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A bill in Colorado’s Senate that seeks funding to help preserve Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route passed out of committee today on a 5-2 vote. 

This comes on the heels of a report from the state’s Southwest Chief Commission that says the original expected $40 million share to help save the long distance route has been knocked down to 8.91 million, due in part to a federal transportation grant and negotiations with BNSF Railway, the company that owns the tracks. 

In this week's Capitol Conversation, Bente Birkeland takes a look at the policy debates ahead. She talked to Kristen Wyatt with the Associated Press and John Frank with the Denver Post about what they’ll be covering and some issues that do and don’t fall along party lines.

A debate on drones does not fall along party lines and will get a hearing in the Senate Tuesday.

Investigators have arrested a 44-year-old man in connection to an explosion last month outside a building that houses the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP.  

Thaddeus Cheyenne Murphy faces charges of arson and being a felon in possession of firearms. A search of Murphy’s home revealed seven guns and devices similar to the one used in the explosion earlier this year.  The U.S. Attorney’s office says that device was a road flare and pipe bomb near a container of gasoline.  No one was hurt in the explosion.

Much of Southern Colorado can expect to see some heavy snowfall this upcoming weekend. KRCC’s Dana Cronin reports.

Up to around 15 inches of snow are predicted beginning late Friday night with daytime temperatures forecasted in the 20’s and 30’s.
 

Brett Levin Flickr / Creative Commons

The state of Colorado is facing new lawsuits over recreational marijuana legalization. The Washington DC based Safe Streets Alliance is suing the state in federal court to try and close down the industry.

“It is illegal under federal law to sell marijuana and in this country federal law is the supreme law of the land,” said David Thompson, the lead attorney for the Safe Streets Alliance.

Bob Wick, BLM California / BLM Flickr / Creative Commons

Browns Canyon in Chaffee County will be designated a National Monument by President Obama on Thursday. 
 

Conservationists, community leaders and businesses are praising the move, which comes after years of work to secure the designation.  It covers a 22,000-acre stretch of public land along the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Salida known for recreational opportunities. 

Keith Baker heads the non-profit group Friends of Browns Canyon.

A new smart phone app for the Pikes Peak region is looking to connect local food producers with consumers. KRCC’s Dana Cronin reports.

The app is called LocalFood and will allow users to find, purchase, or sell products that are grown or produced within a 67-mile radius of Colorado Springs.

Colorado’s 2015 legislative session has been marked by a host of interesting and controversial issues, rather than one or two topics dominating debates. Bente Birkeland checks in with other statehouse reporters as part of our weekly capitol conversation series.
 

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A measure that would require cities and counties to compensate mineral owners who aren’t able to develop oil and gas because of local regulations cleared its first committee at the statehouse on Thursday. Bente Birkeland has more:
 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

It has been more than a year since recreational marijuana stores opened in Colorado and retail sales began. Schools are grappling with the best way to discusses marijuana in the classroom amidst changing attitudes. 

While schools aren’t required to separate out marijuana incidents from other illicit drugs such as cocaine, anecdotal evidence compiled by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News suggests more students are using marijuana.

Clipart.com

Even after a full year of being able to purchase recreational marijuana – questions still remain for the state of Colorado. Is its use dangerous, should there be tighter labeling on pot edibles – and is its easy access impacting middle and high school students? Recent data compiled by the Department of Education and Rocky Mountain PBS I-News show incidents of student drug use last year hitting a ten-year high, but state officials don’t have a clear picture if the two are related.

The towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff may soon earn international recognition for their nighttime skies. KRCC's Dana Cronin reports.
 

The "community" designation comes from the International Dark Skies Association and recognizes dedication to night sky preservation.

Jim Bradburn is the President of Westcliffe’s Dark Skies community. He says part of the application process means showing a reduction of man-made light.

Maeve Conran

Coloradans pride themselves on the quality of their drinking water, most of which originates high up in the Rocky Mountains.  But many communities on the Eastern plains have water that not only tastes bad, it’s out of compliance with federal drinking water standards.

Many diners at the J and L Cafe in downtown Sterling are sipping on glasses of tap water as they enjoy lunch on this December morning.  That was not the case just a year ago. 

The Environmental Protection Agency and public health officials held open meetings Tuesday to talk with residents in the south Pueblo neighborhoods listed as a Superfund site in December. KRCC’s Shanna Lewis reports.

The EPA eventually wants to test soil samples around some 1900 homes. Previous testing found toxic lead and arsenic levels around the site of the former Colorado Smelter, which closed in 1908.

Governor John Hickenlooper spoke in support of Fort Carson Tuesday at a listening session in Colorado Springs.  The forum comes as the Army looks to reduce its numbers of active-duty soldiers by at least 40,000.

The reductions could impact up to 16,000 personnel at Fort Carson.  The listening session was one of 30 being held across Army bases aimed at providing input to the Pentagon before any decisions are made.

Governor Hickenlooper said Colorado has a long, proud history with the military, and provides training and support that is unique.

Army leadership is seeking public input in light of changes and cuts that could affect the Pikes Peak Region.  KRCC’s Tucker Hampson reports on a community listening session held Tuesday.
 

The Army is looking to reduce the number of active duty soldiers by at least 40,000. The Regional Business Alliance says this could impact up to 16,000 personnel at Fort Carson.

4th Infantry Division spokesman Lt. Colonel Armando Hernandez says community input will play an important role in the coming changes.

D. Utterback

Democratic lawmakers in Colorado recently introduced a measure to allow terminally ill patients to take medication to end their lives. The patients must be given a prognosis from two different physicians giving them less than six months to live.

Why do supporters say it’s the compassionate choice?

Who strongly opposes it?

Bente Birkeland discusses the proposal with statehouse reporters.

Some key points from the conversation:

Precautions in Place

Ivan Moreno with the Associated Press

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A bill to require background checks for volunteers and employees of youth sports clubs failed to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Opponents said the measure had too many gaps in it. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.

In Colorado, roughly 6 million children play in youth sports clubs, ranging from soccer and baseball to swimming and basketball.  Supporters say these sports clubs attract sexual predators because of lax standards.

Bureau of Land Management

A new study on the Colorado River estimates the Basin would lose almost two-thirds of its economic value were the waterway to run dry.  KRCC’s Dana Cronin reports.
 

Researchers at Arizona State University found the Colorado River system accounts for more than 1.4 trillion dollars in economic activity and provides nearly 16 million jobs. In Colorado, that would mean a loss of nearly 200 billion dollars of economic activity and 2 million jobs.

Richard Tinker / NOAA/NWS/NCEP/CPC

Experts from western states are gathering in New Mexico to talk about drought and its impacts on recreation and tourism.  KRCC's Tucker Hampson reports.
 

A video from the Western Governors Association shows a montage of streams and water formations affected by drought, some dry and barren.

ICYMI: State Water Plan the Topic of Special Connecting the Drops Program

Jan 28, 2015

The state water plan was the topic of conversation for a special Connecting the Drops program that originally aired on Sunday, January 25. 

Guests:  

CSFD Twitter (@CSFDPIO)

UPDATE: 01/29/15, 9:41 AM: CSFD released official details of the fire last night.  It burned a total of 5.92 acres, with five agencies responding: Colorado Springs Fire Department, Colorado Springs Utilities Wildland Team, El Paso County Wildland Team, Pike National Forest Fire, Broadmoor Fire Rescue.

UPDATE: 01/27/15, 5:29 PM:  CSFD spokesman Captain Steve Oswald says a juvenile's misuse of a lighter caused the fire.

ORIGINAL REPORT:

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A bill to allow terminally ill patients to take their own lives was introduced at the state capitol Tuesday. Supporters say they want to give patients an option to die with dignity.
 

House Bill 1135 [.pdf] would let people who have less than six months to live take a prescription to die. 

An Air Force Academy cadet died in a ski accident at Keystone Resort in Summit County this past weekend.

First year cadet John “Jack” Lindsey was skiing on a mid-level run and wearing a helmet when the accident occurred and was pronounced dead on the scene.

In a statement, Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson offered her condolences to Lindsey’s family and those who knew him.

The academy is coordinating funeral arrangements with Lindsey’s family and support services are available.

D. Utterback

Colorado’s new Republican Senate majority flexed their muscles last week at the state capitol. They used their power on the joint budget committee to defund a 2013 law allowing people in the country illegally to obtain a state driver’s license. They also struck down a bill to harmonize Colorado’s civil unions law with a gay marriage ban that was deemed unconstitutional by the 10th circuit court of appeals. They also struck down a commission looking pay equity between men and women.

Tune in to KRCC Sunday, January 25 at 5 PM for a special one-hour call-in Connecting the Drops program focusing on the State Water Plan.

The plan looks to find a way to meet the state’s growing water needs. But what does it mean for different stakeholders?  Joining us for a state wide discussion on the Colorado Water Plan are James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River Water Conservation District  and Chris Woodka with the Pueblo Chieftain will be our guests, and your calls will be welcome at 800-737-3030.

'Prayer And Work' Go Hand In Hand At This Colorado Ranch

Jan 22, 2015

Many beer aficionados are familiar with the rare breweries run by Trappist monks. The beer is highly sought after, but it’s not the only food or drink made by a religious order. Many abbeys and convents have deep roots in agriculture, combining farm work with prayer.

Just five miles south of the Colorado-Wyoming border you’ll find one of these places. Idyllic red farm buildings sit in the shadow of the main abbey, all tucked in a stony valley. At the Abbey of St. Walburga, cattle, water buffalo and llamas graze on grass under the watchful eye of Benedictine nuns.

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Republicans at the state capitol defeated a bill on Wednesday that sought to clean up and harmonize the state’s civil unions and gay marriage laws. Lawmakers said they wanted to wait and see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue this summer. Bente Birkeland has more.
 

 

D. Utterback

Governor John Hickenlooper gave his annual State of the State Address in front of a joint session of the General Assembly Thursday. 
 

Capitol Conversation Highlights

What stood out in Address

 Ed Sealover- Denver Business Journal

Colorado.gov

Governor John Hickenlooper said he was intentionally vague at times during his annual state of the state address, which he delivered to the legislature on Thursday. He recently sat down to discuss his speech and what it means for the year ahead with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland.

Interview highlights:
 

Governor Hickenlooper on the Constitutional Conflicts between TABOR, Amendment 23 and Gallagher

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