Legislature educates delegates on agriculture issues
A Colorado lawmaker says he got tired of his colleagues passing bills that would hurt his rural constituents, like the one requiring ranchers to take care of wild cats or another requiring butchering animals to be kept in bigger pens.
So last weekend state Rep. Wes McKinley invited fellow lawmakers to see part of the real West: the southeastern plains. A half dozen took him up on the offer, riding the range and helping with a cattle drive.
``I told them if they're going to vote on western issues, they need to understand western issues,'' said McKinley, a rancher and former outfitter from Walsh, an agricultural town of 4,000 about 220 miles southeast of Denver.
The cat care bill passed the House Local Government Committee but died on the House floor. The animal care act requiring larger pens became law, but only after pregnant sows were given an exemption.
``They didn't realize that sows eat their babies,'' McKinley said.
The visiting lawmakers talked with about 200 area residents about the local way of life, then took a six-mile horseback ride, along with wagons and a stagecoach, to inspect a bridge built in 1936 under the Works Progress Administration. It carries traffic over Two Butte Creek, which is now dry.
Residents pointed to the gully and told the legislators they don't understand recent agreements between Colorado and Kansas that give Kansas more water while their own land lies fallow. Lawmakers said it's federal law and there is little they can do.
McKinley, a Democrat, said many laws passed in Denver have unintended consequences on the range.
``They wanted to pass a law saying you couldn't keep a veal calf in a pen so small he couldn't lay down and turn around,'' he told farmers and ranchers at a campfire meeting after the trail ride.
``I asked them 'What's a veal calf?' and nobody knew. They said 'Don't worry about it because there was no veal industry in Colorado.' I said this could be my favorite bill, because we passed a law on a subject they knew nothing about for something we can't define,'' McKinley recalled.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture says there's no veal industry in Colorado because calves are raised for the dairy industry and bulls in the West are worth more when they're grown.
McKinley said a woman from Denver who was not a constituent wanted to have him arrested for animal cruelty after lawmakers tried to pass a bill requiring people to take care of stray cats on their property and put computer chips in them so they could be identified. McKinley had opposed the bill, arguing feral cats are often shot to prevent spreading disease onto ranches.
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