OURAY COUNTY – How do you get Congress to listen to your ideas? Go there and talk to the legislators face to face.
That’s what Commissioners Heidi Albritton and Lynn Padgett did earlier this month. Representing Ouray County, they attended the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference March 3-7 in Washington, D.C. The two joined a 49-member delegation from Colorado and more than 1,400 county officials from around the country in lobbying Congress on the importance of county programs and services in a recovering economy.
On returning, Padgett said, “This conference, just like attending Colorado Counties Inc. meetings, is essential for establishing relationships with cabinet members, legislators, and fellow local government leaders in order to effectively tell our county's story and make sure that Washington, D.C. understands the positive and negative impacts of their decisions on our constituents, which are also their constituents.”
Outgoing BOCC Chair Albritton said, “Washington needs to understand that in an economy struggling toward recovery, services and programs at the county level are needed most.”
Padgett made a particular impression in D.C. She wrote and co-sponsored a resolution calling for Good Samaritan legislation that would help anyone, “a person, a group, a business, a watershed coalition, take on water cleanup without being left open to lawsuits.” Padgett explained that under current environmental law, “If you touch it, it’s yours.” Well-intended Good Samaritans don’t dare take on water-quality improvement projects locally because once they do, they can be held responsible for a complete restoration to state or federal standards.
Padgett’s resolution, on which she had been working since the fall, was unanimously supported by NACo’s Public Lands Steering Committee and its Energy, Environment and Land Use Committee. “It’s an attempt to say, Where is the middle ground,” Padgett said, “between environmentalists who say, ‘Don’t touch the Clean Water Act,’ and miners” who would like to be rid of its constraints.
The two commissioners also discussed with Congressional staffers the importance of full funding for PILT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) and SRS (Secure Rural Schools), two programs that bring needed federal dollars to counties with large swaths of public lands.
On the final day of the conference, Padgett said, she and Albritton met with Senate staff for both Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet to discuss local projects, including the Ridgway mountain bike trail system and a permit for horse packing along the San Juan Hut System trails.
“It was very productive that way,” Padgett said. “We got great ideas to move these things forward.”
She also mentioned as a highlight a speech by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in which he discussed a major transportation bill before Congress, one that would continue federal funding for local road and bridge infrastructure projects as it has since 1956. Transportation infrastructure, and the jobs it creates, was priority issue of the NACo Conference, Padgett said.