Sen. Gail Schwartz held a town hall meeting at Memorial Hall in Hotchkiss on Feb. 10. This is her seventh year as a state senator.
“I want to thank you for the privilege and honor to represent Delta County,” Sen. Schwartz said.
With the senate’s redistricting, she now serves seven counties, not 11, including Delta, Pitkin, Eagle, Lake, Chaffee, Gunnison and Hinsdale. Those counties represent the headwaters, agriculture, recreation and a whole range of important resources, she said.
Colorado has 100 legislators with 65 in the house and 35 in the senate. This year one-third of the representatives are new.
“I make sure rural communities are well represented,” Sen. Schwartz said. “We strive for a lot of equity when it comes to our schools, our programs, our opportunities to have access to broadband communications, our health …. We are entitled to resources.”
Sen. Schwartz introduced Bob McHugh, who announced the Hotchkiss Barn is now listed on the Endangered Places List. McHugh said it’s important to be recognized. The barn is probably the oldest building in this part of the state. It was built by Enos Hotchkiss. “The Hotchkiss Barn represents the agricultural heritage of the valley,” McHugh said. The land surrounding it is in a conservation easement preserving it as agricultural land and open space. The Hotchkiss Barn is the centerpiece for this area.
Sen. Schwartz said hopefully the State of Colorado through the state historical society will be involved in its restoration.
Sen. Schwartz invited citizens to listen to everything said in committee meetings, in hearings and on the floor of the legislature at colorado.gov.
She said Rep. Don Coram has been an excellent partner in the legislature. They have introduced nine joint bills. Rep. Millie Hamner will be joining with Schwartz in introducing future bills. The legislature meets from January to May, for a total of 120 days.
The habitat stamp will be renewed. The senator said it is an investment in habitat from hunting and fishing licenses. It helps place agricultural land in conservation easements. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is now a more efficient department. Parks are doing well. Sweitzer and Paonia State Parks are off the table to be re-purposed.
Legislation on civil unions which would provide legal rights for homosexual and heterosexual non-married couples is a reasonable bill, the senator noted.
Another bill would allow undocumented students who have completed high school, have a good record and who have applied for citizenship be given in-state tuition.
Sen. Schwartz said the drought is as serious as last year. This will lead to cut backs on grazing permits. She is focused on water and forestry issues.
Letty Hellman asked her support of the local prison. It is believed that there may be possible closing of some prisons in the state by this fall. Hellman said Delta Corrections employs 140. Inmates are working in four counties. The prison has a chapel that “is second to none, and was not built by taxpayers.” Hellman noted, “We as a county have really accepted this prison.” She encouraged citizens to write the governor’s office, legislators and county commissioners to preserve the facility here.
As a member of the Capital Development Committee, Sen. Schwartz has visited 19 prisons. The prison population has dropped and there is 50 percent recidivism across the state. The Delta prison’s spiritual and educational programs here are impressive, she noted. Inmates built furniture for the capitol and have served on hot shot crews fighting wildfires. Two state and one private prison may be closed this year. Fewer services are made available in private prisons. Delta Corrections has 384 inmates and 500 beds.
Following the senator’s time with constituents, a presentation explained the benefits of the agricultural hemp initiative. “There are many economic development opportunities associated with industrial hemp. auto makers, and building materials manufacturers to cosmetic and cellulosic ethanol providers, there are dozens of industries in Colorado and the U.S. whose pent up demand for this crop could create an industrial boom,” Lynda Parker of Hemp Cleans said. Her flyer stated, “The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that prohibits hemp cultivation, due to the DEA’s refusal to distinguish between low-THC hemp and high-THC marijuana.”