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appointment process, clarifies both the mandatory and discretionary duties of the surveyor, and modernizes a few outdated references.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.

What I learned from my ride-along

Over the last few years, we have witnessed far too much violence and tragedy from war, terrorism, senseless acts by deranged young men, shootings of unarmed black men and women, and most recently, shootings of police officers.

After the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the police officers in Dallas and other US cities, I decided  I needed to learn more about the root causes of violence between police departments and minority communities.

When I watched the video from the Castile shooting, I couldn’t help but thinking that this horrible loss of life could have been prevented. It appeared that Castile thought he was instructed to reach for his wallet while the officer thought Castile was reaching for a gun. While it is possible that each failed to communicate clearly with the other, we must hold our police officers to a higher standard than ordinary citizens. From their position of power, police officers have a greater responsibility to stay calm and de-escalate tense situations. Now I’m sure there was more to it than that, but I have to wonder if better training and communication could have prevented this tragic shooting.

In mid-July, I met with two senior Lakewood police officers to learn about hiring and training practices and community policing initiatives. I was impressed by how much work they put into preventing violence. First of all, each potential officer is carefully screened. They must have a bachelor’s degree, and thanks to two new laws (HB15-1262 and SB15-218), their history with other law enforcement agencies is now more easily accessible.

Secondly, Lakewood PD’s training programs are top notch. In addition to the standard and anti-bias training, nearly half of our officers have gone through Critical Incident Team training (CIT). CIT includes de-escalation training by a police psychologist that helps officers understand how to identify the behavior of people in crisis and how to deal with them properly. Officers go through a “decisional use-of-force” simulator where they practice tactics and learn the importance of clear verbal commands. Perhaps these hiring and training protocols help explain why Lakewood PD is so seldom accused of excessive force.

In addition, our officers work hard to get out into the community. Among other efforts, they regularly hold public meetings called Cops, Council, and Community.  Every year they send officers to participate in National Night Out gatherings – events that are held to bring communities together and reduce crime.

After my initial meeting, I went on a ride-along with one of Lakewood’s CIT-certified officers. Though it was a mostly uneventful day, I was able to ask many more questions, particularly about his interactions with minority communities. He again emphasized the importance of the anti-bias and critical incident training programs and gave me examples of how he has handled tense situations in the past.

It was in our last call of the day, though, that I truly saw the character of our department. We were called to a motel where a family traveling through the state was staying while their vehicle was undergoing repairs. The family had failed to pay in time for an additional night and struggled to pay at all. Though they ultimately came up with the money, the manager called the police to have the family escorted off the premises.

After hearing from the motel and the family, the three officers on site put their heads together. They called every motel they could think of to ask about vacancies and costs, but options were limited. The officers decided to try once more to make an arrangement with the motel’s manager and succeeded in making a deal. The family was allowed to pay and stay one more night, but they would have to leave by 11:00am the following day or else the police would return.

I’m not sure what I was expecting to see on my ride-along, but I was so impressed by the temperament, training, and commitment to public service embodied by our Lakewood police officers.

While there are certainly many other factors in the cities facing more violence, I feel that these high-quality hiring and training practices and community policing initiatives could help.

I also met with Representative Angela Williams to learn about her work on police and community issues. She pushed many of the new 2015-16 laws that are working to rebuild trust, improve training, incentivize the use of body cameras, and increase transparency after shootings. She has been meeting with the US Department of Justice and others to learn about best practices from other states, and is planning to keep up this work in the years ahead.

Rep. Williams pointed out that these problems didn’t develop overnight and won’t be solved overnight. Many of them are systemic issues tied to inequities  in economic opportunity, education, and health care. The long-term solutions will require a lot of hard work and new ideas.

These are not simple issues, but by working together and digging in, we have the potential to identify real policy changes that could save lives. I hope to take the lessons from Lakewood’s outstanding police department with me to the capitol so I can join efforts to improve relationships across Colorado between police and the communities they serve.