What’s Up First On Weiser’s Agenda? ACA, Opioid Crisis And Bail Reform, For Starters

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<p>Hart Van Denburg/CPR News</p>
<p>Phil Weiser at the CPR studios Monday Dec. 17, 2018.</p>
Photo: Polis Inaugural Swearing In 14 HV 20180108
Phil Weiser is sworn in as Colorado Attorney General on Tuesday Jan. 8, 2019 on the west steps of the state Capitol.

Attorney General Phil Weiser’s first act in office will be to join other state attorneys general in challenging a Texas district court ruling that found the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.

Weiser, who was sworn in Tuesday, said he also plans to appoint a chief of innovation for the office to help make him a more accessible “people’s lawyer.” That includes traveling around the state and talking to people directly.

He also said in the coming weeks, he wants to prioritize solving the state’s opioid epidemic and getting cash bail reform through the legislature.

“I have a very unconventional approach to being an elected official, I’m going to do what I said I was going to do on the campaign,” Weiser said in his new office, bedecked with artwork of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former President Obama, his old boss. “I’ll be the people’s lawyer, that’s a different agenda that this office has always had. Sometimes the attorney’s general’s office can be disconnected.”

On the ACA, Weiser said he heard on the campaign from people across the state they wanted pre-existing conditions and the Medicaid expansion protected.

“The Affordable Care Act gives people this critical protection … without that, people worry about their kids’ lives, they worry about being in bankruptcy,” Weiser said. “Colorado is going to be part of it to protect access to health care.”

Former Attorney General Cynthia Coffman last September joined other state AGs in suing drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma for fraud and deceptive marketing around the risks in taking prescription opioids. Weiser said he will continue that lawsuit and possibly join others against additional drug companies on behalf of Colorado.

“Are there others we should be adding to it?” he said. “How do we seek relief?”

Weiser, who has visited jails and sheriffs in the San Luis Valley, said the overdose crisis has ravaged parts of the state. He wants to prioritize making it easier for treatment facilities to get licensed and working to get people out of jail who have been criminalized for being addicts.

“We’re going to look at this and say how did we let it get so far, so bad?” he said.

On cash bail reform, Weiser said he’ll be championing a bill expected to be introduced in this year’s legislature to get rid of cash bail for certain low-level crimes. He said when people who can’t afford to post bail sit in jail, it has a coercive effect, often leading them to plead guilty just to get out of jail — something Weiser called unfair.

“The situation we have today is we’re spending a lot of money of keeping people in jail who have never been convicted of a crime,” Weiser said. “If you do it the right way, making sure people who are not a threat to public safety don’t stay in jail … it doesn’t harm public safety and it helps people with their lives. They don’t have to leave their kids, they don’t lose their job.”