Colorado lawmakers grapple with doing the people’s work when the people can’t be there

Colorado lawmakers grapple with doing the people’s work when the people can’t be there

Historic budget cuts are on the line as lawmakers seek to balance public access with pandemic precautions at the state Capitol

By John Herrick (May 15, 2020)

Temperature checks. A closed cafeteria. Spaced seating. Lawmakers in masks separated by plexiglass. This may be the new normal at the state Capitol when the legislature reconvenes as soon as May 26.  

The public health measures are needed for lawmakers to continue doing their work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down the legislature on March 14. Since then, the respiratory disease has killed more than 1,000 people in Colorado.  

The pandemic also has blown an estimated $3.3 billion hole in the state’s $30-plus billion budget due to the loss of sales and income tax revenue as businesses remain on standby and unemployment spikes. The seven lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee have voted over the last two weeks to withhold a 3% pay increase for state workers, table capital construction projects and cut more than $100 million to higher education, among other cuts totaling more than $700 million. The committee is considering more cuts to the senior property tax exemption, the state’s contribution to the public employee’s retirement fund, K-12 funding, suicide prevention, substance use disorder treatment, mental health services, vaccine outreach, and health coverage for the uninsured and immigrants. 

But even as decisions that will affect most Coloradans are debated, public access to the Capitol and in-person access to lawmakers will be limited to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The options being discussed include encouraging lobbyists not to gather in the halls outside the chambers and limiting seating in committee rooms and the public gallery above the House and Senate floors.

To make their voices heard, advocates say they are sending emails to lawmakers and hosting town halls and online forums. Some have been calling, texting and sending letters. Others say they are banding together and leveraging their networks. But, even so, they say, it’s not quite the same. 

“I definitely think there will be something lost. In-person communication is the best way to get to know someone,” said Dusti Gurule, the executive director of the advocacy organization Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, or COLOR. “I hope it is something that [lawmakers] are thinking about — transparency and the voice of who is most impacted.” 

Questions remain about how to conduct legislative business during the pandemic. Democrats want to allow members who fear for their health to participate remotely despite objections from Republicans who say the Colorado constitution forbids it. Even if lawmakers allow remote participation by voting to amend procedural rules, it’s unclear how those tuning in from home would speak in floor debates, offer amendments or vote. And it’s still unclear whether reporters will have access to the floor of the House and Senate chambers, where they currently work during the session, in part given the need to spread lawmakers out to achieve social distancing. Unlike the current mandate for businesses in Colorado, lawmakers are planning to recommend — rather than require — that the public not enter the building with a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and wear non-surgical face masks. 

“Do we have the ability to turn somebody away because they have a fever? Those are big questions,” said Sage Naumann, the spokesperson for the Senate GOP. “It’s really hard for the government to do that. That’s why you can’t be turned away for your opinions. That’s why you can’t be turned away for what you look like or the God you worship … People have a right to have their voices heard.”

Despite the two-month-long recess, much legislative work has occurred with little or no public notice. In part due to budget cuts, lawmakers have already abandoned big policy priorities without a vote, including a bill to set up a state-run health insurance plan known as the “Colorado Option” and a paid family and medical leave program, which advocates have demanded for the past six years and say is needed now more than ever. 

From afar, Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association, said she has been watching the Joint Budget Committee cutting funding for education. She said this has created a lot of anxiety and despair. But she’s hopeful teachers are watching and will make their voices heard before further cuts are made. In previous years, the Colorado Education Association has organized rallies with thousands of teachers traveling to the Capitol. 

“In some ways, I think that there actually is the opportunity to have more eyes on them than normal because we have so many people who are in stay-at-home situations because they are not working,” Baca-Oehlert said. “My hope is that the public would tune in.”

But sometimes the public may not know to tune in. A gathering of more than two elected officials is considered a quorum and subject to open-meeting laws. But many of these public meetings are not being announced and may go unnoticed, said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. 

“There are lots of conversations happening that the press and public has no inkling about,” Roberts said. “That’s the nature of what’s happening right now. These discussions are not happening at the Capitol. Or if they are happening at the Capitol, the press may not be allowed in there.” 

Besides, he said, not everyone has access to adequate internet or a computer to watch and participate in committee hearings remotely. 

The lack of remote access is just another iteration of a longstanding lack of access to state lawmakers among some communities in Colorado. Regular sessions are held during the day when working people may not be able to take time off. Others may not be able to drive hours to Denver. 

“Most of our people have always had an access issue,” said Jenny Davies, the co-founder of Progressive Promotions, a liberal advocacy group. “The structure of the legislature definitely privileges people who have more freedom and economic flexibility.” 

Committee meeting audio is available on each committees’ page on the Colorado General Assembly’s website. The Open Media Foundation films and records House and Senate floor debates and makes them available on the Colorado Channel website

On Monday, the eight-member Executive Committee plans to begin finalizing a plan for how to manage the pandemic for the second half of the session. And lawmakers say they are confident they can strike the right balance between public access and safety. 

“The public is such an important part of this. The legislature is the people’s house. We are there to be transparent and accountable to the people of this state,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Democrat from Lakewood who has been helping work on the plan for remote participation among lawmakers. He said there will have to be greater emphasis placed on calling, texting and acknowledging written forms of communication. 

“I think that we don’t lose a lot as long as every legislator puts in the effort.” 

Read more on ColoradoIndependent.com

Safer-at-home, Unemployment Expansion, and More Updates

Safer-at-home, Unemployment Expansion, and More Updates

Our list of COVID-19 resources can be found here.

Update: Jefferson County has extended its stay-at-home order through May 8, 2020.

Dear Neighbors and Friends,

This has been a strange time to be a state legislator, and it’s kind of amazing how quickly the days fill up with new tasks. I have been on dozens of Zoom calls with fellow legislators, the governor’s office, various executive branch departments, local governments, and our federal delegation about our COVID-19 response. Every day, I hear from constituents and local organizations about new issues and challenges they’re facing. I spend time following up to get them connected to the state agencies leading the response for that particular issue. We’re constantly assessing the federal, state, and local responses to date and identifying gaps that we need to figure out how to fill. 

On top of that, we’re preparing to go back into session in mid-May in order to fulfill our constitutional obligation to pass a balanced budget by the end of the fiscal year. This is a challenge in the best of years, but the reduced revenue projections this year are setting up some very difficult decisions and some likely cuts to priorities that are already underfunded. It’s going to be painful, but we will be doing everything we can to minimize the harm and prepare to bounce back when this crisis is over.

What’s especially tricky is that the pandemic won’t exactly be over by the time we have to resume legislative business, so we have set up working group to figure out how legislators with health conditions or vulnerable family members can debate and vote from home, and how the rest of us inside the capitol can maintain safe distances and other best practices. 

Safer-at-Home
On Monday, April 27th, 2020, Colorado will likely enter the “Safer-at-Home” phase of our COVID-19 response. Because our COVID-19 response must be a marathon and not a sprint, Governor Polis is emphasizing sustainability and individual responsibility in this new phase. Vulnerable individuals should continue to stay home through the safer-at-home phase. Key changes include:

  • The general population will no longer be ordered to stay at home. You are encouraged to stay at home except when absolutely necessary and strongly advised to wear face coverings in public. 
  • Retail may open for curbside delivery, with phased-in public openings with strict distancing precautions. 
  • Personal services like hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, dog grooming, personal training, etc. can reopen with strict precautions.

Visit cpr.org to see the full list of changes that will likely come into effect next week. Please also note that local public health officials may implement different COVID-19 response strategies at the local level to better meet the needs of our community. Jefferson County Public Health officials, county leadership, and businesses are currently working on determining what a gradual and safe opening will look like. Please continue to stay home as much as possible and stay tuned for Jeffco updates. 


Unemployment Expansion
Applications for unemployment insurance benefits for independent contractors, self-employed workers, and other persons in similar situations went live this week. Visit the CDLE website for more information and to apply. 

If you are or will be receiving unemployment benefits, you will soon start receiving an additional $600 per week as a result of the CARES Act. This additional benefit, known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation or FPUC, does not require you to take any action. It is retroactive to March 29th, 2020. 

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
The Small Business Administration is currently unable to accept new applications for PPP loans. We at the legislature recently learned that when the PPP went live, banks and credit unions were not given adequate guidance on how to administer the loans. As a result, bank policy will likely dictate how these loans will be processed. I understand that this uncertainty is frustrating and we are working with our Congressional delegation to address this very serious issue. We are also advocating that franchises who may not qualify as a small business still be considered for PPP. If your small business is in need of a loan, please explore these resources in the meantime. Additionally, try contacting the Small Business Navigator with your questions:
Hotline: (303) 860-5881 (Mon – Fri, 8am – 5pm)
Email: oedit_sbnavigator@state.co.us

Federal Legislation
I want to take a moment to thank Congressman Ed Perlmutter for introducing new federal legislation that would provide additional financial support to states as we manage the economic impacts of this COVID-19 pandemic. If passed into law, the Coronavirus Relief for States Actwould provide $500 billion in flexible funding to states to respond to the current crisis, backfill state budgets, and support economic recovery. These dollars could be especially meaningful for our K-12 and higher education budgets where they could help reduce the cuts that will be coming due to the economic downturn. This is an important conversation and I am grateful for Congressman Perlmutter’s leadership in making state and local aid a priority during this pandemic. 

This is an incredibly difficult time for our country, and I am grateful every day for the front line health care workers, the government workers, the grocery store and food delivery workers, and everyone else who is doing work that we couldn’t live without. 

Thank you and stay safe,

Chris

Democrats Say Pandemic Proves The Need For Paid Leave And Affordable Insurance, But It May Ruin Their Bills

Democrats Say Pandemic Proves The Need For Paid Leave And Affordable Insurance, But It May Ruin Their Bills

By Andrew Kenney (April 14, 2020)

Before the pandemic suspended normal life in Colorado, state lawmakers were getting ready to debate bills on two very big topics: health insurance reforms and paid leave for workers.

The COVID-19 crisis has lent a new sense of urgency to both those issues — while also making it less likely that lawmakers will act on them before the November elections.

“That’s not something that Republicans are celebrating or spiking the football. We realize that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle wanted to advance policies that they consider to be good, but the financial reality is probably working against those two bills,” said Republican Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert.

The state option bill was the talk of Colorado’s health care world just a few months ago, attracting hundreds of thousands of dollars in opposition spending from health industry groups. Gov. Jared Polis put his muscle behind it, saying in his State of the State address that hospitals needed to give up some of their profits. Polis’ goal is to create a new state-backed insurance option, with strict rules around its cost to consumers, and force hospitals to accept it.

“If it doesn’t happen this year, it would be disappointing, but it certainly would make sense to focus on other things,” said Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts of Avon, a sponsor of the “state option” health bill. “However, a public health crisis makes it abundantly clear that more people need access to health treatment.”

More than 16 million people have filed for unemployment since the pandemic started taking off in the US. Because many Americans’ health insurance is tied to their work, that suggests a huge number of people are losing their coverage in the middle of a public health crisis.  

Budget overshadows other issues

The legislature is scheduled to return from its current recess on May 18. Colorado’s Supreme Court has ruled the session can continue past its original end date in order to make up for lost days during the pandemic. But it’s unclear how lawmakers might use that time. 

“If the epidemic is still raging and we’re still looking at pretty significant distancing measures, then we’re going to limit the scope of what we do,” said Democratic House Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Chris Kennedy of Lakewood, co-sponsor of the state option bill.

The General Assembly must pass the state’s budget before the state’s next fiscal year begins on July 1. Once they’ve done that though, lawmakers could temporarily adjourn once again, depending on the severity of the outbreak.

The budget could have a big impact on the fates of other major bills. Forecasters have cut $1 billion from the state’s expected revenues already, and as the pandemic drags on, further damage may force deep cuts to the budget. That could make the cost of setting up a public insurance option or a paid leave program unaffordable until things improve.

In the meantime, lawmakers are connecting by phone and Zoom to suss out whether their bills can move forward.

“Our bandwidth as a general assembly is going to be significantly narrower than we thought it would be a month ago,” Gray said. “The path for anything gets harder when you have significantly narrower bandwidth.”

Read the full story on cpr.org

For more news on this topic visit ColoradoPolitics.com

COVID-19 Resources and Update

COVID-19 Resources and Update

For the full list of resources visit 
covid19.colorado.gov and COHouseDems.com

Español | 简体中文 | Tiếng Việt | Somali

FRAUD WATCH: A number of bogus products are being circulated as COVID-19 cures. At this time, there is no cure for COVID-19.
Remember, scammers follow headlines.
Visit StopFraudColorado.gov for more information.

CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS: We’re fortunate to have several organizations in JeffCo that are working to provide food to those who need it. In order to continue providing this essential service, they need volunteers or donations. Stay-at-home and workplace restrictions do not apply to volunteers at these organizations. Please visit one or more of the following websites to see how you can help feed our community: 
The Action Center * ECCHO * JeffCoEats * Mountain Resource Center * Food Bank of the Rockies * BgoldN
***
If you are a medical or public health professional, you can sign up to volunteer here.
To donate or volunteer in another capacity, visit HelpColoradoNow.org.

If you have urgent questions regarding COVID-19, please contact the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE). 

Phone: CO-HELP: 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911

Email: COHELP@RMPDC.org

COVID-19 symptoms include coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. If you have symptoms and believe that you may be exposed, please contact a health care provider immediately. 

COVID-19 Resources for Colorado

Jefferson County Resources

***

Newsletter, March 16, 2020

Neighbors and Friends,

You’ve probably heard that Governor Polis declared a state of emergency in Colorado to address COVID-19 (coronavirus). The Colorado General Assembly has been doing everything in its power to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Colorado and protect those who have come in contact with coronavirus. We are working closely with the Governor’s office to take swift and necessary actions as we continue to monitor COVID-19 in our communities, state, country, and across the world. 

This is an uncertain time to say the least, and I know that most of us have never experienced anything like it in our lifetimes. That said, we will be able to minimize the harm and protect our most vulnerable populations by taking smart precautions and following the advice of experts. We will all need to make short term sacrifices, but by working together, we’re going to pull through this together.

One of the measures that the General Assembly found necessary was pausing the legislative session for at least two weeks. We are scheduled to reconvene on March 30, 2020. The Capitol building is closed today and tomorrow for cleaning. It will reopen on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, but public tours are not available until further notice. The Lakewood legislators have also decided to cancel our Town Hall that was scheduled for March 28, 2020.

If you have urgent questions regarding COVID-19, please contact the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE). 

COVID-19 symptoms include coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. If you have symptoms and believe that you may be exposed, please contact a health care provider immediately. 

According to the CDPHE, certain people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, including:

  • People over the age of 60, especially those over 80
  • People who have chronic medical conditions (heart, lung, or kidney disease; diabetes)

Individuals who are at higher risk should avoid crowds and practice social distancing. Regardless of your risk level, please review the recommended prevention strategies below:

  • Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If no tissues are available, use your inner elbow or sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home if you’re sick and keep your children home if they are sick.
  • Clean surfaces in your home and personal items such as cell phones.

We are facing this uncertainty together and it is crucial that we all do our part to protect each other. As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with your concerns and questions: call (303) 866-2951 or email chris.kennedy.house@gmail.com

Thank you for staying safe,

Chris

P.S. For any of you who were elected delegates to your county assembly/convention, the General Assembly passed emergency legislation to give the parties the ability to allow remote participation or mail voting. Please look for information from your county party soon on how to participate.

State Lawmakers Unveil ‘Colorado Affordable Health Care Option’

State Lawmakers Unveil ‘Colorado Affordable Health Care Option’

By Shaun Boyd (March 5, 2020)

DENVER (CBS4) – After years of talking about a public health insurance option, state lawmakers have introduced a bill to create the Colorado Affordable Health Care Option. It is a public-private insurance plan.

Under the bill, the state would force insurance companies to sell the plan in every county and every hospital would accept it or risk losing their license. The state would also set reimbursement rates based largely on a percentage of what Medicare pays.

“The Colorado Health Care Option will hold corporate health care profits accountable,” said Representative Dylan Roberts, lead sponsor of the bill.

Initially, the plan would be open to about 8 percent of Coloradans who buy their own insurance. Eventually, it would be expanded to the small group market. Co-sponsor Representative Chris Kennedy said the goal is to force down premiums for everyone.

“Now is not the time for tinkering around the edges and working on small policies to make small differences,” said Rep. Kennedy.

Heidi Baskfield with Children’s Hospital said government price controls could force hospitals to shift costs to employer based insurance, driving up premiums for everyone.

“Only coming after hospitals for what is a much larger health care issue is tinkering around the edges,” said Baskfield.

Amanda Massey with the Colorado Alliance of Health Insurers warned too of unintended consequences. She says insurers will lose money administering the plan for the state and some might leave Colorado.

“I think insurers will have to make very difficult decisions,” said Massey.

Roberts isn’t convinced. The state option, he said, only impacts about 300,000 Coloradans who buy their own insurance now. He said those who switch to the state option will see a 9-20 percent reduction in premiums.

“We cannot tell the people of Colorado that the status quo is okay. The Colorado Option is the first guarantee that they will have an affordable choice on the individual market,” said Roberts.

No one has to switch to the state plan but if they don’t, they could end up paying even more than they do now. Most of those who buy their own insurance get federal tax subsidies and those would drop. The bill sponsors are seeking a federal waiver to address that, as well as working on republican support for the bill.

Read the full story on Denver.CBSLocal.com

Caucus is one week away!

Caucus is one week away!

With everything going on at the capitol, I have to admit I’ve barely given any thought to the precinct caucuses coming up on Saturday, March 7th at 2:00pm. Fortunately, we have  a wonderful team of volunteers working incredibly hard to get everything ready to go!

Many voters have expressed confusion about why caucus is still happening since we’ve moved to a presidential primary this year. Before I tell you, I want to make sure you’ve all already returned your primary ballots. If not, drop them off by 7:00pm on Tuesday, March 3rd at any of Jeffco’s several locations (or if you’re not in Jeffco, google your county clerk’s website). If you’re struggling to make up your mind, you can read about my endorsement of Elizabeth Warren here. I continue to believe she’s the most thoughtful, bold, sincere, and electable candidate running.

Back to caucus. Here’s the deal. Colorado still gives candidates two paths to get their names on the June primary ballot. Candidates may either collect petition signatures or go through the caucus-assembly process. If the latter, delegates elected at caucus will attend county, congressional district, and state assemblies to nominate those candidates (as well as to elect delegates to the national convention based on the results of the presidential primary). That’s how I’m running this year, and that’s how many of the candidates for US Senate are running, too.

Caucuses will elect delegates this year based on their preference in the US Senate race, and I’ll be caucusing for Andrew Romanoff. While I like and respect John Hickenlooper, I believe we need more courageous leadership in the US Senate in the years ahead. I’m hopeful that we will defeat Trump this November, but it’s unlikely we’ll have 60 votes in the Senate to pass any significant legislation. That’s why we need a US Senator who’s not afraid to say that the filibuster is outdated and must be abolished. Andrew was a master legislator during his eight years in the Colorado House of Representatives, and he’s a strong supporter of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. This is no time for small solutions. We need courageous leadership to get our country back on track. And yes, I’m confident Andrew will be able to defeat Cory Gardner this November.

This is an exciting time to be involved in politics, and if you’re not yet involved, now’s the time. So many of the events of the last few years have been deeply troubling, but we’ve seen the way local action can bring about big changes. When voters in 2018 elected Democratic majorities in the State House and Senate, we passed significant legislation in so many policy areas and we’re already seeing the way those reforms have improved the lives of hard-working Coloradans. We can do the same thing in 2020 by electing a Democratic President, and Democratic US Senator for Colorado, and holding on to our Democratic House Majority. Change is in the air, and now is the time for us to do the work to persuade and turn out the voters of Colorado to support a vision for the future that gives real opportunities to everyone who works hard and does their fair share, ensures basic human rights, and protects our environment for the next generation.

I’ll look forward to seeing you at caucus!

Chris

P.S.  I want to specifically recognize the hard work of Theresa Tomich, Chair of the HD23 Democrats, who is running the show at our caucus location (Carmody Middle School) this year. She and her team have been working so hard for weeks to make sure everything runs smoothly next weekend. These events wouldn’t be possible without amazing volunteers like Theresa.L



Live in HD23?
If you live in my district, here’s where our caucus will be meeting:

When: Sat. March 7th, 2:00-4:00pm
Where: Carmody Middle School (2050 S Kipling St, Lakewood)

FInd other Jeffco caucus locations here or other Colorado locations here.


Links
About Me
My Priorities
Find Your Precinct #
Find Your Caucus Location
General Caucus Q&A

Gov. Polis unveils his updated roadmap to saving people money on health care

Gov. Polis unveils his updated roadmap to saving people money on health care

By Meghan Lopez (February 28, 2020)

DENVER — Surrounded by health care advocates and fellow Democrats, Governor Jared Polis unveiled his updated Roadmap to Saving Coloradans Money on Health Care.

Last time around, the road map included six things: increase hospital price transparency, establish a reinsurance pool, negotiate to drive down the cost of health insurance, lower hospital prices, reduce out-of-pocket costs and lower the cost of prescription drugs.

During Thursday’s unveiling, the Governor touted the accomplishments of last session in all six of these areas while admitting there is still a lot of work to be done.

“When it comes to health care, there is no silver bullet; there is a lot of hard work that your legislators and public officials and others need to do,” Gov. Polis said.

This time around, the newly unveiled roadmap includes five areas he would like to expand upon: adopting a public option, expanding insurance purchasing alliances, increasing drug price transparency, supporting primary and preventative care availability and implementing behavioral health reforms.

“It isn’t just one simple answer that solves it, it is a combination of many, many strategies coordinated between the Governor’s office and the legislature to try to make these changes and we’re going to be working on this for many years,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, who co-sponsored some of last year’s health care bills.

Reinsurance was one of the biggest health care pieces to come out of the Colorado capitol last legislative session. It is an effort to bring down health insurance premiums for everyone by helping insurance companies cover the claims of the most expensive clients, including those with chronic or complex conditions.

However, in the months after the program was implemented, while many people saw their premiums go down, some Coloradans experienced the opposite.

“Their premiums did go down, but in some cases, their federal tax credit went down even more, so we’re working on finding federal funding sources to backfill them to make sure no one was harmed by that,” Rep. Kennedy said.

Part of the reason he believes the reinsurance program didn’t lower costs for everyone is because the health care system as a whole is complicated and something he considers to be patchwork.

Despite this, Rep. Kennedy believes the reinsurance program was an important first step to providing immediate relief to consumers.

This year, the governor is pushing for legislators to pass a bill to adopt the public option, where the state would offer a health insurance plan.

Opponents of the idea, like Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Douglas County, believe this idea is taking health insurance in the wrong direction that could end up costing people more money.

“They all might sound like a good idea, but in aggregate, that’s going to increase prices throughout the state,” Rep. Neville said.

He believes the public option would move the state one step closer to a single-payer system that could put some doctors out of business.

Instead, what he would like to see done is alleviating some of the compliance costs in health care and adding more price transparency, so people understand exactly what they are paying for. In fact, he predicts a shortage of health care providers if the public option passes.

Democratic lawmakers are also considering bills like covering the cost of fertility treatment. But with all the things Democrats are hoping to add, there are questions over how to cut costs while adding coverage options.

“It’s very important to get the big things done to reduce costs. You can do a few small things with the savings, like expand coverage and access with some of the savings as long as the bulk of them are passed along to consumers,” Gov. Polis said. “But, if you don’t generate the savings, there’s no savings to go to things like (fertility treatment coverage), so as we look at reducing savings to Colorado and I think a small part of that can go back into improving quality of healthcare, but obviously most of that needs to help the bottom line of consumers.”

Rep. Neville, on the other hand, disagrees with the Governor’s assessment and says this question of how to add more services while cutting overall costs highlights the problem.

“I don’t think there is a balance and that’s a fact that we have to face. The more we add, the higher the cost coverage is going to go and that’s a big reason why the healthcare costs of soared through Obamacare,” he said.

For Rep. Kennedy, though, the cost is not the only thing that matters. He argues that lower costs won’t help if they don’t cover enough. Ultimately, he believes Medicaid for All is the long-term solution to the state and country’s many health care challenges.

As President Trump and Democratic candidates discuss their ideas for health care, in the end, Gov. Polis says the state of Colorado can’t afford to wait for the federal government, so it will be up to lawmakers to decide how the state should combat the rising cost of health care.

Read the full story on TheDenverChannel.com

Major Grant Awarded for Rural Substance Use Treatment Center in Salida

Major Grant Awarded for Rural Substance Use Treatment Center in Salida

Special to Daily Record (February 14, 2020)

“A 13,000 square mile donut hole, smack dab across the middle of our state,” is how Brian Turner, CEO of Solvista Health, describes the gap in appropriate behavioral health services for a massive swath of Colorado.

“Our state ranks in the top 10 nationally for alarming rates of drug and alcohol problems, and yet we are also among the highest for unmet treatment needs,” says Turner.  “We have never had the appropriate higher levels of care available in rural Colorado and people are forced to travel all the way to Denver, Colorado Springs or Grand Junction for help. It’s time that changes.”

Turner announced that Solvista Health was recently awarded a $700,000 grant to help build a comprehensive Regional Assessment Center to treat mental health and substance use needs in the region. The grant is made possible through Colorado House Bill 19-1287, which passed last legislative session at the Colorado State Capitol and targeted treatment in rural and frontier counties. The bill was crafted by the Opioid and Substance Use Disorder Interim Committee of the legislature and had broad bipartisan support, including passing the State Senate by unanimous vote.

“Fighting for rural Colorado is a constant battle here at the Capitol,” said Representative Jim Wilson. “It is great to win one once in a while, particularly one of this magnitude, for my community.”

The award was made by AspenPointe MSO and the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, who are championing an infusion of resources to tackle the opioid epidemic and substance abuse statewide. The grant will specifically support the development of a withdrawal management and recovery center for substance abuse.

“While Solvista Health and other providers have been working hard to expand a variety of treatment options in the region, this will be the first of its kind providing a higher level of care,” said Turner. “Research shows an undeniable connection between substance use, mental health, and overall health. So, we have teamed up with our local partners and community leaders to design an option that will provide an integrated, comprehensive approach.”

Solvista Health is hoping to raise $6.5 million to realize the full vision of a Regional Assessment Center that will serve Chaffee, Custer, Fremont, Lake, Park, and surrounding counties. The facility will be located on the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center campus in Salida and is an example of the growing collaboration between the two nonprofit organizations. The cooperation doesn’t end there. Planning has been underway largely through the Region 13 Substance Abuse Regional Coalition (SARC) and will continue with increased engagement and feedback from community members.

“We are thrilled to be a partner in this effort alongside so many others,” said Dave Henson, Executive Director for Chaffee County Department of Human Services. “Over 50 public and private organizations signed on in support of this grant proposal across the region. We recognize the power of collaboration and share the goal of making our communities a healthy, thriving place for everyone to live, work and play.”

Construction is expected to begin this summer with a goal of opening by early 2021. Tax-deductible contributions can be made by contacting gwenf@solvistahealth.org.

Read the full story on CanonCityDailyRecord.com

Iowa Schmiowa!

Iowa Schmiowa!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of the news about the Democratic presidential primary. So much is at stake for the future of our country, and I’m feeling very invested in putting forward a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump and get our government back into the business of solving problems and making life better for the hard-working familes across our country.

Every Democrat on the debate stage is more qualified and has more integrity than the current occupant of the White House, and come November, I’ll be proud to support any one of them. But I really, REALLY, hope it’s Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Here’s why.

  1. Beating Trump is the #1 priority, and I believe Elizabeth Warren is the most electable candidate. She is an incredibly powerful communicator, and she speaks directly to the people who are feeling most left behind–including those in the midwestern swing states.
  2. Her policy ideas are bold, thoughtful, and thorough. Seriously. Just read any one of her plans. She certainly took some heat in the press over elements of her health care plan, but I read it twice and I can tell you she knows her stuff. She recognizes we cannot solve the big problems without disrupting the status quo, and she also establishes realistic steps and timelines.
  3. She has a real theory of change that starts with tackling corruption in Washington. Debate moderators have asked numerous times how candidates would accomplish their policy goals if elected, and I find Warren’s theory most compelling. That’s because I’ve experienced the power of special interests first hand. There are days at the state capitol where I can’t walk down the hall without bumping into a dozen insurance lobbyists, a dozen hospital lobbyists, and a dozen pharma lobbyists. And most of the time, their efforts are directed towards blocking progressive change.
  4. Elizabeth Warren is a fighter for regular people who are just trying to get good jobs, support their families, and afford health care, housing, child care, and higher education. After four years of Trump, that’s what we need in the White House.

I could go on, but instead I’ll just ask you to reply to this email and tell me about the candidate you support and why. And if you share my admiration for Elizabeth Warren, would you sign up to volunteer for her campaign?

The Iowa caucus is Monday, February 3rd. But before we see the results of the New Hampshire primary at 7:00pm EST on Tuesday, February 11th, you will likely already have your Colorado presidential primary ballot in hand!

That’s right, we have a presidential primary in Colorado this year! Ballots are mailed out starting February 10th and are due back by 7:00pm on Tuesday, March 3rd.

FUN FACT: Because of a bill we passed last year, 17 year olds who will be 18 by the November 3rd General Election will be eligible to vote in primaries and caucuses this year! Register to vote here!

Keep in mind we’ll still have precinct caucuses on Saturday, March 7th. Delegates elected at caucus will participate in the nomination of all state and local candidates (including me!), and those who go on to the state convention will elect delegates to the national convention based on the results of the presidential primary.

With that, I hope you all have a wonderful and warm winter weekend in Colorado! And don’t forget to reply to tell me about who you’re excited to support to be our next President of the United States of America!

Thanks,
Chris

County redistricting bill seeks to avoid appearance of partisan gerrymandering

County redistricting bill seeks to avoid appearance of partisan gerrymandering

By Marianne Goodland (January 27, 2020)

In 2018, voters said “enough” to the potential for partisan gerrymandering at the state and congressional level.

They approved, by better than 2:1 margins, Amendments Y and Z, which set up independent commissions, to be comprised of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters, who would handle the creation of new congressional (Y) and legislative (Z) district maps after the 2020 Census.

So who draws districts for county commissioners? As it turns out, it’s the commissioners themselves.

Assistant House Majority Leader Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, and Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton, think copying the system set up for Y and Z is a good idea, and that forms the basis for House Bill 1073, which will be heard in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Thursday.

The bill is drawing strong opposition from some of Colorado’s counties due to concerns it is an unfunded mandate.

And Kennedy admits it is.

The bill as it currently stands would apply only to the state’s largest counties that have five commissioners: Arapahoe, El Paso and Weld. An additional seven — those with populations that exceed 70,000 — could eventually be included, including Boulder, Jefferson and Mesa, if those counties choose to go to five commissioners (they all have three now, but some are considering going to five).

The only large counties that would be exempt: Broomfield and Denver, which are combined city/county but are governed by city councils, not county commissions.

Under the bill, a 7-member independent commission, assisted by nonpartisan staff, would take charge of drawing district maps. The commission would be made up of two Democrats, two Republicans and three unaffiliated voters, and maps would be approved by a simple majority. Kennedy said creating the 12-member commissions set up in Y and Z would be too unwieldy.

The commissions would use criteria in this order:

  • equal population and the Voting Rights Act;
  • communities of interest, political subdivisions and compactness;
  • competitiveness; and
  • no protection for incumbents.

Under the bill, the maps commission would meet in public meetings and the maps would be subject to judicial review.

Another provision of the bill would change current state law to allow for larger precincts, up to 4,000 people each, to address another problem: constant redrawing of precinct maps every time the population surges.

In Jefferson County, that’s meant redrawing precinct maps every two years, which is allowed under the law, for whenever a precinct exceeds 2,000 people.

“It’s the Wild West,” Kennedy recently told Colorado Politics, when asked why he wants to change the system.

“When it comes to the way counties draw their maps, the only rule is equal population and the Voting Rights Act,” he explained. That means the county commissioners are drawing their own districts. In most of the state, it’s not a big deal, he said, since the three commissioners run county-wide but have to live in the districts they represent. Kennedy said there’s no evidence that the system for drawing districts has been abused, so his bill is intended to be proactive.

In the counties with five commissioners, either home rule or one larger than 70,000 people, there are three options for how commissioners are selected. It’s either five who are elected by the voters in the districts in which they live (Arapahoe and El Paso), five where commissioners must live in their districts but are elected county-wide (Adams), or three who live in the districts they represent and two more who are at-large (Weld).

Jefferson County has three commissioners but talk in the county around going to five has been around for years, Kennedy said. But going to five has also raised concerns about gerrymandering.

Kennedy advocates for five commissioners, all required to live and be elected from the district they represent. Given the size of Jefferson County, “you can’t possibly get around” to the whole county, he said. In order to help Jeffco go to five, Kennedy said he wanted to offer them the protection against gerrymandering.

Kennedy believes larger counties will have the staffing, and even some have GIS software that can handle the map-drawing process.

“I believe because we have unanimous support” for state and congressional redistricting (from the General Assembly in 2018), it makes sense to model county redistricting in the same way, he said.

Kennedy and Larson met with stakeholders last week, including representatives from Arapahoe, Boulder, El Paso and Jefferson counties as well as from the County Clerks Association.

“This restores faith in the system” and matches what voters intended with Y and Z, Larson told the group.

Arapahoe County spokesman Luc Hatlestad told Colorado Politics that the county’s commissioners have already voted to oppose the bill, citing chiefly its unfunded mandate as well as concerns about the amount of time such a process would require. They estimated it would cost about $21,000 to pay the retired county judges who would choose the mapping commission members.

In fact, the bill’s fiscal note comes in with a much larger figure: $75,000 to $135,000 per county, but that also includes paying for staff time, computer equipment and software, legal expenses and travel and per diem costs.

Read the full story on ColoradoPolitics.com.