Some of the bills Colorado Senator Kerry Donovan is considering for 2016 could provide benefits to Delta County and the other District 5 counties she represents.
Donovan spoke Friday night at a meet-and-greet at Paonia Town Hall and gave a rundown of bills she plans as the General Assembly prepares to open session in January.
Donovan prefaced the meeting by saying that the state's 2016-2017 budget includes "significant cuts." Lawmakers will grapple with how to do more with less, and with how to fund mandated refunds of $189 million to taxpayers as required by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). Both parties expect few bills requiring large funding to pass. Sponsors of bills requiring large dollar amounts will have to get creative with funding sources or find cuts within the current budget for them to be considered, said Donovan.
In addressing mine-related layoffs and their effects on Delta County's economy, Donovan said she plans to introduce a version of the 2015 Rural Economic Emergency Grant Program bill she co-sponsored with District 61 Rep. Millie Hamner in 2015 to help communities experiencing economic hardship due to job losses. Republicans, including Ray Scott of Mesa County, succeeded in killing the bill, but Donovan said she believes her colleagues now understand more clearly the consequences of the mine layoffs and closures. "I'm hoping that translates to support," said Donovan, who is seeking to fund the bill with unclaimed money held by the Treasurer's office. "It's an out-of-the-box idea," and one Donovan urges Delta County residents to support.
Delta County was a beneficiary of the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) program that provided grants to area businesses in 2014 and 2015, but ran out of funding. Donovan plans to introduce another version of the bill, but within the limitations of the 2016-17 budget, it will be difficult to pass.
Another bill in the works would address Senate Bill 05-152, which limits government involvement in "advanced telecommunications services." SB-152 was passed in 2005 before the advent of high-speed broadband Internet services and is considered outdated.
This fall, Delta County voted to opt out of SB-152 to allow greater flexibility in participating with Region 10 and other entities in bringing affordable broadband services to the county. Donovan explained that after the quasi-governmental EAGLE-Net entity was awarded a $100.6 million Recovery Act in 2010 to expand broadband technology to rural Colorado libraries, school districts and governments, the money went mostly to Broomfield and Cherry Creek. The new bill would bring laws in line with federal definitions and require coordination of spending, which could help with local efforts.
A "tiny homes" bill being considered would be among the first of its kind in the country and would create guidelines on homes smaller than 600 square feet. Donovan said tiny homes are seen as a way to address a number of issues, including seasonal employees and affordable housing, homelessness and environmental concerns.
Donovan described Colorado as an evenly divided state when it comes to political parties. Because of its unique political climate, the state is heavily watched by other states. It's no accident that the state is taking a lead in issues like tiny homes, legalization of cannabis, renewable energy, and single-payer health care, which will be put before voters in November, said Donovan.
Donovan said that urban and mountain areas are getting hit the hardest by today's health care situation -- something she said the audience is likely very well aware of. She explained that local governments have more power to change the system, and that she's working with federal partners on researching the problem. Answers won't come easy, said Donovan, and a fix could take years.
One audience member urged Donovan to look into hospital mergers and anti-competitive practices, which he said can result in "very, very expensive" health care costs.
Another bill would provide a tax credit to help "sandwich generation" families who are struggling to raise children while simultaneously caring for aging parents.
One bill that garnered applause from women would allow for hunters to legally wear blaze pink, an idea also being considered in Wisconsin as a way to attract more women to the sport. The bill thus far has gained wide support in that state.