Guest column: The 2016 session: Working for our communities
A midnight thump of the gavel May 11 ended 120 days of floor work, months of bill reading and my second session as the state senator from Senate District 5. Making sure the voices of the seven counties I represent are heard among the noise of special interests and partisan politics is not easy. Your backing, however, through your emails and phone calls made a huge difference in having our communities’ stories break through this session.
Despite a tough political climate in an election year, I put the needs of our counties in Senate District 5 at the forefront. With your help, we became the first state in the nation to create a Public Lands Day, sending the signal that our public lands should be set aside not for one person but instead for the collective good. After hearing from so many of you, I successfully carried a bill to address the mounting costs of health care in our region by examining the creation of a single geographic rating. This study is due by the end of summer and will help ultimately give us a pathway toward bringing down health care costs.
From Public Lands Day to a new agricultural conservation water right to working with great institutions such as Western State Colorado University and Colorado Mountain College to help them move forward to securing resources to address legacy mine cleanup, I am proud that with your support, and by building relationships with fellow senators across the aisle, a number of my bills that reflect the values and needs of our communities made their way to the governor to be signed into law.
From Jan. 13 to May 11, my colleagues and I succeeded in lifting up other priorities designed to level the playing field for all hardworking Coloradans. Such bills that I supported include providing our veterans with expanded opportunities to re-enter the workforce, helping rural schools recruit and retain great teachers, expanding access to affordable housing through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program and bolstering the Building Excellent Schools Today program, which has been so critical to repairing and building schools in our rural communities. As a body, we passed a balanced budget that includes funding for several important items, like bringing down our alarmingly high suicide rate through greater resources and preventing K-12 public school funding from being cut.
While there were wins for our communities, there were disappointing losses. Two of the most disappointing involved bills I worked on. One would expand access to broadband internet in rural communities, and the other would create emergency grants for areas experiencing significant job loss. While both bills had initial support in the building, they unfortunately were undone by special interests and partisan politics.
In a 21st-century world with a globalizing economy, our rural communities are finding it more difficult to compete. That’s why I remain committed to working on these critical issues — because we must bridge the rural digital divide and we must ensure that all Coloradans outside the metro areas are able to compete and succeed in the communities they call home.
While it was a tough session filled with spirited debate, I am proud of my work at the Capitol on behalf of the people of Senate District 5 and remain optimistic that when we do come together, there is no shortage of the good we can do for our communities. This spring, I will be in your communities to hear your thoughts and to ask you if Colorado is working for you. In those meetings, I want to hear from you what we can do better to make sure we have an economy that is working for everyone and make sure that our Colorado way of life is protected.
Over the summer, I hope to run into you at a community event, and if I don’t, please never hesitate to call me. This fall, I will again do a listening tour to decide together with you what bills would best help our communities. It is an honor and privilege to represent you at the state Capitol, and I thank you for your ongoing support. Please continue to stay in touch!
Kerry Donovan is the state senator for Senate District 5. The district represents seven counties on the Western Slope and the Arkansas Valley, including Chaffee, Delta, Eagle, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Lake and Pitkin counties.
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