Speaker Garnett: Let’s Move Colorado Forward, Together

Speaker Delivers Opening Day Speech as House Convenes for Second Session of 73rd General Assembly

DENVER, CO– House Speaker Alec Garnett today delivered his Opening Day speech and outlined his vision for the 2022 legislative session and how the House can help save people money and move Colorado forward, saying: 

“For far too many families across our state, the going has gotten tougher and tougher in the last few years. Despite the incredible work we’ve done to make health care more affordable, create a more fair tax code, and support small businesses during their times of need, life in Colorado has gotten more and more expensive. That’s why my number one priority this session is to bring down the cost of living in Colorado and make life more affordable for families in our state.”

In his speech, Speaker Garnett also outlined his plans to focus on more than just saving people money, explaining what it means to move Colorado forward:

“We all know what drives Colorado forward: good jobs, healthy and safe communities, successful small businesses, well-funded schools and a thriving workforce. This session, we will deliver transformational changes that position Colorado for that future. Together, we’re going to build a safer, more affordable and healthier Colorado for all.”

Speaker Garnett made his commitment to public education plain and vowed to make the largest investment in K-12 in the state’s history:

“I want to take a moment to acknowledge the dedication of every educator in the state who has bent over backwards to ensure that our students can continue their education despite the turmoil. Recognizing their heroic efforts and sacrifices, I vow to fight tooth and nail to ensure that we don’t divert a single dime away from public education. In fact, I’m proud to say that this session we are planning the largest investment in K-12 education in the state’s history.”

The Speaker laid out the challenges facing Colorado and vowed to protect Coloradans’ democracy and fundamental rights, saying: 

“We cannot stand idly by while extremism threatens our liberty, our fundamental rights, and our democracy. As some continue to deny that the 2020 election was free, fair and decisive, we in Colorado will keep holding up our state-of-the-art elections system as a model for the rest of the country to increase voter participation while guaranteeing electoral integrity.

As states across the country outlaw abortion, threaten reproductive rights and criminalize doctors who only seek to do right by their patients, we in Colorado will work overtime to ensure that the right to access a full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, is never infringed upon.”

Tomorrow, the House and Senate will meet in a joint session to hear the governor’s State of the State address.

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The speaker’s full remarks are below: 

Opening Day Speech 2022

As prepared for delivery by 

Speaker Alec Garnett

You know, it’s a bittersweet feeling, looking out on all of you today. 

Daneya, Patrick, Susan, Terri, Kevin, Kim: Today marks our last first day of session. Congratulations to all of you for serving your full 8 years, it’s certainly been an honor for me. 

We’ve come a long way since we were baby legislators. I’ve added a few grey hairs, a few pounds, and a few kids. 

All in all, I’m blessed to have served with each one of you and love you dearly.  

As Speaker, I am humbled by the opportunities we have this session to govern on behalf of every Coloradan. 

From the very beginning, our tenure has been shaped by the hands of history. Who would have guessed something as microscopic as a virus could hold the planet, and our fate, in a vice grip, shaping the way we govern. 

In a way, the challenge of this virus is fitting.  As many of you know, viruses are ultimately determined by a term that is now firmly in our daily conversations: DNA. 

The structure, known as the double helix, is what we are used to seeing: two strands, intertwined, working together. I might offer, we across both parties, are the DNA of this building. Let us work together, to find solutions, to make progress, to deliver results

People need and deserve a government that listens to them and makes their lives easier when they confront unforeseen challenges as individuals, families and businesses. 

The problems Coloradans are facing are dynamic. They are moving fast and changing quickly, so we as a government have to respond in kind. 

The unique situation we find ourselves in, not only because of COVID but also because of issues like the constant threats against our democracy, the rapidly changing economic landscape that has put enormous pressure on Colorado families, and the creeping menace of climate change, are a true test of all of us. Of how well our government can run when the going really gets tough. 

The issues we face are always in flux but the one constant that remains is this institution. I challenge each of you to put this institution first, like the thousands of legislators who served before us. In doing so, we’ll set an example for the thousands that will come after us. 

Speaking of those who have served in this chamber before our time, I’d like to take a moment to recognize the loss of former representative Mike McLachlan, a dear friend and a giant of Southern Colorado who dedicated his entire life to making our state and his home a better place for all. 

Barbara, we love you and we’re all here for you. 

There’s a lot we can learn from the legacy of Mike McLachlan. Despite serving in a fiercely competitive district, he was always willing to work across the aisle and collaborate with anyone on a good idea. 

This year, I’m proud to announce that I will once again appoint Marc Caitlin as Vice Chair of the Agriculture, Livestock and Water committee. 

To me, this is common sense: we all know Rep. Caitlin as an expert on these policy issues. But it’s more than that to me.  The appointment is also symbolic. It’s a clear and resounding representation of my belief that in this building we work best when we work together. 

For far too many families across our state, the going has gotten tougher and tougher in the last few years. Despite the incredible work we’ve done to make health care more affordable, create a more fair tax code, and support small businesses during their times of need, life in Colorado has gotten more and more expensive. 

That’s why my number one priority this session is to bring down the cost of living in Colorado and make life more affordable for families in our state. 

As your Speaker, this will be the lens through which I will evaluate legislation: will this bill make life in Colorado more affordable or more expensive? How will this proposal improve life for everyday families struggling to make ends meet?

With these questions as our north star, I’m confident we can move Colorado forward. 

Thankfully, we will not be starting from scratch. Far from it. 

For years now, this body has been hard at work ensuring that the future of Colorado is affordable. 

Our historic investments in education and the workforce development programs we instituted will ensure that Coloradans are ready to fill the high-paying jobs we’ve attracted to forge our state’s future. 

The early childhood education agency we created last year will get us closer to universal pre-K and, coupled with our work to provide full day Kindergarten across the state, we’re already helping young parents to save money on child care at a time when, on average, childcare costs almost as much as college. 

Our work to guarantee an affordable health insurance option in every county of the state means Coloradans will be better cared for and will keep more money in their pocket to spend when times are tough. 

The prescription drug affordability board we set up last year will help rein in the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs and prevent Coloradans from having to decide between buying life saving medication and putting food on the table. 

As a firm believer in government’s ability to get good work done despite the political muck, it brings me great satisfaction to know that many of these laws and programs were created in a cooperative and bipartisan way. I’m grateful to each of you, on both sides of the aisle, for the great effort you’ve made. 

But this year, as high costs of living continue to tighten their grip on the budgets of families in  Alamosa, Denver, and Larimer County alike, it won’t be enough to cooperate on just ‘some’ of these solutions. 

So what more perfect time to come together than now? Coloradans need everyone in this chamber coming together to move Colorado forward.  

We all know what drives Colorado forward: good jobs, healthy and safe communities, successful small businesses, well-funded schools and a thriving workforce.  

This session, we will deliver transformational changes that position Colorado for that future. Together, we’re going to build a safer, more affordable and healthier Colorado for all.

As I mentioned earlier, my top priority is to save Coloradans money. The people of Colorado deserve to do more than just get by. That’s why we have a plan for them to do better. 

Our investment of federal dollars will save Coloradans money by directing nearly $500 million into innovative affordable housing solutions. 

With your help and hard work, we’re going to create a Revolving Loan Fund to leverage private and local dollars to rapidly finance the development of affordable housing units. We’re going to deploy thousands of ready-to-go affordable homes quickly, especially in more rural parts of our state. 

And because housing costs are far from the only concern weighing on Coloradans’ minds, we’re going to keep working to lower prescription drug costs, ensuring that drug rebates are passed along to consumers, saving people money on health care.

We’re going to save people money on child care by expanding universal preschool. 

We’re going to reduce fees associated with starting a business, or obtaining a professional license for nursing and other front line jobs. 

All of these innovative ideas will mean more money in Coloradans pockets, but they also mean a stronger, more resilient economy. 

Of course, this session will be as long as any other, so we’ll work on more than just saving people money. 

We are going to make smart public safety investments to prevent crime and reduce recidivism to make our communities safer. We want to stop crime before it happens, and will continue fighting to ensure that every Coloradan can feel safe in their community. 

We want to stop people, especially young people, from entering the system in the first place, and to provide those who do with the tools they need to turn their lives around. 

This means pursuing community-based solutions to homelessness and substance use disorders, working with local governments to address and prevent pandemic-induced crime, and investing in resources to break up crime rings.

We will not go back to the failed policies of the past that overpopulated our prisons, wasted taxpayer dollars, and left us with high recidivism and not nearly enough rehabilitation. Instead, it’s time to make Colorado safer and forge a more compassionate, more effective criminal justice system.

As events over the last year laid bare, climate change is an urgent, immediate threat to our state, and our communities. We’ve taken steps to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and position our state toward a cleaner, greener future. But as last year’s ozone pollution days showed us, we have more to do. 

So we are going to better invest in our air and water by cracking down on polluters, improving our permitting and monitoring systems and reducing emissions on high ozone days like the ones we all suffered through last summer. We’re going to invest in cleaning our air now.  

COVID has been hard on all of us and we’ve all had to make enormous adjustments and sacrifices in the past couple of years. But few Coloradans have been tested and pushed to the brink the way that our educators have. 

Across the state, the job of educators has gone from tough to damn-near impossible. Classrooms have gone virtual, lesson plans have gone out the window, the mental health of our children has suffered, and teachers have been left to pick up the pieces while earning half of what they deserve.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the dedication of every educator in the state who has bent over backwards to ensure that our students can continue their education despite the turmoil. 

Recognizing their heroic efforts and sacrifices, I vow to fight tooth and nail to ensure that we don’t divert a single dime away from public education.  

In fact, I’m proud to say that this session we are planning the largest investment in K-12 education in the state’s history.

Health care and public health will continue to guide many of the decisions we make in this building. Despite our exhaustion and fatigue, COVID has not relented yet.

The Omicron variant is spreading through Colorado and our hospitals and their staff are still feeling the pressure. While vaccines are working and keeping those who have gotten the shot out of the hospital, the situation in Colorado and around the country remains dire.

I’d like to take this moment to thank the frontline health workers, like our own Representatives Caraveo and Mullica, who have not rested to ensure the health and wellbeing of their fellow Coloradans. 

The best way to show our gratitude to these brave Coloradans is to keep doing our part. Get your booster shot, keep wearing masks, and look out for one another. 

When speaking of the duties of a citizen in a democratic Republic,  Teddy Roosevelt said more than one hundred years ago that, in the long run, the success or failure of said nation would depend on the way in which the average man or woman does their duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in what he dubbed those great occasional cries which call for heroic virtues. 

This is one such moment. Colorado needs the heroism of every man and woman who wishes to see our state succeed. 

In the past few weeks, I have personally been reminded of the strength and resiliency of the people of Colorado. As we prepared to enter the new year, thousands of our friends and neighbors in Boulder county were displaced by the Marshall fire. 

I know the thoughts and prayers of everyone in this room remain with all those affected by the fire. 

Seeing people from every corner of the state step up to offer places to stay, items and funds to donate, reminded me of how tough every day Coloradans are.

Of course, some take this a bit further and have made being “Colorado tough” a part of their job description. I’m talking about every single first responder who helped out that day, in particular Sheriff Joe Pelle and his team, whose ability to quickly execute the evacuation orders saved lives.  

It’s up to us to do our part to support first responders by continuing to tackle climate change head-on. 

There is no doubt that the severity and the devastation of the Marshall fire were intensified by our changing climate. Last year’s low precipitation, coupled with hurricane level winds, made for a perfect firestorm. What began as a suburban grass fire that would have raised little concern a decade ago ended as a destructive inferno and a reminder that climate change is a clear and present danger. 

We cannot let up our fight. 

Threats to our Colorado way of life are not only coming in the form of fires and pandemics. 

We cannot stand idly by while extremism threatens our liberty, our fundamental rights, and our democracy. 

As some continue to deny that the 2020 election was free, fair and decisive, we in Colorado will keep holding up our state-of-the-art elections system as a model for the rest of the country to increase voter participation while guaranteeing electoral integrity.

As states across the country outlaw abortion, threaten reproductive rights and criminalize doctors who only seek to do right by their patients, we in Colorado will work overtime to ensure that the right to access a full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, is never infringed upon. 

Government works best when we look ahead and anticipate the problems of tomorrow.  

That’s why I’m so proud of this body, of each and every one of you, for the forward-thinking policymaking that we’ve done since the beginning of the pandemic. After we acted swiftly in 2020 during the special session to send relief to families and businesses, we pivoted in the middle of session to focus on allocating  the federal relief dollars. 

We shored up our state’s reserves and we set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to make lasting, transformational change in the areas where help was needed most.

Those areas for transformational change: affordable housing, workforce, mental and behavioral health and economic recovery  are more important now than they were a year ago. 

Throughout our legislative interim, members have been working diligently in those areas to come up with legislative solutions to the second wave of pressing needs brought on by COVID.

The bills that will come out of the interim task force processes won’t solve these problems overnight. But I am confident – as you all should be – that making historic investments in our state’s affordable housing, and mental and behavioral health infrastructure will address the root causes of crime, homelessness, and high costs of living in Colorado.

If we do our jobs as well as I know we can, then we will be treating the underlying causes of the afflictions that face our state, not just managing the symptoms.

Every year since I’ve been in this building, we sit here on Day One and lay out a laundry list of goals for ourselves. The task at hand seems monumental, even impossible at times, especially when you consider that the 120 day countdown has already begun. 

Yet, somehow, through many long nights, many challenging committee hearings, many heated debates, we always find a way to get things done. 

I’d like to take a moment here to talk about how I believe we should go about getting this done.

Politics, as we all know, has always been a rough business. 

But we cannot allow ourselves to use any of this as an excuse to act in a way that is disrespectful or that dishonors this institution and the people who sent us here to govern.

Don’t put your ambition before the decorum of this institution. Don’t use the well of this chamber as your twitter handle. Park your politics outside these hallowed doors.   

Being elected to this office is a tremendous responsibility, I don’t have to tell you that. 

That responsibility includes acting with respect, practicing compassion, and extending understanding to all of our fellow representatives. 

It’s impossible to know what each of your colleagues is going through, but I personally know of several members in this chamber who will be showing up to work this session while facing challenging and tragic situations in their personal lives. 

In times as tough as these, we must be graceful, kind, and dignified as we work with each other. 

I talk about respect for the institution and the importance of upholding decorum a lot. Some of you may be tired of hearing it from me, but the longer you spend in this building the more respect you have for the institution.  

It’s important to clarify that a failure in decorum is not you failing me. It’s you failing the people of Colorado.

If you are not engaged in working on policy solutions, you are wasting the people’s time. We were not elected to bicker or squabble. We were elected to govern and lead. 

It’s up to us to restore people’s faith in government.

As I mentioned when I began, governing through a pandemic has changed the way I think about our responsibilities as lawmakers. 

When we campaign,  we all come in knowing what we want to focus on during our time in the legislature. 

We pull from our experiences, examine our own problems and aspirations, and decide the areas of public life we want to improve. 

Hopefully, when we are elected, we also know a little bit about what our constituents would like us to focus on. 

We have deep roots in our communities and spend time going door to door, hearing what people want and need from their government. 

What we don’t know is what hand we’ll be dealt while we’re in office. 

Societal unrest, global pandemics, economic downturns – as we all know, the focus of a legislative body can change in an instant. 

So our duty as Representatives is to do the best we can with the trust we’ve been given. It is to listen and problem solve. To work together and find nimble fixes to thorny problems. 

We owe it to our constituents, to this institution, and to ourselves to stay humble, stay flexible, and stay steadfast in our commitment to making life in this state a little bit better every single day. 

Let’s move Colorado forward, together.

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