USA – U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse has a stacked agenda for his second Congressional term that includes COVID-19 relief, a new bipartisan wildfire caucus and another chance for two sweeping public lands bills.
Neguse, a Democrat, passed nine bills in the last session, the second-most of any lawmaker. He’s coming off a high-profile stint as one of the House impeachment managers. His second term is also the first one he’s served under a trifecta of Democratic control, which will likely give some of his legislation a better shot at passage.
The Coloradoan interviewed Neguse about his legislative priorities in January. What follows are excerpts from that conversation and context about the issues Neguse wants to address.
COVID-19 relief and ‘building back better’
Neguse said his top priority is “crushing the virus” and ensuring economic recovery “includes all Coloradans.” He supports $1,400 stimulus checks for Americans and said the next stimulus bill should address: Direct monetary relief for the American people, a continued eviction moratorium and increased food assistance, aid for state and local governments, assistance for small businesses, and funding for public health, including bolstered investment in vaccine deployment.
Beyond COVID-19, Neguse said he wants to see America “build back better,” echoing a campaign slogan of President Joe Biden. For Larimer County, he said that will mean more funding for the north Interstate 25 corridor expansion and bolstered investment in affordable housing to ease the strain of population growth on the community.
Neguse has prioritized public land preservation since he first entered the House in 2018, and he plans to continue that focus in the new session. He was elected this month as the chair of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, making him the first Coloradan and first African American to lead the committee.
Probably the highest-profile piece of public lands legislation on Neguse’s 2021 docket is the CORE (Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy) Act, which he’s reintroducing after it sputtered in a Republican-controlled Senate last year. The act would create about 73,000 acres of new wilderness areas in Colorado and federally protect about 400,000 acres of land in areas including the Continental Divide and San Juan Mountains. It would be the largest piece of Colorado public lands legislation since 1993. The act passed in the House in fall 2019 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, with some Republican support.
Neguse is optimistic that the CORE Act will fare better in the Senate this year with the support of both Colorado senators — Sen. Michael Bennet led the legislation in the Senate, but former Sen. Cory Gardner hadn’t supported the bill — and a narrow Democratic majority.
“We’ve worked very hard to build bipartisan partnerships on Capitol Hill that would enable us to pursue our legislative agenda irrespective of which party happens to be in the majority,” Neguse said. “That being said, clearly, it will help tremendously to have partners now in the United States Senate.”
Neguse is also reintroducing the 21st Century Conservation Corps Act, which would create a $9 billion fund for land and conservation corps to increase job training and hiring specifically for jobs in the woods. It would provide billions of dollars in funding for forest health restoration, reforestation efforts, economic relief for outfitters and tribal drinking water infrastructure repairs.
Neguse characterized the legislation as providing overdue investments in public lands and forests and stimulate the economy by “taking a page out of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s successful playbook and revitalizing this popular program born out of the New Deal.”
“Our bill would put Americans back to work in natural resource management to restore America’s forests and would make needed investments to prevent catastrophic wildfire,” he said in a news release about the bill. “The proposal was written with Colorado in mind, with the west in mind, with the firefighters and emergency management officials and with our public lands and our climate in mind, and it’s time we get it done.”
Climate change and wildfires
Addressing wildfires and climate change will be another big priority for Neguse this session. He launched a bipartisan wildfire caucus with Republican Rep. John Curtis of Utah, with the hope of fostering conversations and solutions for regions dealing with wildfire impacts.
Neguse and Curtis introduced the Wildfire Recovery Act as the caucus’s first legislative action. The act would increase flexibility in federal cost-sharing for Fire Management Assistance Grants, reducing the burden on smaller communities rebuilding after wildfire damage.
Representatives who want to join the wildfire caucus will need to bring with them a partner from across the aisle, a unique approach that Neguse said will ensure the caucus always remains bipartisan. The bipartisan approach may mean better likelihood of passage for the caucus’s legislative proposals.
Climate change, known to exacerbate the impacts of wildfire, is another key target for Neguse this session. He considers it an existential threat and said he’s hopeful that climate bills will fare better this session with Democratic control of both chambers and a Democrat in the White House.
Neguse sits on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and is cosponsoring a bill that would require President Joe Biden to declare a national climate emergency. That would free up more funding and resources to address the impacts of climate change. Neguse is also calling on the federal government to establish a national biodiversity strategy, and he said he’ll be advocating for federal infrastructure bills to include investments in electric vehicle charging stations and other climate-related infrastructure.
“I made very clear promises to the people of Larimer County that, given an opportunity to serve a second term in the Congress, I would fight to make real progress on climate change (and) to invest in our infrastructure, and I intend to pursue those priorities,” Neguse said. “And I have never been more hopeful than I am today about our ability to see those priorities ultimately come to fruition.”
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.