Ten Big Huge Pieces of Legislation

Ten Big Huge Pieces of Legislation

By Chris Kennedy (July 15, 2021)

Friends and Neighbors,

Every legislative session brings its own challenges, and I’ve previously written about the work we did this session to prioritize pandemic-and-economic relief and recovery. Now that the dust has settled and bills have been signed into law by Governor Polis, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about the bills I spent the bulk of my time developing, stakeholding, and passing over the last several months.                   

In addition to maintaining my focus on reducing the high cost of healthcare and expanding prevention and treatment programs for substance use disorders, I dug in on democracy reforms, energy efficiency and utility assistance programs, rural broadband infrastructure, civil law, and health care services for people with severe disabilities. Read about my bills below, and click here to read the House Democrats’ comprehensive end-of-session report.

HB21-1047: County Commissioner Districts Gerrymandering                                              
In 2018, Colorado voters overwhelmingly chose to adopt Amendments Y and Z, which established guardrails to prevent gerrymandering for state legislative and congressional districts. My bill applies similar standards to county commissioner districts in counties that elect some or all of their commissioners by district (rather than countywide),  establishing clear criteria for fair and representative maps and requiring robust public participation.

HB21-1071: Ranked Choice Voting In Nonpartisan Elections                   
This bill seeks to encourage voter engagement and expand voter choice by making it easier for local governments to use a ranked-choice voting system. The bill allows municipalities to run ranked-choice elections through a county coordinated election, and directs the Secretary of State’s office to create statewide rules regarding voting systems and auditing practices for municipalities that opt into a ranked-choice voting system. Ranked-choice voting is secure, saves money, and empowers voters to rank candidates in order of their preference rather than being forced to select only one.

HB21-1105: Low-income Utility Payment Assistance Contributions
This bill creates a sustainable funding mechanism to support utility bill payment assistance, weatherization retrofits, and a cross-enrollment with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to maximize the number of Coloradans who can access these programs. Not only will these expanded programs help families afford their utility bills, but the increased weatherization investments will reduce energy consumption in the first place and help protect our environment.

HB21-1188: Additional Liability Under Respondeat Superior
In 2017, the Colorado Supreme Court made it easier for employers to shift liability for negligent or harmful actions to an employee and thus protect themselves from additional liability (Ferrer v. Okbamicael). This bill holds corporations accountable by allowing a plaintiff to bring direct negligence claims against an employer who has already admitted vicarious liability for its employee’s negligence.

HB21-1276: Prevention Of Substance Use Disorders
In 2019, Colorado experienced an unprecedented 1,062 drug overdose deaths. This bill requires health insurance plans to reduce copays for safer alternatives to conventional opioids including physical therapy, acupuncture, and atypical opioids. The bill also continues the 7-day limit for opioid prescriptions and the requirement that prescribers check the prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing, establishes new guardrails on benzodiazepine prescriptions, forms a university collaborative to bring together experts to identify and implement the best evidence-based prevention programs, and funds expanded prescriber education programs.

HB21-1289: Funding For Broadband Deployment
The need for broadband access and reliability has burdened Colorado communities for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic made this need even more apparent. This bill provides $75 million to increase internet access and reliability across the state through the deployment of devices, and the development of middle and last-mile infrastructure to support essential services like telehealth and education. 

HB21-1321: Voter Transparency In Ballot Measures
Because of TABOR, the title for any ballot measure raising taxes must be in ALL CAPS and must begin with “SHALL TAXES BE INCREASED BY $###,###,###. However, there’s no requirement that a ballot measure reducing taxes show where the cuts will come from. This bill adds new requirements to ballot titles and blue books to make sure voters have all the information they need to make informed decisions about ballot measures that have such a profound impact on our state.

SB21-038: Expansion of Complementary And Alternative Medicine
Coloradans with long-term physical disabilities like spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, brain injuries, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy currently face difficulties accessing affordable integrative therapies. There is strong evidence that alternative treatments including massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic services dramatically improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and keep them off of opioids and out of the hospital, which saves money. For nearly a decade, Colorado has studies these impacts through a five-county pilot program for people with spinal cord injuries. Building on the success of the pilot, this bill expands the program to include persons with the aforementioned conditions in every county in Colorado.

SB21-137: Behavioral Health Recovery Act
For a long time, Colorado has underfunded mental health services and so Coloradans struggle to get the mental health care that they need. Last year, we were forced to cut funding even further for many behavioral health programs because of COVID-19. This bill invests $114 million in various behavioral health programs that address substance abuse, maternal and child health, and other behavioral health prevention and treatment programs around the state.  It also established a process that will take place this summer and fall to take a look at our behavioral health system and target investments from the American Rescue Plan to make transformative changes and create a true system so that every Coloradan can access behavioral health services when and how they need them.

SB21-175: Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board
Nearly one in three Coloradans across the state currently struggles to afford the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy. This bill will help reduce the high cost of prescription drugs by establishing the Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board, which will research, review, and limit costs for up to 12 unaffordable prescription drugs each year.

For me, the best parts of this job are that I get to help people every day and that I get to learn new things every day. I’ve already started working on legislation for 2022, and I can’t wait to share with you what I have in store. Make sure to send me your ideas too!

Chris


P.S. Check out these news stories written about many of these pieces of legislation:

73rd General Assembly adjourns, with historic moves made on transportation, tax policy, mental health care

Colorado looks to lower high prescription drug costs by reviewing prices, setting ceilings

9 bills that will likely shape Colorado in years to come from the 73rd General Assembly

Colorado Has New Laws For Health Insurance And Drug Prices. What’s Next?

Polis signs Colorado Option bill into law, along with bill meant to reduce prescription drug prices

Polis signs bills on mental and behavioral health and substance abuse

Governor signs bills on elections, tribal nations and broadband expansion

Power provider plans to bring fiber-optic broadband service to rural parts of El Paso County

Polis signs bill to increase broadband access in rural Colorado

Polis signs substance use prevention bill but warns against future health insurance mandates

Colorado law boosts utility bill payment assistance for low-income households

Stand with Colorado families, not Big Pharma

Stand with Colorado families, not Big Pharma

By Yadira Caraveo and Chris Kennedy (May 26, 2021)

Nearly one in three Coloradans across the state currently struggles to afford the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy. The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated this struggle for too many, and prescription drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them. 

Pharmaceutical costs are the fastest-growing consumer health expense in the United States and account for over 20% of health insurance premiums. This is not a new issue and is in fact one that people have been asking lawmakers to address for years.  People can’t heal, go back to work, survive, or thrive without access to the medicine they rely upon.

This session, it’s time to stand with the people of Colorado and not with Big Pharma. We have introduced Senate Bill 175, to help reduce the astronomical costs of prescription drugs by creating a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB). This independent board, within the Division of Insurance, would be responsible for researching, reviewing, and limiting costs for the most unaffordable prescription drugs.  

The board would be made up of health-care and health-care financing experts, who would investigate exorbitant costs and price increases for the most expensive drugs. They will be limited to establishing more affordable costs for up to 12 drugs per year in their first three years, and the board is designed with a robust stakeholder and collaborative decision-making process that gives ample opportunity for everyone from consumers to manufacturers to weigh in. It’s estimated that this board could save Colorado up to 75% per year on the most unaffordable drugs. 

Unfortunately, every time we try to take steps to reduce the costs of prescription drugs for hard-working families, we hear the same empty threats from Big Pharma. It’s an old and tired playbook corporations rely on to scare voters and scare lawmakers into not doing their jobs. 

The truth is, there are many people around the world who already have access to drugs at lower costs — and Coloradans are footing the bill. In fact, Coloradans pay about 65% to 85% more for prescription drugs than people in other countries. Big Pharma is already giving different discounts to different customers, and 17 other states are already considering or have passed similar legislation. What the PDAB will do is ensure these costs are more transparent and affordable for everyone to improve access to medications for Coloradans. 

There are also consumer protection provisions in laws that would limit the ability of manufacturers to advertise in Colorado without the intent to sell, and the bill gives sufficient authority to the attorney general to protect Colorado consumers in this situation.  

Regardless of what scare tactics opponents are using, a bipartisan 75% of Coloradans support lawmakers taking action to create a prescription drug affordability board to reduce the costs of prescription drugs.   

That’s because we all know that one sure way to ensure people can’t access critical drugs is to make them unaffordable. Right now, we also know that this industry is profiting in the trillions of dollars selling medications that people rely upon to live. In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have spent almost twice as much on marketing as on research and development. In addition, over a third of research and development in the United States is funded through taxpayer dollars and philanthropic grants.  

Industry threats about innovation and access are unproven. It’s time to take bold steps to address the prescription drug affordability crisis, which is a well-established reality plaguing Coloradans. It’s time for us as lawmakers to stand up to industry and stand with Colorado families. The only thing more expensive than the current costs of prescription drugs is the cost of doing nothing. 

Yadira Caraveo, M.D., a practicing pediatrician and Thornton Democrat, represents House District 31 in the Colorado General Assembly. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat, represents House District 23 in the Colorado General Assembly.

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com.

 

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

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

By Representative Chris Kennedy (March 14, 2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at ColoradoSun.com.

Preview: The 2021 Lawmaking Session

Preview: The 2021 Lawmaking Session

Friends and Neighbors,

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be sponsoring legislation on several topics:

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

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

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

Chris

Thank You

Thank You

November 4, 2020

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

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

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

Stay true. The work continues.

Chris

So many ballot measures, so little time

So many ballot measures, so little time

October 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris

Sign the petition for a fairer tax structure

Sign the petition for a fairer tax structure

Colorado’s current flat income tax isn’t quite as flat as it seems. The reality is that the highest income Coloradans pay a much lower share of their income than everybody else.

This year, we have an opportunity to ask the top 5% of Coloradans to pay their fair share while reducing income tax rates for the other 95% of us. Initiative #271 does just that, while also generating an estimated $2 billion in state revenue, with half going to raising pay for public school teachers and support staff and the other half going to addressing the impacts of our growing population on infrastructure and other state programs. 

In light of the impacts of the global pandemic on our state budget, this measure is needed now more than ever. And it’s only fair to ask those whose incomes were not affected by the pandemic to pitch in a little bit more. And for those of you who have been calling for TABOR reform, this is the best shot we’ve had in years to offset TABOR’s negative impacts on state priorities.

But before it gets onto the November ballot, we need to help the campaign gather the required number of signatures. Click here to find out where you can sign a petition in the weeks ahead. Or if you live in Lakewood, super-volunteer Sarah Nelson has petitions at her home and would love to have you stop by (six feet away, of course) to sign, almost every day after 10am. She lives at 893 Oak Street. Please call/text her first  at 720-579-1485 to make sure she’s home or to schedule an appointment.

If you need more information, there’s a lot available. See the links below or visit FairTaxColorado.org to explore for yourself:

Thanks!
Chris

The Story of the 2020 Legislative Session

The Story of the 2020 Legislative Session

Yesterday was the last day of the 2020 legislative session. Over the last few months, we found ourselves called to respond to an extraordinary set of challenges in addition to continuing last year’s progress on education, health care, environment, and other priorities. Not only did we face the most significant global pandemic of any of our lifetimes, but we also experienced a major focusing event in the civil rights movement with yet another murder of an innocent black man at the hands of law enforcement officers.

This is the story of what your state legislature did over the last six months to rise to the occasion and fight for the rights, freedoms, and well-being of every Coloradan. Buckle in; it’s a long one.

It started out as an ordinary session (not that any of them are all that ordinary). The economy was growing and we were expecting a TABOR surplus, which meant that some of the proceeds of the economic growth would have to be returned to taxpayers according to an archaic formula rather than reinvested in K-12 and higher education, transportation, mental health, affordable housing, environmental protection, criminal justice reform, and other state priorities. House and Senate Democrats opened the session with bills and budget discussions oriented around these priorities on which we had made such incredible progress in the 2019 session. And we were off to a pretty decent start.

But then, COVID-19 struck. There was talk around the capitol that the pandemic was much more serious than the ones that had arisen over the last few decades. I’ll admit, I was a little slow to recognize how serious it really was and I kept pushing my legislative ideas forward until the last possible second. But after several briefings from the Department of Public Health and Environment, it hit home. We were going to have to radically change course. Not only would the legislature need to go into a multi-week temporary adjournment to protect the public (who tend to gather in large numbers at the Capitol for the more controversial debates), but state and local governments would also be considering distancing provisions, and ultimately, stay-at-home orders. And those choices to protect public health would have direct impacts on state and local government budgets, too.

On Wednesday, March 11th, we had a late-night committee hearing on one of the biggest bills of the session: the Colorado health insurance option, commonly known as the “public option.” Representative Dylan Roberts and I presented the bill in front of the House Health and Insurance Committee with hours of testimony and a half-dozen amendments that came from intense stakeholder work. But it wasn’t meant to be, and within days, we had to set the bill aside to focus on more urgent priorities.

On Friday, March 13th, House and Senate leadership made the call to go into a temporary adjournment. Thus began the “quarantine phase” of the 2020 legislative session. We all became quite familiar with several pieces of webinar software that we used for briefings from the executive branch, discussions among legislators, stakeholder meetings, and even social events with friends and family. Believe me when I tell you that the work didn’t stop just because we weren’t at the Capitol.

Meanwhile, my amazing fiancé, Kyra, and I were supposed to be planning our wedding, which was originally scheduled for the weekend of June 13th. We agonized for weeks about whether we’d need to postpone it or downsize it. All options were bad, and doing a June wedding—especially after I was likely to have gone back to the Capitol for a few weeks—meant I was very likely to be a carrier of COVID-19, and it was just too risky that I might expose our parents or our friends with small children. 

But then, at the end of April, Kyra had a brilliant idea. What if we move up the date instead? People were generally still following the stay-at-home orders, and we could safely gather 10-20 people at our own home without significantly risking anyone’s health. So with one whole week to rewrite all of our plans, we scheduled the wedding for May 2nd and pulled together a small-but-sweet ceremony and reception in our backyard. And you know what? It was perfect.

And it was a good thing we moved up the wedding, too, because I ended up being at the Capitol all day on the day we were originally supposed to get married. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

The Monday after our wedding day and a one-day staycation for a honeymoon, Kyra and I both went back to work. In addition to participating in the discussions about what else the state needed to be doing to address the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19, I was part of a House Democratic task force looking into the legal and technological challenges involved with allowing some legislators to participate remotely when we reconvened. You see, we have a number of members who have health vulnerabilities who could die if exposed to COVID-19, and we wanted to make sure they could continue to represent their constituents from home. We bent over backwards to bring in Republicans to help come up with the protocols, but they locked down against us and refused to help. Despite their votes against allowing remote participation, several House and Senate Republicans ultimately took advantage of the system we created and opted to participate from home in the final days of the legislative session.

On May 12th, we were presented with an updated revenue forecast from the legislative and executive branches (who typically only present such forecasts in March, June, September, and December). The news was grim. We were looking at a $3.3 billion hole in the budget, and believe me when I say that we can’t make up for that kind of revenue loss by tinkering around the edges of the budget and trying to root out waste, fraud, and abuse. To the contrary, we had to make truly painful cuts to K-12, higher education, health care, housing, human services, transportation, and every other part of the state budget. Fortunately, some of these cuts were offset by federal action. I am grateful that Congress and the President put aside their differences to pass a trio of meaningful COVID-19 relief bills, which in turn gave us resources to address the direct effects of the disease and the economic downturn. I continue to hope that they succeed in passing a fourth bill, the HEROES Act, which will go beyond the first three by giving aid to states to backfill the devastating budget cuts. Until such legislation passes, however, the cuts to education and other state programs will be deep.

As you might surmise, cutting the budget also means postponing any new legislation that was expected to have a fiscal impact. Furthermore, we were hearing that we would only have three weeks once we returned to finish all of our work, which also meant that we had to limit the number of controversial bills that were likely to generate hours and hours of filibustering. As a result, I had to set aside almost all of the legislation I was working on prior to the pandemic, including the public option. 

Of the twelve bills I had introduced (plus five more that were still in the drafting/stakeholding phase), I was only able to preserve five of them. One was a technical clean-up that passed before the crisis; three were referred from the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Committee, which I was able to pass after removing all of the pieces that cost money (House Bills 1017, 1065, and 1085); and one was a priority health care bill to restructure the financing for the reinsurance program, which became even more important after the economic downturn took away the original funding stream. Lastly, I introduced one new bill with Representative Lisa Cutter to allocate some of the CARES Act money to helping low-to-medium income families impacted by the recession to afford their utility bills.

Lest you think that is the end of the story, think again. We resumed session on Tuesday, May 26th—one day after the murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers. Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of Michael Brown by the Ferguson, MO police in 2014, we have seen far too many deaths of people of color at the hands of law enforcement officers. There were far too many prior to 2014 as well, but Ferguson was a focusing event that generated a real response. Colorado passed a series of laws that year to try to rein in abuses by law enforcement officers, but those laws didn’t go far enough. And 2020 was different. Perhaps it was because there were too many similar events that had happened in Colorado over the last year—most notably De’Von Bailey on August 3, 2019 in Colorado Springs and Elijah McClain on August 30, 2019 in Aurora. Perhaps it was because the protests didn’t fizzle out in one day, but continued day after day after day. Perhaps it was because the Colorado legislature currently includes a remarkable team of black and latinx leaders who helped the rest of us see what we could do to save lives of innocent people of color. Whatever the reason, the majority of us at the legislature knew that we needed to find a meaningful set of policy changes that would break away from the status quo and prevent the further loss of life. While there were several legislators who contributed to the success of the Law Enforcement Integrity and Accountability Act, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the courageous leadership of my colleague and friend, Representative Leslie Herod. She was the driving force, the builder of the coalition, and the principal negotiator who engaged with stakeholders from communities across the state as well as law enforcement leaders. And at the end of the day, the bill passed with the support of every Democrat and nearly 2/3 of the Republicans. Learn more about what was in the Law Enforcement Integrity and Accountability Act here.

Over the course of the three-week session, we passed a balanced budget, allocated all of the federal dollars to help families and small businesses get through the pandemic and its economic repercussions, passed the aforementioned police accountability bill, and passed several dozen other pieces of legislation that will help Coloradans get through this difficult time. At a later date, I’ll share a comprehensive list of what we got done, but for now, I’ll finish this email with just a few more highlights. 

We finally passed the bill to improve our state’s low vaccination rates. We mandated licensure of all tobacco retailers across the state to ensure no one under 21 will be able to buy cigarettes or vape products, and we referred a nicotine tax increase to the voters this November. 

While the cuts to K-12 schools were really painful, we did three big things to offset those costs in the future. First, we built a provision into the school finance act that will allow school districts in future years to go back to the mill levies they had in place at the time they passed their de-Bruce measures (which were subsequently reduced because of the Gallagher amendment until the 2007 mill levy freeze). Second, we referred a measure to the voters to repeal the Gallagher amendment itself, which if passed will stabilize school district and other local mill levies against future downward ratcheting. Finally, we ran a bill to close several corporate loopholes that primarily benefited huge businesses so we could reallocate those dollars to the state education fund (as well as an increase in support to working families through the earned income tax credit). Unfortunately, pressure from the business lobby was intense and we had to scale back the measure considerably in order to get the governor’s commitment to signing it. But even with the compromise, we were able to retain $190M over two years to reinvest in education and working families. And that’s a big deal.

Last but not least, I want to talk about the bill that occupied the bulk of my time and energy over the last three weeks. Together with Senators Dominick Moreno and Kerry Donovan and the remarkable Representative Julie McCuskie, we passed a bill to restructure and expand the Colorado reinsurance program, Senate Bill 215. In 2019, we passed the first bill to establish the reinsurance program, funded by a combination of general fund and hospital assessments. The program allowed for more effective spreading of risk between insurance markets, reducing premiums in the individual market by an average of 20%, and stabilizing the group markets by avoiding an increase in uncompensated care, which drives hospitals to shift costs to those other markets. When the recession struck, hospitals were hit so hard that they could not afford the assessment, and we needed to find another funding stream to avoid the general fund expense that we needed to transfer to stabilizing education funding. We learned that a federal assessment on insurance plans was set to expire in January 2021, and we knew it was very likely that insurance companies would be able to keep those dollars as windfall profits. Instead of letting that happen, we stood up for people over insurance industry profits and passed a bill to collect those fees at the state level instead. What that means is that, without increasing costs for businesses, we have replaced the bulk of the funding stream for the reinsurance program so that it can continue for another five years in Colorado, stabilizing insurance markets and increasing health insurance enrollment. On top of that, we allocated funding to provide additional subsidies to low and middle income Coloradans, including those impacted by the “family glitch” and, for the very first time in Colorado, undocumented residents of our state. These families have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and recession, and I’m so proud that we finally took action to make sure they’re not left behind to go without medical care, food, or housing in these difficult times.

This is hardly an exhaustive list of the work we did this year, but since I’ve already written a newsletter about five times longer than most people will read, I’m going to stop here. 

Hard times are ahead for too many Coloradans, but today I feel gratitude. I’m grateful that I’m lucky enough to have a job in which I get to focus my energy every day on trying to help people. I’m grateful that the voters elected Democratic majorities in the State House and Senate in 2018, without which we would not have accomplished half of what we did. I’m grateful for the staff, advocates, and protestors who made all of our progress possible. And I’m grateful for the remarkable legislators (including a handful of thoughtful, compassionate, and courageous Republicans) who came together to solve problems for the people of Colorado this year. I’m so proud to serve as one of 100 Representatives and Senators who were sent to the state Capitol from all across the state to do this work for all the beautiful people of our beautiful state.


May we all continue moving forward with patience, wisdom, courage, and grace.

Chris

P.S. You can learn more about the bills we passed this session in the House Democrats’ 2020 End-of-Session Report.

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

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

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

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

Dear Neighbors and Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and stay safe,

Chris

COVID-19 Resources and Update

COVID-19 Resources and Update

As the Vaccine becomes readily available to the general public, the most important thing you can do at the moment is to continue following the advice of healthcare professionals by wearing a mask and practicing social distance guidelines. By doing these things, we will all be in a better position to overcome this virus and keep our health care, essential workers, and at-risk populations safe.

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

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FRAUD WATCH
Be on the lookout for bogus products sold by scammers. At this time, information on the COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado can be found here: https://covid19.colorado.gov/vaccine.
Remember, scammers follow headlines.
Visit StopFraudColorado.gov for more information.

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

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

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

Email: COHELP@RMPDC.org

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

COVID-19 Resources for Colorado

Jefferson County Resources

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Newsletter, March 16, 2020

Neighbors and Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for staying safe,

Chris

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