The first bills introduced in the Colorado House and Senate traditionally set the tone for the priorities that lawmakers, or at least those of the majority, intend to adopt in any legislative session.
Normally, they’re considered high priorities, but Senate Democrats have gone one step further than normal.
There, four of its first six bills have major sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including a measure to get the federal agency to allow community health care workers to get Medicaid reimbursements.
Other measures include affordable housing, job training, more mental health workers in schools, better fire management and helping to improve economic opportunity in rural parts of the state.
“These bills will help make housing and health care more affordable in Colorado, provide critical resources for our students and schools, and mitigate and prevent catastrophic wildfires,” said Senate Chairman Stephen Fenberg, D- bouldering.
Three of these bills were introduced in part by Western Slope lawmakers.
HOUSING AND HEALTHCARESenate Bill 1, sponsored in part by Western Slope lawmakers Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Freshman Meghan Lukens, D-Steamboat Springs, would provide $13 million in grants for public-private projects to create affordable workforce housing on state land.
It’s similar to a bill now House Speaker Julie McCluskie D-Dillion has passed in the Legislature in 2021 that has provided $40 million in matching grants to local governments to pursue affordable housing projects.
Senate Bill 2, sponsored in part by McCluskie and Sen. Cleave Simpson, an Alamosa Republican whose newly redrafted district includes part of Montrose County, would seek a federal waiver to allow community health care providers to bill Medicaid customers.
Such workers, also sometimes known as health educators or case managers, help patients and their families navigate and access various community services, including behavioral and mental health programs, something Mesa County is trying to address.
Another Senate measure, SB4, doesn’t have bipartisan or Western Slope backing, at least not yet, but it could help the county in its efforts to find mental health professionals. Under current law, such professionals working in schools must be licensed not only by the state, but also by the Colorado Department of Education.
The bill would allow school districts, charter schools or a cooperative educational services board to hire them even if they are not authorized by the education department.
The sixth bill introduced in the Senate also has bipartisan support and is fully introduced by four lawmakers from Western Slope, Roberts and Sen. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, and Representatives Marc Catlin, R-Montrose and Barbara McLachlin, D- Durango.
Such a measure, SB6, would extend the life of the Office of Rural Opportunities, first created in 2019 under the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
In the years it has existed, the office has served as a central figure for rural economic development, in part to help communities that are looking to transition away from coal-based economies, its sponsors said.
“Since 2019, the Rural Opportunity Office has served thousands of rural businesses and stakeholders and, with this bill, will continue to serve as a vital resource for developing economic opportunity for rural Coloradans for years to come,” said Rich .
“By creating a one-stop shop for our small towns… we will be able to provide the expertise to meet the unique needs of our rural economies,” Roberts added. “(It will help) communities take advantage of state, federal and non-profit opportunities to promote, diversify and expand economic opportunity.”
While the top five bills in the Colorado House still lack Republican support, many are supported by Western Slope lawmakers.
House Bill 1001, introduced in part by McLachlin, is intended to address a teacher shortage by providing those who qualify with financial assistance or loan forgiveness to obtain their teaching certificates.
Other House measures focus on health care, mental health, insurance protections, and water and energy efficiency improvements in commercial properties.
“Even though we’ve made great strides, Coloradans continue to struggle with the high cost of living in our state,” said new House Majority Leader Monica Duran D-Wheat Ridge. “Our legislative priorities this year continue our efforts to prioritize students and teachers, save Coloradans money on everything from housing to health care, fund services to crime victims, and reduce gun violence.”
Of the top five House Democrats bills, one, HB1004, is sponsored in part by one of Western Slope’s newest lawmakers, Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs.
That bill is designed to ensure that people whose first language is not English get assurances that a translated version of the policies they sign is accurate and correct.
Meanwhile, Roberts is the Senate sponsor for House Bill 1002, which would limit the amount of prescription drugs companies can charge for automatic epinephrine injectors, also known as EpiPens. The average price of such injectors, used to treat severe allergic reactions, can range from $350 to $750. Roberts’ bill would limit a person’s insurance co-pay for a 2-pack of EpiPens to no more than $60.
While not in the top five, another House bill that has Western Slope and bipartisan support is House Bill 1043.
That measure was introduced by two Democrats and two Republicans, including Rich and Rep. Rose Pugliese, R-Colorado Springs.
It is designed to make it easier for a parent or relative to adopt, on an emergency or non-emergency basis, a related child.
However, it does come with significant barriers, such as background checks to see if the adopter has been convicted of a serious crime, including child abuse.
Here are a few other notable ones that have been introduced so far:
■ HB1050: Since former US Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican, served in the Colorado House more than a decade ago, this bill has not been introduced to extend the state’s so-called Make My Day law to businesses .
Like that law, this bill would create a defense for the use of physical force, including deadly force, against an intruder.
■ HB1051: Introduced, in part, by Lukens and Roberts, this bill would continue to fund some rural telecommunications providers who are expanding broadband statewide.
■ SB17: While the state’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance program just began collecting payments from workers and their employees earlier this year, to be used in the event of a family or medical emergency, this design law intends to extend such use to include caring for a family member whose school or nursing home has been closed due to inclement weather or other unforeseen incidents, or to attend the funeral or deal with financial or legal matters of a family member family.
■ SB21: Instead of listing candidates’ names on ballot papers, first by how well they perform in their party’s assemblies and then by petition, this measure would require that order to be drawn by lot.
■ SB25: Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, participates in this bipartisan bill to create a new vehicle named “In God We Trust,” with rates targeting Transportation and the Division of Motor Vehicle Services.