Kerry Donovan, Dylan Roberts take stock of prolific 2019 legislative session
Getting a bill passed to create framework for public insurance option tops list of legislative wins
By any measure, the two state lawmakers who represent Eagle County at the state capitol in Denver — Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon — had a prolific and productive legislative session, introducing and passing a slew of new bills into law.
From heath care to climate change to prescription drug costs to affordable housing to dealing with traffic jams on Interstate 70, the Vail Daily tracked a number of bills brought by both lawmakers throughout the session. But to round up the session that ended on May 3, the Vail Daily asked both lawmakers what bills they’re most proud of and what bills flew under the radar.
Getting health care reform done
For Donovan, the former Vail Town Council member who was elected to her first four-year term in the senate in 2014 and re-elected last year, her 2019 highlight was finally making some headway on a group of bills she hopes will dramatically bring down the cost of health care and health insurance in her sprawling, seven-county Western Slope Senate District 5.
With her party in the minority in the Senate her first four years, Donovan had to settle for sometimes symbolic victories like establishing Colorado Public Lands Day to beat back Republican attempts to privatize or gain state control over federal lands in Colorado. Colorado Public Lands Day is coming up again on Saturday, May 18.
Meanwhile, bills that Donovan had been working on for years to bring down skyrocketing health care and health insurance costs would inevitably pass the Democrat-controlled house, only to die in the GOP Senate. In her end of session, wrap-up discussion with the Vail Daily last year, Donovan lamented the health care bills that got away. Now in the majority, it’s a different story.
“Getting the stuff done on health care, the majority was critical to that, because we’ve been working on those same ideas and concepts for four years and I could never get the Republicans to support it,” Donovan said.
After individual market health insurance rates — for people not on Medicaid or covered by their employer — jumped by nearly 75 percent in Colorado’s mountain resort counties from 2016 to 2018, prices stabilized somewhat in 2019 with more modest increases. But rates are still forcing people to choose between health insurance and paying their mortgage.
Donovan this session often worked with Roberts, who was appointed to House District 26 (Eagle and Routt counties) in 2017 and then elected to the seat in 2018. Together they championed a suite of bills that include the framework for a public option to increase competition in rural mountain counties where there may be only one or two Affordable Care Act plans.
The pair also teamed on a bill to lower premiums for the majority of customers in insurance plans by helping cover high-risk individuals through a reinsurance program. While both bills require a federal waiver, the reinsurance bill could lower premiums on the individual market up to 20 percent for 2020. The public option bill will require a year to set up and won’t kick in until 2021.
A public option to lower costs
Roberts said the bill he’s most proud of this session is the passage of the public option, which he’s been working on since first being appointed in 2017 and teamed up with Donovan to have ready right when the session kicked off in January.
“It had bipartisan sponsorship and support from the start, and when Gov. (Jared) Polis signs it soon, Colorado will become a national leader in being the first state to begin the process of instituting a public option for health insurance, which will mean that more Coloradans have access to an affordable health insurance plan for themselves and their family,” Roberts said.
Donovan and Roberts also collaborated on a bill to cap the cost of insulin for people with diabetes, and Donovan ran a bill that allows cooperatives to incorporate consumer protections and gives consumers the power to collectively negotiate lower rates directly with providers.
Mental health, student loans, broadband
All told, both lawmakers sponsored 29 pieces of legislation that made it through both chambers on the to the governor’s desk for signature.
Roberts said two of his 29 bills that mostly flew under radar were SB 2 and HB 1120. SB 2 licenses student loan servicer companies and allows the attorney general to enforce those licensing requirements.
“The student loan crisis, along with climate change, is probably the biggest crisis for my generation and the generation ahead of me … and the unethical practices of student loan servicers are a huge part of that problem,” Roberts said. “This bill makes Colorado a national leader in this area and it will result in more Coloradans paying off their loans faster …”
Roberts said HB 1120, or the Youth Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Education Act, came about in conversations he had with Eagle County High School student Saphira Klearman, who wanted the state to do a better job of addressing the youth mental health crisis in Colorado. The bill lowers the age that a young person can seek mental health counseling from 15 to 12.
It also directs the State Board of Education to create a resource bank of peer-reviewed mental health education materials for teachers to work into their curriculum at all levels, K-12.
“We know that breaking the stigma around mental health is a crucial need in combating this crisis, and giving teachers the tools they need to talk about this in school just like they talk about physical health and nutrition will be an extremely positive development,” Roberts said.
For Donovan, her most impactful legislation she felt largely flew under the radar was SB 107 — or the Broadband Infrastructure Installation Act — which was sponsored in the house by Roberts. The bill removes some of the final hurdles for deploying broadband in rural areas, streamlining the process for traditional telecom companies or rural electric co-ops to use existing easements or infrastructure to fill in connectivity gaps.
“What broadband does is it lets people who have location-agnostic jobs choose to live in awesome places that would not have even been feasible a couple of years ago to have that type of approach,” Donovan said of the obvious economic benefits for struggling rural areas that can use broadband to better attract independent contractors and small companies.