by Lisa Cyriacks

There is no shortage of issues for the legislature to grapple with this year. 

Democrats campaigned on improving health care as a central issue of their campaign.

Newly elected Governor Jared Polis in his State of the State address before the legislature on January 10 created The Office of Saving People Money on Healthcare. The office will work to “reduce patient costs for hospital stays and expenses, improve price transparency, lower the price of prescription drugs, and make health insurance more affordable,” Polis elaborated. The newly created office is under the oversight of Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera, a cancer survivor and patient advocate.

State legislators Representative Dylan Roberts and Senator Kerry Donovan introduced legislation to create a public health insurance option run by the State of Colorado.  Both represent mountain communities that face some of the highest health care costs in the state and the country.

Other related topics that the Governor and Democrats plan to tackle in 2019 include increased clarity on drug prices and hospital procedures are part of addressing rising costs.

“Canada has the same drugs from the same manufacturing plants that we have here in the United States—but often at one-half, one-third, yes, even one-quarter of the cost,” Polis said. “Together with the legislature, I look forward to setting up a way for Colorado to safely import prescription drugs from Canada.”

Colorado Democrats want to create additional economic protections for residents statewide. One proposal is creating an insurance pool for workers to take up to 12 weeks off to attend to family matters such as childbirth or a serious illness. Other proposals being suggested include a new mandate for retirement programs and creating the flexibility for local governments to raise the minimum wage.

In his address to the legislature, Governor Polis also made it clear that a priority is offering free full-day kindergarten and expanded access to free preschool as a top education priority.

Another priority is “embracing the renewable-energy future” and confronting climate change head-on. The state’s oil and gas companies are expecting tighter regulations to be heard from conservationists, especially increasing local control on where drilling can occur.

In a nod to the general assembly Republicans, Polis called on lawmakers to lower the state’s individual and business income tax rates by closing loopholes written into the tax code.

Polis also called for unified solutions, “Whether ideas come from Democrats or Republicans, mere partisanship will never stop us from embracing good ideas or taking bold action for the people of Colorado, who elected us to deliver, not to grandstand.”

Five years after Colorado legalized recreational pot use, the state’s landmark marijuana regulations are up for renewal. Changes that could occur range from expanded medical marijuana access to allowances for social consumption in public settings. Consistency and quality of the market supply also is high on the list of topics likely to be addressed. In the interest of the public’s safety, the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment has been conducting pesticide and mold investigations since 2014 but there is room for improvement.

The 2019 legislative session will be an interesting one. In the November general election, voters defeated several proposed tax increases. Jared Polis easily won his bid to become the nation’s first openly gay governor. Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature – the first time since 2014. The Democrats’ ambitions face limits imposed by constitutional controls on taxes and spending. Republicans may be in the minority but they intend to have their say.