Vail Daily column: Reflecting on the legislative session
Editor’s note: Find links to the full text of legislation mentioned in this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.
With the 2017 Legislative Session behind us, I am enjoying being back in my district and having some time to reflect back on the legislative session. From Jan. 11 to May 10, my colleagues and I worked very hard to find compromise on some very important issues, and as a result, we had the most productive session in recent memory.
As the vice chairperson of the Joint Budget Committee, one of my primary roles at the legislature is to develop a budget that uses our taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently to fund our Colorado priorities. This year was especially tough; we started the year anticipating significant cuts to important programs such as kindergarten through 12th-grade education and funding for rural hospitals due to conflicting budget mandates.
But we came together, put ideology aside and created a compromise that turns the complex hospital provider fee into an “enterprise,” setting it aside from the rest of the budget. This compromise prevented the state from having to cut our hospitals by hundreds of millions of dollars and freed up revenue to make critical investments in rural schools and transportation projects. We also increased per-pupil funding by $242 for kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms.
As a career educator and former school district superintendent, I always prioritize our kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms. We successfully replaced the cumbersome and unpopular Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessments in ninth grade with the pre-SAT, providing a more useful test for students to prepare for college entrance exams; eliminated double testing for young English language learners; increased funding to provide additional school health professionals and reached a ground-breaking compromise of funding for charter schools statewide.
While these are great accomplishments, I had also hoped to pass a bill I have worked on for several years, the State Education Vision Plan. I worked with fellow West Slope Rep. Bob Rankin and other colleagues across the aisle to develop a new way for our state to approach education and plan for a more successful future. Our plan would have brought together parents, teachers, students and experts from every corner of the state to think critically about how we can improve outcomes for all students.
Unfortunately, the bill was killed in the Senate. I will continue to work on bringing these ideas forward again, because I sincerely believe that a new vision for Colorado’s education system has to be built with input from Colorado’s parents, teachers and students.
Another major accomplishment was passing my bill to invest $9.5 million in broadband infrastructure deployment in rural areas of the state. I know how important broadband is for people on the Western Slope and economic growth in our communities, and I’m hopeful this will help spur deployment of broadband across the region.
One of my top priorities for this year was addressing the high cost of health insurance in rural Colorado. Despite having bipartisan support in both chambers, a package containing various bills designed to address this issue and provide assistance to rural Coloradans was defeated in the Republican-controlled Senate. This is a crisis on which I will continue to focus; it is unacceptable that families on the Western Slope are facing premiums that cost more than rent.
I was also able to pass a bill to continue home heating and insulation assistance for Colorado’s most vulnerable families. This is an important measure for Coloradans who otherwise would have to choose between heat and rent, or heat and food. Winter lasts a long time in the mountains, and this program helps families make it through.
I am so honored to have this opportunity to represent the people of House District 61, and I look forward to conversations with my constituents about how I can continue to support our economy, our beautiful environment and our public education system.
State Rep. Millie Hamner represents House District 61, which includes Pitkin, Lake and Summit counties and parts of Delta and Gunnison counties.