Colorado Senate panel kills bill seeking to aid rural economies

Measure killed by GOP-held Senate for 3rd year in a row

A bill designed to aid rural communities navigate the assistance programs available to them in Denver died Tuesday in the Colorado Senate Finance Committee. Enlargephoto

Associated Press file

A bill designed to aid rural communities navigate the assistance programs available to them in Denver died Tuesday in the Colorado Senate Finance Committee.

DENVER – A bill that would have assisted rural communities in wading through the muck of what government assistance was available to them, and how to apply for it, was killed in committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 22, or “The Rural Economic Advancement of Colorado Towns Act,” would have created a position in the Department of Local Affairs dedicated to the coordination of “nonmonetary assistance” for eligible rural communities.

It was killed in the Senate Finance Committee on a 3-2 party-line vote that saw Republicans vote against creating additional government positions.

The bill would also have appropriated $500,000 to create a new grant program, but an amendment was adopted to strike that because of uncertainty about state funding.

Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, said the bill was intended to help rural communities experiencing economic hardships find and apply for available assistance.

“This legislation is really a tool for communities. It’s not a handout. That’s not what they’ve been asking for,” Donovan said.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said the bill was reminiscent of federal measures that add bureaucracy rather than consolidating it.

The vote to kill bucked testimony, which included 10 representatives of statewide groups such as Conservation Colorado and the Colorado Mining Association.

“I would challenge anyone to find a bill that has had that diverse set of stakeholders come and testify in support of it,” Donovan said.

Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, noted that all the representatives who testified reside in Denver.

Donovan pointed to a letter of endorsement from the county commissioners of Delta, and also said it is common practice for distant counties to have lobbyists speak on behalf of their interests.

This is the third year that Donovan has brought forward a version of the REACT Act, she said. Each year, she tried to respond to feedback on previous bills.

“I’m not sure where the no votes came from. We didn’t have any opposing testimony, so I was caught off guard,” she said.

lperkins@durangoherald.com