Local Colorado lawmakers Roberts, Donovan lament the bills that got away this session in Denver | VailDaily.com

Local Colorado lawmakers Roberts, Donovan lament the bills that got away this session in Denver

David O. Williams
Special to the Daily

Last week saw the conclusion of one of the most tumultuous Colorado legislative sessions since the fierce gun-control debates of 2013, but both local state lawmakers say this session will likely be remembered more for the laws that didn't pass than the ones that did.

Particularly disappointing for first-year state Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle, was the failure of HB-1384, a bipartisan health care cost study proposal that passed out of the Democrat-controlled House but died in committee in the GOP-controlled Senate. It would have spent $360,000 looking at three possible ways the state could increase health insurance competition in rural areas.

"The bill was a small, cost-effective but crucial step to find long-term solutions to rising health insurances costs, which is the top issue for almost all of our constituents," Roberts said. "The status quo is unacceptable, and even though the Senate defeated several efforts to alleviate this burden for Coloradans, I will continue to work hard on this issue."

Health care

Roberts, appointed in October to fill Diane Mitsch Bush's seat after she resigned to run against Republican Rep. Scott Tipton for U.S. Congress, must now take his record to the voters of Routt and Eagle counties in House District 26 as he runs for election for the first time in November. Roberts was the lead sponsor on 12 bills this session, and six made it to the governor. He is being challenged by Republican John Rosenfeld, according to the secretary of state's office.

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, who sponsored HB-1384 in that chamber, said its failure, along with Senate rejection of other proposals aimed at drug-cost transparency and lowering runaway Western Slope insurance rates, underscores the scope of the problem in mountain communities.

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"This does point out that the individual market is still not working in our part of Colorado," Donovan said. "Colorado is going to have to solve this problem for Colorado, and the only way to do that is to start looking at how the state offers some different insurance options, because the market isn't working and what we're getting from D.C. isn't working, so time for us to fix it."

Premiums on the individual market — for people not covered by Medicaid or insured by their employer — have risen 72 percent over the past three years in Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Garfield counties. HB 1392 — another Roberts-Donovan bill focused on reinsurance to subsidize people making too much for Obamacare subsidies but not enough to afford runaway rates — also died in Senate committee.

"It was just the individual market (skyrocketing) and now we're starting to see small-group plans kind of creep up in cost and that's going to impact more people," Donovan said. "People have to have access to health care that doesn't bankrupt them. That's just a fundamental aspect of life."

Climate change

Donovan, who is running for re-election this November in her sprawling Senate District 5, which includes Eagle and six other counties, said she expects the rising costs of health care will be a top campaign issue on the Western Slope this summer and fall. She's being challenged by former Delta County Commissioner Olen Lund, of Paonia, on the Republican side.

But another big campaign-trail topic will be climate change, Donovan said, adding that she ran two climate bills that both died in the Senate — a chamber Republicans control by a scant 18-17 margin.

"As soon as you say climate change in this building, the Republican Party is against it, which is really unfortunate," said Donovan, who added that the combination of drought and rising temperatures is impacting both the agriculture and recreation industries in her district.

"It's not along party lines in my district," Donovan said. "People are saying climate change is happening and we need to do something about it. It's people who live and work in the environment and know that it's being impacted. People are really frustrated with partisanship — particularly when it's an issue that isn't partisan in the community."

Transportation

One positive for both lawmakers was a bipartisan compromise on transportation that will inject some badly needed money into roads and transit infrastructure, although both parties agree it's still not enough and voters could be asked to approve more spending this fall.

"I am very pleased with the compromise we reached on transportation in SB1," Roberts said. "It will be the largest investment in transportation in over 20 years and one our state sorely needs. It is an immediate infusion of funding that (the Colorado Department of Transportation) needs, as well as creates the infrastructure for responsible funding for the next 20 years."

Session turmoil

From the very beginning of the session in January, allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct roiled both the House and Senate. The House expelled former Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock, while critics said the Senate dragged its feet on charges leveled at several lawmakers, including Western Slope Republican Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs.

"I'm very proud of the leadership the House of Representatives showed in our handling of the harassment and retaliation allegations of one of our members," said Roberts, a deputy district attorney in his day job. "We conducted a professional and thorough investigation and gave Rep. Lebsock a full and fair hearing on what was a workplace matter, not a criminal trial."

Donovan, who led on the topic from the first week of the session, noted that Baumgardner was stripped of his chairmanship of the transportation committee, his vice chairmanship of the agriculture committee and removed from all the interim committees that travel the state between sessions.

"In comparison to what's been done, I don't think it's enough, but it's the strongest reply that they've had so far," Donovan said of Senate GOP leadership. "It does impact him."

Colorado Public Lands Day

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, will be celebrating Colorado Public Lands Day (created through legislation she helped pass last year), with a cleanup session at the Gore trailhead in Vail from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 19. RSVP via her Facebook page.

Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle, will be celebrating the day participating in a hike into the Spraddle Creek area of Vail that’s proposed as a wilderness area addition in the Continental Divide Wilderness, Recreation and Camp Hale Legacy Act. Click on “Events” at http://www.wildernessworkshop.org for more information.