POLIS: ‘We don’t build walls of exclusion, we build ladders of opportunity’

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DENVER  | If Gov. Jared Polis’ state of the state speech is any indication, it’s to be another busy and productive session under the Gold Dome.  And there will be more controversy.

A handful of protestors were forcibly removed from the gallery — one man zip tied himself to the banister — demanding that lawmakers “ban fracking now.”

Polis, who spoke to legislators and leaders from across the state Thursday at the Capitol for almost an hour, said the state should be proud of the bipartisanship that happened last year <https://sentinelcolorado.com/news/the-real-deal-2019-colorado-legislature-bets-big-with-new-laws-for-everyone/>. Nearly 95% of bills Polis signed last year were bipartisan.

“The notion that we’re all in this together is a much better approach to solving problems than trying to go it alone,” he said. “When we realize that our fates are connected, and that we are better together we can solve any problem we encounter.”

Still, the Legislature faced intense debate over issues like oil and gas, so-called red flag legislation and taxes.

This year is poised to be no different, with indications that the state lawmakers will clash over ending the death penalty, education finance reform and other highly political matters.

Like in his first term, Polis vowed to continue working on access to education. Last year the Legislature approved full-day, free kindergarten.

“We should feel good about reaching this milestone. But it has taken more than three decades to get only half the job done. We can and we must do better, which is why I’m committed to achieving universal access to quality preschool for 4-year-olds by the end of my first term,” he said. “And early childhood education isn’t just about giving our kids a great start in life. Every dollar invested in high-quality preschool produces a seven dollar return on investment due to higher earnings, lower special education needs, greater tax revenues, less dependency on public assistance, and lower crime rates.”

Polis made several references to Colorado’s stance on immigrants, pushing back against the Trump Administration’s demand on building a wall along the Mexico border and making it more difficult for refugees to immigrate.

“We don’t build walls of exclusion, we build ladders of opportunity,” Polis said.

The governor also stressed the importance of healthcare this legislative session.

A so-called public option is the governor’s top healthcare goal for the four-month legislative session that began Wednesday. It builds on a cost-reducing framework created last year that includes a reinsurance program designed to lower private insurance rates, hospital price transparency, pending efforts to import cheaper prescription drugs from abroad and consumer protections against surprise out-of-network medical bills.

Groups with ties to hospitals and insurance companies oppose any potential mandates to participate in the public option as well as any government price-setting.

Democratic lawmakers vow to resurrect an effort to institute a prescription drug price transparency plan this year. Last year’s efforts met intense opposition from the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and Colorado’s largest business chambers. Their lead argument was a threat to the industry’s trade secrets they need to stay competitive.

Those Colorado business chambers also fended off efforts to create a paid family leave program last year, questioning the cost to employers and workers and the fiscal soundness of the proposal. Democratic lawmakers intend to pursue a plan this year. Preliminary cost estimates surpass $2 billion.

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, who was front row Thursday, told the Sentinel there are to be several issues at the legislature that will have an impact on the state’s third largest city. At the top, he said, is how education finance might change, possibly affecting property taxes in Aurora.

Additionally, Polis promised more work on school safety, highlighting the death of Kendrick Castillo, who died at his high school in Highlands Ranch last year.

“Every child deserves a safe opportunity to learn, make friends, create memories, grow up, graduate, and move on to a successful life,” Polis said.

Environment and climate change was another major focus during the speech.

“If we want to preserve our way of life for future generations, then we all need to lead on clean air and climate,” he said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report