2018 Session Priorities

2018 Session Priorities

This is a challenging time for our country with a great deal of uncertainty about the future of federal policy, but here in Colorado we must keep moving forward. Our economy is booming, but our rapid growth and high cost of living are making it difficult for hard-working, middle class families to stay afloat. I will be focusing most of my energy this upcoming session on affordable health care and affordable housing.

I will also be working together with my colleagues on a variety of other big priorities including strengthening our public education system, accelerating our transition to renewable energy, investing in transportation and broadband infrastructure, protecting the equal rights of all our people, addressing the sustainability of our public employee retirement system, and working to eliminate sexual harassment from the workplace. It’s going to be a busy session!

Affordable Health Care

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we’ve made great progress on expanding access to health care. Now it’s time to get serious about controlling costs. In June, the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care concluded three years of work and issued its final report on what’s been driving the cost increases. Unfortunately, part of their conclusion was that we don’t have enough data to really know. That’s why my #1 priority is to increase transparency in health care spending. I am sponsoring a bill (again) to require our hospitals to submit more data to the state so we can analyze both price and utilization trends and identify changes to reduce costs. I am also supporting a similar bill to increase pharmaceutical cost transparency.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen free-standing emergency departments spring up all over the Denver metro area. Sure, these facilities increase access to emergency services, but at what cost? Consumers are often faced with surprise out-of-network bills and the high operational costs are passed along to the rest of us in our increased premiums and deductibles. I am working with a bipartisan group of legislators on a trio of bills that will improve disclosures to patients, better track expenses, and create a more appropriate license type that comes with more appropriate regulations for these facilities.

Lastly, I will be continuing the work we started with the opioid interim committee to pass a package of six bills to address Colorado’s opioid epidemic by improving prevention education, limiting prescriptions, removing payment barriers in our insurance and Medicaid systems, and more.

Affordable Housing

Growth. It’s happening, and it’s our job to make sure it happens responsibly. That means investing in transportation infrastructure and protecting our open spaces and public lands. Most of all, it means incentivizing and requiring the inclusion of a significant number of affordable units in new construction projects. We must also improve renters’ rights, and I’ll be (again) sponsoring a bill to limit rental application fees to the actual costs so that landlords aren’t profiting by taking applications for units they never intend to lease.

Last but not least, I am taking a hard look at various senior tax exemptions and credits and exploring ways to reform them to give more support to seniors who own or rent so they can stay in their homes.

Download a printable version of these priorities here.

Colorado Dems Call On Gardner to Fight for CHIP Program

Colorado Dems Call On Gardner to Fight for CHIP Program

CO House Democrats Press Release, December 11, 2017

53 Democratic members of the Colorado General Assembly sent a letter to Senator Cory Gardner urging him and his colleagues to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Republican-controlled Congress failed to reauthorize the vital CHIP program before funding expired this past September, putting nearly 9 million children across the country at risk of losing health care.

“75,761 Colorado children and expectant mothers depend on the program for health insurance. It is unacceptable that despite broad bipartisan support for reauthorizing this critical program, it has languished for months in the Senate,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Senator Gardner, you have said that you support reauthorization of the program, and co-sponsored bipartisan legislation with Senator Bennet to reauthorize CHIP,” the letter continued. “That support is hollow if you and your Republican colleagues do nothing to advance the legislation. As an influential member of Senate leadership, our expectation is that you would zealously advocate for Colorado’s priorities to become the US Senate’s priorities.”

“Instead of passing tax breaks for corporations and the ultra-wealthy, Congress should be working to provide relief and security to the thousands of Colorado children and hardworking families who depend on the vital CHIP program,” said Speaker Crisanta Duran (D-Denver). “There’s no more time to waste. Congress has to prioritize CHIP now.”

“Senator Gardner just voted for a GOP tax bill that adds $1.5 trillion to the deficit in order to cut taxes for the 1% and corporations — that’s enough money to extend CHIP for the next 937 years,” said Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman (D-Denver). “There is absolutely no excuse for anything less than a full-throated defense of the CHIP program. The health of tens of thousands of Colorado children depends on it.”

The full letter can be found here.

6 Bills on Runway to Address Opioid Epidemic

6 Bills on Runway to Address Opioid Epidemic

CO House Democrats Press Release, October 31, 2017

The legislative Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee voted today to move forward with a six-bill package of legislation that seeks to prevent opioid addictions, intervene early when possible and make sure people seeking help are able to get the help they need.

Today’s votes, with strong bipartisan support, put the six bills into the pipeline for consideration during the 2018 legislative session. Included are bills to:

  • Create training programs for health professionals, law enforcement, and at-risk communities for safe opioid prescribing, medication assisted treatment, and overdose prevention.
  • Limit most opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply for acute conditions and mandate that medical professionals check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database before writing prescription refills.
  • Create a pilot project for a supervised injection facility in Denver. Like needle-exchange programs, data show that SIFs do not increase the use of illicit drugs, but do reduce the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C while increasing referrals to medical and/or substance abuse treatment.
  • Expand the Colorado Health Service Corps program, which includes loan repayment and scholarship programs for medical professionals who commit to working in underserved areas where substance abuse is more likely to go untreated.
  • Significantly increasing access to residential treatment to qualifying individuals with substance use disorders.
  • Improve “prior authorization” standards to ensure that insurance companies and Medicaid give timely approval for medication-assisted treatment so patients with substance use disorders don’t go back to opioids while waiting for approval to begin their treatment. The bill also makes sure pharmacists are able to administer certain kinds of medication-assisted treatments and reduces copays for physical therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic alternatives to narcotics.

Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, the interim committee’s chairwoman, noted the five committee hearings, three task force meetings and numerous stakeholder meetings that produced bipartisan consensus around the six bills.

“All of us know somebody affected by addiction; I had no idea how broken our system was until my mom was begging for help and there were no options available for her,” said Rep. Pettersen. “I am incredibly proud of the bipartisan work we have done through this interim committee to lay a foundation for addressing this epidemic, and to close the gaps faced by people who are trying to move toward recovery.”

“We are making meaningful steps forward to prevent opioid addiction and facilitate access to treatment,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, who also sits on the interim committee. “But this is just the beginning, and we’ll continue working hard on this issue for many years.”

“I’m proud of how Democrats and Republicans put politics and personalities aside to do the right thing for everyday Coloradans struggling with addiction,” said Rep. Jonathan Singer, who also sits on the interim committee.

http://www.cohousedems.com/archives/11762

A few related stories:

 

Lawmakers Contend With Colorado’s Skyrocketing Individual Health Costs (KUNC)

by Bente Birkland (October 24, 2017)

A group of Colorado lawmakers are working to lower health insurance premiums for residents on the individual market created in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. Rates are predicted to rise 34 percent on average next year. There are concerns that healthy people will opt out of coverage and that could cause rates to rise even higher as the insurance risk pool thins out…

At the state level, both Democrats and Republicans are discussing a proposal that would reimburse insurance companies for high-cost patients. They hope it will help lower premiums for everyone and free up more federal money for the state. Democratic Rep. Chris Kennedy of Lakewood may sponsor the legislation, but said it’s still being fleshed out.

“If we don’t figure out how to pay for it, it may or may not be worthwhile, Kennedy said. “I think we’re still investigating that question of, do we have the money? Is this kind of program worth the savings we could achieve?”

Read the whole story at KUNC.org.

This Year’s Election

Local government matters.

When we elect the right people to our school boards, we expand opportunities for every kid to learn, grow, and prepare for a great career and a great life. This year in Jeffco, I’m strongly supporting Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell. They have done great work these last two years to pull Jeffco back from the brink of disaster and they have each earned four more years.

When we elect the right people to our city councils, we can find the right balance between affordable housing and open space, revitalize communities that have been neglected (like West Colfax, for example), expand transportation options, recruit and train exemplary police officers, and maintain all of the services we expect in order to live our own lives.

Politics in Lakewood has been messy of late. One faction on our city council has been playing a very Trumpian game for several years now. They pretend to be champions of everyday folks, but all they really do is throw grenades at those who are trying to work through complicated problems. I am disgusted by the misinformation I’ve seen in the fake newspaper known as the “Lakewood Watchdog” and on the blog sites paid for by a certain council member.

The best example is the contentious conversation around growth. We can’t just deny it’s happening, nor can we abdicate our responsibility to find regional solutions by saying “those people should go live somewhere else.” Doing so is tantamount to building a wall around our city, but I’m much more interested in building bridges.

Lakewood needs leaders who will take our challenges seriously and have serious conversations about housing, transportation, open space, and economic opportunity. We are lucky to have several serious people running for city council this year, and Lakewood would be lucky to have any of the following:

I’d also just like to add that these candidates include several Democrats and several Republicans. They will disagree at times but they will be united in putting the needs of our community ahead of faux-populist politics.

Ok, that was a feistier email than I had in mind when I started typing this morning but I feel it’s important you all know the truth about what’s at stake. So I’ll just leave you with this:

VOTE.

The Rule of Law

The Rule of Law

I couldn’t be more disappointed in the outcome of the special session. I’m not going to break down everything that happened over the last two days. You can read the Denver Post story (linked above) for that, or their Monday evening editorial here: “Shutting Down Special Session Spiteful and Obstructionist.”

And if you missed my blog Sunday about why we were called back into a special session, you can read it here.

For now, I just want to share a few reflections on the rule of law. As we worked to pass a simple solution to what was an innocent mistake, we grappled with a challenging constitutional question. Can the legislature fix a mistake by closing an inadvertent tax loophole, or does TABOR require us to send this question back to a vote of the people?

Based on the most recent rulings of the Colorado Supreme Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals, it’s pretty clear that this can be done by the legislature. But if you read TABOR one sentence at a time, you could easily come away with the wrong impression.

The oath I swore to uphold the Constitution includes a respect for the separation of powers and the role of the judicial branch in interpreting the law. Since Marbury v Madison in 1803, it has been the law of the land that the court’s interpretation of the law IS THE LAW, no matter what any individual’s “plain language” interpretation may be. We can disagree with the law. We can try to change the law. But we can’t just ignore the law.

And yet, the Kochs were once again able to spend enough money to change the narrative: “[T]he conservative Americans for Prosperity, the political arm backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and led by [Senate President Kevin] Grantham’s former chief of staff, launched a campaign to build opposition to the special session among rank-and-file Republicans. The group’s activists made more than 1,000 calls and sent more than 700 emails to targeted lawmakers.” (Denver Post 10/03/2017)

Why did they do this? Were they truly trying to stand up for the people purchasing recreational marijuana to keep their sales taxes a lower?

Or were they just trying to score points against the Democrats?

I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind about that one.

Solving problems, not pointing fingers

As you have probably heard by now, Governor Hickenlooper has called the General Assembly back for a special session starting tomorrow, October 2nd. Special sessions are called when a specific piece of urgent business cannot wait until the next regular session.

In this case, we’ve been called back to fix a drafting error that has had a major impact on Colorado’s special districts. Here’s what happened. In Senate Bill 17-267, we added 5% to the special marijuana sales tax and exempted marijuana sales from the standard 2.9% sales tax. This increased our total tax revenue from marijuana sales and changed the way the TABOR cap is calculated. The drafting error was that the exemption inadvertently blocked our special districts from collecting the standard marijuana sales tax. As a result, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) is losing $500,000 per month, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) is losing about $50,000 per month, and numerous other special districts are being hurt.

Let me be clear. This was a mistake – a big one. All 65 representatives and all 35 senators missed it. The governor’s office missed it. Dozens of nonpartisan staff and scores of lobbyists missed it. We all share responsibility for this mistake, and now we all share responsibility for fixing it.

But here’s the thing. Not everyone is on board with fixing it. There’s even a rumor that the Senate president is going to gavel in on Monday morning and then immediately adjourn. That means there won’t even be a committee hearing to discuss the fix. Doing so would be the height of irresponsibility.

It’s common to hear people talk about government dysfunction these days, but it’s not the innocent mistake that makes government dysfunctional – it’s the failure to act when a problem comes to light.

I think it’s safe to say that all 100 legislators were elected to solve problems, not to point fingers. So I’ll be showing up to the capitol tomorrow morning ready to get to work. Let’s hope all 99 of my colleagues make the same choice.

Legislator of the Year

Legislator of the Year

At the capitol, you never really know what you’ll be working on from week to week. Sure, I had several long-term projects, but you also have things show up on your plate that you don’t expect. That’s because a big part of what we do is just keep government running smoothly.

Well, one thing we do periodically is evaluate whether licensing a certain profession is still important for public safety and well-being. This is known as the “sunset” process, and every profession in Colorado goes through it every 3, 5, or 10 years.

The docket this year included landscape architects, and I was asked to carry the bill in the House to continue licensing them. Though I occasionally crossed paths with landscape architects when I was a structural engineer, I didn’t really know all that much about the profession. But I was happy to do my part, learn about the issues, and pass the bill to continue licensing landscape architects for another 10 years.

Last night, I was honored to be awarded “Legislator of the Year” by the American Society of Landscape Architects, along with Senators Andy Kerr and Jack Tate who carried the bill in the Senate.

In this business, you never know when you’re going to be in a position to make a big difference for somebody. At the time, the bill seemed like a little thing compared to some of the big priorities we were wrestling with. But it was a pretty big deal to landscape architects, and I’m proud of the work I did to help support the profession and the people working in it.

Pics & Presentations from Growth Town Hall

Pics & Presentations from Growth Town Hall

In case you missed today’s town hall meeting about how to manage growth in Lakewood, I wanted to share the presentations from our speakers:

     Presentation from Cathy Kentner, lead proponent of the 1% growth limit ballot measure

     Presentation from Brendalee Connors of West Metro Housing Solutions

     Presentation from Will Toor, Transportation Director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project

In our meeting, there were many references to Lakewood’s comprehensive plan, which you can view here.

Lastly, I wanted to share one more presentation I saw about Lakewood’s growth limit ballot measure last weekend:

     Presentation from Tom Quinn and Mag Strittmatter