Regional News

Weekdays at 8 a.m. & 5:50 p.m.

KVNF's original reporting covers a variety of issues affecting the Western Slope - everything from environmental and energy issues to breaking news and statewide legislative debates. We also feature content from our Rocky Mountain Community Radio partner stations. 

Our news team is always looking for leads. Let us know what's happening in your area, what issues you care about and what you'd like to hear us cover - email us at news@kvnf.org.

As a result of Colorado's booming oil production, energy companies are paying more in severance taxes – money they pay the state for taking minerals out of the ground. Half of it is supposed to go to back to local communities, both directly and through grants. But thanks to market forces – and political conditions in Denver – it's not always a stable source of funding.

Copyright 2015 Colorado Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.cpr.org.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In the 19th century, before Americans fully settled the West, some called it the Great American Desert. It wasn't considered fertile enough to develop.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A bill to raise the salaries of state lawmakers and other elected officials quietly made its way through the statehouse in the final days of the legislative session. It cleared the House with the minimum number of required votes. It had virtually no debate in either chamber.

"People in my district, whenever I tell them how much we make as lawmakers up here, are astounded. They are kind of appalled," said Senator Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City), he voted for the measure in the Senate where it passed with a wider margin, 21-14.

Colorado will soon have a felony DUI law on the books. On the final day of the legislative session the Senate passed House Bill 1043 [.pdf] to create a felony DUI for habitual drunken driving offenders. Legislators had failed to pass it for several years, this time it passed the Senate 34-1.

"There are some holes this legislation is never going to fill there are family members we're not going to get back, and tragedies we can't undo," said Senator Mike Johnston (D-Denver) the bill's sponsor.

Only a handful of states don't have a felony DUI law. Some lawmakers were worried about the costs of incarceration, other legislators wanted to make sure the state provided proper treatments and interventions before giving jail time.

The debate over continuing the Office of Consumer Counsel won't be decided until the final day of the state's annual legislative session. The Office represents taxpayers when utility and telecom companies go to the state to ask for rate hikes. Without Senate Bill 271 [.pdf], the Office of Consumer Counsel would sunset and go away altogether.

Determining the scope of the office's role though has been contentious.

The state's annual legislative session adjourns May 6, 2015. The last few days are always hectic as state lawmakers try to push through final bills. Other bills under the gold dome fail on the calendar or just die in committee. So which measures will make it?

food truck
District 51

In Mesa County, 42 percent of children qualify for free or reduced lunch.  

During the summer, many of these same kids qualify for a meal program when school is out. 

Usually Mesa Valley School District 51 offers this program at four or five schools, but this year there’s only enough funding to have it at two.

However, this summer the district plans on bringing meals to some students.

With the help of a $50,000 grant from the Western Colorado Community Foundation it purchased a food truck from Denver. 

financial literacy, Centennial Middle School, sixth-grade, students
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Many states require students be taught financial literacy. However, Colorado is one of the few that also tests on it. To help students learn, some schools are bringing outside experts into the classroom. 

Six teams of students are playing a quiz game similar to Jeopardy. The purpose of the game is to gauge the financial literacy of sixth-graders who just completed a weeklong course on the topic. 

"I wish that somebody had taught me this when I was this age,"Autumn Lettau with NuVista Federal Credit Union says.

iSeeChange: Frozen Fruit

May 2, 2015
Jake Ryan / KVNF

A hard freeze in April damaged a wide range of fruit crops on the Western Slope of Colorado.

North Fork Valley
Laura Palmisano

Over the past two years, hundreds of coal miners in Delta and Gunnison counties lost their jobs.

The decline in the coal industry has affected western Colorado. That’s why Region 10, an association of local governments, hired Utah-based consulting firm Better City.

The company is analyzing ways to foster economic growth in the area. And, the firm recently unveiled its first recommendations on how to do that.

A bill to raise the salaries of Colorado's elected officials was introduced in the Senate Thursday.  The proposal had been discussed for months, but people working on the measure said state lawmakers in both parties wanted to make sure there were enough votes for it to clear the legislature before allowing an introduction. This late in the session, a legislative leader must approve a bill before it can be introduced.

A measure to eliminate immunity for public schools for school shootings, death, sexual assaults and other series injuries that happen to students on school grounds cleared the House Judiciary Committee Thursday. It passed on a vote of 10-3.

Currently public schools are not liable. Legislative leaders in both parties are sponsoring the change, spurred in part by the 2013 death of Claire Davis. She attended Arapahoe High School in Littleton when a fellow student shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself.

On the Republican side of the 2016 race, this was the week the courting of the Latino vote seemed to begin.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas spoke Wednesday at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., after the group criticized him for skipping their summit last month. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush went on a Spanish-language tour — first to Puerto Rico and then speaking to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference in Houston.

For the first time in 90 years, U.S. health officials say they have diagnosed a case of the plague that may have spread in the air from one person to another. Don't be alarmed — the plague these days is treatable with antibiotics and is exceptionally rare (just 10 cases were reported nationwide in 2014).

And if the plague has become mostly a curiosity in the United States, this case is more curious than most.

Updated at 11 a.m. ET

For the second night in a row, people in Baltimore appear to have mostly heeded a citywide curfew.

But solidarity protests resulted in dozens of arrests in New York, and police used pepper spray on demonstrators near the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. Other large protests were held in Seattle, Houston, Washington, Boston and Minneapolis.

going out of business sign, economy
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

A bipartisan bill introduced in the state legislature this week looks to give struggling Colorado communities a jump-start. 

Senate Bill 282 would create ‘tax-friendly zones’ in up to 30 highly distressed counties across the state. 

"We are talking about areas that have the highest unemployment and lowest wages," said bill sponsor House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. 

Updated at 8:55 a.m. ET

More than 5,000 people are confirmed dead from Saturday's earthquake just outside Kathmandu, Nepal. Nearly 11,000 more were injured, according to Nepal's National Emergency Operation Center.

From Kathmandu, NPR's Kirk Siegler reports that strong tremors are continuing:

montrose recreation center
KVNF / Laura Palmisano

On Friday, hundreds of people attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the new multimillion-dollar recreation center in Montrose.  

The facility has an estimated price tag of $28 million. 

"Tracking the whole history, it’s probably going on almost two decades of effort to bring a recreation center to Montrose," Ken Sherbenou, the executive director of the Montrose Recreation District, says. 

A bill to raise the salaries of elected officials in Colorado is expected to be introduced in the final days of the legislative session. A measure has been in the works for months.

Statewide elected officials in Colorado have not received a raise since 1998. The state's governor ranks 47th in the country in terms of salary, earning $90,000.

As the state Legislature enters the home stretch, lawmakers recently debated a measure to study whether to transfer federal lands to the state. Another bill aimed at relieving congestion on Interstate 70 heading through the mountains also became contentious. There's not much time left for these debates, the annual session ends May 6.

It's been nearly three years since 12 people were killed in Aurora, Colo., at a midnight premier of the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises.

James Holmes' legal team admits he was behind the massacre, but there are two key questions: Was he insane, and should he be put to death?

Tom Teves says his son Alex made a split-second decision to shield his girlfriend when the gunman stormed the theater and began firing into the crowd.

Colorado National Monument
National Parks Service

A new federal report finds in 2014 national parks saw a record number of visitors. And, those tourists generated nearly $30 billion in economic activity. 

Colorado has a dozen national parks. More than 6 million people visited these sites last year, according a National Park Service report. 

It says tourists contributed more than $370 million in visitor spending to local gateway communities. And, the study says that spending supported 5,800 jobs in the state. 

Overall, NPS estimates national parks had an economic impact of $552 million on Colorado’s economy.  

poppy lightfoot, trash clean up
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

In honor of Earth Day on Wednesday, a group of middle schools students in Paonia volunteered to clean up trash along the river. 

Armed with black trash bags and work gloves more than 20 seventh and eighth grade students are searching for rubbish in the woods near Paonia High School.

The area is next to the North Fork of the Gunnison River, a tributary of the Colorado River. And, these middle schoolers are here for a community service project coordinated by the Western Slope Conservation Center, a local nonprofit.

'Vermilion' Finds New Magic In The Old West

Apr 24, 2015

History may be written by the victors, but alternate history is written by anyone with a lust for the past — both established and imagined. Molly Tanzer's imagination is keener than almost anyone's. Her new novel, Vermilion is a work of alt-history that finds a fresh kind of magic in the mingling of fact and fantasy. In the book's wild vision of 1870, the North won the Civil War with the help of a race of intelligent, talking bears. A similarly endowed species of sea lion keeps shop in the streets of San Francisco.

Uncompahgre Gravel Pit
Google Earth

Two years ago, the Montrose County Commissioners denied a special use permit to construct a gravel pit.

The commissioners cited concerns over the location of the haul road, the length of time the asphalt plant would operate and the size of the pit as reasons for denying the permit.

However, the commissioners encouraged the applicant to reapply if they could address those concerns. 

The Montrose County Planning Commission will hold a public meeting Thursday to hear feedback on the proposed Uncompahgre Pit. 

Two former governors, Roy Romer and Bill Owens, joined current Gov. John Hickenlooper at the state capitol to urge lawmakers not to go too far in reducing the numbers of standardized assessments school children take. This comes as legislators are debating several bills to lower the number of exams.

Republican Bill Owens said it's important to have standards and test against those standards to see if students are learning what they should, and to evaluate schools and teachers.

"Our friends from the left and the right for differing reasons, don't want to test, don't want to measure, don't want to have accountability," said Owens. "This is stunning to me."

Highway 550, Red Mountain Pass, Ouray
Laura Palmisano

A missing 18-year-old from Texas was found dead in Colorado on Thursday. 

Rescue workers recovered the body of Edgar Alfredo Vargas from the canyon below U.S. 550 on Red Mountain Pass outside of Ouray, according to a release.

The Ouray County Coroner's Office identified Vargas.

The El Paso teen was reported missing last week. Officials say a search in the area for him started last Friday. 

solar panel, solar workers, Solar Energy International
Solar Energy International

The latest Colorado jobs report shows some communities across the state still struggle with high unemployment. 

State economists say for the past four months, Colorado’s unemployment rate has stayed at 4.2 percent. That figure is still below the national unemployment rate of 5.5 percent.

Alexandra Hall is chief economist for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. 

"The labor force in Colorado is continuing to grow and the number of people employed are continuing to grow," Hall says.  

A bill to expand farm-to-school programs in Colorado initially cleared the state House Tuesday, but it still faces objections from some lawmakers who call it unnecessary.

House Bill 1088 [.pdf] would set up grants to help farms and ranches meet federal safety standards to they could sell their locally produced food to schools.

"This program boosts our economy, it creates jobs, and we have schools right now who want to buy more local food from our farmers and the supply chain does not exist," said bill sponsor Representative Faith Winter (D-Westminster).

Produce, Vegetables, Thistle Whistle
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Colorado State University is surveying farmers and travelers for a study on agritourism.

Earlier this year, nearly 800 farmers across Colorado received a questionnaire from CSU’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

The survey asks producers about agritourism. The university wants to know what portion of their business comes from the industry, how they attract tourists and what challenges they face.

The study is partnership between CSU and the University of California, Davis.

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