Western Slope lawmakers talk housing, behaviorial health in virtual town hall

Legislators say they stick together on big issues affecting the region

The Western Slope is outnumbered in the Colorado legislature. That makes it essential for legislators from the region to work together.

Nine of those legislators Monday held a virtual town hall meeting for constituents. The officials spent a good bit of time talking about their legislative agendas, which range from housing to behavioral health to agricultural issues. They also took some time to answer constituent questions and talk about the need for the group to work together despite occasional disagreements.

Rep. Dylan Roberts and Sen. Kerry Donovan reside in Eagle County and work together with other Western Slope lawmakers at the state Capitol.
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Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat whose district includes Eagle County, said the Western Slope legislators “agree most days,” adding she’s excited about what she called an “unheard of investment” in water planning. Donovan noted it’s usually a struggle to explain water issues to colleagues from the Denver metropolitan area. This session is different, she said.

“We’re running out of water and growing a lot more people,” said Rep. Marc Catlin, a Montrose Republican. Catlin said he’s a supporter of a bill sponsored by Rep. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat, that would provide financial incentives for residents to replace turf lawns with water-efficient landscaping.

Rep. Matt Soper, a Republican from Delta, said the Western Slope group is usually a “united front.”

Soper, Roberts and Donovan are co-sponsors of legislation putting more regulatory controls on funeral homes. On Monday, a bill drafted in “direct response to instances of funeral home malpractice” in institutions like the Kent Funeral Home in Gypsum was signed into law by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

The Western Slope legislators are also working on legislation to aid the state’s affordable housing crunch. Behavioral health is also an issue of particular importance to the region, particularly given the struggles of Mind Springs Health, which serves a 10-county region in Western Colorado.

A recent news story about the organization, and the state’s oversight, prompted questions from residents.

Rep. Judy Amabile, Democrat whose district includes Grand and Jackson counties along with Boulder, Clear Creek and Gilpin counties, said she and other legislators “didn’t know” about the problems at Mind Springs and the state’s regulatory agencies. Amabile is a sponsor of a bill that would improve transparency in the way care centers are funded and regulated.

In a reply to a submitted question, Amabile wrote “We are going to audit the community mental health centers, the regional accountability entities and the Department of Health Care Policy and Finance.”

Another viewer asked if a recent infusion of federal funds will be enough to properly deal with the state’s mental health problems.

“Not all the problems are about money,” Amabile wrote. We need to spend the money more effectively and really focus on patient access and outcomes. I think we are spending too much on systems that aren’t about patient care.”

The questions weren’t all about big problems.

Responding to a question about daylight saving time, Soper noted that he’d recently met with a group of people from the agriculture industry. Of the 75 people in the room, 70 indicated a preference for picking either standard or daylight saving and sticking with it. But the group was split on which time system they prefer.

“I think it depends on whether you’re a morning person or an evening person,” he said.

How to reach out

Here are the email addresses and office phone numbers of the state legislators who participated in a March 21 virtual town hall. Local representatives are listed first.

Sen. Kerry Donovan: 303-866-4871,

Rep. Dylan Roberts: 303-866-2923,

Rep. Julie McCluskie: 303-866-2952,

Rep. Barbara McLachlan: 303-866-2914,

Rep. Perry Will: 303-866-2949,

Rep. Marc Catlin: 303-866-2955,

Rep. Judy Amabile: 303-866-2578,

Rep. Matt Soper: 303-866-2583,

Rep. Janice Rich: 303-866-3068,

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