We are about half way through a very busy session, and we are moving forward on many different types of legislation. Last Friday, my first bill of the session was signed into law by Gov. Hickenlooper. House Bill 1035 provides more support to two of our judicial districts to help meet caseloads in a timely fashion. I have been hearing from many of you about a variety of issues, and I thank you for taking the time to express what is important to you.
We continue to be focused on economic development and education this session, though you’ve probably heard more about gun safety and civil unions. These are all important issues that deserve debate in the legislature, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about many of the bills we’re discussing.
These last few weeks, we have taken on the challenge of examining our current gun laws to see if we can make improvements to reduce community violence while preserving the constitutional rights of responsible gun owners. This has been no easy task, but considering events in Aurora and Newtown, it is our responsibility to do this hard work.
During committee meetings, we heard hours of testimony from policy experts and citizens with many perspectives. I also heard from many citizens within my district and across Colorado.
After many discussions and debates, we have passed into law a set of common-sense policies that respect the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and make progress towards improving public safety. The most important part of our gun safety package is a bill to require background checks for all gun sales to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic violence offenders, and the seriously mentally ill. In current law, licensed gun dealers are required to run background checks on buyers, but private sellers are not. Approximately 40 percent of all U.S. gun sales come from private sales, as do many guns that are used in crimes. A national survey of inmates found that nearly 80 percent of those who used a handgun in a crime acquired it from a private seller. The current Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) background checks system has been a proven success. In 2012, 1,300 people were rejected because of a record of assault. The CBI also arrested 236 people with active warrants in 2012 when they contacted the Bureau trying to purchase a firearm.
There are no perfect solutions, but closing the private sale loophole is a reasonable step increase the public safety of our communities by keeping more guns out of the wrong hands. I voted in support of this and other common-sense reforms to improve the safety of our communities without impacting the rights of law-abiding gun owners. We cannot prevent every act of violence but we can and we must do what we can to reduce the frequency and impact of these horrible events.
There have been many pieces of legislation this session which will benefit Colorado economically through education, public safety, access to healthcare and in fairness and equality. This is just an overview of a few of the bills that have come forward this session and that I have supported.
Advanced Industries Export Accelerator Act (HB 1193) – Reps. Kraft-Tharp & McLachlan / Sens. Jahn & Roberts
HB 1193 will accelerate the ability of companies in the advanced industries sector to export their products by providing matching seed money, as well as training and consultation services. The program will primarily affect small- and medium-sized businesses that wish to expand their operations internationally, but lack the resources or strategic knowledge. This will create an efficient way for Colorado companies to springboard into the global marketplace.
Small Business Development Centers (HB 1002) – Rep. Tyler / Sen. Jahn
With a staff of four and a general fund appropriation of less than $85,000, Colorado’s Small Business Development Centers served more than 5,000 small businesses, created 1,700 jobs and assisted in nearly $132 million in small business capital formation in 2011 alone for Colorado start-ups. This bill will provide up to an additional $300,000 for the next two years with the purpose of drawing down additional Federal matching funds.
Breakfast After the Bell (HB 1006) – Reps. Moreno & Exum Sr. / Sen. Giron
Many students who qualify for pre-school breakfasts don’t get to school in time to eat, and studies have shown that hungry children don’t learn as well as their better-fed peers. HB 1006 directs schools to provide breakfast for all students after the first bell of the day, if 70% or more of their students qualify for federal free or reduced lunches. This bill will leverage state and federal funds to help ensure that all students are getting proper nutrition and are ready to learn at the beginning of the school day.
Colorado ASSET (SB 033) – Sens. Giron & Johnston / Reps. Duran & Williams
The ASSET bill offers in-state college tuition rates to all Colorado high school graduates, regardless of immigration status. It’s an important step to ensuring that all qualified high school graduates can better afford college, so that they have an equal shot at opportunity and their talents and economic contributions won’t go to waste. As a school superintendent, I saw many students with great potential lose hope because they knew they would have to pay out-of-state tuition rates to attend college. I voted yes on this bill to make sure these kids have opportunities to succeed.
Governor’s Budget Proposal
The Governor’s budget proposal has requested $196 million in additional funding for K-12 and higher education in Colorado. The Joint Budget Committee will be working closely with the governor’s office to ensure that our schools receive adequate funding and our children have access to a world-class education.
Sexual Assault Victim Emergency Payment Program (HB 1163) – Rep. Kagan / Sen. Aguilar
Victims of sexual assault often seek medical care in the aftermath of their attack, only to be presented with a hefty hospital bill afterwards; this measure will help ensure that these victims don’t suffer financial difficulties in addition to the trauma they’re facing as a result of a sexual assault. This bill creates a compensation fund to ensure that victims of sexual assault don’t have to pay for the medical treatment costs associated with their attack.
Improving Mental Health Services and Public Safety
Legislation yet to be introduced will address issues related to mental health and access to firearms. The Governor’s budget proposal also includes a request for $18.5 million in additional funding for mental health services. One major component of this program will establish a 24-hour hotline and crisis centers throughout the state that individuals can reach out to for temporary evaluation or treatment. The proposal will also fund transition centers for individuals coming out of jail with prior mental health issues, which will help them successfully shift into public life and free up resources for others with more urgent mental health issues.
Wildfire Mitigation Incentives (HB 1012) – Reps. Levy & Gerou / Sens. Nicholson & Roberts
HB 1012, sponsored by Reps. Levy & Gerou and Sens. Nicholson & Roberts, continues an income tax deduction for landowners in “wildland-urban interface areas” who perform wildfire mitigation measures. 2012 was Colorado’s worst year for wildfires, and drought continues to be an issue, so it’s extremely important to encourage citizens to take steps to mitigate the risks of future wildfire catastrophes.
Petroleum Clean up and Redevelopment Fund (HB 1252) – Reps. Hamner/ Sens. Jahn & King
HB 1252 would fund a fire suppression system in the Johnston-Eisenhower tunnel. Currently, petroleum products must travel on Highway 6 through the mountains. When highway 6 is closed due to weather conditions the petroleum products must travel on I-70 through the tunnel. Installing a fire suppression system in the tunnel would reduce risk of serious financial consequences to the petroleum companies and the entire Western slope. The Department of Labor, the Petroleum Makers, the Motor Carriers and the Petroleum Association all agree that this would help prevent a catastrophic petroleum release.
Eliminate Waiting Period For CHP+ (SB 008) – Sen. Newell / Rep. McCann
When families apply for the Children’s Basic Health Plan (CHP+) for their children, they often face a three-month waiting period for coverage. This bill modifies eligibility for the CHP+ by eliminating the waiting period for certain clients, so that children get the health care coverage that they need.
Civil Unions (SB 011) – Sens. Steadman & Guzman / Reps. Ferrandino & Schafer
SB 011 will allow all couples – gay, lesbian, or straight – to enter into civil unions, which will provide important benefits, protections and responsibilities similar to those granted to heterosexual couples in Colorado. If passed, Colorado will become the 18th state to grant some form of legal recognition to gay and lesbian couples, including important protections such as legal rights for medical care and hospital visitation, the ability to adopt a partner’s child, eligibility for family leave benefits, and many more.
School Finance (SB 213) – Sens. Johnston & Health / Rep. Hamner
I will be carrying the School Finance Act in the House. This bill will create a new school finance act which will be dependent on the passage of a statewide ballot initiative to increase state revenues for public education. This act creates a new formula for funding our education system beginning as early as the 2015/2016 school year. In addition, I will also be carrying the annual School Finance bill to provide funding for our school districts for the 2013/2014 school year.
One of my most important duties as your State Representative is to spend time listening to Coloradans, and that’s why I try to hold multiple monthly town hall meetings. I’ve unfortunately had to cancel a few of these, either for snow or because we worked so late at the Capitol that I couldn’t make it back to the district in time. Hopefully we’ll have more luck in April, and I look forward to hearing from you! Speakers from Year of the Student, an organization dedicated to advocating for our kids’ education, will be joining me for these town halls.
Paonia Town Hall
When: Saturday, April 6th; 10 a.m.
Where: Paonia Town Hall
Crested Butte Town Hall
When: Saturday, April 6th; 4 p.m.
Aspen Town Hall
When: Saturday, April 27th 10 a.m.
I look forward to continuing my work for the people of Colorado over the next couple months of the 2013 legislative session. Please feel free to contact me with ideas, questions or concerns. I can be reached by email RepHamner@gmail.com or by phone at the State Capitol 303-866-2952.