Part time, you say?

Colorado’s legislature is part-time and only in session from January through May, but if you’re trying to actually get something done, the summer days fill up pretty quickly!

So how have I been spending my time?

Engaging with My Constituents
Since the end of the session, I’ve been going all over the district to neighborhood meetings and various events. I’m still getting a good amount of phone calls and emails from people who need a little help or just want to talk about the issues, and I’m trying to be as responsive as I can be!

Developing Policy Ideas and Working with Stakeholders
The first legislative session is challenging for many reasons, including the fact that you’re so busy during campaign season that you don’t get to start truly working on bill ideas until after the election. This summer, I’ve been getting the ball rolling on a bunch of policy ideas. It starts with meetings with experts and other stakeholders to learn about their perspectives, identify policy and political issues, and understand the potential unintended consequences. There’s a lot of reading about these complicated topics… and then there are more meetings.

One of my most exciting projects involves the development of a bipartisan health care agenda for 2018. Despite the uncertainty at the federal level, there are many things we can do at the state level. I’m working to build a bipartisan group of legislators to study the recommendations of the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care, which was tasked at getting to the bottom of the rising cost of care. Their final report was released in June and contains some interesting ideas, particularly when it comes to increasing transparency. Rep. Susan Lontine and I organized a presentation last week and invited all members of the General Assembly to hear the recommendations. We’re now trying to identify key partners on both sides of the aisle to get together, meet with more stakeholders, and start to come up with some bill ideas for 2018.

I’m also working closely with the Division of Insurance (DOI) on how Colorado might implement a reinsurance program, which is possibly the number one thing we can do to stabilize the individual market. I passed a bill last session to authorize DOI to study the problem, and I’ve attended every stakeholder meeting they’ve held. Alaska is putting in place a reinsurance program right now, and there are exciting possibilities for putting in place such a program in Colorado too.

Interim Committee to Study the Opioid Crisis
Every year, a limited number of committees are established to meet over the interim and study complicated policy problems. This year, I was appointed to serve on the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee. We have had two all-day meetings so far to hear testimony from substance abuse treatment experts, law enforcement, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, insurance companies, the state Medicaid administrators, and more.

I’ve been impressed with the work going on to date, and I think we will be successful in coming up with several pieces of legislation that will enhance programs to prevent opioid addiction, improve early intervention, and expand counseling and medically-assisted treatment programs for those who need help getting clean.

Our meetings are open to the public, so if you’re interested, come on down! The next meeting is Tuesday, August 22nd at 9:30am down at the Capitol in room 271 (2nd floor, between the elevators).


With all of this going on, I can’t say it feels like “summer break,” but I’ve made an effort to get out of town for a few long weekends of hiking, camping, and spending time with family and friends. I feel very lucky to live in this beautiful state, and I feel very lucky to have a job in which I get to spend my working hours trying to make life better for all Coloradans.

Thank you for your continuing support.

Taking Real Action to Address Our Affordable Housing Crisis

Like homeowners across Colorado, I received a notice of valuation from our county assessor earlier this year. I heard from many Jeffco residents that they were shocked to see the huge increases in property value, but honestly, I wasn’t all that surprised. After all, we’ve been hearing about skyrocketing housing costs for a few years now.

Colorado’s economy is among the strongest in the country with unemployment now at a record low of 2.3 percent. We also have some of the country’s lowest income taxes and residential property taxes, which attracts new residents but has made it impossible for growth to pay its own way. Furthermore, we can all attest to the Colorado quality of life, so it’s really no surprise to see how many people are moving here – and that’s the main thing driving increasing housing costs.

This year, your state legislators worked on several ideas to address the affordable housing crisis and provide relief for both homeowners and renters.

First, we achieved a major bipartisan breakthrough on construction defects reform. After months at the negotiating table, a consensus bill to settle a major aspect of the issue passed both chambers unanimously. For years, developers have claimed that our laws encouraged “frivolous lawsuits” and thus discouraged the construction of affordable condos, a critical missing piece in our market-rate affordable housing picture. The bill requires “informed consent” and a vote of all homeowners in an HOA before a lawsuit is filed, addressing the builders’ stated concerns while protecting homeowners’ rights regarding their most important asset—their home. Now that this bill is law, it’s time for builders to step up to the plate and build affordable condos.

Second, we increased investment in the construction of affordable housing. If we want apartments to be rented at more attainable prices, we need to spend public dollars to make it possible for builders to construct affordable rental properties. I was pleased that we were able to allocate money from the marijuana tax cash fund for the construction of housing for some of our most vulnerable Coloradans.

However, I was incredibly disappointed to see a bill killed by Senate Republicans that would have provided a stable source of funding to build more affordable homes by increasing the documentary fee on home purchases by one penny per $100 of home value. This is a smart way to create sustainable funding as newcomers to Colorado would also pay this fee. The revenue from this small change would have provided stable funding to help prevent Colorado families from being priced out of their neighborhoods.

Finally, we ran a series of bills to improve renters’ rights. One new law will require 21 days’ notice before a landlord can raise rent or end a month-to-month tenancy, and another will reform the tax lien process for mobile home owners so that they don’t lose their homes over minor tax delinquencies. These are good steps, but we need to do more for renters. We also worked hard to pass bills to limit rental application fees to actual costs and to require landlords to provide tenants with copies of their leases and receipts for cash payments, but these bills were killed by Senate Republicans. As more and more Coloradans are renting, it’s more important than ever to keep fighting for basic fairness for renters.

These issues are not going away. There are some who would like to build a wall around our state or set arbitrary growth caps that would only make housing affordability crisis worse, but I believe we must take real action.

We must plan for smart growth in areas where people have access to transit and bike paths so that we minimize the number of cars we’re adding to our already-congested roads. And we must make sure growth pays its way in Colorado so that we can build more affordable housing, preserve our neighborhoods, and invest in improving our schools, roads, and bridges to accommodate our growing population while protecting the quality of life that we Coloradans enjoy so much.

I will continue working on these issues in the years ahead, and I would love your feedback. Please call my office at (303) 866-2951 or email me at chris.kennedy.house@state.co.us.

This op-ed appeared in the June 22, 2017 issue of the Lakewood Sentinel and the June 19, 2017 issue of the Neighborhood Gazette.

VIDEO: 2017 Highlights

VIDEO: 2017 Highlights

We covered quite a range of topics at the legislature this session, and it turns out I had a few things to say about many of them.

My amazing staff, Susannah and Cortland, put together a highlights video of many of my speeches on the House floor on topics ranging from capping rental application fees to increasing transparency in our health care system to regulating marijuana grown in the home. Check it out:

 

Interested in learning more? Click here for my full End-of-Session Report!

The good, the bad, and the ugh…

I’m sorry to say it’s been a month since my last update, but I’ve been busy trying to get some things done in the final month of the 2017 legislative session! It’s been turbulent with many highs and lows, and as we gear up to “Adjourn Sine Die” on Wednesday, here’s a quick run down of what’s been going on.

The Good
To begin with, we reached a balanced budget deal. Though there are many painful cuts, we managed to mitigate the impact of the Gallagher amendment and avoid further cuts to K-12. We also finally reached a deal on converting the hospital provider fee into an enterprise. Though we again had to make many painful concessions, this accounting change will have a meaningful impact in future years by allowing us to start reinvesting in priorities like higher education, K-12, affordable housing, mental health, and more.

We also finally had a breakthrough on the construction defects issue with a bipartisan compromise that should give builders the confidence to start building new condos while protecting homeowners’ right to access the courts when needed.

Two more of my bills have completed their journey through the process. One was a simple bill to continue the licensing and regulation of landscape architects (SB218). Another was a bit more controversial. After some serious back-and-forth, SB203 passed both chambers. This bill, supported by the Chronic Care Collaborative, prohibits insurance companies from putting a patient through “step therapy” more than once. That means patients will get covered for the medications prescribed by their doctor without having the fail first on an alternative treatment.

The Bad
The transportation bill is dead. We had high hopes for a bipartisan compromise on referring a small tax increase to the voters that would support major investments in roads, bridges, transit, and more. While the Republican President of the Senate supported the deal, too many Republican Senators felt the pressure from their anti-tax base, and as a result, they killed the bill.

Several of my bills also faced a similar fate, including my hospital transparency bill (HB1236), my county contribution limits bill (HB1260), and my rental application fee limits bill (HB1310).

Our caucus was also pushing some big ideas forward that were sent straight to kill-committees in the Senate:

  • Paid family and medical leave
  • Accelerating the shut-down of coal plants in a way that boosts renewable energy and invests in economic development in rural Colorado
  • Increased transparency for money in politics
  • Funding for affordable housing
  • Background checks for medical professionals
  • Transparency for pharmaceutical costs

These are all disappointed losses, but we’ll keep fighting!

The Ugh…
While I truly value the relationships I’ve built with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, there have certainly been some ugly moments this session. I’ll only bring up one example here, and I won’t name names. I’ll just say it’s disappointing that some legislators have been more focused on demonizing immigrants (as if they are the ones causing our problems) than they are on finding actual policy solutions to make life better for all Coloradans.

All we can do is continue to rise above that kind of demagoguery.

Everything above is just a small sample of what we’ve been up to this year. We have 100 legislators, all working every day on a wide variety of topics. Learn more about the work of my fellow House Democrats here.

Increasing Transparency in our Health Care Spending

Increasing Transparency in our Health Care Spending

There’s a reason health care policy is a hot topic right now, and it’s not that “Obamacare is exploding.”

Health care costs have been growing faster than inflation for as long as I can remember. When I was working at my engineering firm in the mid-2000s, I remember the broker coming by every year to tell us how much our premiums would be going up. After the passage of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), premiums continued to rise, although not as quickly as before. Millions more people had coverage, which insurance companies could no longer deny to people with preexisting conditions.

But the fact remains that premiums are rising too quickly, and every voter I met last year knows it. That’s a big part of why I requested to serve on the Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee this year.

I started the legislative session hoping to identify some concrete steps we could take to address the growing cost of health care, but as I started to dig, I discovered how little we actually know about how our health care dollars are being spent. This is especially true with hospital care, which makes up 37 percent of our health care spending in Colorado.

We’re looking at several pieces of legislation this year to address concerns with pharmaceutical costs, insurance company practices, and the new free-standing emergency departments springing up all over the metro area. But my highest priority this session is getting to the bottom of the cost increases for hospital care.

My bill, House Bill 1236, will require hospitals to annually submit their cost reports and audited financial statements to the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF, often pronounced “hick-puff”). HCPF will then produce an annual report breaking down spending on inpatient and outpatient care, personnel and administrative costs, capital construction and equipment expenditures, and uncompensated care (including charity care and bad debt) so that policymakers and citizens have the information they need to understand the cost drivers in our hospital system.

It’s also not just about premiums. State spending on Medicaid has been growing, too. Part of this growth comes from increased enrollment and utilization, but much of it comes from the same inflationary pressures impacting our premiums.

Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne testified in support of my bill in committee, saying, “This bill is important. It provides the basic financial information in the interest of providing appropriate oversight for such a large portion of taxpayer dollars. Hospitals represent 32 percent of all state Medicaid expenditures – the single largest portion of the program with the single largest budget in the state. These are public dollars and the public should know where and how they are used.”

The bill passed the House with bipartisan support and will soon go to the Senate where it also has bipartisan sponsorship. Watch my speech on the House floor here.

Increasing transparency is only a first step, but I’m hopeful we can identify some of the major cost drivers, partner with hospitals on future legislation, and pass the savings along to the people of Colorado.

First Bill Signed Into Law

First Bill Signed Into Law

Governor Hickenlooper signed my first bill, House Bill 2017, into law today and I got my first bill signing pen!

The bill clarifies the duties of county surveyors, seeks to make it easier for small counties to appoint in the event of a vacancy, and modernizes some pretty outdated provisions. It was great to have several surveyors join us for the signing, along with some close friends and one of my youngest new constituents!

End of February Update

In other news, we’ve had another busy couple weeks at the capitol. The days and weeks go by so fast here that I can barely remember everything that has happened.

My Bills
My first bill has completed its journey through the legislative process. HB 1017 clarifies the responsibilities of county surveyors and the vacancy appointment process. It passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, and after the House concurred with one minor Senate amendment, the bill is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk to be signed into law!

Last Wednesday, I convened a stakeholder group to discuss my idea of streamlining inspections of affordable housing projects. I had previously introduced a bill, HB 1170, to address this issue, but I also knew this was a complicated enough issue that my bill might not necessarily be the right solution; legislation is not always the answer. In this case, we might be able to make more progress simply by keeping these stakeholders sitting at the same table and working things out. I may or may not move forward with my bill at this point, but I feel good about the conversation we’ve started.

I also want to plug a bill I’ll be introducing soon on hospital transparency. Did you know that hospital care accounts for 37% of the total cost of our health care, and yet we don’t have great data about how this money is being spent within the hospital system? My bill – which already has significant bipartisan support – will require hospitals to report more data to the state so we can compile detailed hospital expenditure reports and identify more of the drivers of our increasing health care premiums.

What else?
So much. Just yesterday, my Finance Committee passed a bill extending the childcare tax credit and another to refer a measure to voters to re-calibrate the TABOR growth cap. The Education Committee passed a bill to address a long-standing concern with 9th grade testing. Negotiations continue on a referred measure to raise revenue for transportation. We’ve also been busy defeating bad bills, like this one introduced for solely political purposes.

I could go on, but I think I’ll leave it there. If you want to talk more, email me or call my office at 303-866-2951 or come to my meet-and-greet or office hours!

An Idea for Affordable Housing

One bill I’m particularly excited about will be introduced in the next day or so. In a conversation with the folks at Metro West Housing Solutions (Lakewood’s housing authority) last summer, I learned about an issue with duplicative inspections. Affordable housing projects often require public funding from multiple sources including state housing development grants (HDG), state and federal low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), and federal HOME funds. Each of these public funding sources comes with tenant income-verification inspections immediately after occupancy and/or periodically over many years. So why can’t we streamline these inspections and cut some duplicates? My bill starts up a process of rulemaking to bring all parties to the table and get to work on streamlining these inspections.

My bill hardly solves our affordable housing problem – we need millions of dollars to do that – but it attempts to stretch existing resources just a little bit further by reducing duplication. Stay tuned for updates on more of my bills

Coming up in Health Committee: Abortion Bans

Lest you think that this issue is resolved, I can assure you we still need to fight every year to protect a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health.

This Thursday, the House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee will be hearing three Republican-sponsored bills going after abortion rights. One bill purports to protect women’s health, but in fact it is a way for the Attorney General to build a database and conduct surprise inspections on abortion clinics. A second bill requires abortion providers to “inform” women about abortion pill reversal, based on highly questionable and unproven science. A third bill defines life at the moment of conception, essentially outlawing all abortions – a state law clearly deemed unconstitutional under Roe v Wade and subsequent decisions. Read the three bills here.

That’s going to be a really long night. I’m working incredibly hard on these and many other issues, but I gotta tell you – I dig this job. It’s such an honor to represent you all, and it feels good to be doing this work every day. Thanks for hiring me.