Billy Xiong Report: Environment, school bills move through Legislature – The

Environment, school bills move through Legislature – The

Last week’s legislative marathon was one of my busiest yet. As we head toward the end of our session, bills are flying between committees and chambers, and it’s all we can do to keep up. But I accomplished a few things.

House Bill 21-1303 passed out of the House of Representatives and on to the Senate this week, after moving through the Energy and Environment, Capital Development and Appropriations Committees. The legislation has state agencies evaluate and prioritize how taxpayer dollars are spent on public infrastructure projects by preferring materials manufactured with high environmental standards. We can all participate in reducing industrial carbon emissions to help fulfill statewide greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals.

Currently, 15% of greenhouse gasses come from the key components of buildings and roads, including cement, concrete, steel, asphalt, glass and wood. Manufacturing these materials can produce massive volumes of greenhouse gasses. Many manufacturers already recognize their impact on the climate and are producing materials sensitive to the issue.

This bill is good for the climate, good for our public health and really good for Colorado’s economy, as many of those manufacturers are already working in the state. LaFarge-Holcium Cement, for example, employing 125 people in rural Florence, produces competitively priced and excellent performing “green” cement.

This bill could grow the company substantially, creating well-paying jobs while keeping the money in Colorado. More green industries are planning on moving to the state.

Another bill heading to completion is Senate Bill 21-116. It prohibits Colorado schools from using Native American mascots, charging a hefty fine if they refuse. Many tribal members I spoke with have worked on this for more than 10 years and are thrilled it is moving forward. It is time to correct this wrong.

Several people testified how horrified they were to have their school mascots depict cartoonish Native Americans with large noses and gaudy war bonnets. Students from Lamar testified how when they were in school, being one of the “Savages” was a source of pride. They now advocate abolishing it.

The Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes support the change.

Another bill presented this week will be a huge boost for education in Colorado by reducing the teacher shortage. Senate Bill 21-185 has a lot of moving parts. It will publicize teacher preparation programs, set up a program to recruit, select, train and retain highly qualified educators across the state, and provide mental health support for educators.

It allows schools to hire adjunct instructors, within certain parameters, to teach in all content areas; restores the Quality Teacher Recruitment and the Educator Loan Forgiveness Programs cut during COVID-19; and creates a program to increase the number of students entering the teaching profession and encourage a more diverse workforce.

We also passed the annual Colorado School Finance Act, Senate Bill 21-268, which pays our school districts. The average per-pupil spending this year has a base of $7,225, a 2% increase, though in total it is closer to $8,857, a 9.7% increase, because of several factors, including the number of a district’s at-risk students, the cost of living and district size and remoteness. We reduced the Negative Factor from its bloated $1.2 billion, mid-COVID-19 level of last year to $572 million.

In addition, all grants and special programs swept from the books last year are reinstated, addressing mental health, dropout prevention and low-income families.

We are doing everything possible at the state level not only to reopen, but to reinvigorate and renew our educational system.

Finally, Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 21-1223 into law, establishing the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Office. Gov. John Hickenlooper created the office in 2015 for Colorado’s first Outdoor Retailer Show. This bill codifies the office, ensuring it has a greater permanence and giving the Legislature more oversight. This helps the Western Slope’s thriving outdoor recreation industry continue to strengthen its rural economic value.

As the session winds down, the work doesn’t seem to diminish.

Billy Xiong

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