It has been a busy first year at the State Capitol! The 69th General Assembly just concluded the 120-day legislative session on Wednesday, and I feel good about the work we did for the people of Colorado.
The late nights I spent at the Capitol fighting for our community in Southern Colorado and for all Colorado citizens have been rewarding, and I’d like to tell you about some of our accomplishments.
My top priority this year has been to pass legislation that will help revitalize and rebuild our economy by supporting Colorado workers and small businesses. We passed several important jobs bills this year that were targeted toward doing just that.
The Keep Jobs In Colorado Act (House Bill 1292), sponsored by Reps. Pete Lee and Dan Pabon, will ensure that more of our taxpayer dollars stay in Colorado, supporting Colorado businesses and creating jobs for Coloradans. When considering bids on state contracts, state agencies will be required to weigh “best value” rather than just “lowest cost,” which means they need to look at hiring Colorado workers and using Colorado products to complete the contract, while also considering wages, health care and other benefits that will be paid to those workers.
We also passed two bills designed to provide informational support and technical assistance to small and growing businesses. The first was House Bill 1002, sponsored by Rep. Max Tyler, increased funding for Colorado’s network of Small Business Development Centers. With a staff of four and a general fund appropriation of less than $85,000, these Small Business Development Centers served more than 5,000 small businesses, created 1,700 jobs and assisted in nearly $132 million in small business capital formation in 2011 alone for Colorado start-ups. The second is House Bill 1003, which I cosponsored with Rep. Pete Lee. The bill creates an Economic Gardening pilot program in the Office of Economic Development and International Trade to train and certify Small Business Development Center staff to provide a full year of strategic assistance to at least 20 second-stage Colorado companies to foster growth and job creation right here in Colorado.
The last bill I’d like to highlight is the Advanced Industries Acceleration Act, House Bill 1001 sponsored by Reps. Dave Young & Cheri Gerou. Advanced industries are a prime driver of Colorado's economy, accounting for 30 percent of the state's GDP as well as hundreds of thousands of primary and ancillary jobs. This bill will promote the growth of Colorado's advanced industries by encouraging public-private partnerships, increasing access to early-stage capital, and creating a strong infrastructure that increases the state's capacity to be globally competitive. The bill will increase investment in advanced technology to leverage additional research funding, accelerate the commercialization process to reduce the time-to-market cycle and stimulate our economy, and help small advanced tech companies’ access capital through an early-stage matching funds program.
The House and Senate have worked hard to support businesses and workers to make sure all Coloradans who want a job can find one.
Since my most recent newsletter was all about the budget we passed, I will keep this section brief. The budget we passed earlier this year was responsible, balanced and representative of Colorado’s values. We are investing in economic development, vital services like mental health and child welfare, and education. We are dedicating funds to rural economic development and tourism promotion, Colorado’s second largest industry. We are increasing our reserve to protect us from future economic downturns, and we are balancing the books. I am proud to have voted in support of this responsible approach, which received significant bipartisan support in the House.
My previous newsletters covered in much greater detail the bills that I have carried this legislative session. I would like to briefly discuss those bills while touching on the Senate Bills that I sponsored. In total, I carried six major bills this session; Gov. Hickenlooper has already signed five. I already mentioned my “economic gardening” bill, House Bill 1003, which will create jobs by helping some of Colorado’s second stage businesses grow.
Our veterans need to be recognized for all they have given for us. Because of this, I worked with my Senate Republican colleague Ted Harvey to successfully pass a bill that creates the Navy SEALs special license plate. The plate will be available to honorably discharged, retired, reserve or active members of the Navy SEALs, and will be available Jan. 1, 2014. This is just another way that we can show our appreciation to our veterans when they return home. As a veteran of the United States Marines, I am happy for my brothers and sisters in arms that will be able to proudly display their service.
Another Senate bill I was happy to carry through the House with my colleague Rep. Mike McLachlan was Senate Bill 138, sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve King that improves the role of our school resource officers. The bill defines many of the responsibilities of school resource officers and includes them as community partners in developing school safety plans. We must make sure our kids are free to learn without fear, and part of the solution is to make sure our school resource officers are as effective as possible. I was happy we were able to address keeping our kids safe in school in a bipartisan manner.
I also sponsored two bills to protect our EMTs as they do their critical work. House Bill 1063 certifies “Critical Care Paramedics” and provides them with liability protections so they can focus on doing their jobs. By protecting these workers, we can now ensure that rural citizens can get the best care possible from paramedics. Senate Bill 038, which I sponsored with Republican Sen. David Balmer, further protects our state’s paramedics by providing confidentiality of matters discussed in post-disaster reviews, which look at what worked well and what could be improved upon in their processes. Law enforcement is already provided this protection and this bill simply adds paramedics to they can talk openly to improving the system.
In previous newsletters, I’ve discussed my bill to repurpose Fort Lyon into a residential facility for the treatment of homeless Coloradans, including many veterans. I’m very proud to say that this bill cleared the entire House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support – 49-13. Unfortunately, the bill was lost in the Senate Appropriations Committee. However, with quick and precise thinking I worked with Sen. Angela Giron and ran an amendment to a different bill to appropriate money to the Fort Lyon repurposing efforts. I look forward to seeing the community around Fort Lyon revived as we convert this facility into a place that will make a meaningful difference for homeless Coloradans.
OTHER IMPORTANT BILLS
Colorado ASSET (SB 033) – Reps. Crisanta Duran & Angela Williams
The ASSET bill offers in-state college tuition rates to all Colorado high school graduates, regardless of immigration status. It's an important step to ensuring that all qualified high school graduates can afford college and access the opportunities to put their talents to use and contribute back to our economy.
Future School Finance Act (SB 213) – Rep. Hamner
This bill redesigns Colorado's school finance formula to invest in strategies that are proven to be effective, increase equity, and helps prepare students for success in their future educational and career goals. The school finance system proposed in this bill is subject to voter approval in the next election on a ballot initiative to fund the reforms.
Breakfast After the Bell (HB 1006) – Reps. Dominick Moreno & Tony Exum, Sr.
Many students who qualify for pre-school breakfasts don't get to school in time to eat, and studies have shown that hungry children don't learn as well as their better-fed peers. HB 1006 directs schools to provide breakfast for all students after the first bell of the day, if 70 percent or more of their students qualify for federal free or reduced lunches. This bill will leverage state and federal funds to help ensure that all students are getting proper nutrition and are ready to learn at the beginning of the school day.
Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act (HB 1303) – Reps. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst & Dan Pabon & Sen. Giron
The Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act will simplify and standardize the voting process across Colorado, save counties at least $9.5 million per year in election expenses, increase voting options and access, and prevent fraud, ensuring the integrity of the democratic process. I want to thank our Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz for his support on these reforms that will expand access to voters while protecting against fraud.
Civil Unions (SB 011) – Reps. Mark Ferrandino & Sue Schafer
SB 011 will allow all loving, committed couples – gay, lesbian, or straight – to enter into civil unions, which will provide the important legal benefits, protections and responsibilities already granted to heterosexual couples in Colorado.
Medicaid Expansion (SB 200) – Rep. Mark Ferrandino
Under the current health care system, people who can't afford insurance will often wait to deal with health issues until they require emergency care, causing unnecessary strain on hospital emergency rooms and ultimately raising costs for the entire health care system. The new program under SB 200 will make more individuals eligible for Medicaid, thereby cutting state spending on uncompensated care by 12.5-25 percent and boosting Colorado's economy by ensuring that all workers receive quality preventative and diagnostic health care. The Medicaid expansion is also expected to pump $4.4 billion into Colorado’s economy over ten years and create 22,000 new jobs.
As we move into the summer, I will be spending more time in Pueblo and less time at my Capitol office in Denver. Please continue to contact me via my email firstname.lastname@example.org and on my website www.leroygarcia.com. I will check them often with your questions and concerns. The office phone will be much harder to contact me during the break. It was a historic session, and I am proud to have been a part of that history. I have done my best to represent the views and opinions of my constituent’s in House District 46, and I look forward to representing you next year in the 2014 legislative year.