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State Democrats ‘laser-focused’ on education, cost of living in new legislative session

Rep. Barbara McLachlan, colleagues express optimism during virtual town hall

With the Colorado General Assembly underway, state Democrats are eyeing new legislation to reduce the cost of living, fund education and improve public safety.

McLachlan

In a virtual town hall Thursday, Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, previewed a series of bills that primarily focused on education. McLachlan represents House District 59, which serves La Plata, Archuleta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Ouray and San Juan counties.

One bill McLachlan is working on would use funding from President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to place drinking fountains with special filters to eliminate lead contamination in schools. McLachlan said she would prioritize their dispersal in day care centers and preschools, as children are the most susceptible to lead poisoning.

Other McLachlan bills would increase the presence of substitutes in schools to provide some relief to teachers and allow retirees with benefits from the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association to return to work in rural school districts without losing benefits.

As the chairwoman of the House Education Committee, McLachlan said she has high hopes for this session’s ability to pass legislation that improves the learning environment for students and teachers.

“This year is looking like we could actually do something really big for education, mostly because both sides of the aisle are seeing the importance of funding and the importance of keeping teachers in the classroom,” she said.

McLachlan has formally introduced three bills so far and said the others she previewed will be released in the coming weeks.

Reps. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, were also at the virtual town hall to discuss their legislative priorities.

Donovan, who completes her term this session, discussed legislation to protect water levels in the Colorado River basin, ban water investment speculation and increase government transparency by revisiting the Colorado Open Records Act.

“There seems to be a lot of cohesion around the big topics for us to work on and that’s exciting to hear,” Donovan said, referencing several similar priorities identified by the Democratic and Republican caucuses.

Roberts echoed Donovan’s sentiments, noting the policy opportunities much of the coronavirus federal funding created.

“We are laser-focused … on what we know are the biggest priorities facing our constituents, which is the cost of living, improving public safety, supporting education and making sure that we’re protecting the Colorado that we love through protecting our clean air and clean water,” he said.

Roberts, chairman of the Affordable Housing Transformational Task Force, said lawmakers are working to allocate more than $400 million in federal funding from Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

A report to be released by the task force in coming days will detail how the state can provide more money for more affordable housing projects and stabilize existing ones.

McCluskie also highlighted her plans to address rising inflation and living costs as the chairwoman of the Joint Budget Committee, which convened in November.

Bills she is working on include a program to send more health care workers into rural regions and provide every police officer with training on dealing with people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Though Democrats control the House, Senate and governor’s office, the four lawmakers repeatedly emphasized the importance of working in a bipartisan manner as they formulate legislation through May 11.

Skye Witley, a senior at American University in Washington, D.C., is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez.

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