Here’s a post that doesn’t parse through policy issues or seek to educate about the decisions I’m asked to make each day. Instead, I thought I’d just give a quick run-down of what the week has been like. With no holiday this week, it’s been four days of steady work at the Capitol, and numerous important issue competing for my attention. Glad tomorrow is Friday!
On Monday I attended a memorial for an old friend’s grandmother who passed away at the ripe old age of 101. It was great to see the family again and reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in many years. My friend introduced me to everyone as “Senator Steadman” and seemed to enjoy my newfound notoriety. His parents and relatives haven’t changed a bit and were as gracious as ever, if not more so.
On Wednesday I learned of another passing, this time a prominent gay man in Denver who’s activism and contributions have been known to me for two decades. He was part of that older generation of gay men that often lived quiet, almost invisible lives. I’m not sure of his exact age, but I hope to make it to his funeral service tomorrow to pay my respects. Unlike many in his generation, Jim was out and active and always advocating for equality. I remember well his role as an outsider in the 1992 campaign against Amendment 2 – one of many occasions when he taught me a thing or two.
On Tuesday we worked late into the evening hearing testimony and debating SB 1 in the Senate Finance Committee. This is the bill sponsored by Senate President Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont) and Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry (R-Grand Junction) that repairs our state’s troubled Public Employees Retirement Association. The bill asks public employees, the government entities they work for, and PERA retirees to all chip in to make the pension plan solvent and sound for the future. It wasn’t an easy vote, as the bill trims cost of living increases to retirement benefits and takes more out of employees’ paychecks in the future. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to ensure this pension remains viable and solvent for future generations of public employees, so I co-sponsored the bill and was one of 5 senators to vote for it on Tuesday evening. I made an amendment to the bill to make slight improvements to the cost of living impacts and the minimum age of retirement for teachers – an amendment that had been tediously negotiated by Sens. Shaffer and Penry and the coalition of stakeholders that have spent countless hours working on this bill. At this point we think we have a final product and that the bill will pass without further substantive changes. We’ll debate it on the Senate floor tomorrow morning.
Wednesday was an interesting day of committee hearings. In the Senate Education Committee we passed a bill that expands a loan forgiveness program so more students can go to nursing school. We need more nurses, especially as we work to expand access to health care coverage. Here’s a to career in nursing! In the Judiciary Committee that afternoon we passed a bill to help prevent financial exploitation of seniors and at-risk adults. We then took up a difficult and emotional debate about education services for juveniles that are being held in county jails pending trial on “direct filed” charges, more commonly known as being tried as an adult. These kids are inbetween systems while they are held pending trial. They’re entitled to a presumption of innocence until found guilty, and they’re entitled to an education, but there’s no current method of providing that education in the county jail. Advocates from the criminal justice community that often disagree all testified in favor of the bill, but the school districts the bill asks to take responsibility for these kids viewed the bill as an unfunded mandate. This is one of those tough issues where disagreement is warranted and everyone is right. When asked to pick sides, I chose the juvenile, their presumption of innocence and their right to a public education.
Thursday was actually a lighter schedule and a chance to catch up. I spent a lot of time on the phone. We voted on third reading and final passage for about a dozen bills this morning. As bills pass the Senate each senator has the opportunity to add their name as a co-sponsor of the bill. I co-sponsored a bill to eliminate the scheduled repeal date for the Office of the Child’s Representative, and a bill to remove gambling facilities from the scope of “regional tourism facilities” that could be constructed under a tax increment financing measure passed last year. A lot of people have complained to me about that regional tourism TIF bill, and the last thing I want to see tax incentives pay for is a race track or a casino. The rest of Thursday was spent in oversight hearings, on the phone, reading, and preparing amendments for bills that will hit the Senate floor tomorrow morning.
On Friday morning we’ll be debating the PERA bill on the Senate floor (SB 1), as well as the Medical Marijuana bill that regulates the doctor-patient relationship (SB 109). I’m fairly pleased with how SB 109 emerged from committee earlier this week – a number of amendments made important improvements to the bill that were necessary before I would vote for it. I’ve drafted some amendments to the bill that I plan to offer during the floor debate, and if all goes well, I’m planning to vote for the bill. However, I know that amendments will be offered that would cause me to oppose the bill because they conflict with the language voters added to our state constitution. It should be an interesting debate.