John Denver for President

Good news! You’re still in the running to win your NCAA tournament pool!

“Senators Hold Field Hearing on New Federal Farm Bill.” Say that three times fast, or just read this story from The Associated Press below the jump:

Renewable energy will be a big part of the new federal farm bill and Colorado agriculture will likely have a big role in producing that alternative energy, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Monday.

Harkin, the Senate Agriculture Committee chairman, said he would also look at creating a permanent disaster relief fund in the farm bill for the kind of storms that pounded southeast Colorado in December. An estimated 10,000 cattle died in the blizzards. Farmers and ranchers from across the state turned out for the hearing, the first on the new farm bill to be held outside of Washington.

”I believe Colorado is going to play a very important role in the production of energy from biomass,” Harkin said in a news conference before the hearing at the Adams County Fairgrounds 20 miles north of Denver.

Harkin and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., earlier toured the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden where research is under way on converting wood chips, grasses and other plant cellulose into ethanol for fuel for vehicles. ”We’re going to be looking at NREL for a lot of research into this and we’re going to put more money into research on cellulose conversion,” Harkin said.

That was welcome news to Salazar, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp and Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, also at the news conference. Salazar, Ritter and the Democratic-controlled Legislature are pushing for Colorado to become a center of renewable energy research and production.

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Republicans and Democrats at the State Capitol continue to spar over a resolution on the Iraq war. As Lynn Bartels and April Washington of the Rocky Mountain News report:

A war of words over a proposed war resolution intensified Monday, as Democrats and Republicans prepare to do battle Wednesday when the measure is heard.

Democratic lawmakers say it’s appropriate for the legislature to debate the resolution because the cost of the conflict is resulting in fewer federal dollars to Colorado.

The resolution states it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq.

Republicans fear that the resolution will undermine the troops.

But Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, who introduced the war resolution, said the arguments Republicans are making don’t support the troops, but rather support “the president’s failed Iraq war policy.”

“You don’t support the troops by sending them inadequately trained and equipped on their second or third deployment into the middle of an Iraqi civil war,” Tupa said.

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Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman has placed four Colorado counties on an “election watch list.” As Ann Imse of the Rocky Mountain News reports:

Secretary of State Mike Coffman on Monday put four Colorado counties with problem- plagued elections on a “watch list” and ordered three of them to use paper ballot backups to their computerized voting machines next time.

Under the order, Denver, Douglas and Montrose counties must offer two voting systems because of problems they had that prevented citizens from casting ballots.

Pueblo, which failed to verify signatures on absentee ballots, was ordered to find a new way of storing signatures electronically.

Coffman said he came close to exercising his authority under state law to seek a court order to simply take over the administration of elections in Montrose and Pueblo counties, where officials actually violated state law. But he chose to order extra supervision instead, noting he did not find any evidence of fraud.

But if any of the four counties don’t clean up their act by the next statewide election, he’ll trigger the court-ordered takeover, he said.

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Halfway through the 2007 legislative session, some lawmakers say that things are fairly quiet. Given the intensity of debates over Iraq and Amendment 41, I have no idea what the hell they are talking about, but here’s what Joe Hanel at The Cortez Journal has to say:

“It’s an odd session. It’s quiet,” said House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker.
The first half was slow while Gov. Bill Ritter put his cabinet in place.

“Everybody’s learning. We’ve got a lot of new people,” said Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus.
In addition to a new governor, 29 of the 100 legislators are freshmen.

Renewable energy advocates have been the big winners so far. Ritter has thrown his support behind bills to require more renewable electricity, to help homeowners install solar panels, and to build more transmission lines from wind farms.

“I think this is the year that a lot of us have been waiting for,” said Will Coyne of Environment Colorado.

Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Coal Creek Canyon, agreed.

“For the majority party, it’s been about the new energy economy, because a lot of the major bills that we’re carrying are working towards a renewable energy future for Colorado,” she said.

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A Colorado court may consider a new effort to stop enforcing Amendment 41 altogether. As Lynn Bartels of the Rocky Mountain News reports:

A group of Coloradans challenging a new ethics measure asked a court Monday to halt its enforcement until their lawsuit is heard.

The motion for a preliminary injunction against Amendment 41 was no surprise. The question is whether the court will act on it before the legislature votes on two bills related to the measure or adjourns May 9.

The voter-approved amendment in part bans gifts worth $50 or more to government employees and their families.

Although the measure was aimed at reining in gifts to elected officials from lobbyists, it has raised a variety of questions, including whether children of government workers can accept some types of scholarships.

Attorney Mike Feeley, who was hired by Amendment 41 supporters to help draft implementing legislation known as House Bill 1304, said even if the injunction is granted, it would not impact that bill or a related one.

“It changes the political dynamic, but not the legal implications,” Feeley said. “And it’s the long way of getting to the people who will ultimately decide this issue – the Supreme Court.”

The House might take up HB 1304, by Rep. Rosemary Marshall, D-Denver, as early as today. The bill defines terms in Amendment 41, but critics say it goes too far in trying to address the unintended consequences of the amendment.

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Here’s a surprise

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Jason Bane

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