By Chris Kennedy (July 15, 2021)
Friends and Neighbors,
Every legislative session brings its own challenges, and I’ve previously written about the work we did this session to prioritize pandemic-and-economic relief and recovery. Now that the dust has settled and bills have been signed into law by Governor Polis, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about the bills I spent the bulk of my time developing, stakeholding, and passing over the last several months.
In addition to maintaining my focus on reducing the high cost of healthcare and expanding prevention and treatment programs for substance use disorders, I dug in on democracy reforms, energy efficiency and utility assistance programs, rural broadband infrastructure, civil law, and health care services for people with severe disabilities. Read about my bills below, and click here to read the House Democrats’ comprehensive end-of-session report.
HB21-1047: County Commissioner Districts Gerrymandering
In 2018, Colorado voters overwhelmingly chose to adopt Amendments Y and Z, which established guardrails to prevent gerrymandering for state legislative and congressional districts. My bill applies similar standards to county commissioner districts in counties that elect some or all of their commissioners by district (rather than countywide), establishing clear criteria for fair and representative maps and requiring robust public participation.
HB21-1071: Ranked Choice Voting In Nonpartisan Elections
This bill seeks to encourage voter engagement and expand voter choice by making it easier for local governments to use a ranked-choice voting system. The bill allows municipalities to run ranked-choice elections through a county coordinated election, and directs the Secretary of State’s office to create statewide rules regarding voting systems and auditing practices for municipalities that opt into a ranked-choice voting system. Ranked-choice voting is secure, saves money, and empowers voters to rank candidates in order of their preference rather than being forced to select only one.
HB21-1105: Low-income Utility Payment Assistance Contributions
This bill creates a sustainable funding mechanism to support utility bill payment assistance, weatherization retrofits, and a cross-enrollment with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to maximize the number of Coloradans who can access these programs. Not only will these expanded programs help families afford their utility bills, but the increased weatherization investments will reduce energy consumption in the first place and help protect our environment.
HB21-1188: Additional Liability Under Respondeat Superior
In 2017, the Colorado Supreme Court made it easier for employers to shift liability for negligent or harmful actions to an employee and thus protect themselves from additional liability (Ferrer v. Okbamicael). This bill holds corporations accountable by allowing a plaintiff to bring direct negligence claims against an employer who has already admitted vicarious liability for its employee’s negligence.
HB21-1276: Prevention Of Substance Use Disorders
In 2019, Colorado experienced an unprecedented 1,062 drug overdose deaths. This bill requires health insurance plans to reduce copays for safer alternatives to conventional opioids including physical therapy, acupuncture, and atypical opioids. The bill also continues the 7-day limit for opioid prescriptions and the requirement that prescribers check the prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing, establishes new guardrails on benzodiazepine prescriptions, forms a university collaborative to bring together experts to identify and implement the best evidence-based prevention programs, and funds expanded prescriber education programs.
HB21-1289: Funding For Broadband Deployment
The need for broadband access and reliability has burdened Colorado communities for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic made this need even more apparent. This bill provides $75 million to increase internet access and reliability across the state through the deployment of devices, and the development of middle and last-mile infrastructure to support essential services like telehealth and education.
HB21-1321: Voter Transparency In Ballot Measures
Because of TABOR, the title for any ballot measure raising taxes must be in ALL CAPS and must begin with “SHALL TAXES BE INCREASED BY $###,###,###. However, there’s no requirement that a ballot measure reducing taxes show where the cuts will come from. This bill adds new requirements to ballot titles and blue books to make sure voters have all the information they need to make informed decisions about ballot measures that have such a profound impact on our state.
SB21-038: Expansion of Complementary And Alternative Medicine
Coloradans with long-term physical disabilities like spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, brain injuries, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy currently face difficulties accessing affordable integrative therapies. There is strong evidence that alternative treatments including massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic services dramatically improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and keep them off of opioids and out of the hospital, which saves money. For nearly a decade, Colorado has studies these impacts through a five-county pilot program for people with spinal cord injuries. Building on the success of the pilot, this bill expands the program to include persons with the aforementioned conditions in every county in Colorado.
SB21-137: Behavioral Health Recovery Act
For a long time, Colorado has underfunded mental health services and so Coloradans struggle to get the mental health care that they need. Last year, we were forced to cut funding even further for many behavioral health programs because of COVID-19. This bill invests $114 million in various behavioral health programs that address substance abuse, maternal and child health, and other behavioral health prevention and treatment programs around the state. It also established a process that will take place this summer and fall to take a look at our behavioral health system and target investments from the American Rescue Plan to make transformative changes and create a true system so that every Coloradan can access behavioral health services when and how they need them.
SB21-175: Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board
Nearly one in three Coloradans across the state currently struggles to afford the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy. This bill will help reduce the high cost of prescription drugs by establishing the Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board, which will research, review, and limit costs for up to 12 unaffordable prescription drugs each year.
For me, the best parts of this job are that I get to help people every day and that I get to learn new things every day. I’ve already started working on legislation for 2022, and I can’t wait to share with you what I have in store. Make sure to send me your ideas too!
P.S. Check out these news stories written about many of these pieces of legislation: