Speaker Garnett: We Need to Build Back Stronger; Let’s Get to Work

House Convenes for First Session of 73rd General Assembly

DENVER, CO– House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, today delivered his Opening Day Speech and outlined his vision for the 2021 legislative session and how the House can help Colorado rebuild and recover faster from the COVID-19 pandemic, saying: 

“Just getting back to normal won’t be enough. We need to build back stronger for ourselves and the people of Colorado. To build back a life that offers true economic opportunity and leaves no one behind. A life that affords us all a little more time to enjoy the things we love, because now, with a year under our belt, and a lifetime worth of empathy, we can all reflect on the things that matter most to us all: Food. Shelter. Safety. Justice. Equality. Prosperity.”

In his speech, Speaker Garnett stressed the importance of cooperation and bipartisanship, saying in part:

“My door is always open- to all of you. Good ideas have no party affiliation. I want to encourage and challenge all of you to put aside any cynicism you have faced, any fear that you can’t make a difference, any belief that our tools are too limited, too short-lived, too temperamental, and instead to step up.”

Speaker Garnett identified the complex economic issues facing Colorado in the wake of the pandemic and outlined his vision for a stimulus package that invests in our state:

“I am so determined to build on the progress we made last year and craft additional economic stimulus that is thoughtful, precise and that boosts our economy under the complex conditions we face.”

The Speaker said that the legislature’s work would extend beyond COVID recovery work, and touched on a variety of policy areas, including housing, health care, transportation, protecting the environment, veterans issues and education, among several others. He closed by evoking the spirit of Colorado, instilling determination in his colleagues: 

“Some of our communities may feel battered today, but we are far, far from broken. Colorado is a state of upstarts and underdogs. Of fearless fighters and success stories. In this state, we climb soaring mountains, tame harsh winters and turn arid lands into fields of plenty.

The uphill recovery and the many daunting tasks before us may be mighty, but if we keep our hand steady on the tiller, they are no match for us. With urgency and resolve, let’s recommit ourselves to doing the people’s business. Let’s get to work.”

Tomorrow, the House and Senate will meet in a joint session to hear the governor’s State of the State address. Thursday, the chambers will convene again to receive the State of the Judiciary from the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. 

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The speaker’s full opening day remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below: 

Good morning and welcome to your State Capitol. 

It’s my pleasure to welcome the public, our families, and each of you here in the chamber to the grand opening of the Seventy Third General Assembly. 

I know this year is different. I know we all feel pressure to lead our State through an unparalleled crisis. I suspect much of the pressure you feel, like the pressure I feel, comes from our own experiences this past year.

Like all Coloradans, we have watched friends and family struggle and face severe economic pain. We have seen businesses in our communities close — some temporarily and some for good.

Some of our loved ones have faced health challenges.  I know I’m not alone in having an immediate family member contract COVID.  That was scary. And while hopefully like me, your loved ones have recovered, I know this is not the case for everyone.  Even those who did, may be facing long-haul symptoms. Others may be struggling to pay back expenses. 

Before I go any further, I’d ask you to join me in holding a moment of silence to honor the thousands of Coloradans and hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lost their lives due to COVID-19.

Thank you. 

I also want to take this moment to immediately thank Rep. Caraveo and Rep. Mullica for their service to those directly impacted by COVID.  You all put yourselves directly on the front lines. And in a  building full of ambition, we are all grateful for your willingness to put others ahead of yourselves in a real, life-risking way. 

In the last year, we’ve seen countless unsung heroes in every corner of our state step up to protect their communities. Every nurse, administrator, doctor or other health care hero in Colorado deserves every ounce of our gratitude, admiration, and respect.

While these heroes have been at the forefront, we’ve all felt the effects of COVID-19, whether physically, financially or let’s face it, emotionally.

COVID can be lonely.  COVID can be cruel.  It does not discriminate based on how good of a person you are – how much karma you’ve  built up in your life. For all of us, COVID has taken away the day to day joys we all now so greatly appreciate and miss.  

There are the daily reminders of things we have had to leave behind.  For some that may have been a morning routine at a local coffee shop or gym.  For others still, it may have been giving up Sunday worship with our community or a weekly visit to our grandparents.  I can’t speak to each of these sacrifices and losses, but I do know that we all want to get back to life as it was as quickly as possible.

But just getting back to normal won’t be enough. We need to build back stronger for ourselves and the people of Colorado.  To build back a life that offers true economic opportunity and leaves no one behind. A life that affords us all a little more time to enjoy the things we love, because now, with a year under our belt, and a lifetime worth of empathy, we can all reflect on the things that matter most to us all: Food. Shelter. Safety. Justice. Equality. Prosperity.

Each of us — collectively — has an opportunity to be a part of something meaningful here. Of creating a new status quo where these values are a reality. But we won’t get far if we go at it alone, if we fixate on the differences between us instead of focusing on all the things that bring us together. 

Let me say off the bat, I am SO inspired and excited to work with each of you.  I truly believe each of us has a unique role to play this session. Because as much as today’s speech is a reflection of the priorities I see for our body, it’s also an invitation to each of you to shape those priorities, to be part of those discussions, and help build back a stronger Colorado, together.

My door is always open- to all of you. Good ideas have no party affiliation. I want to encourage and challenge all of you to put aside any cynicism you have faced, any fear that you can’t make a difference, any belief that our tools are too limited, too short-lived, too temperamental, and instead to step up.

The question isn’t if we can make a difference. We absolutely can. The question is how we make a difference, and I turn that question to each of you. To think about the difference you want to make this year. And how I, as Speaker, can help you accomplish your goals. 

For me, the formula for creating lasting change in this building has been the ability to listen to others. Within my party, across the aisle, and with any stakeholder I sat down with. Listening is the most successful trait in almost any relationship, especially legislative ones. 

You may have heard me say this before, but some of my best friends are in this building. 

Many of these great friends oppose basically every policy position I have. And I oppose theirs. But that doesn’t mean we can’t work together respectfully. It doesn’t mean there aren’t moments where we can get big things done for the people of Colorado. 

In fact, learning to appreciate the difference between the politician and the personis what has allowed me to prioritize respecting others over taking policy disagreements personally. We have to make the effort to truly befriend each other and put our trust in our colleagues, even when we don’t see eye to eye on every policy proposal. It’s the only way we’ll conquer the enormous task ahead of us this year. 

I remember not too long ago, on a pre-COVID trip with a bipartisan group of colleagues, how a moment of exhaustion and vulnerability led to the group sharing things about ourselves, about our beliefs, our personal history, or faith. 

Representatives Neville, Esgar, and McKean were there, among others. On the first night of our trip, my wife, Emily, decided to share with the group that she was 6-weeks pregnant. This moment of trust brought us all instantly closer and made us not only better friends, but better colleagues as well. 

Well, sometimes life offers us a sweet chance at poetic repetition. So today in a bid to recreate some of the sense of family we created on that fateful trip, I want to share with you all, for the first time, that Emily is pregnant with our third. 

My central point is that we can find ways to build lifelong relationships with people in this building. Don’t be afraid to bring them in. To trust. To truly listen. Coloradans expect it, as they should. 

This session, our top priority will be to see our state out of the public health crisis and to work to usher in a swift economic recovery for Colorado’s hardworking families and small businesses. 

It’s our job to mend the damage done by COVID – 19 and the economic downturn it caused, but Coloradans rightfully expect us to do much more. 

Our job as legislators this year is to level the playing field and give Coloradans the tools and resources they need to forge this recovery on their own. To do so, we’ll need to help create a just and inclusive post-pandemic economy where every Coloradan has a fair shot at success. 

In order to ensure that we guide Colorado towards an economic recovery that is swift, precise and equitable we need to have a detailed understanding of the problem facing our state. And like so much else about 2020, the devastating economic downturn caused by COVID-19 was completely unprecedented

The impacts of this downturn have had disparate effects on individual business sectors and communities. Whereas industries like hospitality and retail were forced to conduct massive layoffs and continue to see their profit margins shrink, other sectors have bounced back much faster, and some even saw their businesses grow as COVID-19 changed the way consumers behave. 

The recession was different at an individual level too. While many were able to continue their work from home, unprecedented numbers of Coloradans lost their jobs and are still unemployed. Communities of color and low wage workers have been disproportionately impacted by the health effects, as well as the economic effects of this pandemic. 

People living in multigenerational households, many of whom are Black and Latinx, have had to face the impossible choice between keeping the jobs that help support their families or giving them up because of the health risk. 

Rural areas and urban centers were not affected in the same way. The Eastern Plains and the Western Slope were not affected in the same way. Fort Collins and Pueblo were not affected in the same way. And it’s our job to make right by every one of these communities. Let’s get to work. 

Of course, we are limited in our capacity to provide relief. So while we can’t fill every hole, we can certainly aim to provide support that is meaningful and helps hardworking Coloradans and businesses thrive yet again.

That’s why I am so determined to build on the progress we made last year and craft additional economic stimulus that is thoughtful, precise and that boosts our economy under the complex conditions we face. 

I have reached out to all of you, Republicans and Democrats alike, and asked for your input on how we can best help our state build back stronger by investing in job creation, small business assistance, housing, rural economic development, child care, and other areas where equitable relief is badly needed. Thank you for the thought you put into these proposals. Now it’s time to turn common sense ideas into real, tangible change for hardworking families across the state. 

Today I call on each and every one of us to again put our differences aside and get economic stimulus to the finish line and out to Coloradans as soon as we can.

If Representatives Sandridge and Herod can come together to cosponsor a minority business relief bill twice, AND speak kindly and personally about each other here at the well, then I’m confident we can literally do anything together. 

It feels almost impossible to think back so far in time, but let’s remember that before the pandemic, Colorado’s economy was thriving. 

New businesses were popping up across the state, big companies were relocating their workforces to our downtowns, and individuals from across the country set their sights on Colorado as a perfect place to live and work.

However, our great success was not evenly shared among Coloradans.

The economic scramble created by this devastating pandemic has given us a once in a generation opportunity to forge a just and inclusive economy where every Coloradan has a fair shot. But it’s up to us to harness the opportunity and make this equitable economy a reality for all.

So building back stronger will mean finding compassionate and measured housing policies that put the interests of renters and working families at the forefront without upending our economy. 

With the federal eviction moratorium expiring soon, building back stronger will mean striking a compromise and finding a solution that avoids mass evictions, and allows time for the federal assistance to flow into the state to achieve a goal we all share – for people to keep a roof over their heads. We have to step up.

To all the parents out there, to all the educators out there, thank you. 

This year has put teachers, students and parents through the ringer in a way we’ve never seen before. 

To the countless parents who balanced working remotely full time while also caring for young kiddos or overseeing remote learning, we celebrate you. I have a 5 year old and a 2 year old at home and this year has me thinking that it’s probably easier to run a State Legislature than it is to run a childcare center. Although I bet there are quite a few similarities. 

Our greatest success in education policy has come when we’ve struck a balance between respecting the needs and interests of local school districts while setting the necessary statewide expectations to narrow the achievement gap, eliminate the COVID gap, and keep all of our students on the same page. 

This year, let’s listen to our teachers and commit together to restoring the cuts from last year’s budget, which will take a sizable bite out of the budget stabilization factor. 

And while we’re on the topic of education, it’s time we supported the next generation of Coloradans by making needed investments in higher education. We need to grow our talented workforce by training Coloradans for the jobs of the future instead of importing talent from other states. 

We need to step up and ensure the colleges and universities who serve our Latinx, Native American, and Black students are equitably funded.  It’s long overdue.

Building back a stronger Colorado will also mean being thoughtful and conscious about how we grow as a state. 

We need to make sure our infrastructure is ready to handle the growing crowds trying to make it to work on weekdays and out to the mountains on weekends. 

That’s why I’m committed to making this the year that we strike a meaningful deal on transportation and make the bold investment that is needed to future proof Colorado’s transportation future. 

I’m not the first Speaker in recent memory to stand here and say this will be the year we get transportation done, but with your help and hard work, I’m determined to be the last. At least for a while.

In order to make sure our transportation deal is a lasting one, we need to invest in our local governments’ multimodal needs, fund CDOT’s ten year plan and get serious about actually repairing roads in our rural communities.

At the same time, we’ll have to ensure that the electrification infrastructure is in place for the market based shift quickly moving us towards electric vehicles– we have no time to waste.

It’s not only the inequalities in our economy that were brought to the forefront during this pandemic. COVID-19 has also highlighted and heightened the massive disparities created by our health care system. 

Our complex health care system creates corporations that win and patients that lose. While we have some of the finest physicians and hospitals in the world here in Colorado, far too many families are prevented from accessing this care because of the cost, even when it could save their lives. 

No parent should have to think about the balance of her bank account before taking her desperately sick child to the emergency room. 

No small business should face double digit small group cost increases year after year.

And no oneshould put their health at risk by rationing prescription drugs because of the cost. 

The status quo is not working. 

At a time when a whopping 77% of Coloradans support us taking bold action to lower the cost of prescription drugs, inaction is not an option. 

That’s why this year we’ll make drug affordability a top priority and why we’ll work to improve our health care system and make quality health care accessible and affordable for all. 

The effects of a changing climate are no longer a hypothetical threat. They’re a devastating reality. Last year’s fire season consumed more than 625,000 acres of land, destroyed countless homes, threatened our rural communities, and cost the taxpayers upwards of $200 million in fire suppression. 

This year, we must prioritize funding for wildfire mitigation and prevention, and continue our creative bipartisan work on this issue. 

The cost of inaction on climate change is far greater than the cost of facing the problem head-on and making lasting change.

That’s why I’m determined to build on our progress and continue working towards a clean energy economy that provides opportunities for workers and hope for our children’s future. 

Climate change is an urgent threat, and we need to treat it like one.

And while we’re fighting the growing threat of climate change, let’s make a commitment to look after those who protect us against all other threats: our service members and veterans. 

Colorado has long been a destination and a haven for members of the armed services, veterans and military families. We have a culture of service here in Colorado, we have state of the art military bases and we have the Colorado quality of life that is so enticing to all. 

I’m determined to keep Colorado a great place for service members and veterans to live, and to make sure that we look after those who have sacrificed and risked their all to look after us.

In the past few years, we’ve passed important, common sense gun safety measures that have no doubt saved lives in our state. In its first year, the Extreme Risk Protection Order law that was endlessly fear mongered has been working just as we intended. Reports show that a  majority of the protection orders were filed by law enforcement, that groundless claims were rejected, and that countless Colorado lives were saved because of it.

But the epidemic of gun violence persists, so our work must go on. This year, we’ll continue our efforts to promote responsible gun ownership and prevent tragedies and atrocities before they happen in the first place. Let’s get to work.

Last year, we led the nation and passed a sweeping, bipartisan police accountability reform bill that is already making an impact across the state and setting an example for the rest of the nation. I’m committed to monitoring the progress of this new law and filling gaps where needed. 

Building back stronger means advancing justice in our communities through reforms that will ensure integrity and fairness in our criminal justice system, increase opportunity in Black and brown communities, and save lives. 

I’m proud to say Black Lives Matter. But it has to be more than a slogan, let’s make it a policy priority.

The task ahead won’t be easy, but Coloradans still embody the pioneering spirit of the generations that came before us.  

My family were miners and farmers who moved to Colorado after the Civil War. My great grandfather graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in 1912 and mined in Eagle County. The other side were farmers in Brush, Colorado. 

My great uncle used to tell stories about why Coloradans on the eastern plains had front yards. “It wasn’t to have green grass or to keep up with the Jones. It was to make sure there weren’t rattle snakes within striking distance of the children.” 

My family, like all of your families, were tough, resilient, never backed down from a challenge and loved Colorado more than any other place in the Union. 

The challenges Colorado faces are daunting. There’s no denying that. In fact, this may be the most consequential year for this General Assembly in recent memory. But as I look out onto this body and at each of you here today, I’m confident that we’re the right bunch to get it done. 

This body is diverse in our backgrounds, our characters, our experiences, and our visions for the future of this state. I have always believed that our strength comes from this diversity. 

To overcome the great obstacles we face, we’ll need the perspectives and experience of rural cattle ranchers like Rep. Holtorf alongside urban entrepreneurs like Rep. Alex Valdez. 

We’ll need the grit and tenacity of the Pride of Pueblo, Daneya Esgar just like we’ll need the soft spoken Quaker wisdom of Loveland’s own Hugh McKean. 

And this year, we’re lucky enough to have in our midst certain backgrounds and perspectives that are gracing the Golden Dome for the very first time. Here with us today is Representative Iman Jodeh, the first Muslim lawmaker in Colorado. 

Representative Naquetta Ricks is here, proudly representing HD40 as the first African Immigrant in the legislature. 

And of course, Representative David Ortiz, a proud veteran and the first lawmaker in a wheelchair, has already brought change to the legislature, just with his very presence and representation. 

Last year, as we wrapped up what became known as the ‘COVID Session’ in June, I stood in the well and told you that sometimes we make history and sometimes history makes us. We did what we could to minimize the damage and get relief out the door quickly. 

History made us. 

Today, we have a greater understanding of this virus and how to handle it. Coloradans are being vaccinated as we speak and the end of this pandemic is finally in sight. Now, it’s our turn: we have a chance to make history by guiding Colorado towards a more prosperous, more just, and more equitable future. 

Some of our communities may feel battered today, but we are far, far from broken. 

Colorado is a state of upstarts and underdogs. Of fearless fighters and success stories.

In this state, we climb soaring mountains, tame harsh winters and turn arid lands into fields of plenty.

The uphill recovery and the many daunting tasks before us may be mighty, but if we keep our hand steady on the tiller, they are no match for us. 

With urgency and resolve, let’s recommit ourselves to doing the people’s business. 

Let’s get to work.

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