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State Rep. Barbara McLachlan looks back on 2022 legislative session

Bills on education, Fort Lewis marked accomplishments while climate change legislation faltered
House District 59 State Rep. Barbara McLachlan of Durango passed 30 bills during the 2022 legislative session, including legislation that adjusted public schoolteacher evaluations and funded research of the Fort Lewis Indian School. Though Democrats and Republicans clashed, McLachlan said Colorado remains a bipartisan state where legislators of both parties can work together. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The Colorado General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session was dynamic with late nights on the Capitol floor, a number of high-profile bills, significant spending and partisan tension.

Amid that fray, House District 59 State Rep. Barbara McLachlan of Durango managed to pass 30 bills, including legislation to address education and Southwest Colorado’s Indigenous communities. McLachlan identified a bill to address greenhouse gases as the one piece of legislation she hoped the General Assembly would have achieved.

After a challenging 120 days that concluded with stall tactics, McLachlan still sees Colorado as a centrist state and bipartisanship as the path forward in Colorado politics.

“I think people need to understand that in Colorado there’s a lot more camaraderie than there is hatefulness. We do have Democrats, we do have Republicans, but most of the time we try to work together on things and work out issues instead of dismissing people,” she said.

On April 4, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which codified the right to abortion in state law. In March, House Republicans attempted to filibuster the law, holding a debate for nearly 24 hours, but Democrats in the House and Senate proceeded to pass the bill.

Another high-profile bill making fentanyl penalties more stringent also passed in the 2022 legislative session.

McLachlan’s bills went more under the radar.

“Most of them were local bills. Most of them would help people in my district. They weren’t huge drug bills or anything that would affect everybody in the state,” she said.

McLachlan, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, marked her success this legislative cycle by bills she passed for education and Southwest Colorado’s Indigenous communities.

Two of McLachlan’s bills changed work limits for retired teachers to address teacher shortages. Under previous Colorado law, retired public schoolteachers drawing benefits from the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association could work only 110 days per year before their benefits were reduced.

One of the bills allowed teachers statewide to work as substitutes without hurting their benefits, while the other authorized retired teachers in rural communities to return to teaching full time.

A bill that adjusted public schoolteacher evaluations so they are less reliant on student test scores and another that paid off some of the budget stabilization factor, a measure of the state’s debt to schools, with federal COVID-19 relief money rounded out McLachlan’s major accomplishments in education.

Enacted in 2010 after the Great Recession, the budget stabilization factor allows lawmakers to withhold money from school districts to pay for other parts of the state’s budgets.


“That was a really big one. We have paid off more of the budget stabilization factor than ever before, so it’s at its lowest rate,” she said.

McLachlan also measured her work during the last legislative cycle by two bills meant to help Southwest Colorado’s Indigenous communities.

The first was a bill McLachlan was a prime sponsor of that created a $5 million grant the state’s tribes could use to construct or renovate behavioral health facilities.

House Bill 22-1327 appropriated about $619,000 for History Colorado, the state’s historical society, along with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Fort Lewis College to conduct research on the “events, abuse and deaths” that took place at the Fort Lewis Indian School at the Old Fort.

“It’s an ugly piece of our past that we need to reconcile and figure out what happened. There’s still families who have no idea what happened to some of their relatives,” McLachlan said.

Though 2022 was a productive year for McLachlan, she identified one greenhouse gas bill she was not a sponsor on that she wished the Legislature would have passed.

Senate Bill 22-138 would have targeted reducing the state’s greenhouse gases and would have specifically helped the agricultural industry adapt to climate change, but amendments from lawmakers held up the legislation and it died with the end of the legislative session May 11.

McLachlan said the 2022 session was particularly difficult as it neared the end with Colorado Republicans filibustering Democrats’ agenda ahead of the deadline. However, she said she could not blame her Republican colleagues for taking the steps they did.

“The end was a little rough this year. They did a lot of stalling tactics by reading the bills out loud (and) we were there for very late nights doing that,” she said. “But it’s also their right and they can do that, and they want to be heard and they were not feeling like they were heard. It worked out OK. We got our legislation passed and we ended up getting along.”

Besides the partisanship, representing rural Colorado has its own set of challenges. McLachlan said many of her fellow lawmakers on the Front Range have a limited understanding of the issues facing rural Coloradans. Rural representatives often have to share stories and images to illustrate what their legislation addresses, she said.

“It’s mostly drawing pictures and telling people the stories of what life is like and that we have our own issues that are not urban issues,” she said. “We end up working together a lot – the rural legislators – to address the issues. We try not to be louder but we have to be a little more repetitive.”

While Colorado’s partisanship was visible during the 2022 legislative session, McLachlan did not notice any marked shifts left or right in the House, which Democrats firmly control.

Several lawmakers would vote against their party, and though the House has far right and the far left lawmakers, neither swung the session in their direction, she said.

While images of Republicans and Democrats in Congress lambasting one another come to mind, Colorado remains a bipartisan state where lawmakers partner to get legislation done, McLachlan said.

“When people watch national news, they think that’s who we are, that we’re down on the floor yelling and saying really annoying things to each other, about each other,” she said. “In Colorado, that’s not exactly true.

“There’s always some heated moments, but I think for the most part at the end of the day our last day of session, we really didn’t care if people were Republican or Democrat,” she said.


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