Routt County’s state legislators discuss health care, education and more at town hall in Steamboat Springs
Editor’s note: This story was corrected at 4:15 p.m. May 15 to reflect the impact of House Bill 1030.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County’s state legislators — Republican Sen. Bob Rankin and Democrat Rep. Dylan Roberts — held a town hall Monday to update residents on the most recent legislative session.
About 50 people turned out for the event, which was held at Olympian Hall in Howelsen Hill Lodge.
The legislators opened with a roundup of sponsored bills that passed in 2019’s legislative session, which adjourned May 3.
Both Rankin and Roberts sponsored House Bill 1030, which created the crime of unlawful electronic sexual communication. The bill stemmed from a court case in Moffat County, in which a high school coach was acquitted on 10 felony counts of sexual exploitation of a child. Though the jury reviewed 30 pages of screenshots of explicit texts between the teacher and a 14- or 15-year-old student, those messages contained no direct evidence of images or video, and at the time, exchanging those explicit texts was not against the law.
The new law prohibits people in positions of trust from sending texts to 15 to 17-year-olds that describe and invite sexual conduct.
The two also sponsored House Bill 1207, which requires traction devices or adequate winter tires on Interstate 70 from Dotsero to Morrison from Sept. 1 to May 31.
Rankin and Roberts mentioned several other bills they sponsored that have made it to the governor’s desk.
Bills sponsored by Rankin
- Hospital transparency, House Bill 1001, requires that nonprofit and private hospitals submit annual reports detailing the cost of service and what they spend money on.
- Reinsurance, HB 1168, aims to lower health insurance costs by allowing the state to implement and operate a reinsurance program to assist health insurers in paying high-cost insurance claims.
- READ Act, Senate Bill 199, makes several changes concerning implementation of the Colorado Reading to Ensure Academic Development Act, a bill passed in 2013 that aims to improve reading levels.
Bills sponsored by Roberts
- Proposal for a public health insurance option, HB 1004, requires state agencies present a proposal exploring the design, costs, benefits and implementation of a state option for health care coverage. SB 004 also authorizes health care co-operatives in Colorado to add consumer protections.
- Emergency drugs without a prescription, HB 1077, allows pharmacists to dispense certain emergency drugs, such as insulin and inhalers, in limited, emergency circumstances.
- Affordable housing, HB 1322, transfers money from Colorado’s unclaimed property trust fund to a housing grant fund, with the aim of increasing affordable housing.
Rankin and Roberts took about an hour to answer audience questions. Some questions are included below and edited for clarity.
What are you prioritizing in the next legislative session?
Rankin said he hoped to tackle a repeal-and-replace for the Gallagher Amendment early in the session. He’s also interested in creating a uniform state mill levy for education funding.
Roberts wanted to continue to work on the health care bills both he and Rankin mentioned earlier. He also hopes to address prescription drug prices as well as environmental issues, with a particular focus on water.
What is the legislature going to do about the Gallagher Amendment?
Gallagher, passed by voters in 1982, is an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that set a ratio for property taxes paid statewide. It mandates that commercial property owners pay 55% of property taxes in the state and residential property owners pay 45%.
The amendment set a fixed assessment rate of 29% for commercial property, while the residential property tax rate is regularly adjusted to maintain the 45% to 55% ratio. The measure was intended to combat rising residential property taxes, but it had unintended consequences by shrinking property tax revenue, especially in rural counties.
Rankin said bills related to Gallagher weren’t introduced this session, as House Bill 1257 will send a ballot measure to voters asking them to allow the state to keep some tax money currently refunded to people under the Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights. Rankin said Democrats didn’t want to place both a Gallagher question and a TABOR question on the ballot.
In the meantime, he said, the property assessment rate didn’t change significantly this year, giving legislators two more years to find a solution to problems created by the Gallagher Amendment.
“We are committed — bipartisan— to build up an effort to repeal Gallagher and replace Gallagher,” he said.
What can be done, from the legislative perspective, to increase access to mental health care to prevent suicide and addiction problems?
Roberts said the state is expanding a pilot program that started in Routt and Pueblo counties that provides medication to help people who are addicted to opioids cope with craving and withdrawals.
Roberts acknowledged there is a need for more physical infrastructure for mental health facilities, as distance creates a challenge when people placed on mental health holds have to be taken to Frisco, Grand Junction or Denver to receive a evaluation at a hospital or psychiatric facility.
Rankin said there are not enough mental health professionals, and they are hard to hire and keep. He said more money could be dedicated to reimburse mental health professionals that work in community health centers.
He said more counselors in schools might also help.
What are you doing to take on illegal immigration?
“Immigration is almost entirely a federal jurisdiction issue, so my suggestion would be contact your congressman and U.S. senators,” Roberts said. “There’s nothing that we can legally do, in the state of Colorado, even if we agreed on bills on that subject.”
Would you consider taking a legislative session to study the bills you’ve passed to make sure they’re working?
Both legislators essentially said there are processes in place to review laws and the programs bills create.
Rankin said the READ bill he mentioned earlier in the evening is an example of this.
A joint-budget committee analyst approached the committee, which Rankin is a part of, and said the program wasn’t working. The committee didn’t appropriate that funding, and the legislature pursued and passed a bill changing the program.
Roberts said in the time between sessions, interim committees take an in-depth look at policy issues related to committee topics. He told the audience member that these committees “are a great way to do what you suggested.”
Roberts said sunsets included in many bills, which set a date at which bills expire unless legislators pass a new iteration of the bill, also help review legislation.
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