The 2019 legislative session will begin in just a few weeks and I am excited to announce that rural Colorado will have an even bigger microphone at the state capitol this legislative session thanks to a forward thinking change by incoming Speaker K.C. Becker, who formed the Rural Affairs Committee to focus primarily on issues facing rural communities across our state.

The Rural Affairs Committee will highlight that rural Colorado has specific issues that need addressing at the state capitol including but not limited to agriculture, water, rural broadband and rural economic development. As citizen-legislators, our goal is to deliver results for Coloradans in our rural communities and enhance and protect our way of life.

Despite significant efforts from legislators on both sides of the aisle, the rural-urban divide continues to be a challenge. While Colorado's economy is working for some, it's not working for everyone in rural communities and the state legislature must do more to ensure that success touches all parts of our state. This committee is in a position to help improve the lives of all Coloradans, not just those in urban and suburban areas. That means taking steps in rural Colorado to reduce the cost of health care, lower drug prices and ensure transparency, and spur innovation and rural economic development to get more people into good paying jobs.

Driving more rural economic development goes hand in hand with improving rural broadband. So it's critical that we build upon the successes of the past session when the legislature passed a bipartisan bill to devote over $100 million over the next five years to expand broadband deployment throughout rural Colorado. We know that dependable access to the internet will better serve classrooms, libraries, rural hospitals and telemedicine operations from the Western Slope to the eastern plains. Broadband will also help connect Colorado's farmers and strong agriculture community to new markets. If we continue working together we can ensure that every community has access to reliable and speedy broadband access.

Our western heritage is tied to the land. Much of our treasured state is covered by farms and ranches and our agriculture sector is a critical economic engine. I am pleased Congress passed the Farm Bill and states like ours must continue to stand up for our rural communities while some in Washington engage in endless trade wars that are costing our farmers money and raising stress levels. This committee will continue to serve as a platform for farmers and ranchers and will work to spur more growth.

Climate change is a major threat for our rural communities across the state. Coloradans can see the impacts in their daily lives and want to take steps to prepare for and mitigate the impacts. Our rural economy, our farms, our mountains and our way of life depend on it. Colorado has been gripped by drought for practically as long we can remember and water is one the most important issues facing our rural communities and the West. It is critical that the legislature and stakeholders problem solve and create solutions to conserve our state's water and implement the Colorado Water Plan.

We also understand the human toll that dangerous, destructive and increasingly frequent wildfires have on our rural communities. So it's imperative that we work together to prepare for and help rural communities rebound from these natural disasters. A lack of water and increased wildfires spell economic disaster for rural Colorado and it's time we act to pass smart policy to prevent and mitigate wildfire disasters.

I am excited for the renewed and expanded focus on issues that are important to rural communities and am ready to get to work.

Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon is chair of the House Rural Affairs Committee. He also serves on the House Judiciary Committee and as chair of the Capitol Development Committee.