Senate Democrats on Tuesday announced their top-of-the-agenda bills for the 2020 session that begins Wednesday.
The measure that begins the 2020 session — often an indication of what leads the majority caucus' priorities — is on K-12 behavioral health.
Senate President Leroy Garcia told reporters during a Tuesday news conference that mental health will be a major focus in 2020.
"It's not something we always talk about," but it's "equally important in the health care system, and if we don't address it proactively, we'll be paying for it at the back end," he said. "Our philosophy is to work harder on the front end."
Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, won the honor of carrying Senate Bill 20-001. The bill provides training for parents, teachers and students in the K-12 system during times of mental health challenges. Fields told reporters the bill came out of a school safety committee, where behavioral health was a common theme.
Teachers are on the front lines, as well as other educators and personnel who see students struggling, Fields said. The bill expands behavioral health training, with block-grant funding, for any district that wants to send an educator for the training. It's something of a train-the-trainer model, she added.
SB 2 extends the state's existing rural economic development initiative, known as REDI, and will be sponsored by Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.
The bill, its sponsor said, will focus on creating new jobs in rural communities by using grant programs to create public-private partnerships. Donovan said the bill shows a commitment by Senate Democrats to fight for all of Colorado.
SB 3, a bill carried by Garcia, puts into place Gov. Jared Polis' 2019 executive order creating Fisher's Peak, the newest state park, near Trinidad. The park legislation comes with a $10 million price tag, with $4 million for the park itself and $6 million for infrastructure for 11 other state parks.
Get On Your Feet!
No, that's not a command, that's the title of SB 4, sponsored by Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder. The bill provides two years of student loan forgiveness for those who graduate from Colorado's public universities and colleges, pledge to live in Colorado, and who are enrolled in income-based repayment plans.
SB 5 is the only bill with a Republican co-sponsor -- Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson. Its Democratic sponsor is Sen. Faith Winter of Westminster. The bill is on simplified health care billing, requiring health insurance companies to provide patients with a single, consolidated bill that would cover copays, deductibles and coinsurance.
Garcia pledged a kinder, gentler 2020 session in his remarks to reporters the day before legislators convene.
"There can be disagreements," he said. "That's acceptable...you can have various viewpoints." But for Republicans to resort to some of the tactics they employed in 2019 is unacceptable, he insisted.
"We are working in conjunction" with Minority Leader Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker and want to be collaborative, Garcia said. "We both acknowledged that things could have been different," but "we've got work to do" and won't be dissuaded "from the work we were elected to do."