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Colorado lawmakers give progress report midway through legislative session

Climate, infrastructure and health care among top priorities for senators
Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet

WASHINGTON – Colorado’s U.S. senators shared their goals for the rest of the session and what they’ve done so far in 2022 as time winds down to get their priorities passed.

The Durango Herald spoke with Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet about their priorities and how those will affect their constituents as the countdown begins to the end of Congress’ last major work period for the year.

Congress has two annual legislative sessions, both of which last a year. In August, Congress will go on recess for five weeks, with little time to spare until the midterm election once it returns in September.

‘We’re going to absolutely run through the finish line’

In January, Bennet told the Herald that some of his biggest priorities for the year were passing the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, keeping the expanded Child Tax Credit in Build Back Better and pushing for the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act.

“I’m working closely with Sen. (Mitt) Romney on the CTC (Child Tax Credit) to see if we can come together on a bipartisan and permanent version,” he said.

In Colorado, more than 600,000 households received payment from the Child Tax Credit in 2021 when it was part of the American Rescue Plan.

As far as the forestry provisions from the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, Bennet said the $5 million in funding that Colorado received in 2021 will be implemented between now and next year, and he sees it as a down payment. He said there is more he would like to do within that area but that it likely will not be included in the Senate’s Budget Reconciliation bill. Reconciliation is a special process in the Senate used by the party in power that makes legislation easier to pass by needing a simple majority of 51 votes, rather than the typical 60 votes that are required.

When asked how he sees Congress being able to get those bills done, he said it isn’t out of the question.

“I think it is possible. We are at a moment where all of the things I just described are possible. I’d say where there’s a will there’s a way,” he said. “There’s not a ton of time left on the congressional schedule, but we’re going to absolutely run through the finish line here and make sure we get as much done as possible.”

Bennet also highlighted several pieces of legislation that he has recently introduced, such as his legislation to protect the Dolores River Canyon, his SMART Community Policing Act, protecting land in the Gunnison Basin and the PACT Act, which would expand health care for veterans who have been exposed to toxins.

As far as what is left to do, Bennet said he is still pushing for extending premium tax credits on the Affordable Care Act in order to reduce increases on health care premiums for people.

Additionally, he said he’d still like to pass the Farmwork Modernization Act, which he introduced with Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and which passed in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. He also said he’d like to see the CORE Act passed, which has been an important piece of legislation for him for many years.

The CORE Act received a vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is the furthest the bill has ever gone in the Senate, and he said he feels the bill has made a lot of good progress. If passed, it would preserve about 400,000 acres of Colorado public lands by designating it for recreational use or as protected wilderness. The House passed its version of the bill on July 15.

“I’ve been working on this bill for a decade with Coloradans and I’m going to figure out how to protect these treasured landscapes,” he said.

Bennet said when it comes to Southwest Colorado, water and tribal water issues are critical investments he has been working to secure for a long time. He’s also working to secure funding for affordable housing efforts.

He said he would also like to see abortion rights codified into law.

‘You can’t just put all your eggs in one basket’

Hickenlooper said he has been focusing his energy on getting a climate deal passed as time winds down in the senate.

“You look at the wildfires all over the world, the temperatures everywhere; we’re so overdue in terms of climate change, and yet it’s still not that urgency that needs to be there,” he said.

He said he’s not sure what it will take to get climate legislation done during this term, but it is important to consider multiple ways to pass legislation in case doing it through reconciliation doesn’t work. Hickenlooper said he’s talked to some Republican senators about what they think about doing a moderate version of legislation around curbing climate change during the “lame duck” session of Congress, but that he ultimately isn’t sure if the legislation could get through.

“As a geologist, we had things called the multiple working hypotheses, so even as you’re working on a solution to your problem, you’re gathering information that will help you think about another solution if this one doesn’t work, because you can’t just put all your eggs in one basket,” he said.

He said he’s been trying to focus on bipartisan efforts, such as the passage of the Safer Communities Act earlier this month when trying to get legislation passed.

Another piece of legislation Hickenlooper had previously outlined as a goal of his for the year was the CORE Act. He said he is “guardedly optimistic” about passing it in the Senate this year. One way of passing it through the Senate, he said, is to add it onto the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes funding for the U.S. military. Other amendments often get added onto the bill, including many related to funding for public lands.

He echoed Bennet’s goals of working to lower the price of prescription drugs. He said he is also hoping that letting the federal government negotiate the price of prescription drugs for Medicare will be included in budget reconciliation.

When it comes to tackling inflation, a topic he said in January was a priority of his, he said the government is doing everything it can to stimulate the economy.

“Inflation is a real issue and a real problem with people, but they lose sight of the fact that we could have been in a great depression,” he said. “There’s never been a great depression like this where the entire global economy shut down.”

Looking back on what has been able to get done for his constituents so far this year, he said congressionally designated grants from infrastructure bills have been great for Southwest Colorado. He cited a $160,000 grant to Fort Lewis College, funding to purchase a hotel in Durango to be used as transitional housing and money for the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes to use for infrastructure as “big deals.”

“When you’re in an area, whether it’s pretty sparsely populated and deep poverty, getting those kinds of research projects are worth their weight in gold.” he said.

Nina Heller is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at nheller@durangoherald.com.

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