The whirlwind of the 2018 Legislative Session has come to a close. It was packed with ups and downs, vigorous debates, bipartisan breakthroughs, and a fair amount of drama. At the end of the day, I feel like we actually got a lot of good work done!
Though this was only my second session as a legislator, it was my sixth session counting my years as a staffer. This session stands out from the rest for one primary reason – we decided to tackle the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, and we started by making sure there were real consequences for the unacceptable behavior of one of our own members. Read more about the expulsion of Rep. Steve Lebsock here.
Handling the sexual harassment issue the right way was very time consuming, but we kept plugging away at a number of issues throughout the session. Many of us were engaged in negotiations since opening day on issues of transportation and education funding, reforming our state pension system, and continuing the Colorado Civil Rights Division. On all of these issues, we were successful in passing bipartisan legislation that will soon be signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper.
With any big bipartisan deal, both sides have to compromise. Some of those compromises were really painful, especially in the pension reform bill. By way of background, our Public Employee Retirement System (PERA) was in need of some adjustment following a reduction in the long-term expected rate of return on our investments along with an update to our mortality tables to reflect the longer expected lifespan of Coloradans. We approached the policy with the idea of “shared sacrifice” in which employers, employees, and retirees would all need to give a little. This meant increasing the retirement age, increasing the employer and employee contributions, decreasing the annual cost-of-living-adjustment, and more. While I would have favored structuring the bill somewhat differently, we had to make some concessions to get a deal with Senate Republicans. I ultimately voted yes on the bill because I think it’s critical to protect the pension program and I was uncomfortable with kicking the can down the road another year, especially when we don’t know who will be the Governor next year.
As for my own legislation, I focused mostly on health care issues. I am extremely proud of the five bills we passed addressing the opioid epidemic and the two bills we passed to increase cost transparency for consumers at free-standing emergency departments. I also worked hard to increase cost transparency for hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, though those efforts were defeated by Senate Republicans.
Last but not least, I poured enormous effort into a bill to stabilize the individual health insurance market. For those who don’t get health care through their employment or public programs, costs have been ridiculous – largely because President Trump and Congressional Republicans have gutted the Affordable Care Act in every way they know how. My bill would have established a reinsurance program to share the risks and costs of health care more broadly across all markets rather than concentrating those costs in the individual market. I worked hard to earn the support of several House Republicans and a couple Senate Republicans, but it wasn’t enough to get Senate Republican leadership to give the bill a fair hearing. Read more about the reinsurance bill here.
This is just a small sample of the work we did this year, but if you’re interested in digging deeper, check out this report on our accomplishments and attempts this year.
Reflecting on my first two legislative sessions, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about what it means to try to make progress in a messy, complicated system. The partisanship can be frustrating and the special interest politics can be pretty gross, but there are moments that give me hope. When you work hard, persevere after failure, and focus on building constructive relationships, there is common ground to be found. So, I’m going to keep plugging away and trying to make things happen. Thanks again for all of you who helped elect me to this crazy job, and I’ll be asking for your support again soon because I want to keep doing this job as your State Representative!