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.

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

 

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!