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Wildfire, water, and more on the agenda for Roaring Fork lawmakers in 2024 session

El titular republicano Perry Will y la candidata demócrata Elizabeth Velasco asisten al último día de la Semana de la Conservación Latina en el parque Two Rivers de Glenwood Springs el 23 de julio. Más de 400 miembros de la comunidad se reunieron en los valles de los ríos Roaring Fork y Colorado para celebrar la iniciativa nacional.
Courtesy Jess Hedden
Sen. Perry Will (R-New Castle) and Rep. Elizabeth Velasco (D-Glenwood Springs) celebrate together at Latino Conservation Week in Glenwood Springs in July 2022. The pair are cosponsoring a bill on wildfire grants for rural communities during the 2024 session.

The 2024 legislative session for Colorado’s general assembly is rapidly approaching, and once it kicks off, the House and the Senate will have 120 days to accomplish their legislative agendas.

For their part, representatives for the Roaring Fork Valley say they’re ready to hit the ground running.

Rep. Elizabeth Velasco (D-Glenwood Springs) represents House District 57, which includes the Roaring Fork Valley and the I-70 corridor to Dotsero, and Garfield County to the state line.

She wants to continue working on affordable housing solutions.

“I’m also working with our local municipalities, our local counties, around a real estate transfer fee to be able to create more avenues to have funding for affordable housing projects,” she said.

Some other priorities that Velasco is continuing from the 2023 session include emergency alerts. Last year, she was the prime sponsor on a bill authorizing a study on language accessibility in emergency alerts during natural disasters. This session, she’ll be reviewing the results of that study, as well as introducing a new bill to create emergency alerts for when there’s an oil or gas emergency.

Velasco is also sponsoring a bill on Native American heritage in public school curricula, as well as expanding guidelines so that cultural regalia can be worn during graduation ceremonies.

“Last year, the effort was around Native American communities, and we are looking to expand that, especially after the issues that we saw here in Parachute where a student was not allowed to wear her Mexican American stole,” she said.

Sen. Perry Will (R-New Castle) represents Senate District 5, which includes the Roaring Fork Valley, as well as parts of Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, and Montrose counties.

He says he’ll be focusing on issues important to rural, western Colorado.

“Right now, I’m on… reintroduction to wolverines in the state, because we can really help them as species, I think, the state of Colorado,” he said. “I have (an) agriculture, kind of a rural agriculture behavioral health bill that I’m really excited about.”

Will and Velasco both worked on the Wildfire Matters Committee during the interim.

They’ll be cosponsoring a bill to help rural communities get wildfire-related grants.

Also on the agenda for Will, Velasco, and other Western Colorado lawmakers is water issues. Earlier this month, the lawmakers both attended the announcement of the Colorado River District’s purchase of the Shoshone water right at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs.

“It just elevates Glenwood Springs, it elevates the canyon, elevates the response that we are having to a changing climate, to climate adaptation,” Velasco said.

“Purchase of the Shoshone water rights keeps water in the river. That’s good for fish, that’s good for recreation, that’s good for agriculture, that’s good for West Slope Colorado,” Will said.

The River District will pay nearly $100 million for the water right, and is fundraising now to be able to complete the purchase. Velasco and Will were both confident the assembly would be able to help with the funding to see the deal to the finish line.

"This isn't about partisanship," Will said. "This is about Western Slope, and this is about Colorado. And then the people that we represent, whether it is a moderate... Republican, Democrat, independent. This is good stuff. These these kind of things are pretty easy to get done."

As a member of the Republican minority, Will says he’s prepared to work across the aisle to run his priority bills.

“You can get good things done, right?” he said. “I have no qualms about that, we can get good stuff done, ‘cause we have in the past and will continue to.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are dealing with internal scuffles over an open meetings lawsuit and fights about decorum at the statehouse.

Velasco says she’s glad she kept her committee assignments for the upcoming session.

“You know, it’s agriculture, natural resources and water, energy and environment, and appropriations,” she said of her assignments. “We expect it’s gonna be a hard session, just because of all the things that happened.”

The session officially kicks off on Wednesday, January 10th.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.