Let’s extend redistricting reform to Colorado’s county commissioners

Let’s extend redistricting reform to Colorado’s county commissioners

By Representative Chris Kennedy (March 14, 2021)

In November 2018, Colorado voters passed two constitutional amendments to reform the redistricting process and ensure that neither political party could gerrymander districts in their favor. 

Amendments Y and Z were the product of years of conversations between party leaders

who came to the table because they knew that a fair set of rules was better than rolling the dice on which party would be in power when redistricting came around.

Amendment Y reformed the process for the drawing of federal congressional districts, and by extension, districts for the Colorado State Board of Education and University of Colorado regent candidates. Amendment Z reformed the process for drawing of state House and state Senate districts.

But there’s one other set of partisan elected offices in Colorado that wasn’t included: county commissioners.

To be fair, this isn’t a big problem in the vast majority of Colorado counties. Almost all counties have three commissioners who must live in their districts, but they’re elected by the voters of the whole county.

While there’s still the risk that the districts are drawn to exclude particular people from running for office, these counties can’t draw districts that give an electoral advantage to Democrats or Republicans, nor can they draw districts to limit the voting power of minority communities.

But there are three Colorado counties that elect some or all of their commissioners by individual districts, and in those counties, there’s nothing in the law requiring them to draw fair maps.

Arapahoe, El Paso and Weld counties will be redrawing their district maps this year, and we have a chance to hold them to the same high standards we’ve established for state and federal districts.

Fortunately, we don’t have to start from scratch because Amendments Y and Z have shown us the way. There was such strong support for the bipartisan compromise in these amendments that they both earned unanimous support from the state legislature, and each gained 71% support from the voters.

I am sponsoring House Bill 1047 in the Colorado legislature this year to apply the bulk of the provisions of Y and Z to counties that elect commissioners by district. These provisions include fair criteria for drawing of districts, maps drawn by nonpartisan staff, robust public participation, and judicial review. 

And while I acknowledge that requiring maps to be drawn by independent commissions would be ideal, I recognize that county budgets are tighter than the state budget. Thus, the bill encourages but does not require independent commissions.

As such, passing this bill is just the first step. Even more important will be the public participation that follows. Citizens in these counties will need to show up to hearings and talk about the diverse communities in their counties and what fair representation means to them.

While the bill primarily impacts three counties in the first year, it is my hope that a fair redistricting process will give other counties the reassurance they need to make the change from three commissioners elected at large to five commissioners elected by district. 

My home county, Jeffco, has more residents than the entire state of Wyoming, so when candidates have to run countywide, most voters never meet them face-to-face. Furthermore, it is the view of many voting rights advocates that at-large districts can be racially discriminatory. 

This is common sense. We all know there’s a long history of partisan gerrymandering in this country. Let’s root it out at every level. 

HB 1047 has already passed its first hurdle: an initial committee meeting on March 4. If you agree with the goals of this bill, email your county commissioners and your state legislators today and ask them to support it as it moves through the legislative process.

Read more at ColoradoSun.com.

General Assembly Democrats take on prescription drug prices

General Assembly Democrats take on prescription drug prices

By Pat Poblete (March 8, 2021)

Democratic state lawmakers on Monday took aim at prescription drug prices, introducing a measure that would create a board to review the prices of high-cost medications while also passing a bill expanding a drug importation program out of a Senate committee on a party-line vote. 

The latter bill from Sens. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, and Don Coram, R-Montrose, seeks to expand on a program signed into law in 2019 that would allow Coloradans to import prescription drugs from Canada. The state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing estimates that would give consumers access to medications that would be on average 61% cheaper than in the United States. But that program has yet to be fully implemented in the state with a holdup based largely at the federal level. 

Congress in 2003 approved a proposal allowing certain drugs to be imported from Canada if the secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services deemed it could be done safely. Heads of that agency, under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, opted against taking that measure but former Secretary Alex Azar, who ran HHS under President Donald Trump, approved a rule on the program in September. President Joe Biden expressed support for the concept on the campaign trail, and his nominee to lead HHS, Xavier Becerra, voted for the Canadian drug importation proposal as a member of Congress in 2003. 

Ginal told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee the bill expanding the program would allow the state to be among the first to reach foreign drug markets should federal law ever allow it. 

The bill faced opposition from a pair of organizations: The Partnership for Safe Medicines, a nonprofit that Kaiser Health News reported has deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry, and the Colorado Pharmacists Society. Both groups raised concerns about the safety of imported drugs. 

But HCPF executive director Kim Bimestefer countered that 80% of active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturers and 60% of completed drugs already come from outside the country. She said the factories and drugs have already been approved by the FDA, adding “what we’re actually importing is the prices.” 

Coram, meanwhile, closed the hearing by emphasizing that the drugs imported under the program would largely be the same as those already in pharmacies. 

“I find it ironic that some may think that because the drug is manufactured in France and you buy your prescription at your local pharmacy supermarket chain, you pay this price, it’s OK, it’s safe,” he said. 

Still, that didn’t win over any of the panel’s Republicans. Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, R-Brighton, said she had concerns over the transparency of the bill’s fiscal note, which would see HCPF draw funds from those allocated in the original Canadian expansion if the federal government enacted a law allowing a drug importation expansion. 

Republican Sens. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa and Jim Smallwood of Parker also voted against the bill as Democrats advanced it to the full Senate. 

Gov. Jared Polis earlier in the day said that bill “is going to be part of the solution” for bringing down prescription drug costs. But he touted another piece of legislation introduced on Monday seeking to create a board to review the cost of the highest-priced prescription drugs as a “better and longer-term solution.” 

That bill, from Sens. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, and Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, would see a board appointed by the governor research, review and establish payment limits for drugs deemed unaffordable. 

While in the House, Jaquez Lewis sponsored the original Canadian drug importation bill. But she said that measure had drawbacks, including its narrow scope that doesn’t include specialty drugs or biologics. 

Meanwhile, Rep. Yadira Caraveo said she knew from experience “we are well past time needing to bring prescription costs down.” The Thornton Democrat and pediatrician is sponsoring the bill in the House along with Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood. 

“It really is shameful that I have to have conversations in clinic about whether families can afford to pay for prescription medication or put food on the table for their children,” she said.

The measure will likely face opposition from Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County, last month said while some might appreciate the price controls in the short term, he believed it would have long-term effects on the pharmaceutical industry’s capacity for research and development. 

“If there is a board for Colorado that is controlling prices, I don’t think it would be a surprise if a drug isn’t available in Colorado,” he said at a panel hosted by Colorado Politics before the bill was introduced. “I don’t think over time, it’ll be surprising that people would be leaving Colorado and going to a state where they could access a particular pharmaceutical that they need.” 

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com.

Legislature to consider special panel to limit drug costs

By Charles Ashby (March 9, 2021)

Colorado could join a handful of other states that no longer are waiting for the federal government in finding ways to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

Because congressional efforts to negotiate for lower prices on prescription drugs continue to falter, several states have or are considering creating their own Prescription Drug Affordability Boards.

Like many of those other states’ boards, Colorado’s panel would gather a group of experts to investigate drug cost increases, and then set guardrails on prices for the most expensive drugs.

Many of the drugs sold in the United States cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars more than the same drugs go for in Canada and the European Union. That’s partly because those nations do what this one doesn’t, negotiate with drug companies, and put limits on what they can charge, sponsors of the bill say.

“It’s just ridiculous what’s going on with this,” said Gov. Jared Polis in announcing introduction of the bill into the Colorado Legislature on Monday. “These are the exact same prescription drugs, and yet they cost far more. American consumers are sick and tired of being ripped off.”

Polis said some Americans, those who are served by the Veteran’s Affairs for example, pay those cheaper costs. Why? Because they negotiate drug costs, the governor said.

The four Democratic sponsors of the bill — Sens. Julie Gonzales of Denver and Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Lafayette, and Reps. Yadria Caraveo of Thornton and Chris Kennedy of Lakewood — all said that Coloradans, particularly lower income residents, are having to choose from paying their rents and putting food on their tables and paying the high cost of life-saving medications.

“There is no reason why we should be paying more for prescription drugs than consumers in other countries, but we are and it’s not even close,” said Caraveo, a medical doctor. “Physicians like myself make decisions all the time about what is in the best interests for our patients. Drugs only work if my patients can take them. Prescription drugs save lives.”

Four states already have such panels in place, but only within the past year, so it’s not yet known how effective they will be. A dozen other states also are considering similar bills in their legislatures.

Read more on GJSentinel.com.

House panel approves county commissioner gerrymandering bill along party lines

House panel approves county commissioner gerrymandering bill along party lines

By Pat Poblete (March 4, 2021)

A House panel on Thursday passed on party lines a measure seeking to apply aspects of the congressional and state legislative nonpartisan redistricting plan to districts drawn for some county commissions. 

The proposal from Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat, would implement some of the framework from 2018’s amendments Y and Z to county commissioner maps, where commissioners are allowed to draw their own districts. The bill specifically targets the state’s largest counties that have five commissioners: Arapahoe, El Paso and Weld. 

“This will make sure that neither political party is able to hold advantage over these redistricting processes and that it will be done fairly to ensure that the interest of the people are put ahead of the interest of the politicians,” Kennedy said during testimony before the House State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. 

The proposal  primarily mirrors one that cleared committee but died last session without a floor vote after strong opposition from counties. Counties considered a provision calling for a seven-member independent commission, assisted by nonpartisan staff, to take charge of drawing district maps to be an expensive, unfunded mandate. 

Although Kennedy dropped that provision in this year’s version of the bill – a move he said he was “not that thrilled that I had to give up” – Arapahoe and El Paso counties were again poised to line up in opposition of the bill. Nancy Jackson, a Democrat who chairs the Arapahoe County Board of County Commissioners, said county legislative bodies are often “pretty nuts and bolts” and not plagued by the partisanship that can grip state legislative and congressional representatives. As such, she said, some of the provisions in this year’s version of the bill felt onerous. 

“Very detailed and time-consuming requirements in the introduced version of House Bill 1047 would be burdensome and time consuming in the best of circumstances,” Jackson said. “2021 is anything but the best of circumstances. Our board has been and continues to be overwhelmed with dealing with the plethora of issues related to the pandemic.” 

But she said recent work with Kennedy moved them to neutral. According to Jackson, that move was down to an amendment Kennedy introduced today, which among other things struck the mandate for judicial review of maps and streamlined the map-drawing process by eliminating some steps required under amendments Y and Z. 

Still, Jackson said she had lingering concerns in three areas: 

  • How to account for the delay in census data to incorporate into the redistricting process. 
  • A provision of the bill that changes how counties could go back from electing commissioners by districts to electing them at-large. She said her board felt that measure was “a vehicle to restrict local control.” 
  • A measure calling for competitive districts as criteria, which Jackson said felt contradictory when paired with provisions requiring other criteria such as population equality, respect for the Voting Rights Act and communities of interest. 

Jackson also provided a letter from the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, who also moved from opposing the bill to neutral after working with Kennedy but still expressed concerns. 

“We still feel that this concept is not the right solution for El Paso County, but we were encouraged by your willingness to consider a list of amendments,” the letter said. https://75ab17a35aedd4d15ac87f77841b05cf.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

But two El Paso County residents slammed their commissioners’ opposition to the proposal. Stephanie Vigil, a unaffiliated private citizen, said their opposition came down to an effort “to shore up for themselves nothing less than unchecked, unanimous, single-party control” while Mike Maday accused commissioners of “flat-out blatant gerrymandering.” 

Both Vigil and Maday, who serves as the voting protection coordinator for the El Paso County Democratic Party, testified the maps in their county were drawn to disenfranchise Democrats and involved little to no public input. 

“We were presented with three options that the county clerk came up with to comment on — one option was uncompetitive, the other was very uncompetitive, the third was extremely uncompetitive,” Maday said. “We presented our own maps and ideas and they were not presented to the county board for their consideration.” 

Maday said while those districts were uncompetitive, they weren’t illegal as the only legal standard that applied — population equality — was met. 

“We could have sued, but we would have lost,” he said. “I’m not the type of person that wants to go to court a whole lot and just lose things.” 

El Paso County commissioners were not immediately available for comment. 

Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, said the testimony from Maday and Vigil moved him from a “no” to a “no for today.” 

“I’ve heard some concerning things that don’t sit well with me and I’m going to go back to my commissioners and I’m going to ask very direct questions,” he said. “I definitely had an opposition going in, but through the dialogue and the discussion, I want to be a little bit more open-minded about what’s going on because I think you have legitimate concerns and there is merit to what you’re doing.” 

But Rep. Rod Bockenfeld, a Watkins Republican who previously served with Jackson as an Arapahoe County commissioner, blasted the proposal as “an anti-El Paso County bill.” 

“Until I hear something from, Weld, Arapahoe and El Paso that says that they’re comfortable with this bill, I’ll probably be fighting it the whole way,” he said. 

The bill passed 7-4, with Rep. Ron Hanks, R-Penrose, joining Williams as a “no for today.” 

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com

Ranked-choice voting: Coming soon to more of Colorado’s towns and cities?

Ranked-choice voting: Coming soon to more of Colorado’s towns and cities?

By Alex Burness (January 30, 2021)

Telluride and Basalt do it. Boulder plans to, and Denver may follow. State lawmakers want to make it easier for even more to join in.

Ranked-choice voting already happens in two Colorado towns, and it’s catching on in places like New York City, Maine and Alaska.

This year, Colorado lawmakers are likely to pass a bill designed to make it easier for more local governments to join in.

Advocates say the alternative method of voting limits polarization, thwarts “spoiler” candidates and eliminates the need for costly and time-consuming runoff elections. It can also be quite confusing, and backers and opponents of the upcoming bill alike are nervous about the challenge of educating voters and getting their buy-in.

State Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat, will introduce the bill when the legislature reconvenes next month. It would allow towns and cities to run ranked-choice elections — also known as instant runoff — through county clerk’s offices.

Though ranked-choice voting is already allowed at the local level in Colorado, the proposed guidelines for county involvement would be new. The bill would also require the secretary of state’s office to develop rules establishing consistent voting systems and auditing practices that would apply statewide for any town or city that opts in.

How it works

Ranked-choice voting systems differ slightly among the nearly 20 U.S. cities currently using them, including Minneapolis, St. Paul and San Francisco. Boulder is among a batch of other states and cities, like Alaska and New York City, set to adopt the method soon.

It works like this: Voters in contests with three or more candidates — usually city council and mayoral races, plus some statewide primaries — rank candidates by preference. If no candidate secures at least 50% of the vote, “instant runoff” rounds follow, with last-place candidates lopped off until someone secures a majority.

Molly Fitzpatrick, the clerk and recorder in Boulder County, said her office doesn’t have the bandwidth to run a ranked-choice election without state guidance and resources for both voting software and auditing processes.

“It really is beyond the scope of what a single county can do, given that we’re talking about touching the voting system,” she said.

A city charter committee in Denver is also exploring multiple election reforms for the city, including ranked-choice voting, which could end up in front of voters in November.

Lawmakers thus believe there is some urgency to set rules in place, and they expect other towns and cities will want to explore this if and when the bill passes.

The bill is also being looked at as a sort of pilot program to see whether Colorado could take it statewide, according to Kennedy and others interviewed.

“Let’s solve the city problem first,” Kennedy said. “What comes next, we’ll see how it goes. If we find that voters are not confused by this, that they think this works, we’ll talk about it.”

That’s a big “if,” he acknowledged. There’s fear among elected officials about replacing a traditional, straightforward voting method.

“The biggest issue is not a partisan issue. It’s a knowledge-gap issue,” said Terrance Carroll, the former Colorado House speaker who now advocates for ranked-choice voting.

“It adds more civility to elections. You never discount a vote,” Arndt said. “If a voter says, ‘I really like Candidate X,’ you don’t say, ‘Well, screw you,’ and walk away. You ask why, because you want to be their second choice, right?”

Read more at DenverPost.com

COVER STORY | Hot Topics in the 2021 session

By Marianne Goodland (February 21, 2021)

Ranked-choice voting

Expect lawmakers to take up technical tweaks, not total transformation, of Colorado’s election administration system.

Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat who chairs the House State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, says he’s got two election-related bills in the works. The first is a measure that would seek to increase access to ranked-choice voting at the local level.

That system, also known as instant runoff, asks voters in elections with three or more candidates to rank their choices from most to least preferable. If a candidate fails to win at least 50% of the vote, the last-place candidate is eliminated and their votes reallocated to their voters’ second-choice candidate. 

“I just never felt that that was fair,” he said. “I’ve always thought it was a better system to give people a way of prioritizing, because it addresses the spoiler issues and some of the other concerns that come up in those races.”

While cities are already allowed to use ranked-choice voting, only three — Basalt, Carbondale and Telluride — actually do. Kennedy said that’s because locals often rely on their county clerks to administer elections, and county clerks are required under state law to administer standard first-past-the-post elections.

“I’m just trying to clear those roadblocks and make it so that [locals] can meaningfully use the authority that they already have,” Kennedy said.

County commissioner redistricting

Kennedy is also planning to introduce a bill that would largely copy the framework from amendments Y and Z in 2018, which sought to draw fair district maps at the congressional and state legislative levels. Kennedy’s bill would add county commissioner maps into the mix, where commissioners are allowed to draw their own districts.

This year’s bill rolls back the independent map-drawing commissions from a requirement to a recommendation, but otherwise keeps much of the same framework in place. Eric Bergman, the policy director for Colorado Counties Inc., told Colorado Politics dropping the mandate for the commission helps but the bill still feels onerous, because there aren’t widespread complaints about gerrymandering at the county level. Still, he said his organization would continue to work with Kennedy and provide feedback.

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 are Broomfield and Denver, which are city/county governments led by city councils, not county commissions.

Kennedy said he hadn’t started lobbying his colleagues on either of the bills yet but has drafts of both proposals ready to go. He was optimistic both could end up on the governor’s desk.

“I believe in myself, in my ability to do the work and persuade people that this is a good idea,” he said. 

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com

Ranked-choice voting legislation clears committee on party-line vote

By Pat Poblete (February 22, 2021)

A host of advocates, organizations and elected officials past and present testified Monday in support of legislation seeking to increase access to ranked-choice voting at the local level as the bill cleared committee on a party lines.

But while the measure won support from the Colorado Municipal Clerks Association, the League of Women Voters and the Colorado Municipal League, among others, it received strong pushback from El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman.

“As a guide, voting should be easy, clear-cut and assessable as possible and allow the greatest swath of voter participation as possible,” Broerman said. “House Bill 1071 fails to meet that test.”

The ranked-choice voting system as a whole drew widespread support from the witnesses testifying before Kennedy’s panel. But several — including Matt Benjamin, who last year led a successful Boulder charter amendment to use ranked-choice voting in the city’s mayoral election starting in 2023 — said Kennedy’s bill was more broadly about local control.

“Instead of debating the merits of RCV, it should be whether or not we agree as a state, certainly as a committee and a House, whether we support local control and what that means for communities that want to choose their own fate and have the will of the voters decide the outcomes of their elections,” he said. 

Former House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, reinforced that point while testifying in support.

“This is what local control is all about,” he said. “Many people like to say that states are the laboratories of democracy — I would say that in Colorado, our municipal governments are laboratories of democracy and they allow us to look at evolving democratic norms to ensure that our democracy is truly representing the will of the people.”

But Broerman highlighted a host of issues, including concerns the system would “increase the prevalence of spoiled or exhausted votes.”

“Understanding the differences in policy between candidates to the point where a voter can meaningfully rank all candidates in order of preference requires a great deal of political savvy and engagement,” he said.

The panel’s Republicans also opposed the bill. Assistant Minority Leader Tim Geitner, R-Falcon, slammed it as an attempt to hand off the expenses of Boulder’s move to ranked-choice voting to taxpayers and businesses.

“For years towns like Telluride have been running their elections this way with no help from the state,” he said in a statement. “Boulder should make sure their fiscal house is in order before passing measures instead of coming to businesses across the state to fund their pet projects, especially during a time when many are already struggling with keeping their doors open during the pandemic.”

That’s a reference to testimony from state Election Director Judd Choate, who said the price tag of roughly $1 million for the Secretary of State’s office to implement the necessary changes would largely be covered by raising fees.

Choate said Secretary of State Jena Griswold largely supports the idea of alternative voting methods. But he raised concerns about both the prospect of raising fees on businesses in the middle of a pandemic and the “tight” timeline the original draft of the bill presented.

“If this bill were advanced without amendment to extend the implementation timeline, our office would have roughly 18 months to deliver a substantial multi-component overhaul of our election system,” he said.  “The timeline to do this significant work is exceptionally tight, especially given the need to go through a state procurement processes.”

Kennedy said he wasn’t able to speak with Griswold until last week. After hearing her concerns on the timeline, he today brought forward an amendment he said “split the difference” between her request to push implementation back to 2024 and Boulder’s 2023 election.

“What we thought would make the most sense is try to bifurcate this process so that everything that needs to be done for single county elections will be done ahead of the 2023 election,” he said. “But for any cities that span multiple counties, they’re going to have to wait two more years until 2025 so that we can finish completing these statewide processes.”

Kennedy also said the fiscal note on the bill was designed “to try to take [costs] off the shoulders of the local government.” He said the Finance Committee, where the legislation heads next, will continue to work on the bill and pledge to examine ways to bring the overall cost down.

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com

A bill to make ranked choice voting an easier option for cities passes its first committee test

By Megan Lopez (February 22, 2021)

DENVER — A Colorado House committee has advanced a bill to make it easier for cities and counties to transition to a ranked choice voting system.

Ranked choice, or instant runoff elections, is a system where voters would pick one candidate as their top choice, another as their second, another as their third and so on. When the votes are counted, if no candidate has earned more than 50% of the vote, the candidates with fewest first place votes are removed from the race.

Those ballots then go to whichever candidates the voter ranked as their second choice. If no clear victor comes from those choices, the process repeats itself until someone wins.

House Bill 21-1107 would require the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to come up with a uniform set of rules for the implementation and certification of this type of voting. The bill does not require cities or counties to take up the voting system.

“It’s the Colorado way. It’s 100% optional. This is opt-in — there is no mandate here. We want to provide the framework for the municipalities who choose through a council vote or a vote of their own people to opt into a voting system,” said Rep. Jeni Ardnt, a bill co-sponsor.

The office would also establish an audit process for it and find a software provider for counties to use to run these elections.

“Cities already are allowed to use ranked choice of voting under current law. The current law is that the county clerks are not allowed to help them with this, and so our bill is basically clearing that barrier so if the city wants to opt in to ranked choice voting, they can do it through their county coordinated election,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, another co-sponsor of the bill.

For now, Ardnt and Kennedy say this is a pilot project to see how this type of system is handled and received on a smaller scale before considering changes for state or federal elections.

“This is more of an opt-in proof of concept before we really go big,” Ardnt said.

During the public testimony phase of the bill’s first hearing, Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver spoke in support of the bill. Voters in Boulder approved of ranked choice voting for their mayor’s race beginning in 2023.

The bill advanced out of committee without any Republican support.

Denver voting changes

While Colorado legislators consider ranked choice voting changes, Denver Elections is also taking a closer look at its voting systems and whether it’s time for an update.

“One of the things we need to address is the fact that Denver’s charter is a little bit antiquated compared to modern election law,” said Paul Lopez, Denver clerk and recorder.

The city is hosting a series of meetings to discuss how to modernize its election charter.

One of the changes Denver is considering is whether to begin the municipal election process a little earlier in order to allow overseas voters more time to review and return their ballots, particularly in runoff elections.

“Our goal is to get something on the November ballot for Denver voters to consider, at the very minimum, allowing us a little bit more time, which would be having the municipal elections start a little bit earlier so that everybody has the same ability to review their ballot and make an educated vote,” Lopez said.

Along with discussing changes to the timing, Denver has also started to take a closer look at alternative voting methods, like ranked choice and approval voting, as options moving forward to gauge public interest.

“At the end of the day, we want to keep voting as easy as possible for voters,” Lopez said.

Denver is hosting a community town hall Wednesday for people to weigh in on the proposed changes, as well as alternative voting methods. The meeting is happening virtually at 6 p.m.

The proposed changes would then appear on the November ballot for Denver voters to have the final say.

Read more on TheDenverChannel.com and ColoradoSun.com.

Over 70% of Coloradans want state to create board for lowering prescription drug costs

Over 70% of Coloradans want state to create board for lowering prescription drug costs

By Hannah Metzger (February 3, 2021)

The vast majority of Coloradans want the state the create a board intended to lower the cost of prescription drugs, according to a poll released by the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.

The poll found that 77% of respondents supported a state board of appointed healthcare experts that would work to lower the cost of prescription drugs. After hearing arguments against the board, over 70% of respondents still supported it.

Adam Fox, deputy director of the CCHI, said Coloradans pay 60% to 85% more than people in other countries for the same prescription drugs.

“We know pharmaceutical companies still make a profit in those countries,” Fox said. “We can lower the costs of the most unaffordable drugs with a Prescription Drug Affordability Board and save Coloradans money.”

In Colorado, nearly one in three people skip doses, cut pills or don’t fill needed prescriptions because they cannot afford it, according to state data.

CCHI has collected numerous firsthand accounts from Coloradans who face such difficulties.

“When I experience a sudden change in my medication’s price, I cut back in my other areas of my health care,” said Sandra from Adams County. “I don’t fill my prescriptions. I don’t make appointments.”

“My friends often have to choose to pay rent or pay for their medication,” said Tania from Broomfield County. “Sometimes this means skipping rent for a month so that they can afford their medications.”

The Prescription Drug Affordability Board is currently being promoted to the state by health care advocates. The board would consist of a panel of experts to establish more affordable costs for the most expensive prescription drugs.

Support for the board is evident across every major demographic group, according to the CCHI poll.

The board was supported by 94% of Democrats, 80% of unaffiliated voters, 54% of Republicans, 82% of 18- to 44-year-olds, 72% of 45- to 64-year-olds and 74% of those 65 and up. Support was also steady across genders and incomes.

“Drugs don’t work if people cannot afford them,” Fox said. “No one should be forced to choose between filling a prescription they need for their health and paying their rent or putting food on the table.”

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com

Preview: The 2021 Lawmaking Session

Preview: The 2021 Lawmaking Session

Friends and Neighbors,

Today, we call to order the 73rd General Assembly of the State of Colorado.

Last year brought unprecedented challenges, and while we’re on the road to recovery, we’re not out of the woods just yet. The death toll from the COVID19 pandemic keeps growing, and many individuals and businesses are struggling to keep their heads above water financially.

While many of us are feeling optimistic about the new administration that will be sworn in on January 20th in Washington DC, we’re also seeing the lies and white supremacist ideas of the sitting president infect the minds of thousands–driving some to commit acts of violence in an attempt to undermine the results of an election that their guy lost, fair and square. 

It’s a troubling time, and these are the times in which we need real leaders the most. I continue to believe that a government of, by, and for the people offers the best chance at protecting the freedoms and enabling the prosperity of all of our people. As we return to the Capitol today, I will do my part to advance policies that put people first while also listening to alternative viewpoints, seeking common ground, and building relationships that help remind us that we’re all in this together.

We’re only going to be in session for three days to start, after which we’ll adjourn for about a month to allow some time for the post-holiday COVID19 spike to simmer down. During that time, many legislators and staff will also be getting vaccinated so that we can make the Capitol as safe as possible when we return. We can only be effective at our jobs when we welcome the voices of our constituents into the place where we do business, and as much as I value the opportunities we’ve created for remote participation, it just isn’t the same. I’m excited for a time when people from across our state again feel safe coming to testify in front of our committees to share their stories and ensure our policies work for them in real life.

When we resume the legislative session in February, we’ll be prioritizing pandemic and economic recovery, as well as restoration of the funding for K-12 and higher education that was cut last year. I’m excited that we’ll also be able to start looking past the crisis into the future again, and we still have much work to do to reduce the high cost of health care, expand access to high quality education for every kid, protect our environment for the next generation, and work towards equity in every policy area. 

I’ll be sponsoring legislation on several topics:

  • County commissioner redistricting reform
  • Ranked choice voting in nonpartisan elections
  • Energy efficiency & assistance funding
  • Holding corporations accountable for negligence
  • Holding district attorneys accountable for hiding exculpatory evidence 
  • Reducing the high cost of prescription drugs
  • Expanding coverage for complementary and integrative health services
  • Encouraging alternatives to opioids for pain patients

In addition, I’m doing research and considering possible legislation to help low-income seniors afford housing and to accelerate payment reform in primary care. I’m really excited about all of this work and I’ll look forward to hearing your feedback. Email me any thoughts you have, and stay tuned for our next Lakewood town hall meetings.

Until then, stay healthy, stay safe, and do everything you can to change the world.

Chris

Thank You

Thank You

November 4, 2020

Thank you for everyone who donated, volunteered, and/or voted for me! I am so grateful to the voters of House District 23 have again entrusted me to represent them for the next two years! This job has been the most challenging and rewarding of my life, and I will continue working hard every day to make life better for the people of Colorado.

Every election night includes a mix of celebration, sorrow, and uncertainty. While much remains unknown at the national level, I’m proud of Colorado voters and think we have a lot of reasons to be hopeful about the future.

I expect I will spend more time writing some reflections about the election in the days and weeks ahead, but for now, I will just say one more thing.

Stay true. The work continues.

Chris

Environment Colorado lauds state’s rank on renewables in its new report

Environment Colorado lauds state’s rank on renewables in its new report

By Joey Bunch (October 27, 2020)

Environment Colorado released a report Tuesday that shows this state to be a powerhouse when it comes to renewable sources.

Colorado ranks seventh among for growth in wind energy production and ninth for energy efficiency, according to the Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center.

Called “Renewables on the Rise 2020,” the report measured growth over the past decade for solar and wind, battery storage, energy efficiency and electric vehicles.

“We’ve made so much progress here in Colorado toward a cleaner, healthier future powered by renewable energy over the last ten years,” Hannah Collazo, state director for Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center, said in a statement Tuesday. “The gains we’ve seen, especially in wind power and solar power should give Coloradans the confidence we need to aim even higher. We need to pick up the pace when it comes to battery storage and electric vehicle sales.”

She said Colorado ranks 19th in utility scale battery storage and 11th in cumulative electric sales.

“Quickly adopting renewable energy technologies to power our state is one way to address the wildfires ravaging Colorado,” Collazo said.

You can read the report by clicking here.

Gov. Jared Polis has accelerated Colorado’s pace since taking office. He set a goal to get the state to 100% renewable energy by 2040 and signed a package of legislation to help electric vehicles and charging station his first year in office.

That effort has been led in the House was Reps. Chris Kennedy, a Democrat from Lakewood, and Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver, who argue that renewables is an affordable investment for a high return in savings and less climate and health effects.

“These environmental issues have been a priority for me for a long time,” Kennedy said on a press call about the new report Tuesday. 

He said it was the Bush administration’s failures on climate change that drove him to get into politics.

“I’m thrilled about the progress we’ve made,” Kennedy said. “We’ve still got some work to do … and yet the work that we’ve done in Colorado has really set us up for success.”

Read more at ColoradoPolitics.com and ColoradoNewsline.com

Reinsurance program to lower health premiums by average of 21%, state reports

Reinsurance program to lower health premiums by average of 21%, state reports

By Michael Karlik, (October 8, 2020)

During the open enrollment period for health insurance from Nov. 1 through Jan. 15, the state calculated its reinsurance program will save consumers an average of nearly 21% on their premiums for the coming year compared to what rates would be in the program’s absence.

“A big reason why I ran for Governor was to save people money on healthcare, and I’m excited that we are making progress with 20.8% average premium savings in the individual market from reinsurance, with rates coming down an average of 1.4% for next year,” said Gov. Jared Polis in a statement. “But we can’t rest on our laurels, we must do more to drive down health care costs.”

Colorado’s reinsurance is a fee-based, state-administered program to reimburse insurers up to a capped amount on claims. 

“We’ve staved off larger rate increases, but now is the time to move forward with a public option designed to lower costs and meet Coloradans’ needs,” said Adam Fox, deputy director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, which advocates for equity and affordability in healthcare. “This is especially true with the Supreme Court case that could strip coverage from hundreds of thousands of Coloradans if it strikes down the ACA.”

Fox’s reference was to the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 healthcare reform bill that established state and federal health insurance exchanges, and through which Colorado received its reinsurance program waiver. The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case that questions the constitutionality of the law.

CCHI also pointed out that the number of counties in Colorado with only one insurance carrier will shrink from 22 to 10. However, rate changes filed with the Division of Insurance will vary significantly, with decreases planned for some parts of the state and double digit percentage increases in others.

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com

So many ballot measures, so little time

So many ballot measures, so little time

October 7, 2020

It’s hard to believe that we’re finally approaching the end of the 2020 campaign season. I know that many of you are feeling ready to complete and return your ballot the moment you receive it, so I want to make sure you have all the info you need to vote this year.

Voting by mail in Colorado is secure. Every registered voter receives a ballot, which you can return by mail or take to a drop box.  You can also throw it away and go vote in person after October 19th. Our systems are audited and protected from fraud and foreign interference. In most counties, you can check online to find out whether your ballot has been received and counted (which is just another reason not to wait)! Find more information about voting this year here.

There are 11 statewide ballot measures and various local measures. For nonpartisan analysis of pros and cons, make sure to read your Blue Book (English Version | Spanish Version). There are also some great ballot guides out there from the Bell Policy Center and Progress Now Colorado, but I’m sure you’re unsurprised to learn that I have some strong opinions of my own:

Amdt B – Repeal Gallagher Amendment
I’m voting yes. This outdated property tax formula has led to a serious decline in local funding for our K-12 schools, which the state has tried but failed to adequately backfill. If we don’t pass Amdt B, our schools are going to take another big hit next year.

Amdt C – Bingo/Raffle Rules
While it’s silly that these rules are in the Constitution in the first place, Amdt C makes modest changes to help nonprofits fundraise using bingo and raffles. I’m voting yes.

Amdt 76 – Requirements to Vote
I’m voting no. There are no jurisdictions in Colorado considering allowing non-citizens to vote, so this is largely symbolic. However, we do currently grant 17-year-olds the right to vote in caucuses and primaries as long as they’ll be 18 by the November election, and Amdt 76 would take that right away.

Amdt 77 – Casino Bet Limits
Honestly, I’m a little torn on this one. Our community colleges certainly need more funding, and Amdt 77 could help. But I do worry the potential for higher betting limits to hurt people prone to gambling addiction.

Prop EE – Nicotine Tax
I’m voting yes. Increasing the price of nicotine products is the number one way to reduce teen use, which is very high in Colorado. While it’s true that nicotine taxes are regressive, I’d argue that the negative health impacts of nicotine use are even more regressive. 

Prop 113 – National Popular Vote
I’m voting yes. Once enough states join Colorado in this interstate compact, all will simultaneously switch from giving their electoral college votes to the winner of their own state’s popular vote and instead give them to the winner of the national popular vote. It’s unfortunate that Presidential candidates really only campaign in a dozen or so states. With a national popular vote system, these candidates will be incentivized to campaign in every state. It’s simple. One person, one vote.

Prop 114 – Gray Wolf Reintroduction
While I’m hardly an expert on wildlife issues, I’m voting yes because I believe it’s important to protect endangered species. I believe we’ll be able to adequately address the concerns from ranchers.

Prop 115 – Prohibit Abortions After 22 Weeks
I’m voting no. This is just another attempt to restrict access to women’s reproductive health, and I maintain that this is none of the government’s business.

Prop 116 – Income Tax Rate Cut
I’m voting no. This cut disproportionately benefits the wealthy while only giving back $37 a year to the average Coloradan. The lost revenue could mean slashing more than 2000 teacher jobs. I think the average Colorado family needs good teachers more than they need $37.

Prop 117 – Voter Approval of Enterprises
I’m voting no. TABOR already makes Colorado’s budget process the most convoluted in the country. Prop 117 would do even more to tie legislators’ hands behind our backs at a time when we need creative thinking to keep our state afloat.

Prop 118 – Paid Family Leave
I’m voting yes. Too many Colorado workers have to face the terrible choice between caring for a loved one and keeping their job. By establishing a social insurance program for family leave in Colorado, we can ensure everyone can take the time they need to take care of a new baby or an aging parent while also helping small businesses get by while their employee is on leave.

Lakewood Ballot Question 2B – Recreational Marijuana
I’m voting yes to allow Lakewood’s existing medical marijuana retailers to begin selling recreational marijuana. I continue to believe a regulated marijuana market does a better job preventing access for kids than the black market, and Lakewood will put the increased sales tax revenue to good use on parks, police, and transportation.

Whew! We got through all 11 statewide measures plus one local measure! If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with me! Just a couple more quick things before I let you go on with your day!

Remember to vote all the way down the ticket! Yes, there will be names you don’t recognize, but you know how to use Google. The people we elect to offices like county commissioner and district attorney have huge impacts on our communities, too.

Take a simple step to triple your vote. We all have friends and family who could use a reminder to vote. If everyone reading this commits to contact three people in their own network, it will go a really long way.

Thank you for participating in our democracy! As always, you can email me at chris@kennedy4co.com with your thoughts and questions.

Chris