Work on bills is just beginning

The finishing touches went on the last regular bills in the Senate at the end of this past week. If a legislator wants to get another bill introduced this session after this point, he or she needs to get permission to have a "late bill" introduced.

Some of the bills I'm carrying are ones based on ideas from my district and others are ones that I've been asked by House legislators to carry in the Senate. Since there are twice as many state representatives as senators, senators tend to have more bills to work on.

Since these bills span a number of topics, they get assigned to different committees, with varying meeting times. This week, I have two water issues bills scheduled for their first hearing in the Senate Agriculture Committee. The bills concern allowed purposes of water storage and emphasizing Colorado's need to adequately fund water infrastructure efforts.

I'm carrying these bills because the stress of the current drought adds challenges to Colorado's water needs for our people and agricultural, recreational and environmental assets. Addressing the definition of water's beneficial use is a touchy subject, but much outreach to the various interested parties has been going on and continues still.

One of my education bills is scheduled for the following week and is intended to make the law clear that local school boards can choose to allow electronic participation by its members. Some school boards already have a policy addressing this, but other districts are concerned that the current law is ambiguous. If passed, this bill would assist those boards.

The bill has particular relevance to school districts in regions such as mine where long distance and bad weather can impact a board member's ability to be physically present at every meeting.

Concern has been raised that the bill shouldn't encourage a member's regular participation in this way and, under the bill, electronic participation wouldn't be allowed for a board's executive session because of confidentiality requirements. Those are fair points and ones I'm happy to accommodate.

This bill idea was brought to me by one of my constituent school board members, and opening the door to using 21st technology makes sense to me. Given the large number of miles I drive in my rural, remote senate district to get to meetings, I certainly understand the challenges, especially in bad weather.

After bills are introduced, the work often is just beginning as legislators may learn of new perspectives or objections to a proposal. When this happens, a legislator must decide whether to change the bill voluntarily or attempt to preserve it in its original version.

Other legislators can also propose amendments to a bill, but, proposed changes to the introduced bill must stick to the topic and qualify as fitting under the title of the bill. Unlike what happens in the U.S. Congress, we have a single-subject rule that I believe promotes transparency and the integrity of the legislative process.

If you're interested in finding out what bills have been introduced in this year's session, you can find the bills on the state's legislative website at www.leg.state.co.us. You can also listen online to the bills as they are discussed in the committees or on the floor. If you need help accessing this information, feel free to contact my office.

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 email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.