DENVER, CO – Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, today delivered opening remarks for the First Regular Session of the 74th General Assembly.
In concluding her remarks, the speaker said, “Coloradans have been through tough times, but we have a bright future ahead. Today, we reaffirm the foundational promise of good government – the contract we make when we stand up to serve that says we will always do what’s best for Colorado. Today, our work starts again – to make Colorado more affordable, to invest in our schools, to protect our air and water, to improve public safety, and to protect our freedoms. Today, with love, integrity, boundless energy, and eternal optimism, we take the next steps to help every Coloradan live their dream.”
The full text of the speech as prepared for delivery is below:
Good morning and welcome to Opening Day of the 74th General Assembly!
As I take the gavel, I first begin by sharing my deep thanks to Speaker Alec Garnett who has been an exceptional leader to this body through a global pandemic. He has left his mark in policies that have saved lives and led Colorado through an upheaval and back to a thriving economy. We are forever better due to his leadership.
Thank you to the Colorado Childrens’ Chorale for that heartwarming performance. I remember the days when my daughter Cait was a member of your ranks - what a positive impact your organization had on her success as a young woman. Music is a powerful universal language. Your commitment to including children from all backgrounds and all socioeconomic backgrounds is critical to helping young people grow into successful adults.
Thank you Representative Jodeh for delivering such a meaningful and moving prayer to open this session. The perspective you have brought to this chamber as the first Muslim lawmaker in the House has touched all of us and made a tremendous impact on our state.
As we begin our journey this year, I want to recognize the incredible people who work tirelessly to make the legislative session possible. Our aides and staff, our nonpartisan staff at the Office of Legislative Legal Services, Legislative Council Staff, Robin Jones, Kathy Hahn, and the clerks who manage our bill folders and check and then double check everything we do.
Our custodial staff, Chris, Kim, Bruce, Travis, Francisco, and all the people who work late into the night after we’re here to get this building ready for each and every work day.
Please join me in a round of applause for our exceptional staff!
I want to welcome all the guests and dignitaries who have joined us today, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, Speaker Crisanta Duran, and Representative Millie Hamner.
Finally, there isn’t a single person in this building who doesn’t miss Hugh McKean right now. Representative Parks, our hearts are with you. How meaningful that you could finish out Hugh’s term and be here with us today to celebrate and remember him. Representative Parks has been leading the charge to raise awareness about heart health and early screenings, and we look forward to supporting that good work.
Hugh embodied everything that it means to be a statesman. He went about his work in this building the right way, and everyone respected him for it. His wit and his joy filled this room, as did his booming voice and his laughter.
Please join me and Minority Leader Lynch in a moment of silence and remembrance for our beloved Minority Leader Hugh McKean.
Thank you, members.
I also want to acknowledge Representative Stephanie Vigil. No one expects to enter office amidst a tragedy like the one that happened at Club Q in her district just weeks after she was elected.
Our hearts go out to all of the victims of this horrific attack on Colorado’s LGBTQ community.
Please join me in a moment of silence to remember those who lost their lives that night: Raymond Green Vance; Kelly Loving; Daniel Aston; Derrick Rump; and Ashley Paugh.
To the Colorado Springs community and LGBTQ Coloradans, I want you to know that we stand with you.
To Richard Fierro, an American Hero, we are so grateful for your quick action to take down the shooter and prevent more lives from being taken. I also want to recognize the first responders who arrived at the scene, stabilized dozens of victims and saved countless lives.
Hateful rhetoric targeting LGBTQ Coloradans, especially trans people, is on the rise in our state, and it cannot be tolerated. Colorado respects freedom and love and the right to be who you are. We have made tremendous progress, and we won’t stop now.
Members, It is a historic time to serve in the People’s House. At nearly 40 percent, we have an exceptionally large class of new lawmakers. I can’t wait to see the difference you’ll make for the people of our state. Please stand and be recognized!
We also have seasoned lawmakers returning who are today entering their final term in office. Please stand if you are beginning your last term in the state legislature.
I would be remiss to not ask all of those who have served to be recognized. Can all of the veterans in the room raise your hand and be recognized.
In 1895, Coloradans Clara Cressingham, Carrie Clyde Holly, and Frances Klock became the first women ever elected to a state legislature. How proud they would be to see us here today - This is the first time in Colorado History that the majority of the General Assembly is made up of women, and proudly, we are the second state in the nation where women make up a majority of the legislature.
Let us recognize other historic firsts. Representative Brianna Titone, the Democratic Caucus Co-chair, is the first transgender lawmaker in the country to serve in a position of caucus leadership.
Representative Junie Joseph is the first Haitian-American to serve in the legislature. Representative Elizabeth Velasco is the first Latina from the Western Slope. Representative Regina English is the first Black woman to represent El Paso County, and Jennifer Bacon is the first Black woman to serve as Assistant Majority Leader.
For the first time, every Western Slope Democrat in the House, and there are now four of us, is a woman. And, for the first time, a woman from the Western Slope will serve as your speaker.
The House has a new and diverse leadership team which for the first time will see women in the top three leadership positions. My appreciation to Majority Leader Duran and Assistant Majority Leader Bacon for their exceptional partnership and leadership to this body. We will each bring our own lived experiences to the table that will help us craft policies and solutions that advance women’s rights, civil liberties, health care and education, and economic opportunity for all.
As teachers, community organizers, veterans, union members, business owners, urbanites and mountain dwellers, the lawmakers in the Democratic caucus have lived the experiences of Coloradans from all walks of life.
Over 30 percent of our lawmakers are people of color. We are a body that is now closer to fully representing the rich diversity of voices we serve. We are a body that better understands the infinite iterations of the Colorado dream.
Our expanded Democratic majority is a recognition that Coloradans agree with the path we've charted and support a policy agenda and approach to governance that reflects their priorities.
While we were elected by voters from individual districts, we must now come together to serve every person in our state–those that voted for us and those that did not. With the 2022 campaign in the rear view mirror, it’s time to take what we've heard from our constituents and transition from public figures to public servants. It’s time to govern on behalf of everyone in our state.
With fresh ideas, heartfelt convictions and a fierce determination to do what’s right for this state, we will lead our Colorado forward together.
This morning, I will ask you to consider - How is the Colorado dream different for each person. What do our constituents need from us to live their Colorado dream? How can we help?
My Colorado Dream started a long time ago on my parents’ family farms in North Dakota. I’ll never forget those summer visits walking the pastures, picking peas from the garden and playing dress up in the dairy house. My grandparents were teachers and farmers. Fairly common occupations for those raising families in rural parts of any state.
My Grandmother Irene was an independent woman with big dreams of her own. She wrote countless stories of life on the farm and pursued a writing career. She was spirited, smart and encouraged me to use my voice, and be my own person. I believe any career is possible for a woman, because of the example she set for me. My Colorado Dream is realized here today as I stand before you, the first woman Speaker of the House from the Western Slope.
The Colorado dream isn’t the same for everyone. Everyone has their own aspirations and hopes for their future.
Some people strive to start or grow their own business. Many in our agriculture community want the security and reassurance of knowing they can pass on their family farm or ranch to their children. Lots of workers in our mountain towns, the people who drive our resort economies, just want to live in those same towns and enjoy the quality of life that makes them such wonderful places to live.
Coloradans are trying to live their dream on our ranches, in our cities, on our rivers and mountains.
It’s our job to support and celebrate those individual dreams. We must understand and deeply respect that lawmakers in this chamber will have different visions and ideas for what this looks like. To do this, we must contemplate what binds us all together - the basic needs that every individual has.
Far too many people are struggling amidst the rising cost of living in our state. This year, we will redouble our efforts to make Colorado more affordable by reducing the costs of a family’s largest expenses, often housing, health care, and child care.
They say, home is where your heart is,…it’s where we go for the Holidays,….and where we hang our hats.
Housing is central to every person’s ability to live, work and play. That’s why we have taken landmark steps to build more affordable homes and expand our housing stock.
We invested $40 million to build innovative, factory built homes that help families afford high-quality new builds while creating good paying jobs.
We made the single largest investment in the state’s history in affordable housing by creating a $150 million revolving loan program, which will leverage private dollars to develop housing in rural and urban communities across the state
And we established a $178 million grant program to provide funding directly to local governments and nonprofits to build homes for every budget.
In addition, we passed the largest property tax reduction in the state’s history, strengthened the state affordable housing tax credit, created a housing tax credit for seniors, and directed hundreds of millions to help local communities address homelessness and preserve mobile home parks.
Thank you Minority Leader Lynch and Representatives Ortiz, Bradfield, Bird, Woodrow, Boesenecker, Jodeh, and Snyder for your work to pass these bills and others into law.
Housing is a state-wide concern, which is why this year we will pass policies to remove the unnecessary barriers that have made it more challenging to address our critical housing shortage.
We will also work to ensure that these policies promote sustainable communities and help local governments preserve their affordable housing stock- especially for the elderly, those with disabilities and low and middle-income families for whom displacement is both traumatizing and destabilizing.
Combined with our historic investments, these policies will unleash the development and preservation of tens of thousands of quality homes all across the state for hardworking Coloradans.
We must also talk about health care when we talk about expenses hitting the family budget. I strongly believe that high-quality, accessible health care is essential for every Coloradan. Whether it’s a fall on the ski slope, an injury at the workplace, or an illness, life is filled with the unexpected and everyone deserves access to quality affordable health care in the communities where they live.
We capped insulin costs,required prescription drug rebate savings to be passed along to consumers, put in place a plan to bring down the cost of the highest priced drugs, and created the Colorado Option, which is giving consumers new choices with better coverage at lower prices. Our state’s reinsurance program has lowered premiums on the individual market 24 percent from last year and savings were even higher– as much as 36 percent- in regions with persistently high health care costs, like Summit County and Grand Junction.
Thank you to Senator Roberts, Representative Jodeh, Speaker Pro Tempore deGruy Kennedy and now Congresswoman Caraveo for your persistence to lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs.
Thanks to the work of this body, more Coloradans and businesses can afford to buy health care.
Yet, for Coloradans all across the state, access to behavioral health care - like therapy or substance use counseling - is elusive. Too many people in our state can’t afford or don’t have access to the behavioral health care they need to thrive. With the determined efforts of Representative Amabile, we are increasing bed capacity for Coloradans with serious mental illness who have nowhere else to turn. Last year, legislation sponsored by Representatives Gonzales-Gutierrez and Ricks directed $90 million to communities across the state to ensure there is no wrong door to behavioral health care.
Thanks to Representative Michaelson Jenet, our youth - who are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis of their own - can now get free counseling through the popular and successful iMatter program.
I’ve spent a significant part of my career working in Summit School District, and to this day, I am passionate about ensuring every child receives a world-class education that prepares them for the future of their dreams.
Everywhere we look, education is the fertile ground– the incubator from which the Colorado dream grows.
Thanks to the work of Representatives McLachlan, Young, Kipp and so many others, I’m proud that we have reduced the budget stabilization factor to the lowest point since it was created nearly 15 years ago and continue our march for more funding in public schools. Because of this work, school districts in Colorado are seeing nearly $550 dollars more per student on average this year.
With the incredible work of Majority Leader Esgar, our partners in higher education, organized labor, and business, we expanded skills training programs that prepare traditional and non-traditional students for the jobs of the future. We’re launching the Opportunity Now Regional Talent Development Initiative with $85 million to ensure we’re training and educating our workforce for critical regional economic needs.
This session, we are committed to making yet another meaningful investment in public schools, higher education, and workforce development.
And let’s take a moment to also acknowledge needs for affordable child care.
For many parents across our state, the Colorado dream is being able to raise your child while also pursuing a career. Data shows that nearly one-third of the median family’s budget goes to child care, a figure that’s even higher in our rural counties. Not only is this simply unsustainable for families, it strains our workforce by making it harder for new parents to return to work and reduces what they can spend in our local economies.
I’m excited to say that this year, affordable child care and early childhood education will be a reality for more parents in Colorado. Starting this fall, every four-year-old in Colorado will have access to free universal preschool. Thanks to Representative Sirota and former Speaker Garnett for leading this effort. So far, over 850 providers across the state have signed up with the Department of Early Childhood Education to provide a total of nearly 29,000 slots for early childhood education. These efforts will give more Colorado kids a head start while saving parents money and helping them get back to work.
In nearly everyone’s version of the Colorado dream, the beauty of this state is almost always front and center, but we all know you cannot live your dream if you cannot breathe the air outside your home.
You cannot live your dream if the forests and land your dream relies on burns to the ground or your crops wither under your feet. And your dream will not last if we do not protect the environment and this incredible place we call home.
Millions of Coloradans are living each summer amidst rising pollution and poor air quality as climate change continues to take its toll. We have invested record funding to meet our climate challenges, improve our air and prevent devastating wildfires. This session, we will continue this work by investing in transit options, building smarter and closer to where people work, and cracking down on violators that pollute our air and threaten our health.
Water. Out my front door I see flowing rivers, mountain lakes and crystal white snow - these visions capture the spirit of the West - what it means to be a Coloradan. Agriculture communities, wildlife, the future of our public lands, our environment, ski areas, growing cities, suburbs, and every person and family in our state depends on water. Water should unite us, not divide us.
The Colorado River has declined 20 percent over the last 20 years, leaving our state and the entire West facing the worst drought conditions in twelve hundred years. Climate change, increased demands, and population growth will continue to put more pressure on our water supply.
With Representatives McCormick and Catlin leading the way, this is the year that we make water the centerpiece of our conservation efforts. We will work collaboratively to develop policy solutions that protect this precious resource. The General Assembly has recently invested millions in the Colorado Water Plan, drought mitigation, watershed protection, and water conservation, and yet our water faces unprecedented threats that no one has seen or experienced before.
The rule of law will remain a foundation of how we manage water rights. We will aim to modernize Colorado’s water management system to supply our growing state with the water we need to drink, grow food, and protect our rivers and streams for the benefit of our wildlife, the environment, and our outdoor economy.
We will seek new federal funding to restore our rivers, advance conservation programs, address drought in the Colorado River Basin - and boldly secure our water future.
Just as we are committed to protecting our environment, we are committed to protecting the people of our great state.
The Colorado dream is built on safety and security. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities, in their schools, on the playground, at the grocery store, without the fear of gun violence striking at any time.
We directed funding to improve public safety by increasing resources for programs that reduce recidivism and prevent crime before it happens. We passed six bills to prevent gun violence by tightening background checks, creating the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, and by encouraging responsible gun ownership like safely storing firearms and reporting them when they are lost or stolen.
We must focus on data-informed strategies about why crime occurs to begin with–lack of opportunity, lack of access to mental health care, inadequate reentry services that instead lead to cycles of incarceration.
The data is clear: the measures we’ve passed in recent years such as the Red Flag Law have saved lives and prevented crime. There were over 380 total red flag cases and 241 successful petitions granted in 2022, likely saving many, many lives.
Our efforts to reduce gun violence this session will focus on expanding how and when a red flag petition can be filed so that more key moments can be acted upon to interrupt potential acts of violence. Furthermore, we will increase waiting periods and the age limits to purchase a firearm.
Feeling safe means different things to different people. Some Coloradans worry about their property or the loss of vibrancy in commercial districts impacting their businesses. Some people have concerns about their physical safety or the safety of their children or friends. Many people of color in Colorado still have legitimate fears about their safety when they interact with law enforcement.
Freedom and safety are intertwined conditions that forge the foundation of nearly every Coloradan’s individual dream. To become a victim of crime shatters the sense of safety and the sense of freedom that we all want to live our lives. We have made critical investments in crime victim services and will continue that work this session under the leadership of Majority Leader Duran.
As we work to improve public safety, we will increase our focus on protecting communities that too often have been the targets of violence because of their gender, their religion, who they love, or where they come from. We will advance policies that affirm the rights of Coloradans to live free from violence and threats.
Finally, the Colorado Dream is built on freedom. Freedom to love who you love, to marry who you want to marry. Colorado celebrates love of all kinds. It is also knowing you always have the freedom to make your own decisions about reproductive health and abortion care–free from government interference.
I’m proud to say that the Reproductive Health Equity Act is now law in Colorado. Thanks to the work of Rep. Froelich, Majority Leader Esgar, and the lawmakers who supported this law, we protected the right to an abortion in Colorado.
Now that we have cemented the right to an abortion in state law, we will take steps to protect access to abortion care by protecting providers, expanding our health care workforce, and ensuring patients have the accurate medical information they need to make their own personal decisions without the interference of politicians or misleading pregnancy centers.
Earlier, I asked you to consider what we can do to help Coloradans live their individual dreams. The roadmap is before us.
Much of our important progress has been accomplished because Democrats and Republicans came together, rolled up their sleeves and delivered commonsense results for their constituents. There have been powerful examples of the lawmakers in this room putting people above partisanship.
As this session begins, I want us all to pursue that same goal. Let’s put people above politics, and progress above partisanship to continue delivering results for all Coloradans.
We were sent here not only to act, but to listen. Just as each of us listened as candidates, we are now called upon to listen as elected officials. But I hope we will always consider the respectful voices that come to the Capitol to advocate for their beliefs and the people in our state.
Lawmaking is hard, and the process can be painful. No matter the challenge or frustration, My expectation is that we legislate inclusively and hear out all the voices that have an interest in our policy work.
The outcome may not always reflect everyone’s wishes. I understand that isn’t always possible, but authentic engagement matters to the process and outcome. It’s clear that the policies we pass are stronger and longer-lasting when we consider the voices of Coloradans from every corner and community in the state.
As we craft our legislation, offer amendments, and vote on bills, I want us all to recognize not only the historic diversity of this body, but also the importance of centering policies that are anti-racist and which combat antisemitism and hatred targeted at Colorado’s LGBTQ community. It is not enough just to listen and hear people from diverse backgrounds, we must advance policies that reflect the experiences and priorities they bring to this chamber.
We will have difficult conversations about what it means to pass anti-racist legislation as historic inequities continue to hold back people of color and marginalized communities while denying too many Coloradans their fair shot.
So as I urge lawmakers of both parties to push for pragmatic and inclusive solutions, I want to challenge members to see, truly see, the diversity of this body, and more importantly how that diversity must be put into action to build a state that supports the dreams of all Coloradans.
Today, we recognize that we can and must forge a path forward where everyone can reach their dreams.
For our ranchers who need sustainable water and good roads to get their products to market, your Colorado dream will be our focus.
For Black, Indigenous, and all People of Color living here, your Colorado dream will be our focus.
For our small business owners, resort employees, ski instructors, rafters, hikers, campers and everyone who relies on our water, outdoors, and beautiful public spaces, your Colorado dream will be our focus.
For LGBTQ Coloradans seeking safety, acceptance, hope, love, and the freedom to live life as you want, your Colorado dream will be our focus.
For our students, teachers and parents who want higher pay for educators and more resources in their classrooms, your Colorado dream will be our focus.
For all the women and girls in this room and in our state looking ahead to a brighter future, fair wages, more rights and freedoms and equal opportunity, your Colorado dream will be our focus.
For anyone struggling to find an affordable place to live, a health care plan that doesn’t break the bank, or accessible high-quality child care options, your Colorado dream will be our focus.
Coloradans have been through tough times, but we have a bright future ahead.
Today, we reaffirm the foundational promise of good government–the contract we make when we stand up to serve that says we will always do what’s best for Colorado.
Today, our work starts again. To make Colorado more affordable, to invest in our schools, to protect our air and water, to improve public safety, and protect our freedoms.
Today, with love, integrity, boundless energy, and eternal optimism, we take the next steps to help every Coloradan live their dream.
It is my honor and privilege to open the First Session of the 74th General Assembly.
Let’s get to work.