Colorado Legislature restarts; COVID-19 recovery, transportation funding are priorities
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS —The Colorado State Legislature started back up again Tuesday after meeting briefly in January, and the main priority for lawmakers is COVID-19 recovery legislation.
Rep. Dylan Roberts of Avon, who represents Routt and Eagle counties at the Capitol, said a large stimulus package will be a strong focus of the session and added that bills, which were being worked on before the pandemic, are also being picked back up.
“I see this session as kind of those dual things, where we will be focusing very strongly on COVID recovery, but also making sure that your concerns, your ideas, your priorities that existed both before and after this pandemic are being addressed,” Roberts said in a virtual town hall with fellow Democrats on Tuesday.
Every legislator will be involved with the relief package, he said, and the bill will aim to create jobs and help residents and businesses get back on their feet. Proponents of the bill want to stimulate the economy with grants and loan funding to small businesses, increase broadband access for remote learning and help with child care and housing issues exasperated by the pandemic, Roberts said.
Roberts said he is also continuing to work on his public option health care bill. Hoping to bring down the cost of rural health care, the bill would create a Colorado health insurance option giving residents more choice and spurring competition.
The bill was introduced last year and passed its first committee hearing before the Legislature had to shut down because of COVID-19, but Roberts said he still went “back to the drawing board” for this year’s version.
“We’ve had some really good conversations and new ideas come into play, and I think we have arrived on a really creative and innovative solution that will immediately lower health insurance costs and then put us on the track to creating a Colorado health insurance option if we need it,” Roberts said.
Roberts also has a bill aimed at lowering prescription drug costs and another that would allow restaurants to continue to serve alcohol with to-go meals beyond the pandemic.
As for other issues, Roberts said transportation has the most momentum to reach a deal on a permanent source of funding in this session than in any other session he’s been a part of while serving as a state representative. The current proposal, which has not been released yet, would increase the state’s gas tax and add fees to transportation and delivery services that use roads.
House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, specifically mentioned rural roads in his floor speech Tuesday, which Roberts said he was glad to hear.
“We don’t want that funding just to be concentrated on the Front Range,” Roberts said. “It needs to come west, and it needs to move off of I-70 as well and into our more rural communities.”
Voters approved Proposition EE in November, which raised taxes on cigarettes and other nicotine products and will generate revenue for affordable housing projects, but Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, said lawmakers also need to be creative.
“We know that funneling money towards projects is important, but we also have to find new ways to approach our housing challenges,” McCluskie said.
She said they are talking about legislation that protects tenants but also landlords. If tenants are unable to make their payments, the entire system starts to collapse, and they want to get ahead of that. McCluskie said Democrat legislators will look to prioritize workforce housing developments by working with municipalities and developers to incentivize the creation of this type of housing.
Another proposition that passed in November will reestablish wolves on the Western Slope, though they are already coming in naturally. Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, said Colorado Parks and Wildlife is studying how best to manage wolves, and legislators need to wait for them to come up with a proposal.
Donovan said the state needs to create a compensation program that is well-funded for ranchers who lose livestock to wolves but also need to reestablish wolves in a way that is good for the species.
While he does not have a bill on water right now, Roberts said there is a committee studying how rules could be strengthened to prevent out-of-state entities from making money off of water resources.
Donovan added that demand management of water is another really important issue, because the state has a legal obligation to share water. What could happen if they are not careful, she warned, is that water rights could become their own market where out-of-state interests start buying up these rights to sell them when water becomes more scarce.
“As well as our Republican colleagues, we are all very tightly aligned on this topic,” Donovan said. “One of the most closely aligned things when party absolutely disappears is when we talk about water.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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