests of her constituents by trying to keep the meeting closer to home. Her Senate District 5 includes the Pitkin County portion of the Roaring Fork and Crystal river valleys.
She met with about 16 constituents in Basalt Town Hall Friday along with state Rep. Roger Wilson (D-Glenwood Springs) to report on what the legislature will work on this session.
“I think that many of us are trying to do work that’s very focused on balancing the budget, and focused on the work of rebuilding Colorado’s economy and keeping it moving,” she said. Schwartz stressed that the state government cannot “put more on the backs of local governments” while the state balances its budget.
To help spur the economy and help farmers in her sprawling district, which includes the agricultural hub of the San Luis Valley, Schwartz introduced a bill to “remove barriers” to getting local food into local markets. “This is a great way to build agriculture jobs,” she said.
She also introduced legislation to increase transparency in Colorado campaign spending. Schwartz was targeted by aggressive advertisements funded by campaign committees outside of the state in the last election, where she barely beat her Republican challenger. Schwartz said legislation is needed to determine who is funding such efforts.
“It’s such a revolving door on who’s spending what,” she said.
Schwartz, in her second term, assumed a leadership position this year as chair of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. She is also a member of the Transportation Committee.
Wilson is a newcomer to the House after winning election in November. He represents the entire Roaring Fork Valley and portions of Garfield County west to Silt. He is a member of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee and the Economic and Business Development Committee.
Wilson said he is working on a bill that would require the state oil and gas commission to review a soon-to-be-released study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the fracturing process used to extract natural gas. That process is in widespread use in western Garfield County.
The commission would report its findings to the Legislature. Wilson said he wants the state to learn more about the affects of the fracturing process on water quality and the environment as a whole.
He is also sponsoring a bill that would allow formation of regional tourism authority boards to work on projects of regional interest. In theory, that could help the Roaring Fork Valley set up a board to promote tourism.
Both legislators are sponsoring a bill that would introduce a special license plate that will help Colorado Trout Unlimited protect rivers.
Three of the constituents who attended Friday’s meeting asked the legislators to help them deal with lenders in foreclosure actions. Terry Counterman of Carbondale and Al Scholz of Glenwood Springs said they have faced unreasonable rules while trying to modify their mortgages. Both legislators said they would look into their cases further.
Schwartz and Wilson will hold a town meeting Sunday, Jan. 30 at 5 p.m. in Victoria’s Espresso Bar in Aspen. The public is invited to attend and raise legislative issues of concern.
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Images of mud and debris slides on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon near Bair Ranch (MM129) taken on Wednesday, Aug 4.