Cailey McDermott, Mail Staff Writer | Posted: Monday, February 11, 2013 6:49 am
Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass) responded to questions about education, “chem trails” and gun control during her town hall discussion Saturday at the Salida Community Center.
About 40 people from Chaffee and Saguache counties attended the forum.
Schwartz is the chair of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
She is also the vice chair of the Capital Development Committee and serves on the Local Government Committee.
Schwartz started the town hall with a few updates from the first month of the new legislative session.
“(The Colorado Senate) passed the civil unions bill (Friday),” she said.
“It’s not about marriage, simply civil rights. It means people can’t refuse to sell a cake or rent a room based on sexual preference,” Schwartz explained.
She continued to say that she’s consistently been a supporter for civil rights.
This session Schwartz said she is focused on water issues, protecting the forests and solutions to methane emissions.
She said, while the state’s snowpack is at 75 percent, the state is 95 percent dry.
“We’ve run out of colors for the severity of the drought conditions – especially in the Eastern Plains,” Schwartz said.
On the subject of forests, she said Colorado has in excess of 4 million acres of dead timber.
“We must find ways to remove the fuels,” she said, adding that the state has enough resources for the areas of risk.
She said she is working on renewing the Building Excellent Schools Today grant program.
Because of the program, she said, Senate District 5 will have 17 new schools.
Schwartz said another bill she will be carrying again this session deals with methane emissions.
She said the emissions are responsible for the reduced snowpack, dead trees and diminishing river flows.
Captured methane can be used for electricity, Schwartz said.
“It’s a great resource we can capture and use for electricity and capture those gases from harming the environment,” she explained.
In response to a question about affordable assisted living, Schwartz said, “It’s critical to keep the working force and the seniors in the community.”
Schwartz said she previously worked as the director of a housing authority.
Keith Baker, Buena Vista, thanked Schwartz for her continued support of Browns Canyon and said he doesn’t support any initiative to restrict local control of fracking.
Schwartz said while Colorado passed the most restrictive rules for oil and gas in the country, she said she does not believe it is the “place of legislature to set up rules; it should be a function of the Oil and Gas Committee.”
Linda Taylor asked about gun control and gun safety laws.
Schwartz said although there are no specific bills on the issue currently, she’s a “strong supporter of Second Amendment rights.”
She said she believes that no matter how guns are sold, online or direct, a background check should be required.
JT Williams, Crestone, said education is really important in the topic of gun safety, and “a little education goes a long way. A hammer will kill just as fast as a gun with a bullet.”
Schwartz said she has never owned a gun.
Claudia Mann, head of Chaffee County Montessori School, asked about state funding for schools.
Schwartz said 47 percent of the state budget is spent on schools, and 43 percent is for K-12 education with the rest for higher education.
“We are 48th in the nation in funding K-12 education. And we are last in funding higher education,” she said.
She said a ballot question about implementing a temporary funding boost for education failed in November.
Matthew Clark, San Luis Valley, said he wanted to bring up the topic he felt was the “elephant in the room – protecting the atmosphere.”
He said the issue of “weather modification or ‘chem trails’” has not been covered in the media and asked if the topic has been discussed at the state level.
“I’ve watched Colorado blue skies turn to milky white haze,” Clark said.
Schwartz said the weather modification program is about increasing snowpack and said it’s not the same as “chem trails.”
“Those are two separate issues,” she said.
Clark said that modifying and manipulating snowfall in any way has a negative effect on the environment and atmosphere.
He said a lot of people believe that it actually causes storms to break up and disperse.
Schwartz said having clean air and clean water is her bottom line.
She said, “Experts from California and Utah say weather modification is proven to produce 13-17 percent more moisture, but only when clouds are present.”
She said the program is an important one for the state.
Changing topics, Bill Hudson, Salida, told Schwartz about the city council’s proposal to increase fees for open-records requests.
He said if the city charges thousands of dollars for people to see public records, he’s concerned about transparency.
Schwartz said government should be transparent. At the state level she said they have charges in place for open-records request.
She said some requests require a staff member to do extensive research and go on a “wild goose chase.” But she said just getting copies of documents should not be an issue, and she asked Hudson to keep her in touch on the matter.
After Schwartz spoke, HempCleans made a brief presentation about the value of growing nondrug industrial hemp crops.
More than half the attendees left before the hemp presentation.