As we look back on the past year and look forward to the year ahead, I want to share some of the victories we were able to accomplish. Good news doesn’t always make the evening broadcasts or the front page, but 2019 was incredibly successful for the people of Colorado.
Working together across party lines, Colorado’s elected officials have made great strides to better protect our treasured public lands, lower health care costs and support transportation and broadband deployment across Colorado.
After years of sustained efforts, we successfully passed permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the crown jewel of conservation programs, for the first time in the program’s history.
We didn’t stop there – the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee also approved my bipartisan legislation to give the LWCF full and permanent funding.
I’m going to keep pushing Congress to pass permanent LWCF funding to support Colorado conservation projects.
BLM headquarters moveAfter years of building support with local officials, Colorado leaders, members of Congress and members of the Trump administration, the Department of the Interior announced that it would be moving the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction as part of its restructuring plan to better serve Western states.
This landmark decision means the BLM will be in a better position to protect our public lands and better serve the people affected by their decisions.
We made health care more affordableI frequently hear from Coloradans concerned with the rising costs of health care. This year, I worked directly with Gov. Jared Polis and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to secure approval for Colorado’s reinsurance waiver. In July, the waiver was approved, and in October it was announced the waiver would save Coloradans with insurance on the individual market more than 20 percent on average.
On the Western Slope, where families pay some of the highest health insurance premiums in the country, savings will be as high as 34 percent.
And, just in time for the holidays, Congress reached a deal to fully repeal costly Obamacare health care taxes, which means millions of Coloradans will save hundreds of dollars a year.
More needs to be done to ensure that Coloradans have access to quality health care and mental health care, which is why I have introduced a bipartisan bill to increase the number of physicians in rural areas of our state.
The 988 hotlineI’m also deeply concerned with Colorado’s rising suicide rates, especially among our state’s young people. Currently, Colorado has 750,000 rural residents and its rural youth are twice as likely to commit suicide as their urban peers.
I’ve introduced bipartisan bills to address mental health needs in schools, incentivize mental health professionals to work in underserved areas, and improve suicide screening and prevention in emergency rooms. I’m working to create the 988 national suicide hotline, which would create an easy-to-remember number that anyone could call in a time of mental health crisis. The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved my bill this year, and the Federal Communications Commission voted 5-0 to move forward with the three-digit suicide hotline.
Better care for vetsThe 988 suicide hotline would also include a veteran-specific line, to make sure that help is always available for our veterans.
In February of this year I rolled out my VA Readiness Initiative, a comprehensive package of reforms to ensure the federal government is prepared to fulfill the promises we’ve made to our service members.
While the vast majority of VA employees and medical providers provide exceptional care to our veterans and we are grateful for their service, we know that there has been an unacceptable trend of VA facilities failing to report providers who made major errors.
I’m pleased the Senate passed my Department of Veterans Affairs Provider Accountability Act, which requires reporting of VA doctors who have committed adverse actions, to guarantee quality care for our veterans.
I hear you on the economyThrough my annual Colorado Farm Tour, Main Street Walking Tours and round-tables held across the state, I was fortunate to hear directly from Coloradans to talk about ways we can ensure that every corner of Colorado can grow and thrive. I’m proud in Congress we were able to secure full funding of Payment in Lieu of Taxes, which provides critical resources for counties to fund law enforcement, firefighting, emergency response and other essential county services.
We also secured full funding of the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network in the year-end spending package.
Lastly, I was successful in including an increase of funding for anti-methamphetamine grants to provide additional resources for our communities. Unfortunately, nine of the 10 Colorado counties with the highest drug overdose death rates are rural counties.
As we look forward to the year ahead, I’m eager to build on the great economic success our country has experienced by exploring new economic opportunities for Colorado producers.
I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start or expand small businesses and I’ve also introduced legislation to enhance the Opportunity Zone Program to make it as effective as possible at encouraging investment, spurring growth and extending opportunities for communities across all four corners of Colorado.
We should open new markets for Colorado’s workers, farmers and ranchers, and advance free trade with agreements like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to continue our state’s economic success.
I feel truly blessed to represent the greatest state in the greatest country in the world. I’m incredibly proud of all we’ve accomplished together in 2019. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish for the Centennial State in 2020.
Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, represents Colorado in the U.S. Senate. He is running for reelection in 2020.