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Legislators share bipartisan efforts

Posted: Tuesday, Mar 12th, 2013

State Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, left, and State Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, right, host a town meeting on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Sylvia Lobato

Special to the Courier

ALAMOSA — Holding to their promises of bipartisan cooperation, State Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, and State Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland organized a town meeting Saturday, even as the skies grew dark and snow began to fly.

The weather was probably the only negative aspect of the session, which touched on hot button items including the regulation of firearms, changing school finances and growing hemp.

Seating was limited in the conference room of the San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center training facility, but if people planning to speak in opposition to laws regarding weapons expected opposition, they didn’t receive any. Both Crowder and Vigil are staunch defenders of the Second Amendment, with Democrat Vigil breaking ranks with his own party to oppose pending legislation.

Crowder said the state senate gave initial approval to five gun control bills Friday, while sponsoring Democrats dropped measures seeking to outlaw concealed carry weapons on college campuses and assess manufacturers of weapons used in crimes.

Bills were advanced to expand background checks to include private sales, limit magazine and shotgun capacity, require gun buyers to pay for background checks, ban on-line concealed carry permitting and compel domestic violence offenders to relinquish their guns.

According to Crowder, there was a great deal of discussion regarding high capacity magazines, and it was pointed out that such a measure could cost jobs to already economically depressed rural Colorado.

Magpul Industries, a magazine manufacturing company based in Erie, has warned that if laws limiting magazine capacity pass, the company will pick up and move to a state that has no such laws. The company employs 200 persons and contributes greatly to the economy in the area, if not the state itself.

While that would not affect the San Luis Valley, Crowder said that another economic danger of passing gun control legislation is a boycott by hunters.

“This bill doesn’t justify the economic impact,” he said.

Vigil said he has been working on ways to bolster the state’s economy and create jobs, so any losses are unacceptable.

Crowder opposes the bill because he doesn’t believe it will be effective. 

Crowder said that, faced with threats to the economy, the magazine capacity bill might meet the fate of the other two measures, which died before the final vote, which was scheduled Monday.

Both he and Vigil said the currently proposed laws do little to address issues such as severe mental illness that would not be found in background checks.

Making mental health records available for checking is a problem due to patient privacy laws, Crowder pointed out and, even with people working in the background to make records available, more money is needed.

Severe mental illness is suspected to have played a role in the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and, closer to home, the theater killings in Aurora. 

SB195, set for third reading Monday, would bar anyone who has committed crimes related to domestic violence from possessing firearms, but mental health issues would still be a problem in getting full information on an individual.

Growing hemp

Gloria Castillo of BioRegional Strategies in Truchas, N.M. lobbied for legalization of hemp as a crop in the Southwest, while a representative from Antonito suggested it would be good for the San Luis Valley.

Neither Crowder nor Vigil disagreed.

A hemp test site is available in Conejos County, if cultivating it commercially is ever legal in the United States.

At present, it is grown in Canada and shipped to the USA for processing.

Crowder exhibited a bag made of hemp cloth and pointed out that the plant is easy to grow and suitable for many uses.

A close cousin to marijuana, industrial hemp does not have THC, the psycho-active property that makes its relative into a drug.

Crowder said a bill is in the works to build a processing plant in the Valley, and Castillo pointed out that its ease of production would make it a worthy competitor to Coors barley as a cash crop. The water demand is less than one-third that of alfalfa and the many byproducts make it more important. It is still illegal to grow in the United States, but the Colorado voters’ approval of recreational marijuana may pave the way for its drug-free relative to be grown here.

School finance

A bill introduced to the state Senate on Friday drew discussion during the legislators’ town hall Saturday when Anthony Lobato, father of the main plaintiff in a groundbreaking lawsuit to equalize school funding in Colorado brought up the proposed legislation.

Lobato called the bill, introduced by Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and calling for voter approval, “a Band-Aid” that doesn’t adequately determine what it actually costs to provide the thorough and uniform public education system included in the Colorado Constitution.

He made it clear he was stating his own opinions and not those of attorneys or the main plaintiffs in the case.

Johnston’s bill would be dependent upon voters approving a ballot question in November, and it wouldn’t call for a cost study until 2016, then every four years after that.

If Lobato v. Colorado is decided in the plaintiffs’ favor, state officials have said the ruling would mean 89 percent of the state’s general fund would go to education.

Both Crowder and Vigil told Lobato they would oppose the Johnston bill. Crowder added, “The reality is that public education has been underfunded. I’m not opposed to the bill, I’m opposed to tax increases.”

Vigil added, “The kids are already suffering from lack of a quality education.”

The lawsuit doesn’t ask for a specific level of funding, Lobato said, it asks the legislature to develop a consistent level of funding.

The Lobato case is also being viewed as a reform of the tenure issue, but it won’t happen overnight, Lobato said. “It’ (the suit) is not a money grab, but a revamping of the way K-12 education is funded.”

The Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments in the Lobato school finance suit on Thursday of last week and attorneys suggest that a ruling could take from six months to a year to complete.

All of the San Luis Valley’s 14 school district, individual parents and parents from other districts have joined in the suit.

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