The first bill in the legislative session from Democratic Rep. Barbara McLachlan of Durango won unanimous approval Monday from the House Finance Committee.
House Bill 1048 allows Fort Lewis College trustees to use the revenues derived from the Old Fort at Hesperus property, the original site of the college, without the additional step of seeking legislative approval.
The legislation is co-sponsored with Republican Sen. Don Coram of Montrose.
The property is now used for a variety of purposes, such as long-term cattle grazing and as part of the operations for the King coal mine. Cattle-grazing brings in between $12,000 and $24,000 per year; the mine brings in about $6,000 per year. The account, according to a fiscal analysis, now holds about $850,000.
The fund was originally supposed to be used to pay for Native American tuition waivers, although that has never happened and the account just continues to grow. Another state law, unaffected by HB 1048, requires the General Assembly to use general funds (income and sales taxes, for example) to pay for the tuition and the General Assembly has historically covered 100 percent of those costs.
The bill still allows the college to use those dollars for Native American tuition, if it chooses to do so.
Currently, there’s another step that the State Land Board, which manages the property, and the Fort Lewis trustees, have to go through, and that’s to get permission from the General Assembly every year to spend the money that goes into the Hesperus account.
HB 1048 takes the General Assembly out of the equation. McLachlan told the House Finance Committee Monday that the Hesperus property “is a wonderful part of Fort Lewis College.” She said the property provides hands-on education for the community, such as giving young people an opportunity to learn about farming and cattle.
The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.