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.

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.” 


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?”


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. 


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.


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.

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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.”


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.”

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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.


$4.8 Million Utility Assistance Program Launches

$4.8 Million Utility Assistance Program Launches

Provided by Colorado Senate Democrats (September 11, 2020)

Critical relief funds available for struggling Coloradans in the wake of COVID-19

DENVER, CO – Today, state lawmakers and Energy Outreach Colorado announced that $4.8 million in utility assistance for consumers is now available. HB20-1412, sponsored by Senators Tammy Story and Rachel Zenzinger and Representatives Chris Kennedy and Lisa Cutter, directed the federal CARES Act funding to Energy Outreach Colorado’s Bill Payment Assistance Program to provide critical relief to those who are facing economic hardship due to COVID-19.  

“In the wake of COVID-19, Coloradans are facing unemployment at unprecedented rates. This in turn, is creating ripple effects across the economy and putting many people’s basic needs at risk,” said Sen. Zenzinger, D- Arvada. “And with winter barreling towards us, it is more important than ever that we protect home energy reliability. I encourage anyone that is struggling to afford their utilities to apply today!”

“As temperatures swing from near 100 degrees to below freezing, many Coloradans are looking for a little help to pay their utility bills and make ends meet during this pandemic,” said Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County. “Energy Outreach Colorado will use the funding we allocated to help thousands of hardworking Coloradans avoid having to choose between putting food on their table or falling behind on their bills, and I urge anyone who may need help to reach out for assistance.”

“Falling behind on utility bills isn’t just stressful, it’s debilitating. And unfortunately, it’s all too common for hardworking families right now,” said Sen. Story, D-Evergreen. “People need to know that their heating isn’t just going to disappear one day because they haven’t been able to make payments. That’s why we have dedicated millions to utility assistance programs– so families aren’t forced to choose between rent and their electricity.” 

“The need for utility assistance has never been higher, and winter is just around the corner,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood. “The legislation we passed set aside $4.8 million for direct utility relief for consumers. If you need help paying your utility bills, Energy Outreach can provide some assistance, especially if you haven’t been able to access other forms of relief, such as unemployment benefits or direct stimulus payments from the IRS.” 

In May, the General Assembly passed HB20-1412, which put $4.8 million of federal CARES Act funding towards bolstering energy assistance initiatives. Energy Outreach Colorado, a local nonprofit that leads a network of industry, state, and local partners to assist Coloradans in affording their energy needs, is working in conjunction with state officials to allocate the funds to those in need. 

“People are struggling to get safely through this pandemic, and EOC is committed to providing as much support and assistance as we can to relieve some of their worries,” said Jennifer Gremmert, Executive Director of EOC.

To be eligible, residents must meet certain income qualifications and be currently facing a utility shortage or impending shutoff. People can apply at or call 1-866-432-8435 for help. Applicants will then work directly with a caseworker at a corresponding partner agency, who will guide them through the process, determine eligibility, and authorize bill payments.


Guest commentary: Hickenlooper has proven he is effective leader for affordable health care

Guest commentary: Hickenlooper has proven he is effective leader for affordable health care

By Chris Kennedy (September 1, 2020)

As our country deals with an unprecedented global pandemic, I’m tempted to tell you stories about John Hickenlooper, crisis governor, who effectively guided Colorado through fires, floods, and mass shootings. But instead, I’m going to tell you about Gov. John Hickenlooper’s bold initiatives to reform our broken health care system. Gov. Hickenlooper’s commitment to improving access and reducing costs in our health care system contrasts sharply to the more-than-disappointing record of Sen. Cory Gardner.

As a Colorado House of Representatives staffer from 2010-2013 and as a representative myself since 2017, I saw firsthand what Gov. Hickenlooper did for people struggling to afford high-quality health care coverage. The Affordable Care Act, while imperfect, was a huge step forward for many reasons, including protections for people with preexisting conditions. In 2011, one of then-Congressman Gardner’s very first votes in Congress was to repeal the ACA. That same year, Gov. Hickenlooper signed a bill establishing Connect for Health Colorado, a cost-effective and transparent tool to help people shop for health insurance. And he appointed a health care reformer, Sue Birch, to head the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing where she led efforts to integrate behavioral and physical health care and move away from fee-for-service and towards paying-for-value in our Medicaid program.

In May 2013, as Congressman Gardner voted for the 37 th time to gut the ACA, Hickenlooper signed the Medicaid expansion bill, giving coverage to half a million more Coloradans. Also in 2013, Hickenlooper signed an executive order establishing the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, a first-of-its-kind collaboration that has helped Colorado emerge as a national leader on fighting the opioid crisis, which is killing nearly 50,000 Americans each year even while COVID-19 has killed 173,000 this year.

In 2014, Congressional Republicans–including Cory Gardner–finally achieved one of their goals and defunded the risk corridors program, which was a critical component of the ACA designed to ensure costs wouldn’t spike in rural regions like Colorado’s western slope, where people pay some of the highest insurance premiums in the whole country. This action directly contributed to the huge increases in premiums over the next several years. The premium increases were so bad that many people opted out of buying health insurance at all. The reduced enrollment elevated the risk of a potential collapse of the individual market that would shift higher costs onto everyone else. Toward the end of the 2017 session, Gov. Hickenlooper’s team approached me about sponsoring a bill to study the potential for a “reinsurance” program to reduce premiums, stabilize the market, and prevent the cost shift.

In 2018,  Hickenlooper supported me and my colleagues as we took on the corporate health care interests to establish a reinsurance program. We passed the bill in the House with bipartisan support, but it was killed by the GOP Senate majority. But we tried again in 2019 with Democratic majorities in both House and Senate, passing the reinsurance bill which reduced premiums on the individual market by an average of 20.2% in the first year.

Governor Hickenlooper also had our back on demanding cost transparency from hospitals and drug companies, protecting consumers from surprise bills at free-standing emergency rooms, and several other strategies to reduce the high cost of health care. And, he appointed more reformers to top positions in his cabinet including Donna Lynne, Michael Conway, and Kim Bimestefer.

As governor, Hickenlooper worked tirelessly to clean up the mess Gardner helped create. And now we need him to do it again. Over his decade in Washington, Cory Gardner has shown us exactly who he is–a Trump loyalist who consistently sides with big corporations at the expense of regular, hard-working Americans. Even during this pandemic, Gardner has worked with Trump to rip care from hundreds of thousands of Coloradans and gut protections for millions of Coloradans with pre-existing conditions.

I’m voting for John Hickenlooper this November because I’ve seen his character and commitment to getting things done for regular folks. I’m voting for John because he wants to build on the ACA, not repeal it. I’m voting for John because he knows we can add competition to the market and further reduce costs by creating a public option, allowing Medicare to negotiate with big drug companies to get better prices, and expand access to telemedicine.

Especially during these difficult times, we need leaders who will fight for a better future for all of our neighbors. Please join me in voting for John Hickenlooper for U.S. Senate this November.

Chris Kennedy represents House District 23 in Lakewood and Central Jeffco and serves as Assistant Majority Leader.


The memory of Beau Biden permeates Democrats’ run for the White House

The memory of Beau Biden permeates Democrats’ run for the White House

By Ernest Luning (August 21, 2020)

Few figures loom over the events at this year’s Democratic National Convention — and the race for the White House that’s about to hit high gear — as much as Beau Biden, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s late son, who died of an aggressive form of brain cancer five years ago at age 46.

His father, the former vice president, has said his 2020 run has been inspired by a desire to fulfill his son’s promise, to make him proud.

Joe Biden’s choice of a running mate, too, owes plenty to Beau Biden, who was serving his second term as Delaware’s attorney general when he died. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a former California attorney general, was close friends with the younger Biden, and the strength of that relationship played a key role in the elder Biden inviting her to join the ticket.

Just days after nominating his father for a second term as vice president at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Beau Biden flew to the pivotal swing state of Colorado to speak at the Eleanor Roosevelt Dinner, thrown by the Democratic Party in Jefferson County, considered one of the premier battleground counties in the country that year.

At the time, Beau was already attracting attention as a potential presidential candidate. If there was going to be a President Biden, local Democrats buzzed, there was a good chance it would be the young man speaking that night at their annual fundraiser.

“He was really kind and open and enthusiastic to meet people. You could see his father in him that way,” state Rep. Chris Kennedy, the Jeffco Democrats’ chair in 2012, recalled this week, adding that it had been a coup to land a speaker on such a trajectory.

“He knocked people’s socks off. People really liked what he had to say. A lot of people, including people who’ve been to a hundred of these dinners, just loved it. He left a huge impression — he was definitely a rising star.”

Joe Biden, it turns out, had similar thoughts.

In his 2017 memoir recounting the year his son died, “Promise Me, Dad,” Joe Biden wrote, “Beau Biden, at age forty-five, was Joe Biden 2.0. He had all the best of me, but with the bugs and flaws engineered out. I was pretty sure Beau could run for president some day and, with his brother’s help, he could win.”

Earlier this year, before a come-from-behind win in the South Carolina primary stemmed a series of losses in early contests and propelled him to the nomination, Biden told “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough that his son’s memory weighed on his moves.

“Beau should be the one running for president, not me,” Biden said. “Every morning I get up, Joe, not a joke, and I think to myself, ‘Is he proud of me?'”

Biden’s first wife, Neila, and their daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident that severely injured brothers Beau and Hunter in 1972, soon after he was first elected to the Senate from Delaware.

Before he was elected attorney general, Beau Biden worked as a federal prosecutor. He served more than a decade in the Delaware Army National Guard and deployed with his unit to Iraq in 2008 and 2009.

Beau Biden’s speech at the 2012 DNC fell on the final night of the convention in Charlotte, before his father and President Barack Obama would bring down the house accepting the nominations inside the packed Time Warner Cable Arena.

“For me, the most memorable moment of the past four years was not something most Americans saw,” Beau Biden said at the DNC. “It wasn’t even on American soil. It took place in Iraq, at Camp Victory, where I was stationed. It was the Fourth of July in 2009. My father was there on an unannounced visit to salute our troops. I watched as he led a naturalization ceremony in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces for a couple hundred men and women from all branches of our military.

“As he led those new Americans through the oath of citizenship, this celebration of democracy in the land of a deposed dictator, I was struck by the strength and diversity of our country. I was reminded why we as a nation are stronger when everybody has a chance to do their part.”

About an hour before Beau Biden spoke, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon who died last month, took the stage, followed by a young Denver attorney and Army Ranger veteran named Jason Crow, who was elected to Congress in 2018 and is seeking a second term this year.

The day before, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette helped kick off the proceedings with a tribute to the women serving with her in Congress, and a few hours later then-Gov. John Hickenlooper talked about Colorado’s recovery from the Great Recession. Soon after, California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris appeared on stage.

In Harris’ first public appearance after being designated Biden’s running mate earlier this month, she spoke about her bond with Beau.

“Ever since I received Joe’s call, I’ve been thinking about the first Biden I really came to know — Joe’s son, Beau,” she said. She recalled that she “spoke on the phone practically every day, sometimes multiple times a day” with Beau on efforts to resolve the foreclosure crisis.

Biden also referenced their friendship in a post about his vice presidential pick: “I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”

At the Democrats’ fundraising dinner in Jefferson County eight years ago, Beau Biden built on comments he’d made a few days earlier in Charlotte, swinging hard at Republican nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and their budget proposals.

He also jabbed at a flub Ryan had recently made when the notorious fitness buff boasted he’d run a marathon in what would have been Olympic-qualifying time of under three hours.

“I believe his math. I don’t believe his marathon times,” Biden told the Jeffco Democrats, adding that he found it “remarkable” that Ryan had gotten so confused.

“He continues to revise it upward, he’s around four hours now. My mom ran a marathon in about four hours, a little over four hours — I think my mom could take him,” he said, referring to Jill Biden.

These days, Lakewood Democrat Brittany Pettersen, a state senator in her first term after serving three terms in the Colorado House of Representatives, is raising seven-month-old Davis, who was born at the start of the legislative session. But eight years ago, she was in the thick of her first run for office, for an open House seat considered among the most competitive in the state that year.

Recalling the county party dinner and a conversation she had with Biden, Pettersen said, “He was really serious. He took his commitment to his country and his service very seriously, what it means to serve in public office. But even though his speech was incredibly serious and everybody felt the weight of the election and what it meant, in person he was so warm.

“The chatter in the room was, ‘This is a future president.’ We felt so lucky to have him with us.”


Gov. Polis signs 4 health insurance bills in Silverthorne, including extension of reinsurance program

Gov. Polis signs 4 health insurance bills in Silverthorne, including extension of reinsurance program

By Libby Stanford (July 6, 2020)

SILVERTHORNE — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed four bills into law Monday, June 6, at the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, expanding access to health care for Coloradans. 

The first bill he signed, Senate Bill 20-215 the Health Insurance Affordability Enterprise, is championed by Summit County leaders. 

Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, sponsored the bill, which extends the state’s reinsurance program for five years and expands coverage to those who were left out of the program. 

“When I decided to run for public office three years ago, the one issue that came up most often in any of the five counties that I traveled … the biggest issue was affordable health care,” McCluskie said in an interview. 

Colorado’s reinsurance program aims to drive down insurance costs by reimbursing insurers for the highest cost claims, according to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. In its first year of operation, people across colorado saved about 20% on insurance premiums on the individual market. Summit County residents have saved even more — around 47%, according to Polis — because of the Peak Health Alliance, a nonprofit insurance purchasing organization. 

“The mission of Peak Health Alliance really is to make health insurance more affordable,” Peak Health Alliance CEO Tamara Pogue said in an interview. “Any strategy that does that, we support. … If there’s one thing we all know about health care, given how complicated it is, it’s going to take a lot of different strategies to really make it affordable for all of our residents.”

Pogue said the reinsurance program helps Peak Health Alliance do its job by providing a protection mechanism for insurance carriers. 

“When Peak started, everyone sort of thought we were crazy,” she said. “Typically when we talk about health care, we don’t talk about local solutions to health care. We’re really grateful to this administration that they’ve recognized that these local solutions can be part of solving the problem.”

Along with extending the state’s reinsurance program, the law aims to provide more access to insurance for low-income people who receive federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. In its first year of operation, the program caused those people to spend more on health insurance than they did before, McCluskie said.

“It was an unintended consequence,” she said. “So with (the law), we have set aside dollars to protect low-income Coloradans from having that happen again.”

The law also addresses families who fall into the “family glitch,” which applies to households that had one family member eligible for health care through their employer but the rest of the family wasn’t eligible or they were eligible at a greater cost. It also expands coverage to undocumented immigrants. Funding is now in place to help those families and individuals enroll in the individual marketplace, McCluskie said.

While the reinsurance program applies to a minority of people, it helps everyone, including those who receive insurance through their employer, said Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, who also sponsored the bill. 

“With this bill, we are stabilizing the entire insurance market,” he said at the event. “When we increase the number of people enrolling on the individual insurance market … we’re going to dramatically increase insurance enrollment … There will be a really positive effect on total enrollment, which is going to stabilize prices and reduce cost shifting into other markets.”

In addition to the reinsurance program, Polis signed three other bills. 


Guest Commentary: Polis should sign bill to mandate insurance coverage of pain management care

Guest Commentary: Polis should sign bill to mandate insurance coverage of pain management care

By Chris Kennedy (July 2, 2020)

Colorado has been busy fighting the coronavirus pandemic so it’s easy to forget we’re also fighting an opioid epidemic. And since many people are currently experiencing feelings of isolation and anxiety over finances, opioid addiction is expected to get even worse.

The abuse and misuse of prescription drugs in Colorado is one of the state’s major public health crises. In 2019, Colorado experienced an unprecedented 1,062 drug overdose deaths, and fentanyl overdoses doubled between 2018 and 2019. And since the pandemic began, more Americans report feeling depressed and anxious as we’ve seen the use of anti-anxiety drugs increase 34%.

None of this bodes well for treating and preventing substance abuse.

Over the last few years, Colorado has made significant investments in treating and preventing opioid addiction, which claims the lives of more than 500 Coloradans a year.

However, amidst budget troubles, many of those life-saving programs have recently sustained big cuts — millions of dollars. There is less (or no funding) for vital services like a Medicaid program to cover in-patient and residential treatment for drugs and alcohol addiction; training doctors and nurses to screen their patients for substance abuse and refer them to treatment, and funding for sober living homes.

But a potential bright spot in this challenging time is House Bill 1085, which would make treatments like physical therapy, occupational therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture more affordable in an effort to stop opioid addiction. The proposal requires insurers to cover at least six alternative therapy visits at a cost-sharing amount not to exceed the regular amount charged for a primary care visit. HB 1085 passed the legislature on June 11. This means, if signed by Gov. Jared Polis, patients would no longer have to pay more to address underlying pain than they would to get an opioid prescription to mask the pain, potentially leading to an addiction issue.

And even better: This type of approach not only saves lives, but it also saves money.

That’s why, for example, UnitedHealthcare introduced a new benefit for people with acute low back pain that makes it more affordable to access physical therapy and chiropractic care. Based on a UnitedHealthcare analysis, by 2021, this benefit design has the potential to reduce the number of spinal imaging tests by 22%, spinal surgeries by 21%, opioid use by 19%, and lower the total cost of care for eligible plan participants and employers.

These findings align with peer-reviewed research published in the medical journal Spine that showed early physical therapy was associated with a decreased risk of: advanced imaging, additional physician visits, surgery, injections and opioid use. In fact, total medical costs for lower-back pain were $2,736 lower for patients receiving early physical therapy.

In addition, the bill requires better insurance coverage for safer, atypical opioids that often can’t be accessed by patients without jumping through hoops and paying more than they’d have to pay for traditional opioids. HB 1085 also continues the seven-day prescription limit and the mandate that doctors must check a patient’s record on the prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing a refill of opioids. In addition, among other things, the bill updates the curriculum for health care provider education programs.

House Bill 1085 is a result of a bipartisan committee of state senators and representatives who met to consider possible policies to fight the prescription drug misuse. It acknowledges that a frequent starting point for an opioid is musculoskeletal pain and that when a physician visit to obtain an opioid is cheaper than addressing the underlying pain, we have a significant problem.

That’s why I join with doctors, physical therapists, mental health professionals and consumer advocates to urge Gov. Jared Polis to sign this important legislation. Colorado’s prevention and treatment programs have taken major steps backward, and especially in light of recent budget cuts, Coloradans are counting on his signature to continue addressing and ending the opioid crisis.


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Colorado governor vetoes bill that sought to reduce prescription opioid abuse by Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun

Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Covered Alternative Therapies to Reduce Opioid Use by Andrew Kennedy, CPR News