Hamner: Colorado state legislative session in the rear view (column)
The legislature has adjourned after 120 productive days where I am proud to report that I worked hard for my constituents in House District 61 and the people of Colorado. This legislative session was one of the most challenging, rewarding and intense experiences of my professional life, and I want to share with you some of our achievements at the state Capitol.
During the previous session in 2014, I served as chair of the House Education Committee, where we worked to ensure that we have a K-12 public education system that serves all Colorado students, parents and teachers, regardless of where they live. This year I was assigned vice-chair of the Joint Budget Committee, but I was still very involved with the negotiations on how to reduce the number of state-mandated standardized tests while still maintaining our accountability system and ensuring that we have the ability to create pathways to learning for every Colorado student.
This was no small task, but with the cooperation of Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate, as well as leadership from Gov. Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Garcia, we were able to pass House Bill 1323 with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. This bill reduces about 40 hours of testing for K-12 students while maintaining our lauded Colorado Growth Model and teacher and principal accountability system. Getting 100 people to agree on what to order for lunch is a serious challenge, so imagine the feeling of accomplishment when 82 members of the House and Senate voted for the bill, and only 17 voted against it. This was the greatest success of the entire session, and it took a bipartisan coalition willing to put politics aside and do the right thing for all Colorado schools and kids to get it done.
In addition to working on education issues, my work as vice-chair of the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee contributed to the development of Colorado’s $26.8 billion budget. Colorado’s Constitution requires that we balance the budget every fiscal year, and working diligently with members of both parties, our bipartisan six-member committee came up with a balanced budget that truly reflects Colorado’s priorities: focusing on K-12 and higher education; health care; services for the vulnerable, senior and disabled communities; and for the first time in a long time, transportation funding.
Working together, we were able to invest in our children through funding for public education. Because of Colorado’s economic recovery over the last year, we were able to direct an additional $210 million to K-12 education, which includes a $25 million reduction in the so-called “negative factor.” This means more dollars for our schools and classrooms and greater educational opportunities for our kids. We also invested substantially in higher education, adding $105 million to reduce the burden of tuition hikes and put more students on a path to success after college.
Another key priority this year was to ensure that the benefits of the economic recovery would be shared across Colorado and used to invest in the middle class. With this in mind we invested nearly $4 million in programs for our seniors including meals on wheels to help them stay in their homes and live independently. We also set aside $750,000 for economic development grants to foster growth and deliver high-quality services in rural areas. Beyond that we increased funding to the Colorado Main Street Program to support downtown revitalization across the state.
I am proud of the work that we did this session, and Colorado’s effective legislature proves that Democrats and Republicans can work together to do what’s right for our state. We may differ on the best approaches on many issues, but at the end of the session, I look back on what we were able to accomplish and realize something that makes me very proud. I realize that the people who are elected to the state legislature aren’t here for the fame, the glory or the money — we’re here because we all fundamentally believe that we can represent our districts and do the very best we can for our constituents, for our state.
I’m very honored to serve you. Thank you for the opportunity to represent you and take your voice to the state Capitol. I will be touring my district this summer, and I look forward to visiting with you about how I can continue to be the best representative for the people of Summit, Lake, Pitkin, Gunnison and Delta counties in the State House.
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