A day at the Capitol
On Feb. 21, freshman Sen. Gail Schwartz began her work early and ended late, with a full schedule of activities in between. Here is a day in the life of a Colorado state senator:8 a.m. – The day begins with a talk between Schwartz and her part-time aide, Sara Schreiber, about what Schwartz could expect over the next 10 hours or so. She chats with an Aspen reporter, fields phone calls, interacts with Schreiber on e-mail replies and scheduling questions, and greets attorney and lobbyist Mike Feeley. The first of many visitors, Feeley opposes to a bill that would require motorists to pay into a special state “medical coverage” fund.9 a.m. – Schwartz hurries to Senate chambers for the morning session, during which Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald (D-Golden) ushers several bills through passage and then hands the gavel to Schwartz as the Senate transforms itself into “the committee of the whole” in order to report out certain bills. (Schwartz later explained that this duty falls to all senators on a revolving schedule, but she called it “scary” since it was her first time.)At one point during the session, Sen. Josh Penry (R-Grand Junction) urges passage of a water bill that Schwartz is sponsoring in the senate, HB 1132. Penry says similar legislation has been “extremely controversial over the years,” but that HB 1132 “is actually a consensus bill” that recently won passage out of the House of Representatives. The bill passes unanimously and has since been sent to Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk. 10:30 a.m. – At a hearing of the House-Senate Agriculture Committee, Schwartz and other lawmakers hear testimony on the Colorado Natural Areas program, which protects endangered animal and plant species and works with private landowners on easements to keep land from development.10:50 a.m. – Schwartz is pulled from the hearing room by a legislative legal aide to discuss two bills she will carry for the Colorado Department of Agriculture.11 a.m. – Back in the hearing room, she listens to questions about the Natural Areas program. When the hearing adjourns she hurries to the Colorado Supreme Court chambers, located in a different wing of the capitol.11:25 a.m. – Schwartz addresses a Supreme Court room filled with constituents wearing “Senior Power Day” buttons. Schwartz pledges her support for senior issues. A bill she is working on would divert energy assistance money to pay for energy-efficiency retrofits of the homes of low-income senior citizens. 11:35 a.m. – Due at a luncheon in a nearby museum building, Schwartz heads toward her third-floor office but is again buttonholed, this time by Ralph Bozella, a member of the Colorado Board of Veterans Affairs. The two talk about the Home Lake Veterans Center in the San Luis Valley, which is now on a Colorado Preservation Inc. list of the state’s “most endangered places” due to a lack of funding.”I recognize this is a significant part of my job,” she told Bozella. “I will be very good to Home Lake.”11:50 a.m. – Back at her office, Schwartz again glances over her schedule with Schreiber, then dashes off to a luncheon given by Alliance, a consortium of organizations that provide services to the developmentally disabled. Scheduled to be at the first meeting of the new Senate Select Subcommittee on Renewable Energy, chaired by Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, her friend and ally, she has no time to eat. But she talks with several Alliance advocates from towns around her district, and hustles back to the Capitol.12:30 p.m. – At the subcommittee meeting, she munches on a Caesar salad provided for members and listens to testimony on renewable energy resources, occasionally offering comments.2:30 p.m. – Back in her office, Schwartz listens to insurance industry lobbyists offer arguments against SB 193, the auto-insurance medical payments bill, then took some time for an interview with The Aspen Times.4:30 p.m. – More lobbyists arrive to discuss SB 193, but this time they represent the health-care providers who support the bill. They praise the bill as a way to pay providers for their services even when there is no auto or medical insurance coverage involved. As with the bill’s opponents, Schwartz is receptive but noncommittal.5:15 p.m. – Rechecking the next day’s schedule, Schwartz and Schreiber worried about a “train wreck” of conflicting committee hearings, but ultimately figure out how to have Schwartz be in three places almost simultaneously.5:30 p.m. – Rep. Michael Garcia, D-Aurora, drops by to ask Schwartz to support his bill to lower the minimum age for being elected to the Statehouse, now set by the Colorado Constitution at 25 years of age. Garcia wants 18-year-olds to be eligible, but ultimately agrees with Schwartz that 21 years is more politically feasible.6 p.m. – Schwartz departs for a political reception in honor of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
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Like perennial flowers that bud every spring, the plans for a redesign of the Snowmass Rodeo grounds at Town Park have once again popped up in town discussions.