First Town Hall of 2014: Good Turnout, Good Questions

We had a wonderful turnout of about 75 people for our first town hall meeting of the 2014 legislative session, held Jan. 25 at the Dairy Center for the Arts, with House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst and Rep. KC Becker joining me. Between the three legislators and our constituents, we held a lively and informative discussion, demonstrating once again that people living in or near Senate District 18 care deeply about the issues.

Jan. 25 town hall

The three legislators opened the meeting with brief speeches about key issues facing us in 2014, along with new bills being proposed or pondered. For example, Boulder County residents know all too well that we faced devastating flooding in September, and the state put together a Flood Disaster Study Committee to discuss the issues and propose legislation. This year, our first six House bills (HBs 1001-1006) came from Flood Committee members, along with Senate Bill 14-007. We supplied a handout describing each bill, but in brief, many of the bills are geared toward helping individuals, utilities and local governments repair damaged property or infrastructure.

Also, many Boulder-area residents understand how state support for higher education has declined in recent years. On Jan. 25, we discussed this year's Senate Bill 001, known as the College Affordability Act. Thanks to a gradually improving state economy, our General Fund revenues are also gradually increasing, and SB-001 would allocate roughly $100 million to the state Department of Higher Education. The bill would also help students by capping most tuition increases at no more than 6% per year.

The legislators spoke for about 30 minutes, leaving the rest of the two-hour meeting for questions and comments from our constituents, including several questions about environmental issues. The first question was about the appointment of former state Rep. Glenn Vaad to the Public Utilities Commission, which has been controversial in part due to Mr. Vaad's record with the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). A local organic farmer asked legislators to consider altering the composition of a board that regulates pesticides, primarily to make sure the board isn't dominated by members representing entities that are being regulated. Another attendee called for more stringent environmental regulations regarding oil and gas operations.

A meeting attendee raised the issue of the state's Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), which led to an extended discussion about the retirement fund's balance sheet and longer-term solvency. Several attendees spoke or asked questions about modern income inequality, one citing a well publicized statistic that the richest 85 people on Earth now control virtually the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of our global population. Another gentleman spoke about the problem of improper or illegal home foreclosure procedures, and how a bill pertaining to the issue died in committee last year.

Other topics included the relatively new Colorado Health Benefit Exchange, possibly increasing Colorado's severance tax rates since ours are generally much lower than neighboring states, our ongoing challenges with transportation funding, and a request for legislation requiring labeling of foods with GMO materials. More than 20 people took the opportunity to speak or ask questions, and none of the topics raised appeared to be inconsequential. We ran out of time before we ran out of material, and I am very much looking forward to our next Boulder event - Feb. 22 in the Community House at the Boulder Chautauqua, beginning at 10:00 a.m.

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