Roberts: There’s more work ahead
Your Colorado General Assembly ended its 2021 legislative session in June and Gov. Jared Polis just finished signing all the bills that were sent to his desk during the course of the session. Yet, just because we are only in Denver at the Capitol for just half the year does not mean the work stops when the session concludes and things are just getting started.
No matter how you look at it, the 2021 legislative session was a historic one. Major steps were taken to hasten our state’s health and economic recovery from the pandemic and we are well on our way to building a strong Colorado. Yet, we know this recovery has not reached everyone and there remains both old and new challenges in our communities like housing and the rising cost of living, workforce shortages, mental health needs, and much more.
In this month’s column, I am highlighting legislation that will set in motion three task forces that will conduct important work over the rest of the year that will hopefully result in transformative change for three major issues facing our state: economic recovery, housing and behavioral health.
First, my bill to create the Economic Relief Cash Fund was signed into law last month setting up the economic recovery task force. This bill takes money sent to Colorado by Congress in the American Rescue Plan and, through my bill, the state Legislature decided to use $50 million in immediate direct small business grant funding. We set aside the remaining $800 million to use in the coming years. A task force of legislative, business and community leaders will convene during the rest of the year to determine where and when to best use those funds so that we can bolster not just a quick recovery but also a strong and sustainable one. As the bill sponsor and chair of the House Business & Labor Committee, I look forward to being involved in this extensive outreach process over the coming months.
On housing, we know that affordable housing has reached a crisis level in our mountain communities and that more must be done if we are going to sustain the workforce that keeps our economy moving. This will take an all-hands-on-deck approach of government at all levels as well as private sector and community efforts.
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The Legislature is ready to help. This past session, we passed a package of affordable housing bills — legislation that will both help fund development but also the policies that ensure communities across the state have the tools and resources to identify and meet their unique housing needs. We also set aside $550 million of the federal dollars sent to us for housing and that spending will be informed by a robust task force process with local voices from across the state working with the Legislature to determine how to best deploy that funding.
Finally, the Legislature this year took significant action on the issue of behavioral and mental health and set the stage for even more transformative change in this area in the coming years. The pandemic and its accompanying economic recession have taken a toll on Coloradans, with mental health challenges and substance use disorders disproportionately impacting people of color and people who live and work in frontier and rural communities.
We passed legislation that invested $114 million in various behavioral health grant programs to assist providers, nonprofits and local governments in addressing substance abuse, maternal and child health, and other behavioral health prevention and treatment programs around the state.
A bill was also passed that guarantees that state-regulated insurance plans cover an annual mental wellness exam, just like they cover physical wellness exams. We also created the Behavioral and Mental Health Cash Fund to be used in the future for transformational investments in addressing the state’s mental health and substance use disorder crisis informed by a robust and diverse task force over the next several months.
Economic recovery, housing, and behavioral health are not small topics and they deserve our immediate attention and work. That groundwork was laid this past legislative session and now the real work begins to ensure that federal dollars are spent responsibly and that changes are positive, sustainable and transformational. These task forces will allow for a deliberative, inclusive and hopefully impactful way to make that happen. This is an exciting opportunity for our state and I look forward to the work ahead.
Have thoughts to share on these topics or others? As always, I invite you to contact me anytime on my cell at 970-846-3054 or by email at Dylan.Roberts.House@state.co.us.
Rep. Dylan Roberts represents Eagle County and Routt County in the Colorado House of Representatives.