Bruell column: Joining together for Colorado’s kids

Debbie Bruell

Coloradans across the political spectrum agree that all children deserve a strong start in life. In recent years, legislation that supports kids of every color and background has been overwhelmingly supported by folks in our state.

Republican Representative Jim Wilson, a former superintendent, sponsored a full-day kindergarten bill for six of his first seven years in office. He worked together with Democratic Governor Polis to finally get the bill over the finish line in 2019.

Coloradans understand that free full-time kindergarten gives kids a better chance at success in school, reduces the need for expensive remediation later on, and gives parents the opportunity to re-enter the workforce sooner.

Starting in the fall of 2023, we will also have free preschool for Colorado’s 4 year olds, thanks to legislation that passed by over one million votes and in 46 of Colorado’s 64 counties, including over 20 counties that went for President Trump.

Colorado voters also passed Paid Family Leave by a wide margin in 2020. Most Coloradans understand that it is in the best interests of both workers and employers for workers to remain employed when they have a new child or have to care for an ill family member. This way, businesses don’t lose qualified workers and individuals can maintain their health insurance and don’t require unemployment benefits.

In states where paid family leave has been in effect for many years, businesses have experienced no negative impact on their productivity or profitability. In fact, many businesses have saved money because they’re better able to retain their workers. Paid family leave is simply a smart way to conduct business — that’s why every industrialized nation in the world, except the US, has a paid family leave policy. And polls have found that the majority of voters across the nation support a greater investment in early care and education.

Given that policies like full-time kindergarten and paid family leave are better for kids, families, and our economy — and that these measures enjoy bipartisan support by the majority of Americans — why aren’t these policies implemented at the federal level?

For almost every common sense policy that benefits virtually all Americans, there are corporate lobbying and special interest groups spending outrageous amounts of money to defeat those measures. These groups are funded by billionaires who are intent on increasing their own fortunes and power at the expense of growing the shared prosperity of our nation.

For example, many of America’s biggest retail and grocery corporations made record profits during, and largely because of, the COVID pandemic. In 2020, Amazon and Walmart together raked in profits of $10.6 billion over their previous year’s profits — a 56% increase! Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos added $75 billion to his personal fortune that year. At the same time, lobbyists funded by mega-corporations managed to get them exempt from federal legislation designed to help workers, especially those with children, deal with the impacts of COVID.

The first draft of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act proposed by Democratic legislators in 2020 required that employers of all large companies allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave and, during a public health emergency, up to 10 days of sick leave. But corporate-funded lobbying groups made sure that corporations with over 500 employees were granted a special exemption from this legislation.

The 7.4 million Americans who were working for corporations of this size — including Target, Safeway and Walmart — were not guaranteed paid leave because some politicians chose to prioritize the profits of powerful corporations over the health and livelihood of working people.

These special interest groups also spread misinformation about how policies like these will “hurt small businesses.” What does exempting corporations with over 500 employees have to do with small businesses? Nothing — but it is an effective rallying cry for getting voters to oppose the legislation.

By sowing divisions between workers who need paid sick leave and small business owners who live in fear of their businesses closing, these groups managed to take the teeth out of what could have been groundbreaking paid family leave legislation for our country.

The divisiveness we hear so much about these days is not a natural occurrence. There are obscenely wealthy individuals, like Charles Koch, who intentionally sow those divisions to block legislation like paid family leave and distract us from the ways they are amassing their fortunes off the rest of us.

Yet despite efforts to pit us against each other, when it comes to the most important things in life — like caring for all of our kids — there’s actually a lot more that unites us than divides us. And Coloradans have shown the country how we can make progress toward our shared goals by refusing to be swayed by misleading information and working together to pass legislation that we know — both in our gut and from sound research — is the right thing to do.

Debbie Bruell of Carbondale currently chairs the Garfield County Democrats.

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