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Matt Soper looks back on a successful legislative session

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Although Republicans are in the minority in the Colorado House of Representatives, Matt Soper, House District 54, believes he and his colleagues demonstrated effective leadership during the first regular session of the 72nd General Assembly.

"Even though the 2019 legislative session was crushing, as a minority, the Republicans were not crushed," he said in an interview last week. He referred to numerous committee hearings that ran until midnight, and even a few that didn't end until 4 or 5 a.m.

"It's lucky that I'm naturally a late night person," he said. "When people were starting to nod off, I had my second boost of energy."

Soper has left the gold dome and returned to his home on Hartig Drive. Questions about that residence generated a great deal of controversy in the days following the November election, but Soper said those concerns have been laid to rest. He's planning some remodeling projects on the historic home and finalizing plans for his marriage to Sarah Wang on Oct. 19.

He will also hold town halls in Delta, Palisade and Fruita, the three largest communities in his district. The Delta town hall is set for Saturday, June 1, 1 to 3 p.m. at Needle Rock Brewing Company.

On June 29, he will participate in a national popular vote debate sponsored by the Libertarian Party of Delta County. The time and location of that event are to be announced.

In his first year in office, Soper was named to the Judiciary and the Health and Insurance Committees, two of the biggest commitees with some "hot ticket" bills.

Of the many bills passed during the 2019 legislative session, Soper said one that will immediately impact the citizens of Delta County is legislation that caps out-of-network charges for medical care.

Three bills have the potential to increase revenue for Delta County Joint School District #50 and Technical College of the Rockies. The funding of all-day kindergarten, which is already offered in Delta County, will free up funds for other needs. In speaking with Caryn Gibson, superintendent of schools, Soper said he encouraged 50J to move those funds to teacher pay.

Expansion of the BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) opens the door for grant funding of metal shops, wood shops and auto mechanics classrooms.

The third bill allows the state's three vocational colleges, including Technical College of the Rockies, to apply for capital funds from the state.

Soper said he sponsored 13 bills, 10 of which made their way to the governor's desk. That's an impressive record for a first lawmaker by any account.

HB 1087 allows local governments to post meeting notices online. HB 1030 makes it a crime for a person in a position of trust to send sexually explicit text messages. After a great deal of political maneuvering, the bill passed with just one no vote was signed into law by Governor Jared Polis last week.

HB 1265 prohibits the passing of snowplows in the echelon formation.

HB 1225 eliminates bail for low level petty crimes, many of which are municipal offenses such as parking infractions, loitering and illegal U-turns. "These offenses don't carry jail time as a penal element," Soper explained, "but if you don't pay the fine, then a bench warrant can be issued and that's when you end up in jail. To have someone sitting in jail who, if they pled guilty, would be released from jail, is an injustice," he said. "It's also unconstitutional."

Marijuana regulations continue to be tweaked at the state capitol. "I'm probably one of the few legislators who does not want to expand recreational opportunities," he said. "There are just a few of us who still believe marijuana is a dangerous substance and Colorado shouldn't be a free-for-all. It's amazing to see how the state has changed."

Despite his opinion, it's now legal for recreational and medical marijuana to be delivered to an individual's home just like pizza.

He did support expanded use of medical marijuana for kids with autism, after hearing some very compelling testimony from parents.

Throughout the legislative session, he repeatedly expressed opposition to the Red Flag bill. The bill is currently being challenged for procedural reasons. While Soper said he would love to see the Red Flag bill nullified on a technicality, it would set a precedent that currently protects the Republicans' minority rights. The many local residents who share his aversion to the Red Flag bill shouldn't get their hopes up, he advised.

Another "bad" bill in Soper's opinion, the Family Leave Medical Act, is now the subject of a study. It's likely to be re-introduced when the Legislature convenes in January 2020, he said.

SB181, the oil and gas bill, was amended but is still likely to have a major impact on the energy sector.

Soper opposed the national popular vote bill and on June 29 will defend his position during a debate with Dick Gilmore sponsored by the Libertarian Party of Delta County. The time and location of the debate have not been announced.

"There is one good thing," Soper said. "Opponents have almost enough signatures to get it on the ballot for the people to decide whether it should be law or not. On account of this question, we're likely to see citizens more engaged in an off-year election."

Also on the November ballot is a referred measure asking for voter approval of online sports betting. Soper was disappointed that just $10 million was allocated for the Colorado Water Plan (when $30 million was requested), so he suggested the tax revenue from online sports betting be dedicated to water infrastructure. When that recommendation was embraced by both parties, he considered it a major legislative success.

Overall, Soper said, he's pleased with what he was able to accomplish during the legislative session. "Every time I walked into the state capitol it was a surreal experience," said Soper, who remembers former State Representative Matt Smith speaking to his high school civics class. Soper successfully ran for a succession of student offices, which laid the groundwork for his political aspirations. He now holds the same position as Matt Smith, when he spoke to the students at DHS. Soper says it's likely he'll make an announcement concerning re-election later this summer, and he sees himself taking an even more active leadership role in the State House when the Legislature convenes in January.

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