Western Slope legislators to focus on mental health, housing, workforce recovery this session
Western Slope state legislators gathered on Zoom on Monday, March 21, to discuss the region’s priorities in this year’s legislative session.
Rep. Julie McCluskie — who represents Summit, Lake, Pitkin, Delta and Gunnison counties — is the chair of the Joint Budget Committee and said the group made its final decisions on the state’s budget Monday. The committee had planed to send the proposed budget to both legislative bodies by the end of the day Tuesday, March 22.
In addition to housing and child care, McCluskie said current legislative attention will go toward strengthening the workforce as the state transitions out of pandemic times.
“This year, we’re investing millions in strengthening the workforce talent pipelines, trying to draw people back from that ‘Great Resignation,’ trying to encourage people to upskill (and) reskill for that next step in their lives (and) the career path that they’re ready to follow,” McCluskie said. “I am very excited to say that we are on the verge of making some of the largest, historic invention investments in both our public schools, colleges and universities.”
Once the budget is handed off to the Colorado House of Representatives and Senate, McCluskie said future parts of the process could open up funding for other issues, as well.
Congress could “certainly take a moment to figure out where else we might need to invest — whether that’s wildfire mitigation, prevention, suppression, protecting our public lands or investing in a clean energy future,” she said.
Rep. Judith Amabile, who represents District 13, said she and McCluskie are also working on House Bill 1256 to modify civil involuntary commitment statutes for Coloradans who need mental health support. Involuntary commitment is the process of placing someone in the care of a mental health facility. The bill updates the procedures for mental health patients who are on a mental health hold, which is where an individual is detained for a health screening. This includes giving a right to an attorney for a person certified for short- or long-term care and treatment regardless of income.
“We want to improve what happens to people on the short-term holds, the kind of care that they get when they get released and the treatment that they receive while they’re there,” Amabile said.
Rep. Dylan Roberts, who organized the virtual town hall, said housing, conserving water resources for the West and child care are also among his top priorities. Roberts represents Eagle and Routt counties.
“Over the last few days, (there are) pieces of legislation that were the result of the Affordable Housing Transformational Taskforce that I was a part of over the last half of the year, which gets to decide how to spend $400 million in federal funds that we received from the American Rescue Plan,” Roberts said. “I am personally really excited to be working on House Bill 1304, which was introduced last week, which will be $178 million of grant funding for local governments and nonprofits that will be used for affordable housing projects in our communities.”
Roberts also said there will be emphasis this session for bills that will focus on homeownership — which includes down-payment assistance and mortgage assistance — rather than just support for residents that rent their homes.
“I don’t think we’re interested in mandating on a statewide level zoning or building codes, but we want to provide incentives for communities to take a look at their codes and determine how they could maybe cut down some red tape to incentivize more affordable housing,” he said.
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