At midsession mark, state Senate Dems celebrate minority party successes

Author: John Tomasic - March 9, 2017 - Updated: March 9, 2017

Colorado Senate Democrats meet with reporters to mark the midpoint of the 2017 legislative session. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)
Colorado Senate Democrats meet with reporters to mark the midpoint of the 2017 legislative session.
(John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

Minority Party Democrats can’t control the agenda in the state Senate, so they’re picking their spots, members told reporters gathered Wednesday for a brief midsession report. They celebrated successes notched so far this session.

Sens. Leroy Garcia from Pueblo and Cheri Jahn from Wheat Ridge touted work to address the plague of opioid addiction sweeping the state. They quoted data on rampant and escalating drug use.

“This is a crisis,” said Garcia.

“This is a state of emergency,” said Jahn. “Everyone, everyone knows someone with an addiction or substance abuse problem, you just don’t know it.”

Garcia’s Senate Bill 74 would increase access to addiction treatment in areas of the state with the highest levels of opioid abuse.

Jahn’s Senate Bill 193 would create an addiction treatment and prevention center at the University of Colorado health sciences center on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.

Both bills won unanimous support in committees so far.

Sen. Kerry Donovan from Vail celebrated a win in the battle to introduce digital-life basics into the rural and mountain communities of the state, where internet remains spotty and slow. Although bills aimed at wresting more control over communication infrastructure from corporations have failed this year, “telehealth” House Bill 1094, which Donovan is co-sponsoring with Alamosa Republican Larry Crowder, sped through the Legislature and onto the governor’s desk. The bill would require health insurance companies to cover doctor visits conducted remotely.

Donovan also trumpeted the state’s coming first-ever Public Lands Day, scheduled for the third Saturday in May. Donovan ran the bill last year that established the holiday. She said four states have “followed our lead,” and introduced public lands day bills.

“I want to celebrate how we continue together as a group we stand up for public lands,” she said, waving to her colleagues. “Recent moves by the [Trump] administration show that [public lands] are under threat to be sold to the highest bidder. I want to make sure the small businesses in my district can still take people rafting, people can still take their weekends to hike in the mountains, hunt fish, explore, go ATVing.”

Public lands are about “our Colorado heritage,” she said. They’re “the furnace of the economy.”

Louisville Sen. Matt Jones described the work he and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman from Denver have been doing this year to raise awareness on environment and energy issues.

“We have huge opportunities in Colorado and we need to take advantage of them,” he said. “Cost has changed as far as electricity generation. The cheapest form of energy generation by far is wind power. Solar is cheaper than coal and gas. That’s gonna change the way we look at things.”

Jones listed figures that demonstrate the way the renewable energy and conservation sectors are expanding in the state. There are more than 4,000 jobs in wind and solar on the Front Range, he said, citing a Progress 15 report. He said there are 62,000 clean energy jobs across the state.

“Clean energy is cheaper, cleaner and [provides] good jobs,” Jones said. “And that’s the way we have to think about it from now on.”

Most of the members of the caucus were present for the event, many of the women donning red in support of  national “economic solidarity” demonstrations staged to mark International Women’s Day.

Senate Minority staffers broadcast the event on Facebook.

John Tomasic

John Tomasic

John Tomasic is a senior political reporter for The Colorado Statesman covering the Colorado Legislature.