Our holiday this year made me realize, again, how lucky I am.
Our children quarantined for two weeks before visiting and we all had many delicious meals and hearty laughs together. We had money to donate to worthy nonprofits, as well as enough to give gifts to each other. Our electricity is on, our pantry and refrigerator are full and our bills are paid. We understand how fortunate we are during a pandemic.
But the joy of having so much is dampened when I think of the millions of people who are not as lucky. They anguish over finding food or a secure place to live. Their business is struggling or they need medical attention. Their needs overshadow their wants. During our three-day “extraordinary session” in early December, the legislature addressed many of these important issues and, with bipartisan support, we sent 10 bills on to the governor to sign.
Since we believe hardworking Coloradans couldn’t wait any longer for Congress to do its job, we used our limited state resources and stepped up to support small businesses, help families avoid eviction and foreclosure or pay utility bills, give parents access to safe child care and help more Coloradans have a fair shot at getting through this pandemic and succeeding as our state recuperates.
It could never be enough, so our work toward a successful recovery continues.
During the past few months, I have worked with business leaders and elected officials to help reclassify malls to open them up for the Christmas season, and have supported La Plata County as it applied for and received permission to open restaurants with 25 percent indoor capacity under the 5-Star Program. We have advocated for renter and landlord rights, buoyed school districts as they maneuver their way through the choices they need to make, and supported our numerous food banks so that no one goes hungry.
As I prepare for the next session, I am focusing on other ways to help District 59. Our legislative bills are not yet solidified, and since it looks like we will not reconvene until Feb. 16, we are all using this opportunity to direct our energy where it is needed most.
A few of my potential bills focus on education, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. One concerns the per-pupil payment Colorado makes to schools according to their estimated enrollments each year. This year, many schools have a lower than expected numbers enrolling, though most children are expected to return as schools open again. Usually, the state asks for a fiscal reconciliation; this bill lets schools keep the money, as they have already hired staff and are addressing unforeseen expenses.
I am also exploring bills addressing high-stakes testing in K-12 schools and the requirement to submit test scores on higher education applications. Another bill seeks funding to help students in their last mile of college who face small, unexpected expenses that could prevent them from graduating.
To strengthen economic development in our hard-hit region of the state, I am working on a bill placing the Outdoor Recreation Industry as a line item in the budget. The industry currently has the funding, so this costs the state nothing, but it does make sure outdoor recreation is specifically considered every year. The industry is growing rapidly, which is a great benefit to District 59’s economy.
Colorado’s Commissioner of Agriculture and I are considering developing a Planet Resilience Office, working with our state farmers and ranchers to encourage production, sales and job creation based on environmental needs. When schools and large venues closed, food demand dropped and our agricultural industry suffered.
Many more bills are in the works. We have so much, and can give so much to others. I look forward to seeing what other legislators are proposing to help Coloradans as we all work together this next session.
Rep. Barbara McLachlan is a Democrat representing District 59 in the Colorado General Assembly.