McCluskie, Neguse preview upcoming state, federal legislative priorities for Summit County
FRISCO — Summit County’s state and federal legislators have hit the ground running for the 2020 legislative session. State House Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, promoted bills they have introduced in their respective legislatures that could have impacts on Summit County.
McCluskie first touted a bill she sponsored, House Bill 20-1284, which is titled the “Secure Transportation Behavioral Health Crisis” act. The bill passed unanimously out of the House Public Health Care & Human Services committee and eventually will be put out to the rest of the Legislature for a vote.
The bill was advocated for by Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons and Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine to bolster the county’s mental health crisis response. It would establish a system for secure transportation services to an appropriate mental health facility for people experiencing mental health crises. If passed, counties will be able to issue licenses for secured transport providers, which would have different requirements than medical transport providers.
Currently, protocols allow only for law enforcement and medical health providers to respond to mental health emergencies. That means that if a person experiencing a mental health crisis needs to be transported to a secure location, the transport usually comes in the form of a squad car or ambulance. Both transport methods can be traumatizing and ultimately unproductive to treat the person experiencing a mental health crisis.
“Our county has been advocating for this bill for a long time,” McCluskie said. “It provides an appropriate type of experience and vehicle that would be much more compassionate and appropriate given the challenges and difficulties in dealing with persons experiencing a crisis.”
McCluskie is also the prime sponsor for House Bill 20-1127, titled the “Extend Public Employees’ Retirement Association Retiree Work After Retirement Limit” act. Currently, the state’s pension program for retired educators limits the days retired special service providers can work in school districts before they experience benefit reductions.
The bill would alter the public employment retirement association requirements to allow for special service providers, who are of critical need in rural areas like Summit, to work in school districts experiencing provider shortages without any time limitations for up to five consecutive years as well provide a mechanism by which these providers can continue to accrue salary and benefits while they work after retirement.
At the federal level, Neguse starts his sophomore year as congressman after a productive freshman year. According to data gathered by federal legislation tracking website GovTrack.us, Neguse had the second most bills signed into law last year among all freshman representatives as well as the most bills introduced and passed into law of any member of the Colorado House delegation.
Neguse said his primary legislative goals this session include the eventual passage of an infrastructure bill that would spend $750 billion on projects in Summit and across the nation over the next five years.
“It would be a first big step in rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure,” Neguse said. “It will be one of our top priorities over the next several months and would see major investments in broadband, drinking water infrastructure, roads and bridges, including Interstate 70 and the northern Interstate 25 corridor.”
Neguse added that he wants climate change mitigation proposals to be included in the bill, such as electric vehicle infrastructure and increasing availability of alternative energy sources.
In the bill, Neguse hopes to pass a “Climate Resilient Communities” provision that would enable the Federal Emergency Management Agency to issue a report on how to enact and improve climate resilience in the nation’s building codes and infrastructure.
Neguse said alternate strategies to pay for the bill include an increased gas tax and a series of fees specific to industries. Neguse also suggested a repeal of the 2017 tax cut bill passed by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump.
“It was a bill pushed and signed into law that gave billions of dollars to our country’s billionaires and did virtually nothing for the middle class,” Neguse said. “That would be an example of creating additional revenue.”
Neguse said he also is looking to bring more funding to the High Country for disaster preparedness, mitigation and recovery in the wake of devastating wildfires and avalanches that have rocked the region over the past few years. That includes another attempt to increase funding for the U.S. Forest Service, which owns and protects more than 80% of the land in Summit County.
Other items Neguse said he is working on include passage of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy act, which would protect more than 400,000 acres of forestland and viewsheds across the state and in Summit County. The bill has been in legislative limbo after showing promise by passing the U.S. House, but it has gained no traction in the U.S. Senate, where Sen. Cory Gardner has not committed to backing the bill, much to Neguse and Sen. Michael Bennet’s chagrin.
Neguse also has thrown his support behind the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking act. The bill — which was introduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, and co-sponsored by Neguse — would protect financial institutions working with legitimate marijuana businesses from federal prosecution. Currently, marijuana businesses have very few options when it comes to banking services due to federal drug laws prohibiting banks from accepting or handling money related to the marijuana industry.
Finally, after being apprised of the critical bus driver shortage in Summit County and across the state due to federal transportation regulations that limit the pool of qualified drivers, Neguse said he would look into the issue to see if those regulations could be streamlined to help public transit and school bus networks hire more drivers.
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