Lawmakers greet each other in the Colorado House of Representatives on Jan. 9, 2023. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)
Soon after the Colorado General Assembly convened for the 2023 legislative session on Monday, members introduced the first bills of the year, offering a hint of Democratic priorities.
“This session, we’ll pass legislation to protect our water and air, invest in our schools, improve public safety, and make our state more affordable. Our first five bills are just the beginning, and we’re excited to get to work building a Colorado where everyone can thrive,” House Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Democrat from Dillon, said in a statement.
Democrats enjoy large majorities in both legislative chambers.
In the House, the first five bills center on education investments, health care costs, mental health, language accessibility and water efficiency.
House Bill 23-1001 would expand the eligibility for financial assistance and loan forgiveness for educators to address the state’s teacher shortage. It is sponsored by Democratic Reps. Cathy Kipp of Fort Collins and Barbara McLachlan of Durango and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada.
House Bill 23-1002 would create an EpiPen affordability program for people who do not have health insurance. It would cap the cost of a two-pack of EpiPens, often used to treat severe allergic reactions, at $60. It is sponsored by Rep. Javier Mabrey, a Denver Democrat, and Sen. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat.
House Bill 23-1003 would form a mental health assessment program for Colorado youth in order to identify student mental health concerns and direct them to resources, including the state’s I Matter free counseling program. It would be available in public schools for students in sixth through 12th grades. It is sponsored by Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, an Aurora Democrat, and Sen. Lisa Cutter, a Littleton Democrat.
House Bill 23-1004 would promote language accessibility by letting people set a preferred language for insurance documents. It would require insurance providers to offer policy documents in the same language they advertise in. It is sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, a Glenwood Springs Democrat, and Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat. Velasco is a professional Spanish translator and interpreter and has her own translation agency.
House Bill 23-1005 makes improvements to the commercial property assessed clean energy program — known as C-PACE — so property owners can also apply for finance resiliency improvements and water efficiency improvements. It is sponsored by Democratic Reps. Jenny Willford of Northglenn and Brianna Titone of Arvada and Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Longmont.
In the Senate, the first five bills introduced involve housing, health care costs, education and workforce development for mental health and forestry professionals. Three of them have bipartisan sponsorship.
“Colorado has made a lot of progress over the past few years, but despite the progress we’ve made, too many of our neighbors continue to struggle. That’s why this session Democrats are focused on passing legislation that will provide real, substantive solutions to the challenges our communities are facing,” Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, said in a statement.
Senate Bill 23-1 would provide $13 million to the Public-Private Partnership Office to encourage affordable workforce housing on state-owned land. The bill is sponsored by Roberts, Zenzinger, Rep. Shannon Bird, a Westminster Democrat, and Rep. Meghan Lukens, a Steamboat Springs Democrat.
Senate Bill 23-2 would direct the state to seek federal authorization for Medicaid reimbursement for community health worker services. Community health care workers serve as a liaison between providers and community members and can often have a personal experience with a health condition and a cultural background they share with the community they serve. The bipartisan bill is sponsored by McCluskie, Sen. Kyle Mullica, a Federal Heights Democrat, Sen. Cleave Simpson, an Alamosa Republican, and Rep. Mary Bradfield, a Colorado Springs Republican.
Senate Bill 23-3 would create the Colorado Adult High School Program for adults to earn a high school diploma at no cost and enter the workforce. The program would include transportation support and child care. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Janet Buckner, an Aurora Democrat, Sen. Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican, and Rep. Mike Weissman, an Aurora Democrat.
Senate Bill 23-4 and Senate Bill 23-5 both focus on the workforce shortage in two industries. SB-4 would authorize schools to hire mental health professionals who are not licensed by the state Department of Education but hold a Colorado license for their profession. It is sponsored by Sen. Janice Marchman, a Loveland Democrat, Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Longmont Democrat, and Michaelson Jenet.
SB-5 involves wildfire mitigation and forestry professionals. It would direct the Colorado State Forest Service to create educational materials on the industry and create a new forestry program at Colorado Mountain College, among other provisions. The bill is sponsored by Jaquez Lewis, Cutter, Rep. Tammy Story, a Conifer Democrat, Rep. Marc Snyder, a Manitou Springs Democrat, and House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, a Wellington Republican.
The first five bills in each chamber join a group of bills introduced on the first day of session, including legislation crafted by interim committees and approved by the Legislative Council last year.
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