During new legislator orientation, my friend, Senate President Leroy Garcia, asked me how I was doing “drinking from a fire hose." After two months serving as your state representative for Colorado House District  47, I get what he meant. It’s a lot of information, really fast.

Furthermore, everyone knows that the current political environment is, at best, contentious. I didn’t run to grandstand; I was elected to serve the families of Southern Colorado.

 Thus far, one of my bills has been signed into law and another awaits the governor’s signature. House Bill 19-1066, signed into law on March 7, takes into account special education students when considering school graduation rates. This will ensure that all students, like my son, are counted in performance standards.

House Bill 19-1047, which awaits the governor, allows metropolitan districts to ask voters for a dedicated sales tax for fire protection. Stakeholders in Pueblo West asked me to introduce this bill, which would increase funding to their own professional fire department, with voter approval.

Rural issues continue to be my focus this year. Senate Bill 19-150 sponsored by myself, along with Sens. Kerry Donovan and Jerry Sonnenberg, continues the current regulations surrounding public livestock markets. Currently, in the state of Colorado, there are 34 such markets where horses, mules, cattle, burros, swine, sheep, goats, poultry and other livestock are offered for sale. In Otero County, there are three livestock sale barns, so ensuring all of our ranchers have a sustainable and consistent place to do business is essential to a healthy and vibrant rural economy.

Another piece of legislation that I’m excited about grows the rural track program for primary care physicians. Anyone who has ever had to see a health care provider in a place like La Junta or Avondale know that the wait lists (and drives!) are long; it’s even worse for specialty health care. My proposed legislation will expand the rural track program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical School. This bill will ensure that our rural communities have access to the medical service that they deserve.

 I’m also pleased to announce that my bill, House Bill 19-1192, continues to make it through committee hearings. This bill creates incentives for local schools to use local produce in their lunches and increases the markets for our produce farmers and cattlemen in Pueblo County and the greater Arkansas Valley. It is my hope that this bill further facilitates the relationship between the agricultural industry and the general public, to promote our proud tradition of Southern Colorado farming and ranching.

Later this session, my focus will shift to high school dropout prevention rates, as well as increased access to vocational education for Colorado students. I see these two issues as different sides of the same coin. If we can teach Colorado students real applicable skills that will help them find strong jobs upon graduation, research shows those students are likelier to complete their secondary education. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to deliver results in these areas.

 Besides creating effective legislation, a significant component of this job is listening to my constituents and representing the values and traditions that we hold dear in Southern Colorado. This oftentimes puts me in uncomfortable situations with other members of my political party. There have been numerous controversial bills that have drawn ire from my constituents. House Bill 19-1056, the repeal of Columbus Day, Senate Bill 19-042, regarding the national popular vote, and House Bill 19-1172, the so-called "red flag" bill, have been some of the most difficult votes I've cast thus far.

While these bills passed, I voted "no." I wasn’t elected to grandstand. I’m a special education teacher who was elected to serve the will of Southern Colorado’s families, which is who I fight for every day. On hard votes like this, I listen carefully during constituent and stakeholder outreach. No one can make everyone happy, but I do what I can to listen and evaluate what our community says. As such, I stand by each and every one of my votes.

Being an elected official is one of the most difficult and rewarding challenges of my life. Much of it is having difficult conversations, evaluating the impact on our unique way of life down here in Southern Colorado. I consider it my honor, duty, and privilege to serve this community, and I look forward to the remaining weeks in the legislative session to continue this fight.

Bri Buentello represents District 47 in the Colorado House of Representatives.