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Headed into her last session, Barbara McLachlan has lots to do

The four-term state representative says she will retire from public life
State Rep. Barbara McLachlan is poised to begin her final session in the Colorado General Assembly with lots on her plate. (Durango Herald file)

As 59th House District Rep. Barbara McLachlan prepares for her eighth session in Colorado’s General Assembly, she has a lot on her mind.

The Democrat representing Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties has a slate of bills addressing a range of issues in the works, from Narcan access to bolstering school curriculum on Indigenous populations.

Each representative may introduce five bills ahead of the legislative session, which will convene in January 2024.

For McLachlan, the second session of the 74th General Assembly will be her last – the four-term representative is limited from running for the seat again.

Requests for three of a legislators five bills must be submitted by Dec. 1. As the deadline looms, McLachlan is grinding away on her legislative priorities. Although she says they are still in progress and “not ready for prime time,” the representative shared with The Durango Herald some of the legislation she is excited to pursue.

The Narcan bill

McLachlan is most excited about a bill that gives attention to the Durango public school system, where she taught English and journalism at Durango High School for 20 years.

She is working with students from Animas and Durango high schools, including Leo and Hays Stritikus, as well as others across the state, to create legislation that would allow students, parents and educators to carry Narcan on school property with proper training and without liability concerns.

Narcan, sometimes known by its generic name, Naloxone, is an easily administered drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The Stritikus twins led a charge in Durango that resulted in the school district’s adoption of a policy that allowed students to carry Narcan at all Durango School District 9-R schools. Now, they are working with McLachlan and other students around the state to pass legislation that would formally enshrine the right into state law.

“We really would like to make sure that kids are helping each other and that they're all being protected and saving each other's lives,” McLachlan said.

Bilingual child care

McLachlan is also hoping to make child care more accessible to bilingual families next year by training more people to offer early childhood education. A lack of child care can mean guardians are unable to work and can struggle to maintain a steady income.

Approximately 16% of Coloradans speak Spanish as a primary language at home – a number that continues to grow.

After visiting several early childhood programs across the country, McLachlan said she observed a clear need for improved access for families who speak a language other than English.

“We would like to make sure that they all have resources to get their kids started on a good education early,” she said.

Barbara McLachlan, state representative for House District 59, is excited to work on legislation improving access to Narcan in schools. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)
Economic development, predatory lawsuits and education

The details are complex, and still somewhat fuzzy, on McLachlan’s third priority bill.

Although the specifics have yet to be revealed, she said the concept is to work with economic development organizations to streamline the process for local organizations that are seeking grant funding to bolster the job market.

“We're going to look at under-resourced and economically distressed counties and really focus on them to get good jobs going again,” she said.

McLachlan has several other concrete concepts for bills that have yet to be realized. One of them will be the product of a collaboration with the Durango Chamber of Commerce and representatives of the disabled community.

Last year, an out-of-state lawyer shook down over a dozen Durango businesses that did not have parking spaces compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, threatening to sue for tens of thousands of dollars.

When the businesses rectified the problem, the attorney offered to drop the suit and settle out of court for $10,000. The lawsuits are largely considered to be predatory, frivolous and not in the spirit of the ADA.

The three parties hope to collaborate on a bill that will prevent these sorts of lawsuits but still ensure that businesses are complying with federal law.

Lastly, McLachlan says she hopes to pass a bill that will create more available curriculum on the state’s two Indigenous tribes – which she represents – for teachers at the high school level.

Sen. Cleave Simpson, of District 6, and Rep. Barbara McLachlan, of District 59, wrap up the Colorado Legislature Update in March. McLachlan, a Democrat, says she will not run against Simpson, a Republican, and intends to support his reelection bid. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)
Life after politics

Heading into her last session, McLachlan says many of the needs she sees are not partisan, nor strictly Coloradan, but far larger.

“I would love to legislate kindness, because I think we really need that,” she said. “And it sounds silly, but I really do look forward to working across the aisle. I happen to represent a lot of Republicans and I don't want to ever make them think that I'm ignoring them.”

However, McLachlan says she considers the end of the legislative session to be her retirement from public office.

“I'm going to retire from this job as a teacher and not as a professional politician,” the tenured high school teacher said.

McLachlan has no interest in running against Sen. Cleave Simpson, her colleague in other statehouse chamber representing Senate District 6, which encompasses 14 counties in Southwest Colorado.

Simpson is currently running unopposed and McLachlan said she supports the senator, with whom she works well.

“It's good that we have a Senator who represents us who really knows water very well – that's an urgent need,” she said. “So yes, I support him all the way on this. If a Democrat runs, I'll have to take a second look.”

Once she leaves office, McLachlan says she is unsure of what comes next, although she has no intention of retiring fully.

“I’m not a very good sit-arounder,” she joked.


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