The Colorado General Assembly began its 2019 session Friday. Here is the text of the opening-day speech by House Speaker KC Becker as prepared for delivery. Speeches by other legislative leaders will be posted as they are delivered and received.
Good morning and welcome to your state capitol.
It is one my greatest honors to stand before you today.
I want to thank the constituents of my district which stretches from the Wyoming border in the north, to Mount Evans in the south– from Boulder to Kremmling - from Jackson, Grand, and Gilpin to Clear Creek and Boulder counties.
It’s an honor to represent you.
Thank you to Majority Leader Alec Garnett and to our entire leadership team who will help lead our chamber over the next two years. You all are awesome.
Minority Leader Neville, congratulations on being selected to lead your caucus once again and I hope to work together with you to serve the people of our great state.
I would also like to congratulate Representative Kyle Mullica and his family who welcomed the birth of a new baby girl, Autumn Grace, this week.
I look around this chamber and see many new faces… and a lot more Democrats…
I’d like to welcome our first years and returning legislators.
No matter your party, we are all here because we want Coloradans to succeed.
Running for office or stepping forward to participate in public service is never easy.
So on behalf of this chamber and our state, I extend thanks to you and your families and friends who have agreed to let us borrow you for the next two years.
Your support is key to our shared success.
Together, we are driven to build a fair economy that expands opportunity for all, to invest in our future, and to protect the Colorado Way of Life.
Today, we open the first regular session of the 72nd General Assembly.
Members, pack your energy and ideas with you every day because you are about to have some of the longest days wrapped into the shortest four months you’ll ever know.
Your patience will be tested, your sleep will shorten, your family will miss you and your waistline may grow.
But believe me the future is worth the fight and your efforts are worthwhile.
This November, Coloradans made history by electing the first Jewish and openly gay Governor.
We made history by electing a record number of people of color to our state legislature.
And we made history by electing 33 women to the House including 25 in the Democratic caucus alone and the first transgender representative in state Herstory.
Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or Unaffiliated voter, I think we can all agree that this chamber is sending a strong message that when people participate in democracy, their government is more reflective of their state’s diverse background and ideas.
It is our shared hope that the number of women and people of color who were motivated to step forward and run for office will inspire the next generation of Coloradans to pursue public service and become more involved.
I am honored to accept this gavel and look forward to working with you all.
Now - I’ve watched a few of my predecessors break a few gavels trying to keep this chamber in order so let’s all hope this is the only gavel we need this session…
…but based on past experience, Marilyn please have a backup ready.
It is not lost on me that I am the third consecutive woman to serve as Speaker and the fourth in our state’s rich history.
Standing before you today, I know I won’t be the last.
I would be remiss if I did not thank those who have blazed a trail ahead of us including
I also want to acknowledge my father-in-law and sister-in law, Ed and Shaun who are here today and my awesome parents, who unfortunately can’t be here today.
I am grateful for the care and love they gave to me and my siblings – three of whom are here with me now Karen, Alicia and Elle.
I’m most grateful that my parents decided to let me spend my summers as a teenager in the Rockies.
I was a Florida girl discovering the vast and transformative place that is the West.
Until then I had never seen mountains. I had never seen snow.
Actually, it was hailing when I said “oh my god snow” and my now lifelong friend turned to me with a smirk on her face and said “you dummy, that’s not snow, it’s hail.”
I truly fell in love with the West and feel lucky to call Colorado home.
My husband Miles and I have built our lives and family in Boulder.
I’m thankful for the love and support of Miles and our two boys - Ryder and Leo - who are here with us today.
11 years ago, Leo had just been born, he was 7 weeks old when the market tanked and I was laid off from my job. I think about how much has changed in those 11 years.
I certainly had no idea then that a run for local office would end up with me standing here before you as the Speaker of the House.
But a lot more has changed since Leo was born. Amazon was a fledgling company.
There was no bitcoin. No Lyft. No Ikon Pass. No marijuana store fronts.
No negative factor. No Affordable Care Act.
and Representative Rochelle Galindo was still in high school.
11 years ago, there were only 36 women serving in the House and Senate combined.
Each year brings new issues to us at the capitol. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
We’ve gone from a deep recession to a thriving state. But the advantages of Colorado’s growth and economic prosperity of the last 5 or 6 years haven’t been felt by every corner of our state.
Unemployment statewide is low and the President might be tweeting about the stock market – at least when it’s up - but many of our neighbors still find it hard to get ahead and they struggle with the rising cost of living.
Hardworking families are trying to save for the years down the road or even for the coming months.
And they are often one tragedy or paycheck away from financial distress.
That means we need to give them the tools they need to get ahead.
Last session, we passed bills to help Coloradans with the high cost of child care, increase the construction of affordable housing,
and connect more Coloradans to the good, high-paying jobs our economy is now producing in great numbers.
But it’s not enough.
We are a state built on the value that people who work hard should be treated fairly.
That means finally passing paid family leave because no one should have to risk financial ruin – or lose their job – to care for a new child or sick relative.
It also means that women and people of color should be paid equally for equal work.
We are committed to fighting for every Coloradan to be treated with the dignity, fairness and the respect they deserve.
Despite significant efforts from legislators on both sides of the aisle, the rural-urban divide continues to be a challenge.
While Colorado’s economy is working for some, it’s not working for everyone in rural communities and the legislature must do more to ensure that our successes touch all parts of our state.
That means taking steps in rural Colorado to reduce the cost of health care and kick starting more economic development to get more people into good paying jobs.
We must keep building on the bipartisan successes of workforce development programs in communities across the state.
Access to affordable housing continues to be out of reach for many people.
That means we need to invest state dollars in our affordable housing trust fund.
It is my hope and the hope of many in this chamber that we work together to problem solve and expand opportunity.
We are also committed to protecting the Colorado way of life,
And I cannot think of a more important challenge for us to take on than climate change.
Climate change is real.
It's threatening our thriving outdoor economy and our livelihoods.
Skiers are seeing smaller snow packs
Rafters are seeing smaller rapids
Anglers are seeing shallower waters
Mountain residents are seeing more frequent and more destructive wildfires
And our eastern plains are seeing more drought.
And unfortunately, Washington has once again chosen to bury its head in the sand while states and the rest of the world work to address the threat of climate change.
We will build a better future by expanding our commitment to renewable energy, giving local communities the tools they need to prepare for the impacts of climate change and creating strong goals to limit carbon pollution.
Our recent economic success shows that we can work together to protect our clean air and water and grow our economy at the same time.
It is also a point of pride for our state that the leading solutions and studies to this challenge are coming from Colorado’s institutions of higher education and innovative entrepreneurs.
We need to continue Colorado's climate leadership for the sake of our economy, public health and clean air.
Colorado’s way of life is also threatened by the growing conflict between neighborhoods and oil and gas.
Our state has grown and schools and neighborhoods are butting up against oil and gas operations.
It’s time we update our laws to reflect this new paradigm.
That means, we must ensure communities feel more confident that the oil and gas happening nearby isn’t negatively impacting their air or water quality and their quality of life.
Colorado’s way of life is precious. It’s part of the reason people live, work, play and move here like I did so many years ago.
As we think about the Colorado way of life we must also think about investing in our future.
Many of our educators are having to work multiple jobs just to pay their own bills,
And many students have never had the experience of being in a fully funded school system.
We have recently passed bipartisan state budgets that invested hundreds of millions of new dollars into our schools, boosted per-pupil funding, made commitments to address the teacher shortage, and brought down the negative factor.
But, if we intend to leave our state in a better position than we found it, then we must do more.
We need to give our students, teachers and schools the tools they need to succeed.
That means we must continue to invest in early childhood education, K-12 and higher ed.
And it means we should make sure our students are well prepared for the jobs of the future in a modernizing economy.
Coloradans are also tired over the lack of investment in roads, bridges, and transit.
That means coming up with creative and collaborative solutions to our transportation problems.
Coloradans – no matter their political affiliation or zip code – are fed up with high cost of health care and out of control prescription drug prices.
We hear from Coloradans nearly every day about their struggles with health care.
We share the concerns of families and seniors across our state who agonize over access and rising costs.
In the absence of federal leadership in Washington, we at the capitol must address this challenge head on.
That means, we must work together to address skyrocketing health care costs by promoting transparency in insurance, drug pricing and medical expenses,
That also means we must tackle surprise billing and help provide more stability to our health insurance markets.
There is no time to waste.
The health and well-being of Coloradans must continue to be a top priority because we are facing a public health epidemic.
The opioid epidemic in the United States has claimed more lives than the entire Vietnam War.
During the last session we passed bills to help battle this epidemic by getting people the care and treatment they need and addressing prescribing practices.
These bipartisan measures are a good start, but there is much more work to be done to end the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery.
That means we must work together to save lives and end this epidemic.
There is another epidemic we must address – gun violence.
Our state, our children, our families and even those who are now represented in this chamber have been personally impacted by this crisis.
Coloradans are tired of living with the consequences of inaction. They are marching in the streets and taking to the halls of this building. And they are demanding action on gun sense legislation.
That means we will work to pass the life saving Extreme Risk Protection Order bill to prevent tragedies before they happen.
Over the past few years, we have made significant bipartisan strides towards reforming our broken criminal justice system – we are even seeing consensus at the federal level on this issue so it is my hope that this is an area where we can continue to find common ground.
We’ve come a long way from when we were labeled “The Hate State.”
Last session, we were able to preserve a strong Colorado Civil Rights Division, and we’ve also made important progress for our LGBTQ community in recent years, but there is still work to do to ensure we have a more inclusive and more fair Colorado.
That means instead of building walls and barriers that seek to sow division and block progress,
we will build bridges and partnerships that will power our people and our state forward.
Last session, we worked to address the culture of the capitol.
The Capitol must be a place where everyone feels safe and respected, and that means we will continue to focus on reforming the culture and work together – regardless of party – to implement necessary changes this session.
So now it’s time to work together.
Coloradans cast their votes for those who will fight to expand opportunity for all and to govern responsibly.
Coloradans chose compassion and opportunity over cruelty and chaos.
They want leaders who will stand for something – not against everything.
They want a government that will work for the people – not special interests.
We must continue to reach across the aisle and not be afraid to find those sweet spots that reflect the Colorado way.
This is a new and diverse group of lawmakers who will all bring influential ideas and renewed energy to this chamber and it’s on all of us to problem solve for the next one hundred and twenty days.
I am honored to serve as your Speaker – and a Speaker for all Coloradans.
I am excited about what we can accomplish together in order to protect the Colorado Way of Life.
God bless the State of Colorado and let’s get to work.