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.

First Bill Signed Into Law

First Bill Signed Into Law

Governor Hickenlooper signed my first bill, House Bill 2017, into law today and I got my first bill signing pen!

The bill clarifies the duties of county surveyors, seeks to make it easier for small counties to appoint in the event of a vacancy, and modernizes some pretty outdated provisions. It was great to have several surveyors join us for the signing, along with some close friends and one of my youngest new constituents!

End of February Update

In other news, we’ve had another busy couple weeks at the capitol. The days and weeks go by so fast here that I can barely remember everything that has happened.

My Bills
My first bill has completed its journey through the legislative process. HB 1017 clarifies the responsibilities of county surveyors and the vacancy appointment process. It passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, and after the House concurred with one minor Senate amendment, the bill is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk to be signed into law!

Last Wednesday, I convened a stakeholder group to discuss my idea of streamlining inspections of affordable housing projects. I had previously introduced a bill, HB 1170, to address this issue, but I also knew this was a complicated enough issue that my bill might not necessarily be the right solution; legislation is not always the answer. In this case, we might be able to make more progress simply by keeping these stakeholders sitting at the same table and working things out. I may or may not move forward with my bill at this point, but I feel good about the conversation we’ve started.

I also want to plug a bill I’ll be introducing soon on hospital transparency. Did you know that hospital care accounts for 37% of the total cost of our health care, and yet we don’t have great data about how this money is being spent within the hospital system? My bill – which already has significant bipartisan support – will require hospitals to report more data to the state so we can compile detailed hospital expenditure reports and identify more of the drivers of our increasing health care premiums.

What else?
So much. Just yesterday, my Finance Committee passed a bill extending the childcare tax credit and another to refer a measure to voters to re-calibrate the TABOR growth cap. The Education Committee passed a bill to address a long-standing concern with 9th grade testing. Negotiations continue on a referred measure to raise revenue for transportation. We’ve also been busy defeating bad bills, like this one introduced for solely political purposes.

I could go on, but I think I’ll leave it there. If you want to talk more, email me or call my office at 303-866-2951 or come to my meet-and-greet or office hours!

An Idea for Affordable Housing

One bill I’m particularly excited about will be introduced in the next day or so. In a conversation with the folks at Metro West Housing Solutions (Lakewood’s housing authority) last summer, I learned about an issue with duplicative inspections. Affordable housing projects often require public funding from multiple sources including state housing development grants (HDG), state and federal low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), and federal HOME funds. Each of these public funding sources comes with tenant income-verification inspections immediately after occupancy and/or periodically over many years. So why can’t we streamline these inspections and cut some duplicates? My bill starts up a process of rulemaking to bring all parties to the table and get to work on streamlining these inspections.

My bill hardly solves our affordable housing problem – we need millions of dollars to do that – but it attempts to stretch existing resources just a little bit further by reducing duplication. Stay tuned for updates on more of my bills

Coming up in Health Committee: Abortion Bans

Lest you think that this issue is resolved, I can assure you we still need to fight every year to protect a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health.

This Thursday, the House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee will be hearing three Republican-sponsored bills going after abortion rights. One bill purports to protect women’s health, but in fact it is a way for the Attorney General to build a database and conduct surprise inspections on abortion clinics. A second bill requires abortion providers to “inform” women about abortion pill reversal, based on highly questionable and unproven science. A third bill defines life at the moment of conception, essentially outlawing all abortions – a state law clearly deemed unconstitutional under Roe v Wade and subsequent decisions. Read the three bills here.

That’s going to be a really long night. I’m working incredibly hard on these and many other issues, but I gotta tell you – I dig this job. It’s such an honor to represent you all, and it feels good to be doing this work every day. Thanks for hiring me.

My First Two Bills

On the campaign trail last year, I often reminded voters that 95% of the legislation we pass each year is bipartisan. Well, that’s largely because we do an awful lot of work that involves fairly minor changes to state law. While I’m certainly working on some big stuff for the longer term, I chose to take on a couple small things as my first two bills.

My first bill, House Bill 1017, deals with county surveyors. Did you know that half of Colorado’s counties don’t have one? Well, they’re supposed to. Our State Constitution requires each county to have a surveyor, but it’s challenging for many of our counties to find someone qualified to run. My bill gives greater flexibility to the counties on the vacancy appointment process, clarifies both the mandatory and discretionary duties of the surveyor, and modernizes a few outdated references.

My second bill, House Bill 1079, continues the health department’s existing program to ensure food safety with wholesale food manufacturing and storage. You see, many of our programs come up for review every so often because of “repeal dates” built into the law. This program was up for review this year, and I was approached by the liaison for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to shepherd a bill through the process to continue the program and make updates to the fee structure to more fairly reflect the workload required to provide technical support to different kinds of businesses. This change includes a fee reduction to many low-risk facilities such as breweries and distilleries.

I don’t expect either of these bills to make headlines, but they’re good policy. This is what so much of our legislative work is all about, and I’m really enjoying doing it every day.

Ready Set Go

Ready Set Go

You know, it’s funny. People keep asking me if I’m ready for things to get crazy when the 2017 Legislative Session begins on Wednesday, but the truth is things have been crazy since the day after Election Day. And I love it.

Every day, I get to wake up and work on solving public policy problems. Whether I’m digging into research based on my own ideas and concerns or meeting with constituents and advocates to learn about theirs, it is truly a privilege to be in this position.

Colorado is facing some pretty significant challenges right now. While the economy is growing, there are still too many folks struggling to keep up with the cost of living. Among our top priorities will be working to address the costs of housing, health care, child care, and more.

At the same time, Colorado is in a very unique situation because of Constitutional constraints on our budget. As many of you know, Colorado is the only state in the U.S. in which the legislature doesn’t have the authority to raise taxes. Furthermore, our budget is restricted by a growth cap that doesn’t keep pace with the needs of our growing state. So, even as we grow our economy, we’re unable to adequately fund our public schools, transportation infrastructure, and other priorities. Furthermore, the rapid growth of home values has put the Gallagher amendment into effect for the first time since 2003. Essentially, this means we’re forced to reduce residential property taxes in a way that will cut education funding by $178M at a time when the state is already far short of it’s obligation to K-12.

While we will certainly be searching for legislative solutions to many of these problems, some of them can only be addressed by amending the Constitution, which is now much more difficult because of the passage of Amendment 71. In the short term, that means Colorado will be making budget cuts.

It is indeed frustrating that despite our growing economy we’re unable to increase our investment in many critical priorities, but it is also an honor to be in a position to fix the things we can and fight for long-term change. That’s exactly what I’ll be doing every day as your State Representative.

Stay tuned for more updates soon on the bills I’m sponsoring and the work we’re doing in committee.

Courage and Grace

One thing I have learned from my experience working on campaigns is that election night is always bittersweet. Last night was an especially difficult one for our country. After lying awake most of the night, I spent the morning trying to figure out the right way to move forward.

The good news is that I’ll be moving forward as your next State Representative! As of this moment, I am winning 56-44 with very few ballots outstanding. A couple hours ago, my opponent called me to congratulate me. I thanked him for his commitment to service that led him to enter the race and go through a tough campaign.

I am so thankful to all of you who made this victory possible. Whether you knocked on a few doors, donated a few bucks, or did anything else to help the cause, I couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you!

Over the last month, I have been getting excited about the next steps. Tomorrow is my first day of freshman orientation, and I will soon begin setting up meetings with various stakeholders to begin drafting legislation. While our agenda will look pretty different given the results of the Presidential contest, I have faith that there will still be many ways we can move Colorado forward.

Over the last 18 hours, I have been reminding myself that democracy was never supposed to be easy. This struggle to improve the lives of our fellow travelers is a struggle that will go on forever. We must all renew our commitment to working for our ideals knowing that our progress will be limited, our purpose will be called into question, and our journey will often face setbacks as we seek to ensure that this long arc of history continues to bend toward justice.

I’d like to end by sharing a passage from Michelle Obama’s 2012 DNC speech that inspired me at the time and continues to shore up my heart when times are toughest:
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And I love that even in the toughest moments, when we’re all sweating it – when we’re worried that the bill won’t pass, and it seems like all is lost – Barack never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise.

Just like his grandmother, he just keeps getting up and moving forward…with patience and wisdom, and courage and grace.

And he reminds me that we are playing a long game here…and that change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once.

But eventually we get there, we always do.

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As we reflect on what’s happened and plan for the future, may we all move forward with patience, wisdom, courage, and grace.

Thank you again.