Time for Colo. Legislature to get back to work, albeit in a new form

Amid the holiday hubbub and celebrating my 30th anniversary with my terrific husband, Rick, on New Yearís Eve, Iíve been working on ideas and drafts of bills for the new legislative session. On Jan. 9, 100 state legislators from across Colorado will begin another session of no more than 120 days.

Novemberís election results changed the political composition of the Colorado Legislature from divided control to single party domination, residing with the Democrats in the Senate, House and the governorís office. Single-party control didnít work out so well for the last governor, and weíll see how this governor handles it. As for me, though in the minority, I anticipate working hard and getting bills passed that make sense and help my district and the state.

There will be no shortage of controversies this year, some repeats from the recent past and some new. From the debates about the pros and cons of civil unions, oil and gas issues, gun-control efforts, budget and taxes, there will be plenty of blood sport for the reporters to fixate on. But Iím hoping we spend more time on what everyone says theyíll focus on, that is, improving Coloradoís economy and getting people back to work.

The unemployment rate in my district remains high, between 7.4 and 8.5 percent, depending on location, and many small-business owners have told me that the business climate is so unfriendly and uncertain, they donít know how much longer theyíll be able to hang on. Sobering words and worthy of legislative action, not rhetoric.

The abysmal failure on the part of those in Washington, D.C., to deal responsibly and timely with the financial condition of this country will haunt us through the legislative session and add significant uncertainty to the legislatureís budget decisions.

As of the writing of this column, weíre hanging on to the federal fiscal cliff by our collective fingernails, still waiting for what now appears to be, at best, another rendition of kick the can down the road.

However frustrating that is, weíve no choice but to move on with the stateís business. Iíll continue to be on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, this year as the ranking Republican member. There will be many consequential decisions before this committee as implementation of the federal health bill rolls around. The U.S. Supreme Court decision this last summer gave states the option of not expanding Medicaid eligibility further upward without putting at risk our current Medicaid funding from the federal government.

Without realized cost containment and already explosive growth in the costs of this state program, I believe we should put the existing Medicaid program on solid fiscal ground before expanding it further. Iím continuing to work on legislation aimed at reducing Medicaid fraud, and I am also sponsoring a bill improving access to primary care providers.

The dramatic rise in costs of the Medicaid program puts it in direct competition with those looking for better funding in many other areas of the budget, most notably, education.

Thereís talk of proposing a ballot measure for a state tax increase for education, but with the impending 2013 tax increases in many areas at the federal level, this ballot measure will likely face a stiff headwind of resistance from voters.

Much to consider this legislative session, please send me your thoughts.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Coloradoís General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or by email at ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us