State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush sponsors bill to keep Colorado avalanche center where it belongs
January 16, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Freshman State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, had the satisfaction Wednesday of seeing her first piece of legislation gain preliminary approval of the full house on second reading, but not until after her fellow members of the house Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee pulled a fast one on her.
Mitsch Bush is the co-sponsor, along with State Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Gilpin County, of House Bill 1057. It would rescue the Colorado Avalanche Information Center at the 11th hour from a 2012 law that intended to shift the Colorado Geological Survey away from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and under the auspices of the Colorado School of Mines.
The inclusion of the Avalanche Information Center in the 2012 bill was an unintended consequence, according to Mitsch Bush, who is an enthusiastic backcountry skier.
"The chairman of the Joint Budget Committee (Sen. Pat Steadman) came to me and said, 'I think this is a bill you might be interested in, and we need a fix for this,'" Mitsch Bush said. She jumped at the chance to work with Department of Natural Resources legislative liaison Andy White and a legislative staffer to draft the fix-it bill.
When Mitsch Bush stood up to testify before her committee, she came with props — her own avalanche transceiver and shovel — and thought she had delivered a concise statement of the need for the bill. So the new state representative was crestfallen when it appeared her first bill was doomed from the get-go.
"There is a tradition of freshman hazing, and I was not really aware of that," Mitsch Bush said. "Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg moved to postpone it indefinitely, meaning it's dead."
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Mitsch Bush said several Republican members of the committee also voted to kill the bill. And then, to her amazement, a large group of Democrats fell into line for a final vote of 10-3 in favor on Sonnenberg's motion to postpone.
"People were saying that my mouth was just hanging open," Mitsch Bush recalled. "I thought, 'Oh my God, this can't be happening. I didn't do my homework!"
Just as suddenly as her first bill was crushed, Sonnenberg withdrew his motion and Mitsch Bush broke into laughter as she realized she had been had.
There is real urgency in getting the bill to Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk, Mitsch Bush said.
She said that when the Colorado School of Mines realized that the Avalanche Information Center is not a research organization but a group of about 15 avalanche experts who make timely forecasts of the evolving danger in the state's snowpack, they understood it was not a good fit for an academic institution. And she added that the Department of Natural Resources is fine with taking the agency back.
The Avalanche Information Center's annual budget of about $800,000 is funded by contributions and a portion of state severance taxes. Its transfer to the School of Mines is due to be finalized Jan. 31, so passage of the new law in time to get it to the governor's desk is needed to protect the agency's payroll, she said.
"This is important to our committee and other mountain towns," Mitsch Bush said, "not only for snowmobilers, skiers and snowshoers but retailers and outdoor gear manufacturers. And the Colorado Department of Transportation relies heavily on the CAIC to help keep important mountain passes open."
If HB 1057 passes on final reading Thursday, it would go on to a Senate committee before being reported to the Senate floor.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com