On the road again, with a new session ahead

The past month has involved even more road time for me as the committees I’ve been a part of, hurry to get our work done before the new legislative session begins in January.

Committees that were meeting about monthly since we finished our last session in May have doubled up to two meetings a month. For most legislators, that’s not as big a challenge as those of us from the farflung areas of the state who have to dedicate much more time to travel to the meeting in Denver than it takes to actually attend the meeting.

The scramble is mostly about whether new legislation is needed in 2009 to address problems that have been identified in the committee’s work. If there are bills to be brought, bill sponsors need to be identified, they have to be worked into legislators’ bill lists and then many hours are often spent with the legislative bill drafters to get the language of the bill where it needs to be before it’s introduced.

In addition to attending these committee hearings in the past month, I decided I needed to spend a few days touring Colorado’s prison facilities to understand what our correctional system looks like these days. The Department of Corrections lined up a three day tour for me, starting in Denver at a women’s facility and the diagnostic center where all state prisoners arrive for assessment before heading to a particular prison.

After an afternoon in Denver, I spent the next day in Canon City seeing five different facilities, including Colorado State Penitentiary, known more commonly as “Supermax.” The last day, I went to a private correctional facility, which acts as what is hopefully the inmate’s last stop before re-entry into society. It was a very worthwhile trip and what I learned and experienced will help me put into context the bills and budget requests that will come forward in the next session.

On the political front, the party caucuses have held their agenda retreats and are working on their priority setting. With the economic times we’re facing at all levels, there’s a fair amount of concern about what lies ahead for our state. We’ll soon receive our state’s economic forecast that will guide us into the new year. There’s little doubt that the number one concern will be protecting Coloradans’ jobs and financial security. The debate will be over how to do that.

I was assigned by my party leadership to again be on the Health and Human Services Committee and to the Judiciary Committee, as the ranking Republican member. I’m also still on the Legislative Legal Services Committee.

Two of the bills that I will be sponsoring next year are in the area of juvenile justice and come from the CCJJ Commission. Several other bills that I’ll be carrying as House sponsor are health care bills. I’ll also have a bill that’ll make a few changes to the youth council bill to improve on the wheel we invented last year.

The Colorado Youth Advisory Council is now formed and we met for our first time in late October for two days in Colorado Springs. We have an absolutely great group of students from around the state who are engaged and working hard to also get ready for the next legislative session. It’s been quite a bit of work for all of us to get this going, but it’s incredibly rewarding and I look forward to working with the Council as its legislator co-chair.

My column last month created a bit of a stir, so this month I’ve stayed away from repeating any more political quips.

I think it’s important for those of you who follow this column to know the behind-the-scenes action, too, because it can be baffling at times. But, while our political system has its warts, it’s still the best one that I know of and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Thanks for sending me to Denver and happy holidays to all of you.