Leaders Face Tough Odds in Defending Rural Interests
For yet another consecutive meeting, current and forthcoming legislative battles took center stage during the latest public gathering of the Teller County commissioners.
In fact, from gun control measures and immigration laws to natural gas/propane restrictions and land use, the commissioners came out swinging last week, and stated that they are making returned trips to the state capitol on a weekly basis to defend the interests of Teller County and other rural areas. This has impacted the regular schedule of commission meetings.
They reiterated that the gap between rural concerns and urban centers is widening to a dangerous level.
Moreover, the board has made it clear they are fighting a tough battle against ideological-minded legislators who are more intent on scoring political points than crafting realistic laws that will work for rural parts of the state, that dominate most sections of Colorado.
Unfortunately, the commissioners, who are staunch Republicans, face tough odds as both the House and Senate chambers have recently experienced historic Democratic majorities. For example, the state House now sports a 46-19 advantage in favor of the Dems, while the Republicans encounter a 23-12 disadvantage in the state Senate. A new, more progressive cadre of Democratic legislators have taken office, with views that in many cases are getting a skeptical view by even head Democratic leader, Governor Jared Polis, who has presidential aspirations. Plus, many of these lawmakers are new to the legislative scene.
At last week’s regular meeting, Commission Chairman Erik Stone cited immigration and gun control as the top biggies on their radar. They are joining the sheriff in staunchly opposing HB23-1100 (Restrict Government Involvement in Immigrant Detention). This proposal would, in essence, kill the current agreement the Teller County Sheriff’s Office has with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). The commissioners have taken a strong stand in this issue, joining Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell in providing public testimony and in pursuing a battle against what some are bluntly referring to as the “Anti-Teller” bill. County leaders say this marks an unprecedented attempt by the state to target a single county (see related story).
This battle also comes in the wake of a recent District Court decision to support the sheriff department’s current agreement with ICE, allowing for the detainment of illegal immigrants at the jail in Divide. At last week’s meeting, Stone supported this agreement, and said if it goes away, these prisoners would actually face worse consequences. “ICE detainees would be taken out of the state,” blasted Stone. “We believe in due process.”
Unfortunately, Stone cited this legislation as just round one in a spree of bills that could negatively impact Teller. He cited growing attempt to enact gun control measures that threaten Second Amendment gun ownership rights. One of the more pressing proposed laws is one that bans recreational shooting of firearms on private property, in areas with a minimum density of 30 households per square mile. This bill is referred to as HB23- 1165. “It is unconstitutional and has no public safety interest,” stated county officials, according to a new website they have assembled to track legislative bills of importance, called MyFreeColorado.org.
The county leaders also must fight a state effort to basically ban future gas stoves and to impose much stricter guidelines, which could virtually kill future construction of homes or remodels of units, using natural and propane gas. The county faces a July deadline to develop codes that would exempt Teller from undergoing these restrictions. “We want to come up with something that fits Teller County,” said Stone, following last week’s regular meeting. “This is an unfair burden.”
New greenhouse gas emission restrictions are getting proposed statewide, aimed at eliminating Coloradoans reliance on fossil fuels. The goal is to have zero greenhouse gas emissions by the 2035 year.
Under these new rules, virtually all new homes under construction, would only be heated, via electricity, starting in 2024, unless local governments take action now to amend these proposed codes. In a recent interview with Dan Henley, community relations manager for Black Hills Energy Services, these state rules will have a big impact on local jurisdictions and in sections of their service area, with the prospects of much higher energy costs.
Local elected leaders agree with this assessment.
The problem with many of these guidelines, according to the commissioners, is that they would drive up costs. “We are dealing with idealogues,” related Commission Vice-chairman Bob Campbell. He said the goal of climate changes is a worthy objective, but that a more moderate time table needs to occur regarding the phasing out of fossil fuel and natural gas consumption.
Good Laws in the Works
But not all new legislation is bad among the list of 400 bills in the works. At last week’s meeting, Campbell described much bipartisan support to adopt measures to provide tax relief for residents due to the big increase in property valuations. The relief could come in the form of mill levy adjustments through actions by local governments.
Stone also described efforts to increase broadband service in rural parts of Colorado, including Teller, with a huge potential funding allotment, exceeding the $20 million mark.
And plans are also getting unveiled for a new fire tower to assist Teller and neighboring counties as a defensive measure against future wildfires. Commissioner Dan Williams cited this future facility as a plan that received much support during a recent meeting of the National Association of Counties (NACo) conference in Washington D.C. He said this project, estimated at costing about $1.2 million with federal government funds, received much support among Colorado’s congressional delegation.
But on the downside, Williams, based on reports at the NACo conference, announced that Teller and the entire state of Colorado faces a huge future water battle with California that could provide definite consequences. He said the 120-year water laws governing Colorado are now at risk.
“Water is the new war we have to fight,” said Williams.