Water rights, energy measures will dominate committee work this week
In this column, I’ll describe the bills that I’ll be presenting in committee this week. You’ll see why my job is mentally stimulating and challenging, given the variety of topics I get to work on.
The first bill is a slight modification to one I sponsored last year involving the collection and processing of medical evidence in sexual assault cases. Last year’s bill was aimed at ensuring that medical evidence collected from a rape victim was properly processed and archived to assist prosecutors not only in that case, but in future cases involving the same offender.
This year’s measure, House Bill 1171, clarifies the procedure surrounding the consent forms used in the collection of the evidence.
I have three other bills to present that same day, of varying degrees of complexity. One is a reorganization of Colorado’s bingo raffles laws and another seeks to reclassify Dolores County for purposes of determining the salaries of county officers.
The bill for Dolores County is not the same bill that’s increasing the pay for a number of statewide and county officials, but instead brings Dolores County back into a salary category that it voluntarily gave up during the recent economic downturn.
The bills above should be uncontroversial and fairly routine in committee. The next bill, though, is more challenging in topic and opposition. HB 1028 passed out of the interim water resources committee last fall with bipartisan support and now goes through the regular bill process with the full Legislature.
In essence, the bill provides that when the federal government obtains water rights from a prior owner, such as a ski area or a rancher, as a requirement for allowing permitted operations on federal lands, there’s a rebuttable presumption that the federal government is holding that water right for “speculative” purposes. With some qualifications, under Colorado, you need to put your right to water to immediate use or you lose that right. Speculation isn’t allowed under our water law system.
The end result is that the bill, if passed, disallows the federal government’s attempts to leverage use of its lands as a way to increase its water rights.
The bill idea was brought to the water interim committee last fall because of recent attempts by the feds to do just this kind of thing. As you might imagine, HB 1028 has strong support from Colorado’s ski areas and agricultural groups, but not from the federal government
As a Western Slope legislator, this issue is particularly relevant to my district and constituents. I also agreed to sponsor the bill because, while federalism is a part of our governmental system, so is the state of Colorado’s right to determine the legal system administering the water rights within its boundaries.
I’ll also be presenting two energy bills, one streamlining the process for small hydropower projects and the other allowing a local government to issue bonds to support geothermal projects. There’s great interest and potential for advancing these kinds of energy projects in Southwest Colorado.
My final bill in committee this week comes from the March of Dimes and focuses on investigating proactive strategies to reduce the number of premature births in Colorado.
On top of all of this, my most important constituent, my husband, is in Denver having ankle surgery. There’s a busy week ahead!
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 Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.