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January 10, 2024

Speaker McCluskie Delivers Opening Day Remarks

DENVER, CO - Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, today delivered opening remarks for the Second Regular Session of the 74th General Assembly.

Selected excerpts from the Speaker’s remarks:

“This session will be transformative for education in our state– a monumental leap forward in our endeavor to offer every student the world class education they deserve.”

“Lawmakers this year will present a meaningful package of bills to build more homes and save people money on housing. This starts with a broad statewide and regional approach to housing assessments and planning. It includes legislation to legalize accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and multifamily housing near transit and incentivizes local governments to preserve housing stock Coloradans can afford.”

“Just as every Coloradan deserves a home they can afford, every Coloradan deserves to live safely in their communities free from gun violence. I am excited for the work this year to improve public safety and reduce gun deaths with common sense policies driven by data and science. We will not let a fringe group’s lawsuits against the good work of this body deter us from saving lives.”

Full text of the speech as prepared for delivery:

Good morning and welcome to the People’s House! It’s wonderful to see everyone here. And It is my honor to open the Second Regular Session of the 74th General Assembly. 

One of my favorite parts of opening day is seeing everyone’s families, and especially all the new additions. Congratulations again to Reps. Daugherty, Jodeh, Andy Kenney with Colorado Public Radio, and soon Representative Luck!  

I’m grateful to be joined here by my family. Thank you to my husband Jamie, and my parents Bob & Etta Strand. Your love, patience and support mean a great deal to me. I am blessed.

It’s great to see the Republican leadership here in one piece after a successful summer on horseback. Everyone seems to be okay. No broken bones! Love to see it. Welcome as well to all our candidates for Congress. My goodness; there are a lot of you running this year! 

For some of you, today will be your last opening day in the House. To Representatives Catlin, deGruy Kennedy, Herod, McLachlan, and Weissman.  Congratulations on seven - soon to be eight -  successful years of public service. Your dedication and leadership will be a powerful legacy!

I want to take a moment and ask all of you to join me in thanking all the wonderful people who make this place run. Our sergeants, custodial staff, nonpartisan staff in Legislative Council, Office of Legislative Legal Services, Joint Budget Committee, and our House Clerks. They do so much to make sure we can get our work done. Please join me in a round of applause.

Members, as we begin this session, I’d like to take a moment to remember someone we lost last year, a True Coloradan. One of the greats. 

My friend and neighbor, John Fielder, showed us the immense beauty of our state and the feelings of wonder that are inherent to living in Colorado. I’m honored that his daughters, Katy and Ashley, son-in-law, Dan, and grandchildren, Savannah, Gigi, and Daniel, are here with us today. Please stand, and give them a warm welcome.

From our cities and our mountains to our waters, forests, clean air, lakes, and prairies, his photographs remind us that we are always called to protect the state that we love.  

It’s important to acknowledge that these beautiful lands as captured through John’s lens were first those of the indigenous people who have called Colorado home for generations.

Last year, the leaders of the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes addressed the General Assembly for the first time. As they prepare to do so again on Ute Day in March, I urge us all to listen and lend our support to the priorities they present.

With gratitude to History Colorado, today through the lens of John Fielder, Frank Muramoto, and Robert Wineberg, we will see reflections of our great state and something everyone can recognize as special. A place they’ve been. A moment that sparks curiosity. The grandeur of the natural world formed so long ago. Through their photographs, which will be displayed before you during my speech, we can see and feel the Colorado Spirit. 

What you’ll see in the photos behind me is what binds us together– the shared capacity to be in awe and to be moved by the Colorado Spirit. We are all people who feel the pressures, challenges and joys of serving our communities in these jobs. 

The people who work here, serve here and visit here all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect at all times. That’s the Colorado Way. It is also one of my three big goals for this session. 

It’s the Colorado Spirit that binds us together. 

The first goal I want to talk about today is how we can guarantee a fair shake for every member, respect our diversity of lived experiences and identities, and make civility in our discourse a priority. 

Each member represents thousands of Coloradans in just one district, each of us equal in our role as state representative. The House rules are here to guarantee that each member has one vote and one voice, and to ensure that no member's vote or voice is more important than another's. 

A fair shake for every member also means the opportunity to speak to legislation, offer amendments, and engage in the legislative process with the understanding you will be treated with respect. My request is that we take a moment to consider what we say, how we speak to a bill and the words we choose to make our points. 

To quote Ted Lasso who maybe quoted Walt Whitman: Be Curious, Not Judgemental. From Fielder’s magnificent landscapes to Muramoto’s 100 year old photos of Japanese Americans in Pueblo, we can see the curiosity they had for what was in front of their camera, and we can feel that Colorado Spirit ourselves when we look at their art. 

I’d like us to remember that curiosity and spirit in how we approach our conversations to engage in authentic debate with each other. That means raising respectful questions that further our desire to explore the subject at hand. 

It means listening and appreciating members’ responses, putting down your phone, getting off of social media and having real conversations with one another.


We can engage on tough issues without disregarding the humanity and dignity of our colleagues or accusing each other of poor motives.

To assist in these efforts, House Leadership will develop a consistent rubric to guide our conversations in the well. My thanks to Assistant Majority Leader Bacon, Representative Weissman and Speaker Pro Tempore deGruy Kennedy for getting the work off the ground on this important initiative.

Finally, a fair shake means every lawmaker can come to work feeling safe. Let’s recommit ourselves to our Workplace Expectations Policy and work together to create a warm, safe, welcoming culture here in this Chamber, our home for the next 120 days.

After all, this is the people’s House. We have and will continue to take all steps necessary to honor the people who come here to share their hopes, dreams and concerns. I appreciate the work of our Chief Clerk and the House Services committee this interim to implement new guidance and training protocols for staff that allow everyone the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. 

We can do all these things because we have done them before. Where we have fallen short in the past, we must redouble our efforts to do better this session.  

One of the hallmarks of our legislature is that we find ways to reach across the aisle on important policies that impact our communities. Experience shows us that we’re stronger when we collaborate, so my second big goal for this session is to renew our focus on how we can channel the Colorado Spirit and work together to achieve lasting policy results.

Last year, we passed important bipartisan legislation to reduce the risk of wildfires, improve student math scores, boost microchip production and create jobs. Working across party lines, we created the Office of School Safety, increased funding for special education, and improved transparency into hospital costs. 

Two years ago, we worked together to allocate federal stimulus dollars to build more housing, expand workforce training, and increase access to behavioral health care. It’s exciting to see these grants fund critical efforts all across our state. 

Since we adjourned last May, more than $118 million from legislation we passed is building or preserving nearly 2,900 affordable housing units in 34 developments and 30 counties. 

Buena Vista was awarded $1.35 million to build 129 units.

Alamosa will deploy $4.2 million to build a community with 406 new affordable units for renters, homeowners and seniors. 

$6.2 million is adding 28 units to the Ordway East Duplex Development project in southeast Colorado. 

$3 million is helping build 175 units at the Hope Springs development in Greeley. 

And $4.4 million will go to rehabilitate the Helen Hunt Campus–  transitional housing that serves the Pikes Peak region.

That’s just to name a few. 

Additionally, investing in our workforce is an issue that is near and dear to me. Now at over 20 higher education institutions from Otero, Fort Morgan and Pueblo Community Colleges to our area technical colleges and my home institution of Colorado Mountain College, students can now earn a completely free credential for a career in nursing, teaching, firefighting, construction, or law enforcement. 

Opportunity Now grants are directing $90 million to 46 new career pathways that bring together education institutions and businesses to help workers learn the skills they need to enter high-demand industries. For example, 

The Northeast Colorado BOCES will partner with Haxtun Health, the Colorado Education Initiative and Northeastern Junior College to create pathways to careers to meet workforce needs in northeast Colorado.

We have a dire need to support the recruitment and retention of teachers, particularly teachers of color. With teachers of color making up 40 percent of their graduate students, Relay School of Education will partner with Denver Public Schools and use nearly $2.5 million to offer four and two year licenses in teaching while participants work full time at partner schools. 

In addition to supporting our workforce, we also allocated millions of dollars in broadband investments to connect thousands of Coloradans to high speed internet in Craig, Hayden, Montrose, Olathe, Ouray, Ridgeway, and Pueblo. 

These are just a handful of the many success stories we share as a body. And it shows me that when we work together, we can make a real difference. While a lot of these grants received little fanfare, they are truly transforming Colorado communities. 

Last year, Democrats had tremendous success working together and collaborating toward common goals shared by the vast majority of Coloradans. We passed a landmark package of reproductive health laws that will protect patients, expand access to abortion and secure the health care people in our state, or those coming here, need. 

Public opinion polls show that Coloradans agree: common sense gun violence prevention laws make our communities safer. We passed five new gun safety measures that will crack down on ghost guns, require a three day waiting period, increase the age to purchase a firearm and allow victims of gun violence to seek justice.

When we worked together, we passed laws to save people money on health care, prescription drugs and utility bills. We created a right to repair for agriculture equipment! 

I’m so proud of our work to save Coloradans money on electric vehicles, green transit options, and clean energy alternatives that will improve our air, protect our water, and help us meet our climate goals.  

And during our special session, we came together with near unanimous approval from Democrats to deliver urgent property tax relief, rental assistance and significant support for working families. 

It’s clear that when we collaborate, we get things done for Colorado. 

As we redouble our efforts to work together, we do so with a clear objective in mind– to deliver the results Coloradans want to see. My third big goal this session is to help us be successful in passing policies that align with our shared values and make the progress Coloradans are looking for. 

From our youngest Coloradans to students pursuing higher education degrees or looking to advance their careers, supporting learners at all stages will be front and center because education is the foundation of our society. 

I am excited that this will be the year, the year, we finally eliminate the budget stabilization factor. This means we will deliver a historic level of funding to Colorado schools that districts can use to increase teacher and educator pay, reduce class sizes, and set our students up to thrive.

Reaching this overall funding level is a foundational achievement in and of its own, but we cannot stop there. We will drive equity into the school finance formula and bolster the funding that goes to our small rural remote districts and those with more at-risk students, or students in need.

This session will be transformative for education in our state– a monumental leap forward in our endeavor to offer every student the world class education they deserve. 

And building on our work to improve K-12 education, we will continue to transform how Coloradans can enter the careers of their dreams in high-demand fields. 

Businesses, chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, unions and trade associations are stepping up to create affordable pathways to the jobs of the future. These inspiring efforts are increasing employment and revitalizing communities who need workers. That is why we will continue to partner with these leaders to create an economy-for-all.

Also this year, we renew our efforts to make our state more affordable so that every Coloradan can live in the communities they call home. This begins with housing. Last year, we did not accomplish everything we’d hoped for, but this year, we will try again and deliver.

Over the summer, Representative Mabrey asked if I would go with him to Eviction Court. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated this experience. The hardship and economic instability that follows eviction is devastating for families and can lead to cycles of joblessness and homelessness. 

Each and every eviction is heartbreaking, and this year Denver alone reached 13,000 evictions, the most since 2008 when records first started. I know how hard Rep. Mabrey and Majority Leader Duran are working to reduce evictions and help people have a fair chance to stay in their homes. I applaud their work to prohibit evictions except for cause. 

Lawmakers this year will present a meaningful package of bills to build more homes and save people money on housing. This starts with a broad statewide and regional approach to housing assessments and planning. It includes legislation to legalize accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and multifamily housing near transit and incentivizes local governments to preserve housing stock Coloradans can afford.

Join me in this goal to deliver these critical policy outcomes that will make our state more affordable and boost the economic security of hardworking families.

Just as every Coloradan deserves a home they can afford, every Coloradan deserves to live safely in their communities free from gun violence. I am excited for the work this year to improve public safety and reduce gun deaths with common sense policies driven by data and science. We will not let a fringe group’s lawsuits against the good work of this body deter us from saving lives. 

Prioritizing the health and safety of Coloradans is a commitment we make and there should be no disagreement that our changing climate is harming communities in our state. Our response must meet the moment.

We cannot bury our heads in the sand with junk science and climate denialism while our neighbors face chronic health conditions from air pollution, annual wildfire evacuations, agricultural losses, and the erosion of our future.

Far too often, the impacts of this crisis fall disproportionately on people of color, marginalized communities and vulnerable Coloradans, leading to cycles of poverty and health disparities. It will continue to be a top priority for us to improve our air quality, crack down on harmful emissions, and increase transit options to protect the future of this state. 

Building a brighter future for our state will always be our focus, but while we cannot right the wrongs of the past, we can learn and strive to eliminate the health, education, and economic disparities that continue to harm people of color in our state. This year, we will pass legislation to create a trailblazing investigation proposed and led by the Black Caucus to look into how systems of racism, state actions, and discrimination in housing, health care and education have led to longstanding inequalities for Black Coloradans. 

We come here to serve all Colorado. While our efforts to build more housing, improve education, and protect our environment will boost our entire state, we know that rural Colorado and our agriculture industry are facing unique challenges that demand our attention. 

From agriculture and outdoor recreation to tourism and mining, a mix of economic drivers fuel Colorado’s rural economies, which are also facing a range of different pressures from environmental to market forces. 

This session, we intend to reauthorize the bipartisan Rural Economic Development Initiative and Rural Jumpstart Tax Credit, which will create jobs and boost small businesses from our Eastern Plains to our Western Slope. 

Water is intrinsic to the Colorado Spirit, and the lifeblood of our agriculture industry and tourism economies. The recent United States Supreme Court decision about the definition of Waters of the United States leaves many of our waterways in Colorado unprotected. In the wake of this difficult decision, we have an opportunity to take action to reestablish these critical protections. 

Based on the recommendations of the Colorado River Drought Task Force, we will pass legislation to secure our water future for generations to come and protect the majestical and pristine landscapes of our beloved state.

Like the incredible Colorado landscape we seek to protect, photography is often breathtaking, inspiring and complex. The person behind the camera can choose what to put in their frame, what to bring into focus and what to leave to our imagination.  But what the photographers I’ve featured today captured for us was something deeply truthful, the unadulterated force that is the Colorado spirit. 

What we see at the national level with partisan politics and personal attacks is not what we want to see in Colorado. That’s not the Colorado spirit. We can disagree without trying to score points. It is a choice we can make, and I urge us to embody the Colorado spirit in our debates.  

This session is a new opportunity for all of us. Our recent experience shows that when we collaborate and listen to each other, we deliver on our progressive values and move Colorado forward.  

Serving in this chamber is a profound privilege I hope we cherish and use for the good of all. Every one of you deserves a fair shake to do that, and I am committed to making sure that you have it. 

Upholding our promises will require us to work together and hold one another accountable to be our better angels. Join me, join one another in making this commitment today.

Now it is time to get to work. The members of the House Majority were elected with a clear focus to deliver for Colorado, and my goal is to make sure that happens.

Thank you Members for your dedication to the people of our state, and it is my honor to open the Second Regular Session of the 74th Colorado General Assembly!

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