A difficult but productive year

Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango - 08/06/2020

To the editor,
This year’s legislative session was unlike any other. A global pandemic, an economic crisis and an interrupted session made my colleagues and I have to think on our feet and shift our priorities to meet the changing and unprecedented needs of our state.

In January, my Democratic colleagues and I began the session focused on creating an economy that works for all and protecting the Colorado way of life. We had bold plans to lower the cost of health care, boost rural economies, and ensure as many people as possible could live out the Colorado dream.

Once the pandemic reached our state and the economic consequences it dealt became clear, we reorganized and strategized around the best ways to help Colorado recover. When the Legislature took a two-month hiatus for public health reasons, I returned to my district and took stock of the blow our economy had 4 been dealt. I returned to the Legislature in May more motivated than ever to fight for rural Colorado and my neighbors, who are too often looked over when policy decisions are made in Denver.

My Democratic colleagues and I crafted an ambitious legislative package that included 14 bills designed to help hardworking Coloradans make ends meet and keep our small businesses afloat. We invested tens of millions of dollars into direct rental and mortgage assistance, provided grants and loans for Colorado’s small businesses, including those who had been overlooked by the federal government’s response, and passed laws that will help Coloradans pay their utilities and keep food on the table.

Some of the solutions we implemented were innovative and tailor-made to meet the moment brought on by COVID-19. We passed laws to outlaw price gouging during emergencies, preventing bad actors from charging exorbitant amounts for ventilators, masks and pulse oximeters, for example. We also passed a law to protect whistleblowers, ensuring that workers who fear that their employers aren’t taking the health and safety of their employees and the public seriously can speak out without fear of losing their jobs.

In many other cases, we did not have to reinvent the wheel to help Colorado get back on track. In fact, some of the bills that we had been working on long before the pandemic began became more important than ever. We passed robust, commonsense bills that will guarantee that workers have access to both earned sick leave policy and a flexible retirement savings system without putting an undue burden on businesses.

Another bill that became even more relevant after COVID-19, and one that I’m particularly proud of, was my bill to boost Colorado’s rural economies. SB20-002, which I was proud to sponsor, was one of the very first pieces of legislation introduced by Democrats in January. Simply put, the bill strengthens a successful existing program, the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), to ensure that it continues to spur rural economies and support job creation in the parts of our state that need it most.

Communities and economies like ours here in Durango were struggling before the pandemic even began. Now, with tourism dollars dwindling and town budgets being decimated by the pandemic, a bad situation has been made worse. Thankfully, Gov. Polis signed my economic development bill into law in late June. The REDI program has a track record of success, and bolstering it will go a long way toward getting rural Colorado back on its feet and on the road to recovery.

This was, without a doubt, the most winding and difficult year of my legislative career. But I’m proud of the work my colleagues and I did to meet the moment and govern responsibly when our state needed it most. I can’t wait to keep on working on behalf of rural Colorado.