Millie Hamner: Busy times as your new state representative
So I’ll be honest-I didn’t really know what to expect when I took on the responsibility of being your State Representative. Like you, I see the divisive partisan climate on the news that impacts our ability to accomplish big things. While we have not yet had the great budget debate this year, I’ve learned that there is a remarkable amount of cooperation that will serve us well as we take on these challenges.In the last few weeks, I have presented all five of my bills to committees and three of them have been argued on the floor of the House. While I did withdraw one bill because of the need to develop greater understanding and support, I feel like I’ve actually had some appreciable success with the others! Each of these four received unanimous support in committee. Yes, that’s right, unanimous, bipartisan support. To be sure, there were some no votes on the floor of the House, but I’m still pretty pleased, and I will be anxious to see if these bills receive similar support in the Senate.Below, I will expand on what happened with each of my bills, and I will also talk about some of the other issues that have come up so far this year.
As a former teacher, I don’t generally use “ain’t,” but in this case, I’ll make an exception. I’m also going to start by talking about my least successful bill. After conversations with the Eagle County commissioners, I supported their interest in providing a level playing field for businesses in cities and unincorporated areas alike.Eagle County also wanted to collect business data to help with their economic development and planning. Well, as it turns out, businesses were not terribly fond of this idea, and by extension, neither were the majority of members of the House Local Government Committee. I decided that I needed to take more time to work with all interested parties and figure out a solution that works for everybody, so I withdrew the bill and I plan to resume conversations with the counties and the business community prior to next year’s session.I’m proud of all of my bills, but coming from the education world, I think I’m most excited about one that passed unanimously out of the House Education Committee on Monday. This bill is designed to help address the huge backlog of qualified teachers that cannot get through the red tape to get their licenses renewed. Unlike other professions, educators are currently required to jump through several hoops to confirm that they received the correct continuing education credits and to prove their legal residence in Colorado (even though they proved their residence upon first getting their license). My bill cuts through this red tape and puts educators on the same level as other professionals, while of course still ensuring the highest standards of quality. Not only will this bill significantly reduce waiting times for license renewals, which will help schools hire the highly qualified teachers they need, but it will actually save money by making government more efficient and effective!
Over the last three days, the House of Representatives voted on my three remaining bills, all of which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and will soon be heading over to the Senate. First was my bill to protect peace officer service animals by making sure criminals convicted of harming these animals will be held responsible for paying damages for veterinary care. Second was my bill to help Eagle County’s own , a free, medically-supported camp for children with life-threatening illnesses, raise voluntary contributions through Colorado’s Tax Check-Off program. Third was my bill to focus more effort on short-term solutions to the congestion on I-70-the mountain communities understand this problem all too well-by requiring the Colorado Department of Transportation to report back to the legislature on things we can fix in the next few years, rather than waiting for the billions of dollars required for the comprehensive, long-term solutions.
Colorado is facing a lot of big problems right now, and I’ve been putting a lot of time and energy into helping prioritize these issues in the midst of our $1 billion revenue shortfall, but I feel that each of my four bills will make a positive difference for the people of Colorado, and I’m proud of that.And now, on to other news.
Before getting to work on next year’s budget, we must first take on the challenge of balancing the current year’s budget. While many difficult and painful cuts had to be made, we House Democrats are proud to have fought for our priorities, and in one case at least, we were able to save two programs that will significantly benefit Colorado’s students. First, we were able to make sure that low-income kids continue to get the benefit of reduced cost breakfasts before starting their school day. Second, my colleagues Matt Jones and Andy Kerr included an amendment to ensure that all surplus revenue in our budget will be directly invested back into Colorado Schools, and they were able to convince a majority to support it. We also worked on an amendment to preserve the School Counselor Corps program remains fully funded, but unfortunately we were outvoted. Education is now and must continue to be among our top priorities, because we must provide a first-class education to build a first-class workforce for the industries of the 21st century.
I recently signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill designed to make Colorado’s streets safer by mandating harsher treatment for repeat DUI offenders. My colleague Rhonda Fields introduced House Bill 1189, which requires people convicted of a third DUI to attend alcohol treatment programs and submit to alcohol testing and electronic monitoring. This bill passed out of committee this week, and when it becomes law, it will lower the risk that our friends and neighbors will be harmed by drunk drivers.
As we work through this long, slow economic recovery, many Coloradans are still struggling to stay in their homes, but we can help by expanding access to foreclosure counseling services. These services are incredibly effective, with a success rate upwards of 85%, but our current resources are spread too thin to meet the high demand. To expand these services, my colleague Representative Angela Williams has brought a bill that would collect a small fee from banks during foreclosures sales that will go to fund these home owner services. House Bill 1136 was heard in the House Economic and Business Development Committee yesterday and passed! If you or someone you know is facing home foreclosure, click for help.
With the increasing number of wild fires over the last several years, many Colorado residents have lost their homes, and we must stand with these people as they try to pull their lives back together. One way we can do this is by helping them avoid an unintended consequence of our current property tax laws. According to the state constitution, higher property taxes are assessed on vacant land than on land containing a home, so when a family’s home burns down, their property taxes suddenly increase. That’s just not fair, and that’s why I’ve co-sponsored a bill that was introduced by my colleague Claire Levy. House Bill 1042 makes sure that the families who have lost their homes are not penalized with higher property taxes and helps them get through their tough times.
What does a small business need to thrive in Colorado? My colleague Max Tyler, a former small businessman himself, says that every small business needs financial, human, and information resources, and he is working on a bill to address the third of these. By helping small businesses access legal advice, marketing resources, and general help, this bill will ensure that anyone with a good idea and the drive to work can succeed in Colorado.House Bill 1147 was heard earlier this afternoon in the House Economic and Business Development Committee, but unfortunately it did not pass.
As is the case with all historic buildings, the Colorado State Capitol requires periodic maintenance and renovation. This month the Capitol restoration project will begin work on restoring the Dome, which has fallen into disrepair caused by years of water and weather damage. In partnership with the State Historical Fund a restoration campaign called Share in the Care Colorado has been established by the non-profit Colorado Preservation, Inc. to raise the funds necessary for the renovation project.An estimated $8 million must be raised between now and June 2012 to complete the restoration. By working together, in a public-private partnership, the funds can be raised to repair the Dome while preserving heritage funding that is so important for every community in the State. Many local businesses and nonprofit organizations have already stepped up to help including AngloGold Ashanti, AT&T Colorado and Historic Denver. Since the launch of the program we have seen an overwhelming interest from members of the public, and in response to this we would like to provide information on the ways you can contribute.For more information or to make a donation to the Share in the Care Colorado campaign you may visit the campaign’s website at http://www.shareinthecarecolorado.org.You may also make a $10 donation by simply texting the word DOME to 50555 from any mobile phone.*If you wish to donate another amount you may do so by sending a check made payable to Colorado Capitol Dome, c/o CPI, 2100 Downing St., Suite 300, Denver Colorado 80205.(*Following a text to DOME at 50555, a one-time $10 donation will appear on your next mobile bill as a separate line item, recognized as a tax deductible donation. The mobile bill can be used as a tax receipt or you can view and print one at mGive.org/receipt. There are no extra or hidden fees, but message and data rates may apply. Full terms at mGive.org/T)Thanks for reading, and as always, please feel free to write or call my office to share your concerns! I am here to represent you, after all.Representative Millie HamnerColorado House District 56ph: (303) 866-2852em: RepHamner@gmail.comweb: http://www.MillieHamner.com
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