Rising to face the toughest challenges

Rising to face the toughest challenges

Friends and neighbors,

May 8th was the final day of the 2023 legislative session. It was turbulent to say the least, but at the end of an incredibly challenging session, I’m proud to say we rose to meet the challenges facing the people of Colorado.

We prioritized Coloradans’ most urgent needs and made advancements in gun violence prevention, reproductive healthcare access, and lowering the cost of housing. Not only that, but we also made record investments in our K-12 public schools and made progress on many other issues, including improving our healthcare system, protecting our environment, reforming our criminal justice system, and expanding protections for renters. 

You can read more about our legislative achievements in the Colorado House Democrats’ 2023 end-of-session report. 

I played a part in supporting all of this work, but as you know, we all tend to specialize and focus on passing our own bills. This year, I continued to focus most of my energy on health care, energy, and tax policy. Here’s a rundown of the bills I sponsored this session.

SB23-303: Responsible Reductions in Property Taxes, and; HB23-1311: TABOR Refund Fairness

Sometimes, a piece of legislation must tackle several problems at the same time. And this set of problems was a doozy. 

First, rising home values are causing a huge spike in the property tax bills that homeowners, renters, and businesses will face at the end of this year. Second, our schools, fire districts,  libraries, and county services (including critical work like child welfare, human services, and public safety) have been facing major funding challenges for years. Third, right-wing groups have kept proposing draconian tax cut measures that would deliver property tax reductions at the cost of devastated public services.

We knew we needed a balanced solution that could help people and small businesses keep up with the cost of living but that wouldn’t destroy the critical services funded by property taxes. 
SB23-303 refers a measure to the November ballot that will deliver responsible reductions while providing state backfill funding to protect schools, fire districts, and other critical public services. If voters approve Proposition HH in November, the increase in residential property taxes will be cut in half, saving the average homeowner $1264 over the next two years. The increases facing businesses will also be meaningfully reduced. Senior homeowners who are eligible for the homestead exemption will receive a larger exemption than before, and their exemption will be made portable–that means that these seniors will be able to downsize and continue to receive their property tax exemption.

To ensure the state will have sufficient revenue to backfill revenue losses to local governments, Prop HH will also allow the state to retain an additional 1% of revenue above the TABOR limit. This is the pay-for, and is necessary to ensure that local governments are protected.

But lest you think this is not complicated enough, there’s more. There are two more big problems with cutting property taxes. First, the largest benefits go to people with the most expensive homes and businesses with the largest properties. Second, there’s no guarantee that landlords will pass along their property tax savings to renters.

As a condition for my support and sponsorship of this policy, I insisted on addressing these two problems. We did so in two ways. First, an amendment made on the House floor set aside up to $20M a year for rental assistance programs. Second, we made a one-year change to the distribution of TABOR refunds through a separate-but-connected bill, HB23-1311. Current law would distribute refunds based on a complicated formula known as the six-tier sales tax refund. This formula would give $454 to Coloradans with incomes below $50K and $1434 to Coloradans with incomes above $280K. HB1311 will send $661 refunds to everybody, which means a little bit more for everybody making less than $100K per year.

I won’t pretend this is simple or elegant, but I do believe we have found a reasonable and balanced solution that addresses the multiple problems we needed to solve with the bill. Voters will have a chance to read even more about it in their blue books before they cast their votes on Prop HH this November.

SB23-291: Addressing Rising Utility Prices

Coloradans have faced unprecedented utility bills, causing financial strain as many struggle to cover the cost of basic necessities. To address this issue, we established the Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates to investigate rising utility costs and possible policy interventions. The work of the committee informed the contents of the bill, which will lower utility bills by removing profit motives for utilities to build unnecessary gas infrastructure, smooth out unpredictable rate spikes, create a fairer utility rate-setting process, and prevent utilities from charging their customers for lobbying and advertising costs.

HB23-1167: Good Samaritan Overdose Law

Across Colorado, five people die each day from preventable overdoses. The Good Samaritan Law provides certain legal protections to incentivize people witnessing an overdose event to seek assistance rather than run from law enforcement. Unfortunately, a technical cross-reference error in last year’s big fentanyl bill rendered the law null. This bill restores immunity for all drug possession charges and expands immunity to people sharing small amounts of drugs among friends. This will save lives and ensure that the fear of criminal charges does not stop Coloradans from calling 911, staying at the scene of an overdose, and fully cooperating with law enforcement to try to save a life.

HB23-1244 Regional Health Connector Program

Colorado’s system of Regional Health Connectors plays a vital role in connecting healthcare providers with public health, social service providers, and community organizations to improve integration and coordination in our healthcare system. The nonprofits that manage these RHCs have been operating on shoestring budgets for several years since the initial federal grant expires. HB1244 will provide sustainable funding for the program into the future.

HB23-1225: Prescription Drug Affordability Board Update

Too many Coloradans struggle to afford the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy. In 2021, the Prescription Drug Affordability Board was established to limit the cost of the highest-cost prescription drugs. This bill strengthens the board by loosening restrictions on how many Upper Payment Limits the Board can set in its first three years and improving the criteria for selecting drugs for an affordability review. These changes will better allow us to address rising drug costs and ensure that patients can access the medications they need.

HB23-1226: Hospital Cost Transparency Update

Hospitals account for a significant portion of Colorado dollars spent on health care, but policy makers need a clearer picture of where those dollars are going. In 2019, I carried a bill that gave us a closer look at hospital finances, which informed some of the major policies we’ve passed to lower the cost of health care. This bill builds on this work to address gaps, increase compliance, and provide data to understand the financial health and performance of Colorado’s hospitals so we can continue creating policies that put people over profits and save Coloradans money on health care.

SB23-271: Regulation of Intoxicating Hemp Products

Many Coloradans enjoy and benefit from hemp products, which can take the form of everything from clothing to nutritional supplements like CBD. Because these products contain very low levels of THC–the intoxicating chemical in marijuana–they have been regulated differently from marijuana. 

But certain hemp manufacturers started concentrating and altering hemp products to produce highly intoxicating substances like Delta-8 and Delta-10 THC, which are unregulated and can be bought by kids at gas stations. Needless to say, this is a huge problem.

A task force met over the summer and fall of 2022 and came up with a set of recommendations that formed the core of this bill. Right off the bat, we’ll be banning the sale of synthetic cannabinoids and other highly intoxicating products. 

What was trickier was figuring out how to regulate “full spectrum” hemp products, which means unaltered extracts of the hemp plant which typically contain at least a 15:1 ratio of CBD to THC. There is some recent evidence that higher ratios of CBD to THC mitigate the intoxicating effect of the THC, but there is still concern that a kid might be able to buy a large package of CBD gummies and eat them all in order to get a high enough quantity of THC to get high. The bill sets limits on products that can be sold without an ID, and establishes new and robust labeling requirements.

SB23-176: Protections For People With An Eating Disorder

It is estimated that more than 30 million Americans will experience an eating disorder during their lifetime, but less than 20% will receive treatment. Unfortunately, weight is a significant barrier to receiving treatment, even though most people with eating disorders are not medically underweight. This bill prohibits Medicaid and state-regulated health benefit plans from denying treatment for an eating disorder based on a patient’s body mass index, ideal body weight, or any other standard requiring an achieved weight. The bill also prohibits the sale of diet pills for individuals under 18. 

HB23-1284: Modifications To The Property Tax Deferral Program

Colorado’s Property Tax Deferral Program provides a last-resort option for those who can’t afford their property tax bills. The program allows homeowners to postpone payment of their property taxes until a specified time frame, death, or transfer of property. The current law allows for unlimited deferral by seniors and active military, and a limited deferral for any other residential property tax payer. For seniors and active military families, HB1284 eliminates a prohibition on rental income, which will allow folks to rent out an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) on their property while still deferring their property tax bills. This is just one small step to help these folks keep up with the high cost of housing.

I can say a lot more about our work this year, but I’ll leave it here for today. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue serving Colorado, and after a little bit more of a break, I’m planning to dive into planning the legislation I will sponsor in my 8th and final year as your State Representative.


The Last 13 Days

The Last 13 Days

We work a lot of long days during the legislative session, but I’ve never had such a streak of long days as I’ve had these past two weeks.

I’m starting to write this email from the House floor at 6:04pm on Saturday evening as we wrap up three straight days of debating a trio of bills to protect access to reproductive health care in Colorado.

We’ve worked the last 13 days in a row, and many of those days started for me at 4:00 or 5:00 A.M. and finished at 10:00 or 11:00 P.M. Tonight will be the 7th time I’ve missed my daughter’s bedtime, only seeing her for half an hour in the morning. It’s been really hard on my whole family, but you know what? 

It’s worth it.

It’s worth it because I know the work we’re doing this session will make our state safer and guarantee my daughter’s freedom to control her own body and be whomever she is meant to be.

Last weekend, it was guns. We passed bills to raise the age to 21 to purchase a firearm, allow victims of gun violence to sue firearms manufacturers and dealers for reckless practices, and expand the red-flag law that allows interventions when there’s a credible risk that someone may use a firearm to cause serious harm to themselves or others. Last month, we passed a bill establishing a three-day waiting period to purchase a firearm, and we will still be considering a bill to prohibit the sale of assault weapons in Colorado.

This weekend, it’s been about protecting access to reproductive health care, including contraception, abortion, and gender-affirming care. Our three bills build on last year’s Reproductive Health Equity Act as follows:

  • SB23-188 protects health care providers from adverse actions that could come from the abortion bans and anti-LGBTQ legislation being passed in other states. Some have called this a Shield Law because it makes Colorado a safe haven for legally protected health care. 
  • SB23-189 eliminates copays and other financial barriers to accessing reproductive health care
  • SB23-190 prohibits deceptive advertising by “crisis pregnancy centers,” some of which lure women to their facilities by suggesting they offer abortion care only to corner women and shame them. If an organization wants to help women find alternatives to abortion, that’s fine. They just can’t use false advertising to do it.

My descriptions of these bills simplify things a bit, but you can click the links above to learn a lot more about what they’re going to do to protect health care access in Colorado.

I just want to add one more thought today. During the debate on SB188, two of my colleagues got up to talk about their trans kids. One spoke about the journey of setting aside the movie that was in her head about what her child’s life would look like, and what it meant to just be there for her kid. The other spoke about how difficult it is to be a trans kid, and how she just wants to make sure her kid survives the 10th grade.

I cried my eyes out.

Maybe it’s because my best friend came out to me in 7th grade and struggled with her gender dysmorphia for years. That was 31 years ago now, in 1992, when Colorado voters passed one of the most discriminatory laws we had ever heard of: the infamous Amendment 2.

But I think it’s also because I have my own child now, and I don’t know what life holds in store for her. I don’t know who she’s going to love, and I don’t know who she’s going to be. All I know is that she’s perfect, and I’m going to do everything I can to give the the best possible life. I’m going to do that as her dad, and I’m going to do that as her State Representative.

And now I’m crying again.

It’s been a very long and draining two weeks. Thanks for reading my scattered thoughts. After a day of rest tomorrow, I’m going to get back at it on Monday morning as the House begins to debate the state budget.


Heating Up

Heating Up

I know the switch to Daylight Savings Time brings with it many problems, but there’s something about the first sunset of the year that happens after 7:00pm that just fills my heart with joy.

Winter in Colorado can be quite beautiful, but this one has felt long and cold. And it’s not just a feeling. Average temperatures across some of the last few months have been 10 degrees Fahrenheit colder than last year. It’s no wonder that people are using more energy to heat their homes, and paying much higher utility bills.

We have just passed the halfway mark of the legislative session, and big things are happening under the Golden Dome. The Joint Budget Committee is hard at work crafting a budget that will continue our progress on increasing our investment in K-12 education through buying down the BS Factor as well as responding to the many challenges facing Colorado families. We have begun to debate and pass significant legislation to prevent gun violence by establishing a three-day waiting period, raising the age to purchase a firearm to 21, expanding the use of our Red Flag law, and addressing our bizarre gun manufacturer liability laws. And on Thursday, we introduced a package of three bills designed to ensure women and pregnant people in Colorado continue to have safe access to abortion care.

Here’s a bit more on some of the things I’ve been spending my time on.

Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates

This winter, Coloradans have faced unprecedented utility bills that have strained their finances in an already tough time. That’s why we’ve established a special committee to dig deeper into what’s driving these costs. Because of my work in previous years to shore up funding for our bill-pay assistance and weatherization assistance programs, I was tapped to serve as Vice Chair of this committee.

It’s clear that the high costs are primarily being driven by our colder-than-average winter and the high prices utilities are paying to purchase natural gas on the commodity market. These gas costs are just passed through to customers without the utilities tacking on a profit margin, but at the same time, these utility companies are benefiting from record profits. So what’s the deal?

Most Coloradans buy their electricity and natural gas from utilities that operate as regulated monopolies. This concept emerged more than a century ago when it became clear that the heavy infrastructure investments required to provide utility service did not create opportunities for competition between multiple utility companies. So a deal was struck. One company would provide utility service, but they would face heavier regulation than the average business and be guaranteed a reasonable rate of return.

Last Tuesday, we heard very informative presentations from the Public Utilities Commission, the Utility Consumer Advocate, Energy Outreach Colorado, and the Colorado Energy Office. Tomorrow, we’ll be hearing from the utility companies themselves. Tune in here.

Making Health Care More Affordable

Two years ago, I sponsored a bill to establish a Prescription Drug Affordability Board in Colorado with the goal of setting an “upper payment limit,” or UPL, on some of the drugs that Colorado families are struggling most to afford. This year, I’m carrying a bill to update this law to expand the number of drugs for which a UPL can be set and make a number of adjustments to address issues that have arisen during the implementation of this innovative policy.

I have also been hard-at-work developing a bill to shore up Colorado’s system of Regional Health Connectors, which play a vital role in connecting health care providers with public health, social service providers, and community organizations to improve integration and coordination in our health care system.

I am also supporting bills to beef up two pieces of legislation I carried in 2019 around hospital cost transparency and hospital community benefit spending. And I’m supporting the work of my colleagues on numerous other bills to reduce cost and expand access in our health care system.

What else should I be focusing on right now? Reply to this email with your ideas or pop by my next town hall to discuss your concerns!


Democrats introduce bills to lower health care costs in Colorado

Democrats introduce bills to lower health care costs in Colorado

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and a group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a slate of new bills Thursday they say are meant to reduce health care costs in the state.

The bills would reduce premiums for Colorado Option plans, lower prescription drug costs and work to increase transparency for hospital profits.

“Saving people money on healthcare has been a top priority for me since Day One, and it’s a big challenge,” Polis, a Democrat, said. “We want to pound away on it every year, to find every cost driver and address it to make sure Coloradans stop having to overpay for prescription drugs, hospital care and the health care that they need.”

House Bill 23-1224 would work to improve the Colorado Option, the state-regulated plan offered by private insurers that passed last year. The bill would lower premiums by making it easier for consumers to shop for plans, requiring the development of a method for displaying the standardized plans.

“The Colorado Option is a marquee piece of legislation and a marquee law in our healthcare platform and I’m incredibly pleased with the progress we’ve made on it,” bill sponsor Sen. Dylan Roberts of Avon said. The bill is also backed by Democratic Reps. Iman Jodeh of Aurora and Kyle Brown of Louisville.

The bill also empowers the state’s insurance commissioner to hold carriers accountable for the cost reduction requirements within Colorado Option standardized plans.

Another bill, House Bill 23-1225, addresses the state’s prescription drug affordability board. It would allow the board to review any number of expensive prescription drugs instead of only a dozen as outlined in the legislation that created the board.

The board, which has not yet reviewed the costs of any drugs, has the authority to set an upper payment limit if it determines that a certain drug is unaffordable for Coloradans.

“There are thousands of medications on the market. Limiting it to 12 makes no sense,” bill sponsor state Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Longmont said. The bill is also sponsored by Reps. Chris deGruy Kennedy of Lakewood and Ruby Dickson of Greenwood Village.

A third bill, House Bill 23-1227, would give more oversight power to the state’s Division of Insurance over pharmacy benefit managers. It would require PBMs to register with the state and require health insurers to pay a fee when filing a list with the insurance commissioner of the PBMs they use.

The bill specifies that the division has the power to enforce certain requirements over PBMs. PBMs are prohibited from, among other things, requiring patients to get medications through the mail, modifying a drug formulary during the plan year and not allowing pharmacists to tell patients about more affordable drug options. It is sponsored by Jodeh, Rep. David Ortiz of Centennial and Republican Sen. Perry Will of New Castle.

“In some cases, PBMs are coming between consumers, health insurance plans, pharmacies and manufacturers while making very, very large profits. PBMs can be a part of the plan to save Coloradans money on prescription drugs, but they have to follow the rules,” Jodeh, one of the bill sponsors, said.

Lawmakers highlighted other pieces of health care cost saving legislation:

  • HB23-1226 would enhance current hospital financial transparency reporting in an effort to highlight what is driving up hospital costs in the state. It is sponsored by Republican Rep. Matt Soper of Delta, deGruy Kennedy, Roberts and Will.
  • A yet to be introduced bill from Democratic Rep. Judy Amabile would require a minimum level of community investment by nonprofit hospitals.

Read more at ColoradoNewsLine.com

House committee tackles first of several fentanyl-related bills

House committee tackles first of several fentanyl-related bills

By Marianne Goodland (February 21, 2023)

The first of three bills attempting to deal once again with fentanyl won approval from a House panel on Tuesday.

House Bill 1167, which applies to the state’s Good Samaritan law, attempts to fix problems that the sponsor said came out of last year’s omnibus legislation on the deadly drug.

As amended by last year’s House Bill 1326, the law now says individuals are immune from arrest and prosecution if they report an overdose to law enforcement or first responders, stay on the scene and cooperate. 

But fentanyl was not included in the right place in the Good Samaritan law, and supporters of HB1167 say that could create felony charges for someone possessing drugs who are trying to do the right thing.

Right now, “people are very afraid to call” for fear of those charges, according to Lisa Raville of the Harm Reduction Action Center.

“We broke the Good Samaritan” law, bill sponsor Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy told Colorado Politics. “We created a new felony fentanyl possession law.”

That, he said, wasn’t intended.

Fentanyl, used legitimately as a medical anesthetic, is a synthetic opioid that has become a dominant player in the illicit market, and it’s increasingly being mixed into other substances. It’s cheaper and produces a stronger, more fleeting “high,” according to experts. But its potency in small quantities makes it unlike any other substance that preceded it in the drug supply, spurring heated debate about how to address it.

On the one hand, advocates like Raville argue that further criminalization won’t improve the situation. On the other hand stands law enforcers and their allies, who say policymakers should treat fentanyl like “the deadly” substance it is.   

No one testified against deGruy Kennedy’s bill in the House Judiciary Committee.

Raville told the committee that people who use drugs are the “true first responders” in an overdose crisis if they have access to naloxone. They’re also the primary witnesses to overdoses but they have a lot of good reasons to not engage with 911 — and the biggest is fear of law enforcement, Raville said, adding last year’s bill eroded the Good Samaritan law.

“We need people to stay” on hand and cooperate, she said.

To highlight the fear people have about calling 911, Aubrey Wild with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless told the story of a man who was recently released from jail and overdosed. Someone called 911 with directions on where to find the man, who was passed out in an alley. He survived, but Wild said it shows the fear that people have of sticking around to wait for law enforcers or first responders or even taking life-saving action during an overdose related medical emergency.

Had the caller stayed with the man, the 911 dispatcher could have walked the caller through emergency assistance, Wild said.

Others haven’t been so lucky, she said.

Tessa Torgesen, who works with people who use drugs by distributing sterile syringes, safe injection supplies, fentanyl test strips and Narcan, said she is seeing firsthand how the weakening of the Good Samaritan law has harmed the progress made in overdose prevention — occurring at a time when overdose deaths are on the rise nationwide.

She recounted the story of a woman whose husband overdosed but didn’t call 911 for fear of being arrested because she possessed fentanyl and her husband was on probation for felony drug charges.

It’s more important now than ever for people who use drugs to feel safe calling 911, said Torgesen, whose own life was saved with Narcan.

The harm reduction community — whose members advocate for intervention programs and oppose tougher penalties for crimes — raised immediate concerns once the legislature adopted the fentanyl legislation last year, said Jose Esquibel, who is with the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.

The law did not link the call Good Sam law to the new penalties for possession, he said, adding his group had to put out an alert to its coalition that the Good Sam law did not apply to fentanyl.

One group that stayed away from the hearing was the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, which is divided on the bill, according to Tim Lane.

However, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann spoke in favor of the measure and affirmative defense, the section that has caused some heartburn for district attorneys. 

Under HB 1167, a person who is charged with distribution of less than four grams of fentanyl but stays on the scene of an overdose has an affirmative defense that can be used if the dealer is prosecuted.

McCann said prosecutors don’t want drug dealers to avoid prosecution but that the intent is really around sharing drugs, not dealing them.

The bill focuses “on situations where people are providing drugs to a friend or a girlfriend, boyfriend, and they are using them together with the intention of consuming the drugs,” and then someone overdoses, she said.

In those kinds of situations, McCann said it’s unlikely a person would be prosecuted.

“It’s more important to come down on the side of saving lives, given the immediacy of an overdose situation,” McCann said. “Although I know there are some in the DA community who are not particularly enamored with this bill, I believe that it’s more important to allow us to save lives in these very difficult” and sad situations.

McCann added they still intend to prosecute those who are involved in widespread distribution.

Broadly speaking, advocates of tougher penalties to crime, particularly the distribution of fentanyl, argue that the state’s lenient approach is contributing to Colorado’s grim overdoses.

Last year, Deputy Chief Adrian Vasquez of the Colorado Springs police department told a House panel that any possession of fentanyl should be a felony, that there is no “relatively safe amount of fentanyl” and public policy should demonstrate its seriousness.

In pushing for the 2022 legislation, supporters of tougher penalties said even one pill can kill and argued there’s no middle ground when dealing with a substance as deadly as fentanyl. 

They said users often don’t know what they’re taking and fentanyl also puts first responders at risk.

Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the deaths of five people in a Commerce City apartment.

Police Chief Gregory Sadar, who also represents the state’s chiefs of police association, asked for an amendment to exempt manufacturers and dealers from the Good Samaritan law.

“Expanding the immunity to those who manufacture and distribute the drug is problematic for us,” Sadar said.

“We continue in Colorado to take a more and more permissive position towards drug use,” said Sadar, who added that it leads to the overdose crisis. “We want to make sure we take a position that incentivize people to call.”

“But it’s also a sad commentary,” he added, that people have to be incentivized to save their neighbors.

HB 1167 was amended at deGruy Kennedy’s behest to exempt the manufacturers, although that drew opposition from two committee Democrats. The bill passed on a 10-2 vote and now heads to the full House.

second bill on fentanyl that intends to address the issue of “knowingly” possessing fentanyl, sponsored by House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, was pulled from the committee’s schedule.

The third bill dealing with fentanyl is in the state Senate.

Sponsored by Sens. Kyle Mullica, D-Thornton and Byron Pelton, R-Sterling, Senate Bill 109 seeks to create a level 1 drug felony, along with mandatory sentencing, for controlled substance distribution that results in death. It’s similar to a provision in HB 1326, but SB 109 applies to more than just fentanyl.

The measure, which is supported by the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, is scheduled for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on March 6.

Read more at ColoradoPolitics.com

Senate & House Democrats Announce Appointments to Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates

DENVER, CO – Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, announced the Democratic members who will serve on the Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates:

From the Senate, appointed by the President of the Senate: 

  • President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder
  • Senator Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County

From the House of Representatives, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives: 

  • Representative Chris deGruy Kennedy, D-Lakewood
  • Representative Matthew Martinez, D-Monte Vista

President Fenberg will serve as Chair of the Committee and Representative deGruy Kennedy will serve as the Vice Chair. “The recent spikes in energy prices have sent Coloradans’ utility bills through the roof, and it’s costing too many working Colorado families an arm and a leg just to heat their homes,” Fenberg said. “Democrats are committed to making Colorado a more affordable place to live, and our work on this critical committee will help us uncover the root cause behind high prices. I look forward to teaming up with my colleagues to find solutions that will better protect consumers, improve stability, and save people money on their energy bills.”

“We owe it to Coloradans to get to the bottom of what is causing skyrocketing utility costs, and I’m honored to be appointed to a Joint Select Committee that is committed to making our state more affordable for everyone,” said deGruy Kennedy “We know many Coloradans are stuck paying higher-than-normal energy bills this year, and our role in this Joint Select Committee is to better understand pricing inconsistency, uncover other factors that lead to high prices and hopefully help prevent future price hikes.” 

“Coloradans are struggling to make ends meet and skyrocketing utility bills are only making matters worse,” Cutter said. “Before us is a unique opportunity to hear from utility companies, regulators, advocates, and every day Coloradans about what role the state can, and should, play in protecting consumers and ensuring Colorado remains an affordable place to live. I’m honored to serve on the Joint Select Committee and I’m committed to working diligently to get Coloradans the answers they deserve.”

“Many Coloradans were prepared for snow and ice this winter season, but many weren’t prepared for the inconsistent and expensive energy bills they received,” said Martinez. “I’m ready to get to work as a member of the bipartisan Joint Select Committee that’s dedicated to uncovering what is leading to higher energy costs for hardworking families across Colorado. Our goal is to look at multiple factors that could be causing the rise in utility prices and explore ways to save Coloradans money on their energy bills.”

Fenberg and McCluskie convened the Joint Select Committee to investigate the causes of Coloradans’ rising utility rates and explore potential actions to prevent future price hikes, saving Colorado’s working families money on their energy bills.

The Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates will seek expert testimony from utility companies, relevant agency staff, regulators, consumer advocates, and policy experts in order to better understand issues such as the impact of volatility in natural gas markets, the frequency and justification for rate increases sought by utilities, and other relevant factors. 

Read more at CoHouseDems.com

Bill would fix oversight in Colorado fentanyl law by expanding protections for users who call 911

Bill would fix oversight in Colorado fentanyl law by expanding protections for users who call 911

New bill would cover fentanyl users, drug sharers who try to stop an overdose

By Seth Klamann (Feb 3, 2023) 

bill introduced in the Colorado House late Thursday would expand a state law that provides immunity to drug users who try to save someone from overdosing, after those same protections were inadvertently undermined by lawmakers during last year’s fight over fentanyl legislation.

The bill would fix that apparent oversight, made when legislators tightened penalties for fentanyl possession in 2022. But it would also expand those immunity protections, available under the state’s Good Samaritan law, to users who report an overdose of other illicit substances but were found to have shared drugs, and the measure would also provide an additional legal defense to some accused low-level dealers.

Supporters, like bill sponsor Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, cast the changes as common-sense solutions intended to save lives and work within the realities of drug use: At low levels, the lines between user and seller are often blurred, and calling for help should be encouraged whenever possible.

But law enforcement and district attorneys indicated they’re leery of some of the changes deGruy Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat, is proposing.

Though representatives for those groups told The Denver Post late Thursday that they’re still examining the bill’s impact, law enforcement spent much of the last legislative session calling for tight penalties for anyone convicted of dealing fentanyl and other drugs, citing the state’s ongoing overdose crisis.

The diverging views of substance use and how to structure state laws to address it echo that bruising legislative fight, which pit public health experts against law enforcement groups and stretched across two contentious months. Ultimately, lawmakers last year lowered the threshold to charge users with felony, rather than misdemeanor, fentanyl possession.

Through that work, lawmakers essentially made a special carveout for fentanyl possession, distinct from Colorado’s broader felony drug framework. In turn, that cut some users out of the state’s Good Samaritan law, which deGruy Kennedy said was the result of lawmakers working on a large piece of legislation at the 11th hour last May.

The top Republican in the House, Minority Leader Mike Lynch, who was a vocal supporter of increasing penalties last year, was unavailable for comment Thursday.

“The bill will make sure that people that are calling in an overdose event to try to save a life, who stay on scene and fully cooperate with law enforcement, are not going to face harsh penalties for choosing to do the right thing,” deGruy Kennedy said.

That cleanup is largely noncontroversial for the constellation of law enforcement, district attorneys and harm-reduction advocates monitoring the bill. There’s more disagreement with how the measure would apply to drug sharing and to certain low-level drug dealers.

The bill would extend the Good Samaritan law to a person who reports an overdose to 911 and cooperates, but was subsequently found to have shared drugs with others. It wouldn’t give immunity to any drug dealers, but if someone who called 911 is suspected of selling small quantities of drugs, they could use that cooperation with first responders as a defense at any subsequent trial.

“What we’re really talking about, in the vast majority of cases, are going to be buddies getting together to share drugs, which may involve splitting the cost of drugs that one of them purchased, which would trigger a distribution crime,” deGruy Kennedy said. “To be clear, they are culpable of a crime in that case, but what I want to assert is that they need to prioritize saving the life of the person overdosing as opposed to running from the police.”

A coalition of Colorado law enforcement groups is still examining the bill but has concerns about the distribution and sharing provisions, a representative said Thursday. Tom Raynes, the executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, said prosecutors are in a similar position.

District attorneys for Denver, Adams and Broomfield counties — with whom deGruy Kennedy said he consulted in crafting the bill — were unavailable for comment late Thursday afternoon.

Experts in substance use, like the Harm Reduction Action Center’s Lisa Raville, have long maintained that sharing drugs and pooling money are common among substance users and don’t fit neatly into drug laws. Raville, whose Denver facility provides clean needles and smoking kits to substance users, praised the bill on Thursday.

She said the new fentanyl penalties enacted last year had discouraged many substance users from calling 911.

“It was very clear that folks were very concerned,” she said. “There was no good message, no one could feel confident in calling 911, so they simply weren’t. As the largest provider of harm reduction services in the state, I could not feel confident for them to call 911 either.”

Read more at DenverPost.com

Opening Day for the 74th General Assembly

Opening Day for the 74th General Assembly

When Speaker Julie McCluskie addressed the House this morning, she asked all members entering their final term to stand and be recognized. There were only six of us, out of sixty five. 

So many of my colleagues who started this journey with me six years ago have moved on to the Senate, run for another office, or gone on to other pursuits. That means I’m one of the most senior members of the State House, which is strange to say the least. I feel like I just got here!

But then again, as I look back at all of the work we’ve done over this time, it’s amazing that we were able to do it all in only six years.

This experience has also given me a new perspective on the work. The same themes I talked about on my first campaign–cost of living, climate change, education funding, civil rights, and more–continue to resonate today. We’ve made tremendous progress in every category, but the amount of work that remains speaks to the ongoing challenge of governing. No problem is every 100% solved. Crises and other societal changes present new angles to existing challenges. A democracy requires constant maintenance.

The idealistic grad school student I was 15 years ago would perhaps be disappointed, but the reality is that we have indeed made big changes that have made people’s lives significantly better. And we have to keep making those changes, every year. As with so many aspects of life, in public service we must focus more on the journey than on the destination.

The journey that lies ahead this session is just starting to come into focus. Voters were crystal clear last November that they want leaders who roll up their sleeves and solve real problems, not ideological crusaders who are all noise and no substance. As such, they elected historically large Democratic majorities of 46-19 in the House and 23-12 in the Senate. 

I feel so honored that I will be serving as Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives for my final two years as we take on the work with which voters have entrusted us. In this position, I will be helping guide the legislature in the great work of governing for all of the people of our beautiful state.

We are going to build on our previous work to make housing, health care, and child care more affordable. We’re going to address the pressing air quality concerns that are negatively impacting the health of our residents and the depletion of the Colorado River and other river basins. We’re going to invest as heavily as we can in K-12 and higher education. We’re going to do everything we can to reduce the scourge of gun violence that takes too many lives in this country every single day. And we’re going to make sure that Colorado remains a state where women know they can access abortion care without government interference.

There’s much more to talk about, and I look forward to sharing more with you in future newsletters and town hall meetings. Until then, thank you again for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime in four consecutive elections. This work is the most meaningful I’ve ever done, and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got for another two years.


P.S. You may have noticed I’ve started officially using my new last name, deGruy Kennedy (pronounced like “degree” Kennedy). Kyra and I got married over two years ago, but I only made this change official after the 2022 elections. Guess I didn’t want to order new yard signs…

Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy appointed as Speaker Pro Tempore

Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy appointed as Speaker Pro Tempore

By HANNAH METZGER hannah.metzger@coloradopolitics.com Dec 12, 2022

State Rep. Chris Kennedy has been appointed to serve as speaker pro tempore for the Colorado House of Representatives during the upcoming legislative session.

Incoming House Speaker Julie McCluskie picked Kennedy, D-Lakewood, and announced the appointment on Monday.

“Kennedy’s institutional knowledge, proven leadership and dedication to making Colorado a better place for everyone are exactly why he will make an excellent speaker pro tempore,” McCluskie said. “Kennedy has stepped up to fight for Coloradans, their families and the caucus values we all share. Chris will make a wonderful addition to our new leadership team and I could not be happier to have him take on this important role.”

As speaker pro tempore, Kennedy will preside over the House when the speaker is absent. Speaker pro tempore is one of the only leadership positions appointed by the speaker instead of being elected by the majority caucus.

Kennedy has served in the House since 2017, being reelected for his fourth and final term in November.

Secretary of State approves recount in Colorado’s House District 43 race
Secretary of State approves recount in Colorado’s House District 43 race
By HANNAH METZGER hannah.metzger@coloradopolitics.com

Kennedy ran for House speaker in November, losing out to McCluskie, D-Dillon, after being eliminated in the first of two rounds of voting. Kennedy has been angling for party leadership for years, serving as assistant majority leader during the 72nd General Assembly and losing the role of majority leader to Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, in 2020.

Kennedy is the outgoing chair of the State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. During the upcoming session, he will serve as vice chair of the Health and Insurance Committee and as a member of the Finance Committee.

“I am humbled and excited to take on the role of speaker pro tempore,” Kennedy said. “Throughout my years at the Capitol, I have taken on a variety of roles and responsibilities and I’m incredibly proud of everything we’ve achieved together for the people of Colorado. In this new role, I will have the honor of joining the most diverse leadership team in House history to help guide and support the work that lies ahead as we take on the state’s most significant challenges.”

The state’s 74th General Assembly is scheduled to convene on Jan. 9.

Read the story at ColoradoPolitics.com.

Eleven Statewide Ballot Measures

Thanks so much to all of you who joined one or both of our town hall meetings in September and October! We heard some great presentations from those supporting and opposing many of the eleven statewide ballot measures we’ll all be voting on this November.

If you haven’t yet, make sure to read your Blue Book to get the full picture on some incredibly consequential votes you’ll be casting.

I’m also providing very quick summaries with my endorsements below. Enjoy, and VOTE!


Statewide Measures

Amendment D
This measure simply helps allocate judges in the new 23rd Judicial District, which was created when the legislature opted to split the 18th District in half. There’s no downside. I’m voting yes.

Amendment E
This measure creates a small tax benefit to help people who have lost their spouse in war. I’m voting yes.

Amendment F
This measure tweaks some rules for nonprofits using bingo or raffle for fundraising to make it a little bit less cumbersome. I’m voting yes.

Proposition FF
This measure significantly expands healthy food programs in schools, paid for by limiting income tax deductions for households making more than $300,000 per year. I’m voting yes.

Proposition GG
This measure will add a new tax impact table to the ballot for future measures that would increase or reduce the state income tax rate. This information will help voters make educated decisions about how a measure will impact their pocketbook compared to the impact on funding for state programs. I’m voting yes.

Proposition 121
This measure slashes income tax rates in a way that will create long-term problems for funding of K-12, higher education, and other state priorities. I’m voting no.

Proposition 122
This measure creates a structure for medical use of natural psychedelic substances (the most well known of which are psilocybin mushrooms) and decriminalizes simple possession. I think the medical research shows incredible promise for how these substances can help people with PTSD, depression, and other mental health disorders. I’m voting yes.

Proposition 123
The measure carves out a portion of the dollars above the TABOR revenue limit to be used for affordable housing programs. In surplus years (like this one), this means we’ll be sending out a smaller amount of TABOR refunds to taxpayers. In non-surplus years, this funding may compete with other state priorities, but because it’s a statutory measure, the legislature will have discretion and will not be forced to cut other programs in order to fund the transfers into the housing fund. This last piece is a bit complicated, and for that reason, I’ve wrestled with this ballot measure. At the end of the day, however, there’s no denying the great need for more affordable housing, and I’m confident the legislature can solve the out-year problem. I’m voting yes.

Proposition 124, 125, & 126
These ballot measures deregulate different parts of Colorado’s alcohol laws and are intended to benefit certain businesses and increase consumer convenience. However, there are potential negative impacts to other businesses. Prop 124 allows liquor retailers to expand how many stores they can open. Prop 125 allows grocery and convenience stores to sell wine (in addition of full-strength beer, which they’ve been able to sell for a couple years now). Prop 126 allows delivery by third party delivery apps and removes an existing legal requirement that delivery be done by a store’s employee, allowing independent contractors to deliver.

You should definitely read the Blue Book on these three to understand all potential benefits and concerns, but here’s how I’d simply express my views. I’d prefer to stand with small retailers over large ones. I’d like Colorado’s small breweries to have a real shot at getting their beers on shelves at local liquor stores. I’d like delivery of alcohol to be held to the highest standards to prevent access by minors. And I want to support businesses who hire full-time employees over businesses who use gig workers to avoid paying benefits. For these reasons, I’m voting no on all three measures.

Local Measures

Jeffco Issue 1A
This measure de-bruces state funds going to the county. What this means is that grants from the state won’t force the county to issue larger refunds and can instead put our tax dollars to the best possible uses. I’m voting yes.

Jeffco Issue 1B & 1C
These measures authorize and tax, respectively, marijuana sales and manufacturing in the unincorporated parts of the county. I’m voting yes.

NW Lakewood Sanitation Issue 6A
This measure de-bruces property tax revenues for this crucial community service. It doesn’t raise tax rates and will invest dollars in important infrastructure for our community. I don’t live in the boundaries of this special district, but I support the measure.