Kicking Off the 2019 Session

Kicking Off the 2019 Session

We all know that Colorado is a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family. And we all want to keep it that way so that our kids and grandkids will be able to afford to live in the same neighborhoods, breath the same clean air, and explore the same beautiful mountains.

Though things in Washington DC feel uncertain, here in Colorado we’ve done a pretty good job protecting the things that are most important and planning for the future. But we have a lot more work to do to make sure every hard-working Coloradan can thrive and enjoy the Colorado way of life.

In November 2018, Colorado voters elected Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate and a Democratic governor. For me, this means a few things. First, voters chose candidates who committed to taking action to grow the middle class, invest in public education, expand access to affordable health care, and protect the environment. They chose a government that is proactive and thoughtful about solving problems and planning ahead for the future. Now, we are going to do what they elected us to do.

Second, many of the good ideas that died over the last few years in the GOP-controlled Senate will have a great chance of passing into law. The list includes paid family leave, increased transparency for hospital and pharmaceutical costs, new protections for the LGBTQ community, increased investment in affordable housing, acceleration in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and common-sense gun violence prevention laws.

Third, our work to build bridges across the aisle has a different kind significance. While Democrats may not technically need bipartisan support to pass bills, those of us who served in a divided legislature have learned how much can be gained by seeking to understand different perspectives. In every conversation I’ve had with my new and returning colleagues, I have observed a strong desire to find bipartisan solutions wherever possible. And when you actually try, you find it’s possible a lot more often than some might think.

So what all will we be working on? Well, at the legislature, we all lead in some areas and play supporting roles in others. Here are a few areas where I’ll be devoting much of my energy.

Health Care

I believe health care is a human right. We must continue to build on the progress of the past several years to reduce costs and expand access to affordable health care for all Coloradans. To reduce costs, we must start by increasing transparency, curbing outrageous billing practices, and reforming insurance markets to address some of the highest cost risk pools and regions. From there, we must focus our energies on the transition from fee-for-service “sick care” to a health care system that pays providers for value, not volume.

Furthermore, we must work to close gaps in access to mental health care and substance use treatment and recovery services. Far too many people who need help can’t find it or afford it.

We have also seen a major public health issue growing over the last few years – teen vaping. We know that the vast majority of smokers who are addicted got started smoking as teenagers. We also know that our too many retailers are still selling products to minors. We need to take steps to make sure our smoking laws are modernized to include vaping and to hold retailers accountable to following the law.

Housing

The rapid growth in the Denver metro area has made it too difficult for too many Coloradans to afford to buy a home or even to rent and apartment. We must tighten up our renters’ rights laws and partner with our cities and counties to increase the availability of affordable homes, townhomes, condos, and apartments. And we must do it in a sustainable way through a prioritization of transit-oriented development. By building mixed-use residential/commercial communities near light rail stations and bus routes, we can make it possible for people to live and work without needing to take a car everywhere they go.

I have also been focused on senior housing. In 2000, voters established the Senior Property Tax Exemption to help seniors afford their property taxes and stay in their homes. Unfortunately, the program is not working as well as it could be. It doesn’t give enough help to low-to-middle income seniors, and the ten-year residency requirement discourages seniors from downsizing. Furthermore, the growing cost has made the program vulnerable to cuts during recessions. I have been working on a plan to restructure the program to focus our limited resources on giving more help to senior owners and renters who need help the most, and to make sure the program is around for the long run.

Energy and Environment

Climate change is a real threat to our way of life. The carbon pollution we’re putting into the atmosphere is heating the planet and increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires, droughts, and hurricanes. Colorado has long been a leader on renewable energy, and our early investments have made wind and solar so competitive that Xcel is implementing their own plan to get to 100% renewable without needing to increase utility bills. Now is the time for us to take the next big steps. That means helping the rest of the state catch up by creating processes to close coal plans while providing a just transition for the works, modernizing our grid, and building out an infrastructure for charging electric vehicles.

We must also pay special attention to the communities impacted by oil and gas development. I support increasing setbacks from schools and neighborhoods, funding more inspectors to enforce our methane regulations, and ensuring that the regulators have a clear mission to protect the health and safety of our communities.

Education Funding

While I’m thrilled that Jeffco voters passed 5A and 5B last year, we are still funding our schools far below the national average. The teacher shortage continues to be a major challenge, and too many districts across Colorado are still on four-day weeks. We must continue working to build support for reforming TABOR and Gallagher so that we can invest adequately in K-12 and higher education in Colorado. I also support increasing our investment in early childhood education and full-day kindergarten. Education has always been the key to a thriving middle class.

Election Reform

As the Chair of the State Affairs committee, I’ll be playing a major role in updating our elections laws. While the 2013 law that gave us universal mail ballots and same day voter registration is working pretty well, there are some adjustments we can make so that it works even better. We are also moving forward with automatic voter registration, a program to register eligible voters when they enroll in other state programs. Lastly, I have begun conversations with our incoming Secretary of State, Jena Griswold, about some ideas around dark money in campaigns. While our hands are somewhat tied by the Citizens United decision, there are steps we can take to beef up disclosure requirements to make sure the funders of these dark, negative campaigns are known to the public.

And much more…

I will be eager to support the work of my colleagues on many other issues including affordable childcare, criminal justice reform, transgender rights, transportation funding, equal pay for equal work, paid family leave, immigration, and gun violence prevention.

We have an incredible opportunity over these next two years to show Colorado voters what can be done with a government focused on expanding opportunities for everyone who works hard and does their fair share. We must be thoughtful about the consequences of our policies and we must take bold steps forward to protect the things that make Colorado such a special place to live. I’m so excited to be back in session and working on these policies again.

Next Steps

What an incredible night! As we watched the results roll in, I could hardly believe my eyes. Turnout in Jeffco ended up exceeding 70% — a record for a midterm election — and voters elected Democrats all and passed progressive ballot measures all across the state. I’m very proud to have been reelected and am excited to serve a second term in the Colorado House of Representatives!

For me, it felt like the result of months of hard work by so many volunteers knocking on doors, making phone calls, writing postcards, and more. But more broadly, it felt like a sign that Colorado voters wanted leaders focused on solving problems together rather than turning us against each other.

I’m feeling very hopeful about the progress we’re going to make over the next two years in Colorado. Even though things are feeling very uncertain at the federal level, here we can ensure equal rights for all, advance opportunities for those working hard to support their families, and protect our clean air, clean water, and beautiful public lands for the next generation.

On Thursday, the House Democratic caucus gathered to elect our new leadership team, and I was elected Assistant Majority Leader! I’m so excited to work alongside Speaker-designate KC Becker, Majority Leader Alec Garnett, and our entire 41-member caucus to make sure Colorado remains a place where everyone who works hard and does their fair share has great opportunities to be successful and enjoy the Colorado way of life.

Thanks for entrusting me again to represent you at the capitol. Make sure to send me your thoughts and ideas at chris@kennedy4co.com.

2018 Election Results

2018 Election Results

What a night. Democrats swept the five most competitive State Senate seats, and we picked up at least two in the House.

In my race, the most current results are:

  • Chris Kennedy (D)
    • 61.75%
    • 17,882 votes
  • Joan Poston (R)
    • 38.25%
    • 11,075

Thank you all so much for your support, and I look forward to serving the people of HD23 for another two years!

See more results at http://www.sos.state.co.us/.

Reducing Health Insurance Premiums

Reducing Health Insurance Premiums

Last session, Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) and I worked incredibly hard to pass a bill to implement an insurance reform called “reinsurance,” which would reduce premiums on the individual market by 15-30% for various regions of the state.

Here in Colorado, we’re not going back to the days of discriminating against those with preexisting conditions. We must move forward and work together to reduce costs and expand access to quality health care.

Though our reinsurance bill was defeated by the Senate Republicans, I’m proud of the bipartisan work we did in the House. Rep. Rankin and I are already in discussions about running the bill again next session.

My ballot measure endorsements for 2018

In addition to the incredibly importance races for federal, statewide, state legislative, and county offices this year, Colorado voters will get to weigh in on 13 statewide ballot questions and numerous local issues. While I’m not weighing in on all of them in this blog, you can read about the rest in the Blue Book.  Feel free to email me any questions you may have at chris@kennedy4co.com.

Understanding the naming of statewide measures:

  • Amendment – Changes the state constitution
  • Proposition – Changes state statute (and can later be modified by the legislature)
  • Letters – Referred to the ballot by the legislature
  • Numbers – Initiated by citizens who collected petition signatures

Statewide Ballot Measures

  • Amendment A:  Vote yes if you want to remove the last references to slavery from our State Constitution. It’s that simple.
  • Amendment W:  I support this measure to simplify the appearance of judicial retention elections on future ballots.
  • Amendment X:  This sounds complicated, but all it’s really doing is moving the definition of hemp out of the constitution and into state statute. This will allow us to respond more rapidly if the federal government changes the rules on hemp farming, which could be a huge benefit to Colorado farmers.
  • Amendments Y & Z:  I strongly support these measures to reform our redistricting/reapportionment system and put a stop to political gerrymandering. To be fair, Colorado’s system for drawing state legislative districts already involved an independent commission, but Amdt Z improves that process significantly and Amdt Y will make the system for drawing congressional districts use that same process. The measures establish fair criteria for drawing maps and remove politics from the process as much as possible.
  • Amendment 73:  I support it and hope you do, too. Colorado’s school funding situation is dire; we’re about $2500 per kid per year below the national average. This measure asks corporations and the wealthiest 8% of Coloradans to pay their fair share to support our schools. Coupled with local funding efforts (see 5A & 5B below), Amdt 73 will help us take a major step forward to providing a 21st century school system that provides great opportunities to every Colorado kid.
  • Amendment 74:  I oppose it. Sponsored by the oil and gas industry, this measure is designed to prevent local governments from trying to regulate industry to protect the health and safety of their communities.
  • Propositions 109 & 110:  While we need to do more to repair and expand our roads and bridges, we must also recognize that increasing transit options and bike paths are important parts of the whole. I strongly support Proposition 110, which increased our sales tax by 0.62% to fund infrastructure investments. I strongly oppose Proposition 109, which effectively forces the legislature to make deep cuts in education and health care in order to fund transportation.
  • Proposition 111:  I support this measure to crack down on the exorbitant interest rates being charged by payday lenders. This kind of predatory lending hurts the people who are struggling most to get by.

As for the rest, I’m still weighing pros and cons. Let me know what you think at chris@kennedy4co.com.

Local Ballot Measures in Jeffco/Lakewood

  • Jeffco School District Issues 5A&B:  I support both Our schools are in need of more funds to attract and retain great teachers and maintain our facilities. While we’ve worked hard to increase school funding at the state level, we’re still well below the national average. Learn more at WeAreJeffco.com.
  • Lakewood Issue 2D:  I support it. Without raising taxes, Lakewood voters can choose to allow the city to retain dollars above the TABOR limit to increase our investment in parks, police, and potholes. I think these are smart and needed investments. Learn more at OurLakewood.org.
  • West Metro Fire Protection District Issue 7C:  I support it. Because of the Gallagher amendment (long story), our fire district’s revenues are very uncertain in the years ahead. Without raising taxes, district voters can stabilize future budgets and make sure we don’t have to cut our fire protection. Learn more at LifeSavingAlliance.com. 
  • Urban Drainage and Flood Control District Issue 7G:  I support it. Colorado’s bizarre constitutional requirements have ratcheted down this special district’s mill levy by 44%, putting real strain on our infrastructure. By allowing this special district to restore it’s original 1.0 mill levy, we can do a better job investing in storm water systems and other infrastructure across the Denver Metro area. Learn more at UDFCD.org.

Opioid Committee, Round 2

Happy summer!

I hope you and yours have enjoyed some of the warm weather, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the much-needed moisture, too!

I’ve been busily dividing my time between legislative and campaign work this summer, as well as some projects around the house. And yeah, I also managed to get away a little bit to camp and climb a few 14ers…

On the legislative front, the Opioid and Substance Use Study Committee has started up again to build on the great progress we made in this most recent legislative session (read more here). We’ve had three all-day hearings so far to get feedback from pharmacists, doctors, hospitals, treatment and recovery professionals, and many more stakeholders about the gaps that remain in our system.

On Wednesday, our committee initiated the drafting process on five bills that will focus on gaps in the five following areas:

  • Prevention (education programs, law enforcement, safe disposal)
  • Harm reduction (increasing access to life-saving overdose-reversal drugs)
  • Treatment (expand capacity for inpatient/outpatient treatment and medical detox in urban, suburban, and rural Colorado)
  • Recovery (regulation of sober living facilities, facilitating reintegration into the community)
  • Criminal Justice System (access to medication-assisted treatment in prisons and jails; better transitions to community services upon release)

I’m excited that these subject areas seem to be picking up some real bipartisan support, and we’ll keep on plugging away!

Another successful kickoff!

Another successful kickoff!

Thanks so much to all of you who came out to support me last night! I’m excited about the work we’re all going to do together over the next few months to elect some great folks to lead Colorado forward over the next few years!

And a special thanks to Dan and Dona for hosting me once again (and for all of your work to get the yard ready after Monday night’s flood)!

If you couldn’t make it, you can still donate at Kennedy4CO.com/donate.

What happened at the legislature this session?

The whirlwind of the 2018 Legislative Session has come to a close. It was packed with ups and downs, vigorous debates, bipartisan breakthroughs, and a fair amount of drama. At the end of the day, I feel like we actually got a lot of good work done!

Though this was only my second session as a legislator, it was my sixth session counting my years as a staffer. This session stands out from the rest for one primary reason – we decided to tackle the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, and we started by making sure there were real consequences for the unacceptable behavior of one of our own members. Read more about the expulsion of Rep. Steve Lebsock here.

Handling the sexual harassment issue the right way was very time consuming, but we kept plugging away at a number of issues throughout the session. Many of us were engaged in negotiations since opening day on issues of transportation and education funding, reforming our state pension system, and continuing the Colorado Civil Rights Division. On all of these issues, we were successful in passing bipartisan legislation that will soon be signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper.

With any big bipartisan deal, both sides have to compromise. Some of those compromises were really painful, especially in the pension reform bill. By way of background, our Public Employee Retirement System (PERA) was in need of some adjustment following a reduction in the long-term expected rate of return on our investments along with an update to our mortality tables to reflect the longer expected lifespan of Coloradans. We approached the policy with the idea of “shared sacrifice” in which employers, employees, and retirees would all need to give a little. This meant increasing the retirement age, increasing the employer and employee contributions, decreasing the annual cost-of-living-adjustment, and more. While I would have favored structuring the bill somewhat differently, we had to make some concessions to get a deal with Senate Republicans. I ultimately voted yes on the bill because I think it’s critical to protect the pension program and I was uncomfortable with kicking the can down the road another year, especially when we don’t know who will be the Governor next year.

As for my own legislation, I focused mostly on health care issues. I am extremely proud of the five bills we passed addressing the opioid epidemic and the two bills we passed to increase cost transparency for consumers at free-standing emergency departments. I also worked hard to increase cost transparency for hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, though those efforts were defeated by Senate Republicans.

Last but not least, I poured enormous effort into a bill to stabilize the individual health insurance market. For those who don’t get health care through their employment or public programs, costs have been ridiculous – largely because President Trump and Congressional Republicans have gutted the Affordable Care Act in every way they know how. My bill would have established a reinsurance program to share the risks and costs of health care more broadly across all markets rather than concentrating those costs in the individual market. I worked hard to earn the support of several House Republicans and a couple Senate Republicans, but it wasn’t enough to get Senate Republican leadership to give the bill a fair hearing. Read more about the reinsurance bill here.

This is just a small sample of the work we did this year, but if you’re interested in digging deeper, check out this report on our accomplishments and attempts this year.

Reflecting on my first two legislative sessions, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about what it means to try to make progress in a messy, complicated system. The partisanship can be frustrating and the special interest politics can be pretty gross, but there are moments that give me hope. When you work hard, persevere after failure, and focus on building constructive relationships, there is common ground to be found. So, I’m going to keep plugging away and trying to make things happen. Thanks again for all of you who helped elect me to this crazy job, and I’ll be asking for your support again soon because I want to keep doing this job as your State Representative!

Transparency in Health Care

Transparency in Health Care

We all know that the high cost of health care is a problem, but the solutions are far from obvious. That’s why we must start by increasing the transparency of our health care system, and more specifically, hospitals.

There are many sources of information about hospital spending including the Medicare Cost Reports, the Colorado Healthcare Affordability and Sustainability Enterprise Annual Report, the Financial Health of Colorado Hospitals Report, and the All-Payer Claims Database, but none of them are able to answer a key question:

After all the money we’ve invested in our hospitals to improve Medicaid reimbursements and reduce uncompensated care, why is the cost shift to privately insured patients increasing?Text BoxHouse Bill 18-1207 requires hospitals to share more of their financial information with the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, including audited financial statements, utilization and staffing information, and access to the existing secure data system containing utilization and financial data at the individual hospital level. With this data, HCPF will be better equipped to engage with Colorado hospitals to design the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payments (DSRIP) program, also known as the Hospital Transformation Project, which seeks to accelerate hospitals’ transitions to value-based payment systems and improved care coordination.

 

The Expulsion of A Serial Sexual Harasser

The Expulsion of A Serial Sexual Harasser

On Friday, I voted yes to expel Representative Steve Lebsock from the Colorado House of Representatives. A thorough, independent investigation reviewed 11 allegations from 5 women and found them all to be credible. One incident that stood out to me was when he solicited sex from a female lobbyist who had stopped by his office to talk to him about a piece of legislation.

This was probably the most serious vote I’ve been asked to take since being elected, and I did not arrive at my decision lightly. I read the redacted report and all related materials that were made available for those of us voting on the expulsion resolution. I was sufficiently convinced that Rep. Lebsock’s behavior has been both severe and pervasive, and there is no place for such behavior in any workplace, let alone the State Capitol.

You can hear my remarks during Friday’s debate here:

I am so proud of the conversation we had on Friday. Members of both parties took their responsibilities very seriously and worked through a difficult decision about expelling a member for the first time in 103 years. At the end of the day, 16 Republicans joined 36 Democrats in casting their vote to expel.

We were called upon to make a decision that was not about the fate of one man – it was about whether or not we would continue tolerating sexual harassment in the workplace. Now that we’ve taken this step, we must move forward with a commitment to changing this culture and setting a new standard at our own workplace and workplaces across our state and country.