February Under the Golden Dome

February Under the Golden Dome

We’re now in the 4th full week of the 2018 legislative session. Things still feel a little quiet, but there’s a ton of work going on in the background as we all engage with stakeholders on our bills and finalize drafting. Six of my bills have now introduced, and I’m signed onto three in the Senate. Check them out here!

My first bill, HB18-1032, passed the House yesterday 44-20. I worked closely with Rep. Dan Thurlow (R-Grand Junction) on this bill to facilitate the sharing of certain health data to improve the quality of care. With the advent of electronic health records, more medical professionals are able to access patient data to better coordinate care, reduce duplicative tests, and save cost.

This is one of many bipartisan bills I’m working on this session. In fact, I’m partnering with Republican colleagues on nearly all of my bills. There will always be areas of disagreement, but the truth is there is a great deal of common ground. You just have to invest the time and energy to seek it out and build trust across the aisle.

Meanwhile, committee meetings are in full swing and we’re regularly working through bills. Just last week, my committees heard bills about oil and gas permitting, four-year nursing degrees, marijuana taxes, newborn hearing screenings, child care tax credits, teacher’s license renewals, and aquatic nuisance species.

Believe me when I say that it takes a bit of practice to jump from topic to topic every day like that. But it’s so interesting to learn about so many different issues and to see the legislators and advocates who engage to solve these kinds of problems.

This week, many of us are participating in #FightingForFamilies week. It’s the 25th anniversary of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and we’re spending a lot of time talking about steps we can take in Colorado to build upon FMLA. One of our top priorities of the session is the similarly acronym’d FAMLI Act, which will establish an insurance program to provide wage-replacement benefits for workers who are sick or who need time off to care for a child or other family member.

For my part, I’m pretty focused on the ways that the high cost of living makes it difficult for working families to get by. While it’s true that our economy is doing well, the costs of housing, health care, and child care are growing faster than income for many hard-working Coloradans.

Along with Rep. Dominique Jackson (D-Aurora), I’m sponsoring a bill to limit rental application fees and require landlords to be more transparent when processing applications for vacant units. You can read the bill here, and you can check out a little video I recorded with Rep. Jackson here:

Happy February!

Open enrollment ending soon

It’s open enrollment season, and if you don’t already have health insurance, you can sign up between now and January 12th via Colorado’s health insurance marketplace, ConnectForHealthCO.com.

While there’s been much uncertainty about the future of health insurance, Colorado’s exchange has been seeing a record number of plan selections as well as a significant increase in the number of folks qualifying for financial assistance. While the federal government has recently repealed the individual mandate and canceled payments for the cost-sharing reductions (which reduce out-of-pocket expenses like deductibles), the advanced premium tax credit (APTC) is still fully funded for individuals and families with income between 138% and 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL). Individuals and families with income below 138% FPL qualify for Medicaid.

That means any individual with annual income below $48,240 or a family of four with income below $98,400 will receive assistance paying their premiums. Learn more at ConnectForHealthCO.com.

When more healthy people sign up, costs are shared more broadly and the system is more sustainable for everyone. Sign up soon and share with anyone you know who needs health insurance!

Even with premium assistance, we need to do more to address the unsustainable cost growth in our health care system. Learn more about what I’m working on here. 

Thanks,

Open Primary vs Party Caucus

Colorado voters passed an “open primary” law on the 2016 ballot, but there’s been some confusion about what all is changing. With competitive primaries for Governor and many other statewide and local offices this year, I thought I’d share some information to make sure all of you know how to participate.

Open Primaries
In Colorado, our primary elections are used to determine the major party nominees for the general election ballot. In 2018, our primary election is on Tuesday, June 26th and our general election is on Tuesday, November 6th.

With the passage of Proposition 108 in November 2016, there’s a new way for unaffiliated voters to participate in the primary elections. Previously, they could choose to affiliate with either the Democratic or Republican party up until 6:59pm on the day of the primary election, cast their ballot, and then go back to being unaffiliated the next day.

Now, unaffiliated voters do not need to change their party. Instead, they will receive two mail ballots – one with the Democratic candidates and one with the Republican candidates. They will be able to choose one ballot to complete and return.

Voters also passed Proposition 107 in 2016 which restored Colorado’s presidential primary. Learn more about both propositions in the 2016 Blue Book.

Party Caucuses & Assemblies
While the process for selecting nominees changed, the process for getting a candidate onto the primary ballot did not. Candidates must either collect petition signatures or go through a party caucus and be nominated at a party assembly.

This year’s Democratic and Republican Party Precinct Caucuses are on Tuesday, March 6th at 7:00pm. The caucuses are organized and paid for by the parties themselves and still rely on paper voter lists printed in advance, and that means that voters must be affiliated with a major party in advance if they want to participate. Same day registration/ affiliation for a caucus would require computers at every caucus site connected to the state voter database, and that’s just too expensive for the parties to handle.

If you’re already a registered voter, you will need to make sure your party affiliation is up to date by January 8th (60 days before caucus). If you’re registering in Colorado for the first time, you have a little more time and must register and affiliate by February 5th. Either way, you must be a resident of your precinct by February 5th.

If you’ve never attended caucus before, I highly recommend it. I’ll admit it’s more of a commitment than simply casting a ballot – you’ll need to dedicate the entire evening – but it’s a great way to meet people in your precinct and help determine which candidates go on to appear on the primary ballots in June.

Questions? Email me at chris@kennedy4co.com.

2018 Session Priorities

2018 Session Priorities

This is a challenging time for our country with a great deal of uncertainty about the future of federal policy, but here in Colorado we must keep moving forward. Our economy is booming, but our rapid growth and high cost of living are making it difficult for hard-working, middle class families to stay afloat. I will be focusing most of my energy this upcoming session on affordable health care and affordable housing.

I will also be working together with my colleagues on a variety of other big priorities including strengthening our public education system, accelerating our transition to renewable energy, investing in transportation and broadband infrastructure, protecting the equal rights of all our people, addressing the sustainability of our public employee retirement system, and working to eliminate sexual harassment from the workplace. It’s going to be a busy session!

Affordable Health Care

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we’ve made great progress on expanding access to health care. Now it’s time to get serious about controlling costs. In June, the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care concluded three years of work and issued its final report on what’s been driving the cost increases. Unfortunately, part of their conclusion was that we don’t have enough data to really know. That’s why my #1 priority is to increase transparency in health care spending. I am sponsoring a bill (again) to require our hospitals to submit more data to the state so we can analyze both price and utilization trends and identify changes to reduce costs. I am also supporting a similar bill to increase pharmaceutical cost transparency.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen free-standing emergency departments spring up all over the Denver metro area. Sure, these facilities increase access to emergency services, but at what cost? Consumers are often faced with surprise out-of-network bills and the high operational costs are passed along to the rest of us in our increased premiums and deductibles. I am working with a bipartisan group of legislators on a trio of bills that will improve disclosures to patients, better track expenses, and create a more appropriate license type that comes with more appropriate regulations for these facilities.

Lastly, I will be continuing the work we started with the opioid interim committee to pass a package of six bills to address Colorado’s opioid epidemic by improving prevention education, limiting prescriptions, removing payment barriers in our insurance and Medicaid systems, and more.

Affordable Housing

Growth. It’s happening, and it’s our job to make sure it happens responsibly. That means investing in transportation infrastructure and protecting our open spaces and public lands. Most of all, it means incentivizing and requiring the inclusion of a significant number of affordable units in new construction projects. We must also improve renters’ rights, and I’ll be (again) sponsoring a bill to limit rental application fees to the actual costs so that landlords aren’t profiting by taking applications for units they never intend to lease.

Last but not least, I am taking a hard look at various senior tax exemptions and credits and exploring ways to reform them to give more support to seniors who own or rent so they can stay in their homes.

Download a printable version of these priorities here.

This Year’s Election

Local government matters.

When we elect the right people to our school boards, we expand opportunities for every kid to learn, grow, and prepare for a great career and a great life. This year in Jeffco, I’m strongly supporting Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell. They have done great work these last two years to pull Jeffco back from the brink of disaster and they have each earned four more years.

When we elect the right people to our city councils, we can find the right balance between affordable housing and open space, revitalize communities that have been neglected (like West Colfax, for example), expand transportation options, recruit and train exemplary police officers, and maintain all of the services we expect in order to live our own lives.

Politics in Lakewood has been messy of late. One faction on our city council has been playing a very Trumpian game for several years now. They pretend to be champions of everyday folks, but all they really do is throw grenades at those who are trying to work through complicated problems. I am disgusted by the misinformation I’ve seen in the fake newspaper known as the “Lakewood Watchdog” and on the blog sites paid for by a certain council member.

The best example is the contentious conversation around growth. We can’t just deny it’s happening, nor can we abdicate our responsibility to find regional solutions by saying “those people should go live somewhere else.” Doing so is tantamount to building a wall around our city, but I’m much more interested in building bridges.

Lakewood needs leaders who will take our challenges seriously and have serious conversations about housing, transportation, open space, and economic opportunity. We are lucky to have several serious people running for city council this year, and Lakewood would be lucky to have any of the following:

I’d also just like to add that these candidates include several Democrats and several Republicans. They will disagree at times but they will be united in putting the needs of our community ahead of faux-populist politics.

Ok, that was a feistier email than I had in mind when I started typing this morning but I feel it’s important you all know the truth about what’s at stake. So I’ll just leave you with this:

VOTE.

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.