The Rule of Law

The Rule of Law

I couldn’t be more disappointed in the outcome of the special session. I’m not going to break down everything that happened over the last two days. You can read the Denver Post story (linked above) for that, or their Monday evening editorial here: “Shutting Down Special Session Spiteful and Obstructionist.”

And if you missed my blog Sunday about why we were called back into a special session, you can read it here.

For now, I just want to share a few reflections on the rule of law. As we worked to pass a simple solution to what was an innocent mistake, we grappled with a challenging constitutional question. Can the legislature fix a mistake by closing an inadvertent tax loophole, or does TABOR require us to send this question back to a vote of the people?

Based on the most recent rulings of the Colorado Supreme Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals, it’s pretty clear that this can be done by the legislature. But if you read TABOR one sentence at a time, you could easily come away with the wrong impression.

The oath I swore to uphold the Constitution includes a respect for the separation of powers and the role of the judicial branch in interpreting the law. Since Marbury v Madison in 1803, it has been the law of the land that the court’s interpretation of the law IS THE LAW, no matter what any individual’s “plain language” interpretation may be. We can disagree with the law. We can try to change the law. But we can’t just ignore the law.

And yet, the Kochs were once again able to spend enough money to change the narrative: “[T]he conservative Americans for Prosperity, the political arm backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and led by [Senate President Kevin] Grantham’s former chief of staff, launched a campaign to build opposition to the special session among rank-and-file Republicans. The group’s activists made more than 1,000 calls and sent more than 700 emails to targeted lawmakers.” (Denver Post 10/03/2017)

Why did they do this? Were they truly trying to stand up for the people purchasing recreational marijuana to keep their sales taxes a lower?

Or were they just trying to score points against the Democrats?

I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind about that one.

Solving problems, not pointing fingers

As you have probably heard by now, Governor Hickenlooper has called the General Assembly back for a special session starting tomorrow, October 2nd. Special sessions are called when a specific piece of urgent business cannot wait until the next regular session.

In this case, we’ve been called back to fix a drafting error that has had a major impact on Colorado’s special districts. Here’s what happened. In Senate Bill 17-267, we added 5% to the special marijuana sales tax and exempted marijuana sales from the standard 2.9% sales tax. This increased our total tax revenue from marijuana sales and changed the way the TABOR cap is calculated. The drafting error was that the exemption inadvertently blocked our special districts from collecting the standard marijuana sales tax. As a result, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) is losing $500,000 per month, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) is losing about $50,000 per month, and numerous other special districts are being hurt.

Let me be clear. This was a mistake – a big one. All 65 representatives and all 35 senators missed it. The governor’s office missed it. Dozens of nonpartisan staff and scores of lobbyists missed it. We all share responsibility for this mistake, and now we all share responsibility for fixing it.

But here’s the thing. Not everyone is on board with fixing it. There’s even a rumor that the Senate president is going to gavel in on Monday morning and then immediately adjourn. That means there won’t even be a committee hearing to discuss the fix. Doing so would be the height of irresponsibility.

It’s common to hear people talk about government dysfunction these days, but it’s not the innocent mistake that makes government dysfunctional – it’s the failure to act when a problem comes to light.

I think it’s safe to say that all 100 legislators were elected to solve problems, not to point fingers. So I’ll be showing up to the capitol tomorrow morning ready to get to work. Let’s hope all 99 of my colleagues make the same choice.

Legislator of the Year

Legislator of the Year

At the capitol, you never really know what you’ll be working on from week to week. Sure, I had several long-term projects, but you also have things show up on your plate that you don’t expect. That’s because a big part of what we do is just keep government running smoothly.

Well, one thing we do periodically is evaluate whether licensing a certain profession is still important for public safety and well-being. This is known as the “sunset” process, and every profession in Colorado goes through it every 3, 5, or 10 years.

The docket this year included landscape architects, and I was asked to carry the bill in the House to continue licensing them. Though I occasionally crossed paths with landscape architects when I was a structural engineer, I didn’t really know all that much about the profession. But I was happy to do my part, learn about the issues, and pass the bill to continue licensing landscape architects for another 10 years.

Last night, I was honored to be awarded “Legislator of the Year” by the American Society of Landscape Architects, along with Senators Andy Kerr and Jack Tate who carried the bill in the Senate.

In this business, you never know when you’re going to be in a position to make a big difference for somebody. At the time, the bill seemed like a little thing compared to some of the big priorities we were wrestling with. But it was a pretty big deal to landscape architects, and I’m proud of the work I did to help support the profession and the people working in it.

Pics & Presentations from Growth Town Hall

Pics & Presentations from Growth Town Hall

In case you missed today’s town hall meeting about how to manage growth in Lakewood, I wanted to share the presentations from our speakers:

     Presentation from Cathy Kentner, lead proponent of the 1% growth limit ballot measure

     Presentation from Brendalee Connors of West Metro Housing Solutions

     Presentation from Will Toor, Transportation Director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project

In our meeting, there were many references to Lakewood’s comprehensive plan, which you can view here.

Lastly, I wanted to share one more presentation I saw about Lakewood’s growth limit ballot measure last weekend:

     Presentation from Tom Quinn and Mag Strittmatter

 

Part time, you say?

Colorado’s legislature is part-time and only in session from January through May, but if you’re trying to actually get something done, the summer days fill up pretty quickly!

So how have I been spending my time?

Engaging with My Constituents
Since the end of the session, I’ve been going all over the district to neighborhood meetings and various events. I’m still getting a good amount of phone calls and emails from people who need a little help or just want to talk about the issues, and I’m trying to be as responsive as I can be!

Developing Policy Ideas and Working with Stakeholders
The first legislative session is challenging for many reasons, including the fact that you’re so busy during campaign season that you don’t get to start truly working on bill ideas until after the election. This summer, I’ve been getting the ball rolling on a bunch of policy ideas. It starts with meetings with experts and other stakeholders to learn about their perspectives, identify policy and political issues, and understand the potential unintended consequences. There’s a lot of reading about these complicated topics… and then there are more meetings.

One of my most exciting projects involves the development of a bipartisan health care agenda for 2018. Despite the uncertainty at the federal level, there are many things we can do at the state level. I’m working to build a bipartisan group of legislators to study the recommendations of the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care, which was tasked at getting to the bottom of the rising cost of care. Their final report was released in June and contains some interesting ideas, particularly when it comes to increasing transparency. Rep. Susan Lontine and I organized a presentation last week and invited all members of the General Assembly to hear the recommendations. We’re now trying to identify key partners on both sides of the aisle to get together, meet with more stakeholders, and start to come up with some bill ideas for 2018.

I’m also working closely with the Division of Insurance (DOI) on how Colorado might implement a reinsurance program, which is possibly the number one thing we can do to stabilize the individual market. I passed a bill last session to authorize DOI to study the problem, and I’ve attended every stakeholder meeting they’ve held. Alaska is putting in place a reinsurance program right now, and there are exciting possibilities for putting in place such a program in Colorado too.

Interim Committee to Study the Opioid Crisis
Every year, a limited number of committees are established to meet over the interim and study complicated policy problems. This year, I was appointed to serve on the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee. We have had two all-day meetings so far to hear testimony from substance abuse treatment experts, law enforcement, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, insurance companies, the state Medicaid administrators, and more.

I’ve been impressed with the work going on to date, and I think we will be successful in coming up with several pieces of legislation that will enhance programs to prevent opioid addiction, improve early intervention, and expand counseling and medically-assisted treatment programs for those who need help getting clean.

Our meetings are open to the public, so if you’re interested, come on down! The next meeting is Tuesday, August 22nd at 9:30am down at the Capitol in room 271 (2nd floor, between the elevators).


With all of this going on, I can’t say it feels like “summer break,” but I’ve made an effort to get out of town for a few long weekends of hiking, camping, and spending time with family and friends. I feel very lucky to live in this beautiful state, and I feel very lucky to have a job in which I get to spend my working hours trying to make life better for all Coloradans.

Thank you for your continuing support.

Taking Real Action to Address Our Affordable Housing Crisis

Like homeowners across Colorado, I received a notice of valuation from our county assessor earlier this year. I heard from many Jeffco residents that they were shocked to see the huge increases in property value, but honestly, I wasn’t all that surprised. After all, we’ve been hearing about skyrocketing housing costs for a few years now.

Colorado’s economy is among the strongest in the country with unemployment now at a record low of 2.3 percent. We also have some of the country’s lowest income taxes and residential property taxes, which attracts new residents but has made it impossible for growth to pay its own way. Furthermore, we can all attest to the Colorado quality of life, so it’s really no surprise to see how many people are moving here – and that’s the main thing driving increasing housing costs.

This year, your state legislators worked on several ideas to address the affordable housing crisis and provide relief for both homeowners and renters.

First, we achieved a major bipartisan breakthrough on construction defects reform. After months at the negotiating table, a consensus bill to settle a major aspect of the issue passed both chambers unanimously. For years, developers have claimed that our laws encouraged “frivolous lawsuits” and thus discouraged the construction of affordable condos, a critical missing piece in our market-rate affordable housing picture. The bill requires “informed consent” and a vote of all homeowners in an HOA before a lawsuit is filed, addressing the builders’ stated concerns while protecting homeowners’ rights regarding their most important asset—their home. Now that this bill is law, it’s time for builders to step up to the plate and build affordable condos.

Second, we increased investment in the construction of affordable housing. If we want apartments to be rented at more attainable prices, we need to spend public dollars to make it possible for builders to construct affordable rental properties. I was pleased that we were able to allocate money from the marijuana tax cash fund for the construction of housing for some of our most vulnerable Coloradans.

However, I was incredibly disappointed to see a bill killed by Senate Republicans that would have provided a stable source of funding to build more affordable homes by increasing the documentary fee on home purchases by one penny per $100 of home value. This is a smart way to create sustainable funding as newcomers to Colorado would also pay this fee. The revenue from this small change would have provided stable funding to help prevent Colorado families from being priced out of their neighborhoods.

Finally, we ran a series of bills to improve renters’ rights. One new law will require 21 days’ notice before a landlord can raise rent or end a month-to-month tenancy, and another will reform the tax lien process for mobile home owners so that they don’t lose their homes over minor tax delinquencies. These are good steps, but we need to do more for renters. We also worked hard to pass bills to limit rental application fees to actual costs and to require landlords to provide tenants with copies of their leases and receipts for cash payments, but these bills were killed by Senate Republicans. As more and more Coloradans are renting, it’s more important than ever to keep fighting for basic fairness for renters.

These issues are not going away. There are some who would like to build a wall around our state or set arbitrary growth caps that would only make housing affordability crisis worse, but I believe we must take real action.

We must plan for smart growth in areas where people have access to transit and bike paths so that we minimize the number of cars we’re adding to our already-congested roads. And we must make sure growth pays its way in Colorado so that we can build more affordable housing, preserve our neighborhoods, and invest in improving our schools, roads, and bridges to accommodate our growing population while protecting the quality of life that we Coloradans enjoy so much.

I will continue working on these issues in the years ahead, and I would love your feedback. Please call my office at (303) 866-2951 or email me at chris.kennedy.house@state.co.us.

This op-ed appeared in the June 22, 2017 issue of the Lakewood Sentinel and the June 19, 2017 issue of the Neighborhood Gazette.

VIDEO: 2017 Highlights

VIDEO: 2017 Highlights

We covered quite a range of topics at the legislature this session, and it turns out I had a few things to say about many of them.

My amazing staff, Susannah and Cortland, put together a highlights video of many of my speeches on the House floor on topics ranging from capping rental application fees to increasing transparency in our health care system to regulating marijuana grown in the home. Check it out:

 

Interested in learning more? Click here for my full End-of-Session Report!

The good, the bad, and the ugh…

I’m sorry to say it’s been a month since my last update, but I’ve been busy trying to get some things done in the final month of the 2017 legislative session! It’s been turbulent with many highs and lows, and as we gear up to “Adjourn Sine Die” on Wednesday, here’s a quick run down of what’s been going on.

The Good
To begin with, we reached a balanced budget deal. Though there are many painful cuts, we managed to mitigate the impact of the Gallagher amendment and avoid further cuts to K-12. We also finally reached a deal on converting the hospital provider fee into an enterprise. Though we again had to make many painful concessions, this accounting change will have a meaningful impact in future years by allowing us to start reinvesting in priorities like higher education, K-12, affordable housing, mental health, and more.

We also finally had a breakthrough on the construction defects issue with a bipartisan compromise that should give builders the confidence to start building new condos while protecting homeowners’ right to access the courts when needed.

Two more of my bills have completed their journey through the process. One was a simple bill to continue the licensing and regulation of landscape architects (SB218). Another was a bit more controversial. After some serious back-and-forth, SB203 passed both chambers. This bill, supported by the Chronic Care Collaborative, prohibits insurance companies from putting a patient through “step therapy” more than once. That means patients will get covered for the medications prescribed by their doctor without having the fail first on an alternative treatment.

The Bad
The transportation bill is dead. We had high hopes for a bipartisan compromise on referring a small tax increase to the voters that would support major investments in roads, bridges, transit, and more. While the Republican President of the Senate supported the deal, too many Republican Senators felt the pressure from their anti-tax base, and as a result, they killed the bill.

Several of my bills also faced a similar fate, including my hospital transparency bill (HB1236), my county contribution limits bill (HB1260), and my rental application fee limits bill (HB1310).

Our caucus was also pushing some big ideas forward that were sent straight to kill-committees in the Senate:

  • Paid family and medical leave
  • Accelerating the shut-down of coal plants in a way that boosts renewable energy and invests in economic development in rural Colorado
  • Increased transparency for money in politics
  • Funding for affordable housing
  • Background checks for medical professionals
  • Transparency for pharmaceutical costs

These are all disappointed losses, but we’ll keep fighting!

The Ugh…
While I truly value the relationships I’ve built with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, there have certainly been some ugly moments this session. I’ll only bring up one example here, and I won’t name names. I’ll just say it’s disappointing that some legislators have been more focused on demonizing immigrants (as if they are the ones causing our problems) than they are on finding actual policy solutions to make life better for all Coloradans.

All we can do is continue to rise above that kind of demagoguery.

Everything above is just a small sample of what we’ve been up to this year. We have 100 legislators, all working every day on a wide variety of topics. Learn more about the work of my fellow House Democrats here.

Increasing Transparency in our Health Care Spending

Increasing Transparency in our Health Care Spending

There’s a reason health care policy is a hot topic right now, and it’s not that “Obamacare is exploding.”

Health care costs have been growing faster than inflation for as long as I can remember. When I was working at my engineering firm in the mid-2000s, I remember the broker coming by every year to tell us how much our premiums would be going up. After the passage of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), premiums continued to rise, although not as quickly as before. Millions more people had coverage, which insurance companies could no longer deny to people with preexisting conditions.

But the fact remains that premiums are rising too quickly, and every voter I met last year knows it. That’s a big part of why I requested to serve on the Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee this year.

I started the legislative session hoping to identify some concrete steps we could take to address the growing cost of health care, but as I started to dig, I discovered how little we actually know about how our health care dollars are being spent. This is especially true with hospital care, which makes up 37 percent of our health care spending in Colorado.

We’re looking at several pieces of legislation this year to address concerns with pharmaceutical costs, insurance company practices, and the new free-standing emergency departments springing up all over the metro area. But my highest priority this session is getting to the bottom of the cost increases for hospital care.

My bill, House Bill 1236, will require hospitals to annually submit their cost reports and audited financial statements to the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF, often pronounced “hick-puff”). HCPF will then produce an annual report breaking down spending on inpatient and outpatient care, personnel and administrative costs, capital construction and equipment expenditures, and uncompensated care (including charity care and bad debt) so that policymakers and citizens have the information they need to understand the cost drivers in our hospital system.

It’s also not just about premiums. State spending on Medicaid has been growing, too. Part of this growth comes from increased enrollment and utilization, but much of it comes from the same inflationary pressures impacting our premiums.

Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne testified in support of my bill in committee, saying, “This bill is important. It provides the basic financial information in the interest of providing appropriate oversight for such a large portion of taxpayer dollars. Hospitals represent 32 percent of all state Medicaid expenditures – the single largest portion of the program with the single largest budget in the state. These are public dollars and the public should know where and how they are used.”

The bill passed the House with bipartisan support and will soon go to the Senate where it also has bipartisan sponsorship. Watch my speech on the House floor here.

Increasing transparency is only a first step, but I’m hopeful we can identify some of the major cost drivers, partner with hospitals on future legislation, and pass the savings along to the people of Colorado.