Colorado lawmakers made giant leaps this year, crafting changes that promise to have a real effect on reducing gun violence, reeling in unaffordable health care, protecting the environment, improving student performance, protecting gay children and ensuring public safety and police credibility.
It was a year of astounding achievements made possible by voters washing away the power of partisan obstruction when they removed Colorado Republicans from power last November.
Democrats were able to surge on a wide range of fronts, creating bills and measures that will have a long-lasting positive impact on the everyday lives of almost every resident and business in the state.
Critical work, however, was left unfinished. Failures during this remarkable legislative session include addressing a looming vaccination disaster, a long-term plan for a massive statewide transportation deficiency, a way to end Colorado’s death-penalty quandary, and a clear way forward in creating a so-called public option for health insurance.
Despite those serious omissions, standout and unsung legislative changes alike deserve ovations for finally moving Colorado forward on several fronts.
It would be inaccurate not to credit Colorado’s new governor, Jared Polis, Democratic legislative leaders and rank-and-file, who courageously stood up to relentless partisan obstruction. As in the past, some Republicans tried — this time unsuccessfully — to bully lawmakers with histrionics, fabrications, fear-mongering and chicanery. Blamed and credited for preventing a handful of critical bills, it was actually Democrats’ over-ambitious agenda and political diversity among the ranks that stymied more successes.
At the forefront of progress made was a handful of bills addressing a health-care system that has become increasingly unaffordable, and insurance that every year becomes increasingly useless.
Legislators passed bills that will force hospitals to provide fiscal transparency, a measure expected to provide substantial savings to “Obamacare” state-insurance exchange customers with a co-insurance system, and access to cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Another successful bill works to end disastrously expensive “out-of-network” surprise charges to health-insurance customers, just one of a bevy of ways insurance companies are gouging already tapped middle-class Coloradans.
Polis said it best on the last day of the legislative session when summarizing progress made by lawmakers on this front.
“We want you to pay less for health care because you are getting ripped off,” Polis told reporters.
While the changes are promising, much more work needs to be done to bypass a dysfunctional Congress, including a state-run health insurance program open to all Colorado businesses and residents.
On other critical fronts, state lawmakers were finally able to give local governments oversight on oil-and-gas production. They created a fair and long-overdue way to allow communities to ensure the safety and quality of life of those who, literally, live next to industrial oil-and-gas production sites.
State lawmakers were also able to muscle meaningful gun-control legislation past bullying gun-rights extremists and their legislative alarmists. Colorado now has a badly-needed “red flag” bill, which allows police to remove guns from mentally ill people in crisis before they kill themselves or others.
State lawmakers were finally able to expand Colorado’s public schools system to ensure free, all-day kindergarten for all state residents — Polis’ priority goal. But there were numerous education bills passed promising progress on a system bogged down in bureaucracy.
Improvement in personal safety is embedded in bills that now outlaw dangerous fake-therapy sessions that purportedly change homosexual children’s sexual orientation. Another bill makes it easier for transgender residents to modify their birth certificates to reflect their real lives. One of the most important bills passed this session forces police departments to make public internal investigations into alleged police malfeasance. Other bills will create new programs to address opioid and other deadly drug addictions. And another crucial measure makes a change in state sex-education standards. Next year, curricula will make clear homosexuality is neither a choice nor an abnormality. New guidelines require instructors teach young adolescents how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, pregnancy and disease.
Among the dozens of bills providing considerable change for all Colorado residents, some of the most powerful were measures address the environment and global climate change. Bypassing the Trump Administration and others who either deny or ignore this looming global crisis, Colorado lawmakers pushed through legislation guiding the state to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The work of the 2019 Legislature was so vast and so far-reaching, it will take months for analysts and the media to sort out details of how life will change in Colorado, in almost every way for the better.
We’re deeply disappointed on failures in the 120-day race to make needed laws, but we congratulate Democrats and Republicans for pushing the state ahead on numerous fronts in a historical session. We’re looking forward to more of the same next year.