The following are the prepared remarks of Democrat Cristanta Duran, Speaker of the House on the opening day of the second regular session of the 71st Colorado General Assembly.
Thank you and welcome to the second regular session of the 71st General Assembly.
2018 is shaping up as another great year for Colorado. Our overall economy continues to grow and our unemployment rate continues to be one of the lowest in the nation.
We continue to attract new jobs, new businesses and new events. Later this month, for the first time, we’ll host the Outdoor Retailer Show, one of many tangible rewards for our forward-thinking conservation policies and commitment to public lands. It should be a point of pride for all Coloradans, especially our military veterans, that the Navy’s newest attack submarine, to be commissioned in March, is the USS Colorado. But the best news for our veterans is that barring further federal delays our new state-of-the-art VA hospital in Aurora will finally open this summer!
Members, we are gathered here because we believe in service, in the ability to make positive change, in the power of working together to solve complex problems.
And because we love Colorado and what it stands for: Opportunity for all who show responsibility through hard work. A strong sense of community, where people are valued not for their wealth or their connections, but for what they do for others. A spirit of cooperation and inclusiveness. And of course our spectacular vistas and open spaces.
From the golden dome of this building we can see three Fourteeners and one of the most vibrant economies in America. So many people are moving here for the mix of sunshine, scenic beauty and economic opportunity that we call the Colorado way of life.
Our task over the next 120 days is to preserve and enhance our Colorado way of life, which is so different from the discord and dysfunction emanating from Washington D.C.
Coloradans are counting on us to stand strong, to be productive, to defy the unsettling trends we’ve seen elsewhere in America. The eyes of Colorado will be on us, including some special guests who have come to this chamber this morning.
The first Latino Speaker of the Colorado House, Ruben Valdez.
The first Latina to serve in the House and Senate of any state legislature, Polly Baca.
Former Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler.
Denver DA and former representative Beth McCann.
Former representatives Fran Coleman, Su Schafer, Rosemary Marshall and Roger Wilson.
We also welcome two new members, Rep. Dylan Roberts of Eagle County and Rep. Judy Reyher of Otero County.
Rep. Roberts is now the youngest member of the General Assembly, part of a new generation of leaders. If he is a glimpse of the future, our future is bright.
The two of you have joined a group of legislators who have shown that through respectful dialogue and inclusiveness we can turn our wide range of experiences and perspectives into policy that truly benefits the people of our state.
We can point with pride to what we achieved for Coloradans in the 2017 session, which was widely acclaimed as the most productive in recent memory.
We proved that we don’t just talk about not being like Washington D.C. We proved by our actions that here in Colorado, we can work together to get things done.
After years of effort, we made a bipartisan breakthrough on a budget restructure called the hospital provider fee. Fixing it saved hospitals around the state from more than half a billion dollars in budget cuts. Those cuts would have impacted every hospital in the state, and would have been fatal to some of our smaller hospitals in rural areas of Colorado.
Last session I visited Lincoln Community Hospital in the Eastern Plains town of Hugo. I saw firsthand how essential our rural hospitals are. They are the nursing home, family clinic, ambulance service and sometimes hospice care for their communities.
Rural hospitals saved Edward Humphrey. Aside from serving in the Korean War, Ed has lived on the Eastern Plains all his life. He met his wife, Barbara, when he was a hired hand threshing corn for Barbara’s grandparents. He went on to work as a Colorado brand inspector for two decades.
Last Friday they celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary.
If not for Lincoln Community Hospital, Ed might not have been around to mark two-thirds of a century of marriage.
In 2016, he experienced life-threatening complications following surgery. But the doctors at Lincoln Community pulled him through.
Barbara Humphrey said, “I can breathe easier knowing that Lincoln Community Hospital is open and remains open. Because of the budget restructure, Lincoln Community Hospital continues to save lives every day.”
Barbara Humphrey is here with us today, joined by Kevin Stansbury, president and CEO of Lincoln Community Hospital.
Also with us is Konnie Martin, CEO of San Luis Valley Health in Alamosa.
Konnie and Kevin are from rural hospitals that would have been jeopardized by that half a billion in budget cuts.
Working together for families like the Humphreys, we prevented that.
To Konnie and Kevin, and to all our rural hospitals across the state, thank you for the lives you save and for the rural way of life that your care helps to preserve.
The same bill that saved rural hospitals freed up an additional 100 million dollars that are being used to leverage $1.9 billion in new transportation projects around the state.
From Johnstown to the Four Corners, from Rifle to Pueblo, you will see investments in transportation infrastructure from this important bill. Some of the most significant improvements will be felt on our interstate highways.
Our bipartisan legislation allows us to fund projects to relieve pressure on I-25 and I-70, as well as many other locally controlled projects.
Mike Hillman is mayor of Idaho Springs, one of many Colorado communities where I-70 is a lifeline. He knows the importance of mobility to commerce, to law enforcement, to emergency services, to our Colorado way of life. He knows that a single pothole on Floyd Hill can hurt sales in Idaho Springs. In fact, it happened just a couple of weeks ago.
Mayor Hillman has seen the effects of improvements to I-70, and he is looking forward to more projects funded by the hospital provider fee fix. Mayor Hillman, thank you for joining us today!
In 2017 we also resolved a thorny issue that we hope will help address our housing needs by spurring more condo development.
Our bipartisan legislation will help Colorado homeowners make informed decisions about construction defect claims while ensuring their ability to protect what for most of them is their single biggest investment — their homes.
Our goal is to restore some balance to the real estate market and ease a housing crunch that has made home ownership unattainable for too many Coloradans.
This bill passed the General Assembly by a combined vote of 97 to 0. For what we can achieve when we check our egos at the door, roll up our sleeves and hammer out bipartisan solutions to problems facing Coloradans, I can think of no finer example than construction defects.
Well, maybe except equity in school funding.
Because of our work together last year, Colorado is the first state in the nation to fully address equitable local funding for all public school students.
In the 2018 session and beyond we must keep striving to eradicate the race- and income-related disparities that continue to exist in Colorado’s schools. The legislation we passed in 2017 prioritizes funding for Colorado kids who have been historically underserved, regardless of the type of school they attend.
It strikes a balance that maintains local control for school districts, ensures that funding is allocated based on student need, and creates greater transparency and accountability for charter schools.
Hospital funding, transportation investment, construction defects and school funding equity – these are issues that have vexed this legislature for decades. Tearing down roadblocks on these issues gave us some powerful momentum heading into the interim.
But today, we start this session with a different set of obstacles.
The most disturbing are the allegations of workplace harassment that have swept across the country, reaching into the entertainment industry, news organizations, Congress and more than a dozen state legislatures.
We must confront these issues head on and successfully reform the culture of the Capitol.
There is no place for harassment, hate speech or discrimination in this chamber.
As we begin to make changes here at the Capitol, each and every member of this body has a personal responsibility to do our part to create a safe and respectful workplace for all.
We must also reauthorize the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which protects Coloradans' freedom from discrimination based on age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, religion and ancestry.
And we can’t stop there.
The time for cultural change is now.
There should be no double standard requiring women and people from underrepresented communities to feel that they have to work twice as hard and be twice as smart to make partner at their law firm, climb the corporate ladder or succeed in public service.
It is not lost on me that there are women in restaurants and hotels, immigrants in meatpacking plants and workers in factories who feel they must endure inappropriate behavior just to survive and feed their families.
Throughout my time in the legislature I have worked to encourage more women and people from underrepresented communities to enter public service. This work will be for naught unless we promote work environments where the arc of your career is determined by your hard work, qualifications, merit and skill.
The hurdles of harassment and discrimination faced by women, people of color and people with disabilities should have been leveled a long time ago, but it is crystal clear that these challenges persist today.
People in our country are speaking out like never before about harassment, sexism and discrimination.
Let our actions show that the intolerable will be tolerated no more.
On this and many other topics, it is imperative that we do the job we were sent here to do – to solve problems for Coloradans.
We have plenty of opportunities and plenty of challenges.
Members, Colorado’s population is growing by more than 180 people per day.
Some of the legislation we’ve passed in recent years has helped us absorb this influx.
We have promoted economic development and workforce development programs so that more Coloradans have the education and training they need to get the high-skill, high-tech jobs that our economy is now producing in great numbers.
Colorado overall has one of the strongest state economies in America. That’s wonderful because it means lots of opportunities for people in our state. But there are downsides.
Wages aren’t rising as fast as the overall economy. And the economy isn’t booming in every community in the state. Many areas of rural and small-town Colorado are treading water, or even drowning.
We need to ensure that communities outside the Front Range have the tools to compete in a global economy by providing more broadband service, more teachers and more medical services, just for starters.
And because getting to and from work shouldn’t be the hardest part of Coloradans’ daily routine, we have to repair and improve our overburdened roads and expand our transportation options to keep up with our growing population and economy.
Forecasts for the next budget indicate that state revenue is substantially exceeding previous estimates, giving us the ability to make new investments in key statewide priorities.
Let me be clear: transportation funding is a priority.
Our Colorado students are also a priority.
We will have the opportunity to address chronically low funding for K-12 and higher education.
During this session we will be reviewing every part of the state budget to assure that it balances the priorities and needs of the people of Colorado.
Growth has also driven up the cost of housing in many areas of Colorado. The American Dream includes being able to own a home.
For more and more middle-income Coloradans, and not just in the Denver area, home ownership is out of reach.
Many people feel like they are being pushed out of the very communities they grew up in.
And rent increases make it harder and harder to make ends meet.
We need to take action to make renting more affordable and homeownership more attainable for Coloradans.
As we work together this session, we will also hear bipartisan proposals to allow more judicial discretion in criminal sentencing and to make evidence-based reforms that would make our criminal justice system more effective and save taxpayer dollars, while promoting public safety.
To confront an opioid epidemic raging across Colorado and the nation, we are bringing a package of bills to improve training for safe opioid prescribing and overdose prevention and increase access to residential and medication-assisted treatment, so that people who are struggling with substance use disorders have more tools to fight their addiction.
Lawmakers and public health officials, first responders and law enforcement will help us to defeat opioid addiction.
And make no mistake: The pharmaceutical companies that developed these wildly addictive and highly profitable drugs need to be a part of the solution as well.
No family is immune to addiction, including my own. In November I lost my cousin Juan at the young age of 40. He was smart and thoughtful and he loved to laugh and joke around. Some of my favorite memories are of camping with him or fishing together on my Grandpa’s boat on the Pueblo Reservoir. But for much of his life he struggled with substance abuse – alcohol and opioids.
Families across Colorado, including in this chamber, have heartbreaking stories of friends and relatives who have suffered from addiction. My thoughts and prayers are very much with all who have been touched by this epidemic. It is our responsibility to come together to tackle this issue.
Hard-working Coloradans deserve a secure retirement, but almost half of Coloradans have no employer-sponsored or personal retirement plan. We will see a bill this session to increase access to retirement plans for our friends and neighbors who have none.
A secure retirement must also be attainable for the 560,000 current or retired public servants – teachers who have taught us and our children, state troopers who have patrolled our highways and CDOT drivers who have plowed them – all those who have delivered essential services to the people of our state.
Steps must be taken to strengthen PERA, the state pension fund, to ensure that we honor the commitment we’ve made to our state and public-sector employees.
But it would be unfair to balance PERA solely on the backs of hard-working public servants. Likewise, slashing cost-of-living adjustments for retired state employees could put many of them deeper in the hole every time the cost of living rises. Our goals must include a PERA solution that ensures its long-term solvency while being fair to current employees and retirees.
We’ll also consider a variety of proposals to help Coloradans balance the responsibilities of their work and their families.
We can increase access to affordable child care, so fewer Colorado moms and dads are forced to choose between keeping a job or staying at home.
This isn’t just an issue for families. It’s an issue that impacts our entire economy.
We can improve family leave laws so more Coloradans can take paid time off to care for a sick parent or loved one without having to quit their jobs, or risk being fired.
We can also address the high cost of health care, especially in rural areas of Colorado where premiums are through the roof.
And we can provide additional protections to Colorado consumers.
For example, because corporations dictate the “fine print,” Coloradans sign away their rights almost every time they buy a product or service. When something goes wrong, irresponsible corporations need to be held accountable and consumers deserve fair processes that are not tilted against them.
Our legislative compass points us in one direction — preserving and enhancing our esteemed Colorado way of life.
Our state is blessed with the most beautiful natural environment in America. We must also have a government that works for everyone who works hard, not just the deep-pocketed and the well-connected.
A government that creates more opportunities for Coloradans to turn their hard work into economic security.
Members, our contribution to the greater good will increase every time we move toward giving all Coloradans who work hard the best possible chance to succeed.
Our solutions must be based not on party or politics, but on what will get Coloradans closer to achieving their dreams.
Now is not the time to rest on the triumphs of our 2017 session.
We have plenty more work to do on behalf of the Coloradans who sent us here.
We live in uncertain times. Sometimes it feels like our country is being pulled apart and that the very worst is bubbling up through the cracks.
But not in Colorado. And not in this chamber, where we must be a barrier to the forces of division.
We have always had our disagreements, and sometimes we cannot reconcile them. But most of the time we find our way to that most essential of Colorado values — setting our differences aside to make real progress.
In those moments we find the best in ourselves by living up to what’s best about our state.
There’s still more that binds us together than will ever divide us.
That’s what we did last year, and I know it’s what we’ll do again this year.
It has been the honor of my life to serve as Colorado’s first Latina Speaker of the House and the only Latina speaker in the country.
I’m excited to resume our quest to make our Colorado way of life even richer in opportunity – fairer in how it rewards hard work – steadfast in demanding personal and corporate responsibility – and generous in fostering the freedom to succeed.
God bless our home — Colorado and its people.
And members, let us never forget that we are their servants.
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