Steamboat Springs At a lively town hall meeting in Steamboat Springs on Sunday afternoon, state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush defended her support of recent gun control laws to a group of Republican constituents who are critical of the measures.
During the two-hour meeting, which attracted a crowd of Democrats and Republicans, the Democratic freshman representative didn’t shy away from any political hot topics as she also discussed her positions on legislation ranging from the proposed overhaul of the state’s school finance formula to a renewable energy bill that is set for a final vote in the House on Monday.
But it was the recent passage of the gun laws that attracted the most questions and passion in Bud Werner Memorial Library.
“In your heart, do you think these gun laws that were just passed would have one positive effect on stopping incidents like Aurora, Columbine, Newtown, etc.?” Skip Moyer asked, referring to the mass shootings that have re-energized the national debate on gun control.
Mitsch Bush said the laws she and the Democrat-controlled Legislature passed this session have the potential to save lives while not infringing on Second Amendment rights.
The legislation specifically will limit ammunition magazines to 15 or fewer rounds and requires universal background checks for all gun sales and transfers.
“Law-abiding citizens already do background checks,” Mitsch Bush said. “What this will do, we hope, is stop the felon who buys his gun on the internet without a background check. If this law saves us having one felon with violent tendencies from getting a gun, we've done something.”
Chris Ricks asked Mitsch Bush why she voted for the bills when they were opposed by many sheriffs in the state, including Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins. Ricks also pointed out many local police chiefs are questioning the enforceability of the laws.
Mitsch Bush said out of the many phone calls, emails and comments she received from her constituents during the debate over the bills, most were supportive of the gun control measures. She said her votes came after many discussions with the law enforcement agencies in her districts.
“The police chiefs in Eagle County I spoke with said they support these bills. Chief (Joel) Rae said that he supported those bills on the phone,” she said. “There was a division between the law enforcement leaders in my district (on this legislation) just as there was statewide.”
She said she looked at the bills from both sides of the debate before concluding that they could save lives and increase public safety.
Mitsch Bush's town hall on Sunday took on a different tone than the first one she hosted in Steamboat earlier this year.
At Sunday's gathering, which attracted both supporters and critics, she talked about her growing voting record and what she has learned as a state legislator.
She also again spent time informing residents here how to engage their lawmakers as bills are being drafted.
Renewable energy debate
Mitsch Bush spent much of the meeting discussing a bill she plans to vote for Monday that will require, among others, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, operator of the Craig Station power plant, to increase the percentage of power it receives from renewable energy sources from the current mandate of 10 percent to 20 percent by 2020.
She said many energy providers in the state have benefited from increasing their percentage of renewable energy and that further increasing the percentages should be part of Colorado's “all of the above” energy plan.
For communities like Steamboat Springs, she said renewable energy also has the potential to attract tourists here who make travel plans based on the energy choices of the communities they visit.
“Composting, recycling, and green power can tip the scales in terms of bringing tourists here,” she said. “It can also tip the scale in terms of bringing other types of jobs here.”
Last week, Mitsch Bush expressed some concern about the bill's impact to rural communities.
But she said Sunday new amendments to the bill, one which she co-sponsored and another she introduced, have softened the bill's impact on rural electric providers.
The amendments decreased TriState's renewable energy quota from 25 percent to 20 percent, and also allowed rural electric cooperatives in the state that have less than 10,000 meters to increase their renewable energy quotas by 0.75 percent instead of the previously proposed 1 percent.
Last week, Mitsch Bush said she was torn on the bill because she didn't want the benefits of renewable energy to “come at the expense of working families.”
On Sunday, she addressed critics of the bill, including Republican Chuck McConnell, who lost his race for the statehouse against Mitsch Bush last fall.
McConnell said the bill will hurt Northwest Colorado by resulting in higher electric bills and detracting from coal.
“Routt County depends very heavily on revenues from coal, and as this renewable requirement goes up it'll decrease the amount of conventional power sources and it will hurt jobs and our economy,” McConnell told Mitsch Bush before he asked her to vote against the bill.
Mitsch Bush said she respectfully disagreed with McConnell’s analysis. She said it would not hurt coal production here, and the bill will cap any potential price increases for utility payers at 2 percent.
She estimated that would mean a household with a $60 electric bill would see an increase of no greater than $1.20.
Some constituents praised her for her support of the bill.
“This is a very important market that has not gotten started in this area,” green energy advocate Susan Holland said. “It doesn't have to be coal versus renewables. It shouldn't be a fight. We need to work together, and I appreciate Diane's effort to move this along another notch.”
The bill passed the state Senate on April 15 by a 18-17 vote.
State Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, told the Steamboat Today last week he was opposed to the legislation and was hoping it was amended so that the renewable requirements were reduced. Rankin represents Moffat, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com
-Reporter Tom Ross contributed to this report