The past year has been one of the most difficult times in living memory. Coloradans have endured months of isolation, fear and exhaustion as COVID-19 tears across the state, leaving devastating loss and heartbreaking division in its wake. As myself and my colleagues in the General Assembly approach the starting line of the 2021 legislative session, we stand at a critical crossroads in defining the future of our state.
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We have an obligation to act upon the lesson that too many had to learn the hard way: this chaos and damage is a consequence of an economy that was unprepared to protect Coloradans in a crisis. The pandemic didn’t invent the financial cliff that many Coloradans live on — it pushed them closer to the edge. COVID-19’s disastrous effects didn’t happen in a vacuum and preventing a future crisis from doing the same is non-negotiable.
As a paramedic, I respond to medical emergencies in the field based on their severity and utilizing the same approach has proved useful in my capacity as a lawmaker. The finish line is on the horizon, but the pandemic still rages on and the need for direct relief remains urgent. The legislature needs to build upon victories from the 2020 legislative session and the special session by directing additional funds to housing, utilities, food assistance, and small businesses to help our communities weather the challenges still ahead. Eleven months in, Coloradans are still hurting, and we have to pass legislation that stops the bleeding.
Coloradans are ready to return to life as normal, and the legislature needs to build the bridge that gets us to the other side of the pandemic. Our crucial infrastructure like health-care programs, public education, and our once-thriving job market have been dealt several critical blows. Initiating Colorado’s comeback requires that we invest in the long-term health of these community pillars so Coloradans in every corner of the state can have the certainty they need to start businesses, hire staff, and return to a life that is no longer governed by the pandemic.
Returning to Colorado’s pre-pandemic level of economic and societal health is a priority, but not our ultimate goal. Life before COVID-19 simply wasn’t working for all Coloradans — the destruction is a consequence of an economy that is built to leave people behind. For lawmakers, the pandemic serves as a test to see whether or not we are able to recognize that a return to “normal” isn’t good enough. Our job isn’t to restore order, but to build toward a society where people aren’t just getting by, but actually thriving.
Finding the silver lining of a crisis responsible for so much loss is difficult, but I am determined to remember the ways that the pandemic has highlighted the resilience of our better angels. As we meet the moment with the urgency required, I am motivated by the way we have seen our communities support each other by focusing on what makes us alike, rather than what divides us. Under the Gold Dome, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we were all elected to do the same job. The effectiveness of our triage depends on our collective ability to remember that Coloradans gave us this power so we could meet their needs and give them the tools they need to thrive. This session, we have the opportunity to prove that we are committed to fighting for a just Colorado that works for all Coloradans, and that building back stronger can only be done together.
Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, is president of the Colorado Senate.