The 2021 Legislative Session: The Colorado Comeback
In the midst of a global pandemic and a challenging year that has severely impacted the state, legislators came together to deliver urgent relief to struggling Coloradans and build our state back stronger.
The legislature was able to deliver on promises that were years in the making – passing transformational legislation that will pave the way for a Colorado where everyone can thrive. By putting people over politics and working across the aisle to accomplish great things, 94% of our passed legislation received bipartisan support.
In order to recover faster and build back stronger, lawmakers developed a bipartisan state stimulus package to foster the Colorado Comeback, make monumental investments to strengthen small businesses, support Colorado families, invest in rural Colorado, and develop our workforce. Specifically, lawmakers passed bills to:
- Create a $30 million startup loan fund for businesses across the state;
- Provide $15 million in grants to small businesses;
- Dedicate $100 million to wildfire mitigation, preparedness and response;
- Invest $22 million to support artists and arts and-culture organizations;
- Provide more than $100 million to increase child care capacity and affordability;
- Create a $30 million loan and grant program for Colorado’s agricultural sector;
- Add $8 million to rural economic development programs; and
- Allocate $75 million in for upskilling and reskilling our state’s workforce.
In addition to passing state stimulus policies, state leaders worked collaboratively to enact Colorado’s roadmap to Building Back Stronger – embarking on a statewide listening tour to gather input on how to allocate nearly $4 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
The resulting legislation immediately deployed hundreds of millions of dollars to make housing more affordable, provide emergency behavioral health services and help workers complete degree or skills-training programs.
The roadmap also dedicated $1.3 billion in federal funds to protect critical state services in future years and set aside nearly $1.8 billion for future transformational investments in housing, behavioral health, education and workforce development, and economic stimulus and recovery that will be crafted through bipartisan interim processes.
Beyond tackling urgent needs and enacting once-in-a-generation stimulative plans, lawmakers prioritized addressing longstanding issues that have burdened Colorado for decades.
One such issue is the inaccessibility and unaffordability of health care. With skyrocketing health care costs and limited affordable options, lawmakers crafted legislation to implement the Colorado Option, a policy that is set to save Coloradans 15 percent on their insurance premiums and create a guaranteed plan for consumers. Lawmakers also passed the Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board, which will reduce the cost of prescription drugs and help protect Coloradans from having to forgo life-saving medications because they’re too expensive.
Another long-standing issue that has held Colorado’s economy back for decades is transportation. After booming population growth yet insufficient funding, Colorado’s infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and modernization. That’s why the 73rd General Assembly prioritized passing a groundbreaking transportation plan – finally ending the gridlock that has plagued our state for years. Supported by a large, bipartisan coalition, this historic legislation will help support a dynamic economy, improve air quality, create jobs, and ensure Colorado is well-positioned to compete with other states.
Last year, Colorado experienced one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in our state’s history – destroying property, worsening pollution, damaging natural resources, displacing wildlife, and hurting local economies. The legislature passed bills which dedicate over $100 million to prevent and mitigate the destructive impact of wildfires in our state and help our natural environment recover from previous fires.
Sadly, the legislature was also confronted with the all-too-familiar issue of gun violence during the legislative session. After 10 people lost their lives in the Boulder King Soopers shooting, Democratic lawmakers crafted and passed three measures designed to save lives by expanding background checks, creating a resource office for gun violence prevention, and giving local governments the tools they need to craft community-based solutions. In combination with three other measures including safe storage, reporting of lost or stolen weapons, and protecting domestic violence survivors, the legislature passed six critical bills in total this year to curb the epidemic of gun violence.
In 2021, General Assembly Democrats rose to the occasion and championed policies that will not only support people in the aftermath of the pandemic but pave a hopeful path forward by creating a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous Colorado for all.
2021 Legislative Accomplishments
SB21-205: 2021-22 State Budget, by Senator Moreno & Representative McCluskie Colorado’s $34.6 billion budget funds core services such as education, corrections, health care, and human services. This year the budget prioritized: restoring cuts that the General Assembly was forced to make last year due to the pandemic; uplifting the most marginalized Coloradans to ensure an equitable economic recovery; and investing in Colorado’s future by boosting critical funding for K-12, higher education, and economic recovery.
HB21-1030: Expanding Peace Officers Mental Health Program, by Representatives McCluskie & McKean and Senators Buckner & Cook – Expands the peace officers mental health support grant program to provide grant funding for on-scene response services to support and enhance law enforcement response to calls related to persons with mental health disorders and social services needs that do not require a peace offer to respond.
HB21-1085: Secure Transportation for Individuals in Behavioral Health Crisis, by Representatives McCluskie & Larsen and Senators Bridges & Smallwood- Authorizes a board of county commissioners to issue secure transportation licenses to safely transport individuals in behavioral health crises to appropriate medical providers.
HB21-1330: Higher Education Student Success, by Representatives McCluskie & Ricks and Senators Zenzinger & Kirkmeyer – Shores up Colorado’s workforce development pipeline by providing $48 million dollars to colleges, universities and technical colleges for student incentives and wrap-around services for degree or credential completion. Streamlines certain postsecondary program approval processes and allocates funding for student FAFSA completion grants.
SB21-268: Public School Finance, by Senators Zenzinger & Lundeen and Representatives McLachlan & McCluskie; and HB21-1325: Funding Public School Finance Formula, by Representatives McCluskie & Herod and Senators Zenzinger & Rankin – After a year of frequent and sustained disruptions to in-person learning that have laid bare long-standing inequities in our public schools, this year’s School Finance Act invests more resources into schools serving low-income and immigrant students. The bill restores cuts made last year due to the pandemic, funds a number of targeted grant programs, and makes long-sought changes to the school finance formula to direct additional resources to schools that serve higher populations of at-risk students and English language learners.
SB21-185: Supporting Educator Workforce In Colorado, by Senators Zenzinger & Rankin and Representatives McLachlan & McCluskie – This bill seeks to address the teacher shortage in Colorado by elevating the teaching profession, empowering local leaders to recruit subject matter experts into the educator workforce, developing a workforce that more closely reflects the diversity of students, and expanding pathways into teaching.
HB21-1271: Innovative Affordable Housing Strategies by Representatives McCluskie & Jodeh and Senator Gonzales – Local governments are on the forefront of addressing affordable housing needs, but often lack the tools and resources to increase the available housing stock. This bill provides $48 million in incentives and technical assistance to local governments to assist in the rapid deployment of affordable housing projects and to ensure communities across the state have the tools and resources to identify and meet their unique housing needs.
SB21-142: Health Care Access In Cases Of Rape Or Incest, by Senators Pettersen & Donovan and Representatives Caraveo & McCluskie – Under current law, survivors of sexual violence who are Medicaid patients face hurdles when seeking abortion care, including restrictions on the types of health care facilities and medical professionals that they can access. This bill lifts these medically unnecessary restrictions, helping victims of rape or incest access the health care services they need closer to home.
Investments in Preventing and Responding to Wildfires – Last year, Colorado experienced one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in our state’s history – worsening pollution, damaging natural resources, displacing wildlife, and hurting local economies. These bills prevent and mitigate the destructive impact of wildfires in our state and help our natural environment recover from previous fires.
- SB21-113: Firefighting Aircraft Wildfire Mgmt And Response, by Senate Majority Leader Fenberg & Senator Rankin and Representatives McCluskie & Lynch
- SB21-054: Transfers For Wildfire Mitigation And Response by Senators Hansen & Rankin and Representative McCluskie
- SB21-166: Implementation of the CO Fire Commission Mutual Aid Response System, by Senator Rankin and Representatives McCluskie & Will
- SB21-237: Creating the Forest Health Advisory Council in Dept. of Natural Resources, by Senator Donovan and Representatives McCluskie & Lynch
SB21-245: Backcountry Search And Rescue In Colorado, by Senators Donovan & Rankin and Representatives McCluskie & Will – On average, Colorado backcountry search and rescue organizations respond to over 3,500 incidents per year – more than any other state. This bill initiates a study and stakeholder process to address numerous issues with the existing volunteer-based backcountry search and rescue program and provide policy recommendations. It also addresses immediate needs by creating a pilot program to provide mental health services to backcountry search and rescue responders.
HB21-1076: Carpooling Internet Service Applications, by Representatives McCluskie & Will and Senators Donovan & Hisey – Authorizes carpooling apps to operate in the state for the purposes of reducing traffic congestion and air pollution – especially designed for skiers & snowboarders trying to get from the front range to one of Colorado’s magnificent ski resorts!
HB21-1139: Drivers License Renewals for Seniors, by Representative McCluskie and Senator Rankin – The bill allows drivers who are 66 years or older to renew their driver’s licenses electronically, current law only allows this for drivers 21-65 years of age. Under current law, the department may not issue a driver’s license to a person under 18 unless the person has submitted a log or other written evidence certifying that the person has completed a minimum amount of actual driving experience and signed by the person who signed the liability affidavit. The bill allows this form to be signed by a person’s parent, guardian, or responsible adult – thanks to the constituent from Gunnison County who inspired this legislation!
For a complete overview of Representative Julie McCluskie’s legislation in 2021, please visit: https://leg.colorado.gov/legislators/julie-mccluskie
The 2020 Legislative Session: Highlights and Accomplishments
The 2020 legislative session was unlike any other session before it. From an unprecedented global health emergency and the dire budget consequences we faced, to the chaotic flashpoint of a centuries-long struggle for justice taking place outside of the Capitol, we’ve had everything but business as usual at the General Assembly this year.
I am proud of how the House of Representatives rose to the occasion and worked to pass responsible laws to protect the health and safety of hardworking Coloradans and get our state back on track to a full economic recovery.
The Long Bill…better known as the State Budget
The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented $3.3 billion state budget shortfall. As the newest of the six members of the Joint Budget Committee, I’m proud to say we took our responsibilities seriously in crafting Colorado’s budget. We spent weeks agonizing over very difficult funding decisions while we prioritized resources for public schools, higher education and critical health and safety services. For a complete overview of the long bill, including the funding narrative and state agency budgets, click here.
COVID-19 Relief Package
While I was busy with the State’s budget, my colleagues were busy responding to the needs of the hardworking people of Colorado. They put together a robust package of relief bills aiming to provide safety net services and spark a sputtering economy. Here’s the list of bills we consider to be a part of the COVID-19 Relief Package:
Small Business Recovery Loans – HB20-1413 — Reps. Shannon Bird and Lisa Cutter
Small Business Grant Program – SB20-222 — Reps. Mary Young and Perry Will
Coronavirus Relief Funds for Housing Assistance – HB20-1410 — Reps. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Tony Exum, Sr.
Coronavirus Relief Funds for Utility Assistance – HB20-1412 — Reps. Chris Kennedy and Lisa Cutter
Coronavirus Relief Funds for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programs – HB20-1411 — Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Tracy Kraft-Tharp
Earned Sick Leave for Employees – SB20-205 — Speaker KC Becker and Rep. Yadira Caraveo
Expand Unemployment Insurance – SB20-207 — Reps. Matt Gray and Tom Sullivan;
SB20-170— Reps. Dominique Jackson and Monica Duran
Protections Against Price Gouging – HB20-1414 — Reps. Mike Weissman and Brianna Titone
Whistleblower Protection for Public Health Emergencies – HB20-1415 — Reps. Leslie Herod and Tom Sullivan
Limitations on Extraordinary Debt Collection – SB20-211 — Rep. Leslie Herod
2-1-1 Statewide Human Services Referral System – HB20-1197 — Reps. Marc Snyder and Janice Rich
Food Pantry Assistance – HB20-1422 — Reps. Daneya Esgar and Lisa Cutter
Telehealth Services Expansion – SB20-212 — Reps. Susan Lontine and Matt Soper
Extend Restaurant Takeout & Delivery of Alcoholic Beverages – SB20-213 — Reps. Dylan Roberts and Colin Larson
Cigarette, Tobacco and Nicotine Products Tax
HB20-1427 — Reps. Julie McCluskie and Yadira Caraveo
This bill refers a measure to voters in November 2020 that would raise taxes on cigarettes, tobacco and for the first time, apply a tax on nicotine vaping products that is equal to that placed on tobacco. In the first two and a half years, the resulting revenue would provide resources to public schools with additional funding directed to rural schools. After that initial period, the revenue would be devoted to nicotine education and cessation programs and toward giving every child in Colorado access to early childhood education.
Expanding Health Insurance Affordability
SB20-215 — Reps. Chris Kennedy and Julie McCluskie
With Coloradans facing some of the highest health insurance costs in the country, Democrats have prioritized saving people money on their care. The Reinsurance program has lowered premiums by thousands of dollars for families across the state. The program has been an effective way to offset high-cost health care claims in order to lower premiums for consumers in the individual market. This bill establishes a sustainable funding structure to extend the Reinsurance program for an additional 5 years, and expand coverage for undocumented people and those caught in the family glitch.
Higher Education Funding Allocation Model
HB20-1366 — Reps. Julie McCluskie and Daneya Esgar
Colorado’s Institutions of Higher Learning came together to create a funding allocation model that supports Colorado’s goals to see 66% or more adults earn a postsecondary credential, eliminate equity gaps and support student success. This new funding formula ensures smaller and rural colleges and universities receive additional funding support.
Emergency Telephone Service Charges – NextGen 9-1-1
HB20-1293 — Reps. Julie McCluskie and Rod Pelton
Nothing is more important than access to emergency services during a crisis. This legislation provides the resources for all 9-1-1 call centers in the state, particularly in rural Colorado, to migrate to the next level of technology, and ensure more accurate and timely responses during an emergency.
Rights for Mobile Home Park Residents
HB20-1196 – -Reps. Edie Hooton and Julie McCluskie
This bill further strengthens tenants’ rights by preventing park owners from retaliating against residents for filing a complaint, and prohibits them from removing residents from their homes over minor violations. It requires transparency in utility billing and secures a right to tenant privacy by requiring owners to give notice and obtain consent before entering.
Broadband for Small Rural Communities
HB20-1137 — Reps. Julie McCluskie and Matt Soper
At a time when many Colorado students are learning at home, and even more families are working at home, access to reliable internet has never been more important. This bill offers a more efficient way to determine an “unserved area” and help small rural communities get the resources they need to develop and deploy critical broadband technology.
Allowing PERA Retirees to Work after Retirement Limit for BOCES
HB20-1127 — Reps. Julie McCluskie and Barbara McLachlan
This bill will allow retired educators an opportunity to work for school districts in rural Colorado while retaining their retirement benefits – a win/win for retirees, educators and students!
County Licensing Authority for Short-Term Rentals
HB20-1093— Reps. Julie McCluskie and Jim Wilson
The short-term rental market has exploded in rural resort communities. This bill gives county authorities a chance to license and regulate short-term lodging rentals. This ensures fewer issues with trash, noise, parking and sewer problems.
Eligibility Expansion for Wildfire Grants
HB20-1057 — Reps. Julie McCluskie and Terri Carver
Rural communities in Colorado are at high risk for wildfires. This bill changes the program to ensure that lower wealth communities in greater need of wildfire mitigation assistance can take advantage of these grants.
Early Childhood Workforce, Mental Health Consultation and High-Quality
HB20-1053 — Reps. Emily Sirota and Jim Wilson
When the world hands you lemons, make lemonade!! I was honored to carry HB20-1006 and HB20-1016 – two early childhood bills that would have brought an evidence-based mental health consultation system to our state and opportunities for improving the quality of all early childhood care and learning centers. But a pandemic threw a wrench into that plan. In the end, we were able to incorporate both of my bills into an excellent early childhood workforce support bill. While we were unable to fund these efforts at the levels we hoped, I am confident we will prioritize this funding when our economy rebounds.
For a more in-depth overview of the 2020 Legislative Session, click here.
A Look Back at the 2019 Legislative Session,…
The first session of the 72nd General Assembly of the Colorado House of Representatives adjourned for the year on Friday, May 3, 2019 with enthusiastic applause for one of the most successful and transformative sessions in recent memory.
Our legislative body is diverse in backgrounds, experiences and ideals. It’s in the recognition and honor of these differences that we were able to find common ground and solve problems for the people we serve. Of the 23 bills I carried my first session, I am proud that I had a Republican co-sponsor on 11 of them. To my friends on both sides of the aisle, thank you for your partnership. It has been my privilege to serve with you.
I am proud to say we delivered on promises to support working families and to protect our Colorado way of life. This includes the passage of significant policies in health care, education, climate action, affordable housing and so much more:
In HEALTH CARE,…we are dramatically reducing insurance premiums on the individual market with the passage of my reinsurance bill, increasing transparency for health care costs in Colorado’s hospitals, prohibiting surprise out-of-network billing, and reducing the price of insulin. We are creating a pathway for an affordable and competitive public health care option and health care co-ops in the state of Colorado that will be available to families and individuals when purchasing health insurance.
In EDUCATION,…we are bringing fully funded full-day kindergarten to every community in the state, investing in early childhood literacy with the renewal of the READ Act, and expanding opportunities for high school students to earn college credits through concurrent enrollment programs across Colorado. Additionally, the legislature went outside the school finance formula and reduced the budget stabilization factor by $100 million and secured $20 million in one-time funding for rural schools. For more on our accomplishments in education, read this great article from Chalkbeat.
In CLIMATE ACTION,…we are putting pollution reduction goals into statute to reduce Colorado’s greenhouse gas pollution by 26 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030, and 90 percent by 2050 of 2005 levels. We also are increasing the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) oversight authority, strengthening protections for consumers, prioritizing safety, and reducing carbon pollution for our state’s largest power company. We’re moving Colorado forward while ensuring workers and communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry are not left behind as the state transitions to a cleaner economy. We are updating Colorado’s antiquated oil and gas laws to put health and safety first by increasing local government authority over oil and gas development and empowering affected communities to protect our air and water.
In AFFORDABLE HOUSING,…we are investing nearly $156 million in housing over the next three years by expanding the existing Affordable Housing Income Tax Credit from $5 million to $10 million, directing $30 million annually (starting in 2020-21) from the Unclaimed Property Trust Fund for three years ($90 million total), and investing $8 million to housing needs in the first two years ($16 million total) and then $45-50 million annually thereafter from a statutory change in the administration of the state’s vendor fee. I am particularly proud of two bills I co-sponsored – the creation of an Eviction Legal Defense Fund for low-income Coloradans who face eviction, and The Mobile Home Park Oversight Act which expands county authority and creates a conflict resolution process for aggrieved mobile home owners.
We passed legislation allowing local governments to adjust their minimum wage, and we proudly passed an “equal pay for equal work” bill ensuring women earn the same as their male counterparts. We passed life-saving gun legislation, expanded access to existing broadband infrastructure throughout rural Colorado, and took one step closer to making sure every Coloradan has a retirement savings plan.
It’s been a remarkable and exciting session, but the work continues. I’ll be traveling House District 61 in the months ahead and look forward to connecting with the good people of the Western Slope. It’s an honor and privilege to serve!