Under the Dome column: Certainly not business as usual

Sen. Bob Rankin
Sen. Bob Rankin

I had planned to talk about the legislative session and specifically about my work on budget, education and health care. Unfortunately, events have quickly overtaken us and changed everyone’s focus dramatically. Our mountain communities have been especially hard hit with new cases of the coronavirus. Currently, there are at least 18 positive COVID-19 cases from people who have spent time in Eagle County, an additional 13 in Pitkin County, with six in Gunnison County and three in Summit County. Many further tests are pending, and there is likely sustained community transmission of COVID-19 in these areas. A press release today asks for restrictions on meetings and travel and provides guidelines on contact with others.

The Legislature recessed on Saturday until March 30. We reason that the Capitol receives thousands of visitors from many locations and would be a source of contagion. While the Legislature could work behind closed doors, our business is to work for the public, and we don’t want to be conducting the people’s business without public access. There is a question, never answered by past legislatures, as to whether we must adjourn on May 6 or can we add days to the calendar and continue past May 6. We voted to ask the courts for an opinion.

I, however, am a member of the Joint Budget Committee. We alone will continue to work and write next year’s budget bill. Our offices are across the street in a separate building, so the Capitol can remain closed. The state constitution requires that we pass a bill that contains a balanced budget, and the government will shut down on June 30 if no budget bill has been enacted. With the sudden economic downturn, we expect a forecast much different from the one we saw in January. I anticipate significant cuts to our planned spending, and no new program starts. I’ll be advocating for rural issues, including keeping our hospitals open and paying our teachers.

During all this chaos, I remain focused on the high cost of health care in rural Colorado. I’m asking the Joint Budget Committee to sponsor a comprehensive long term look at the “Total Cost of Care” based on the free market, consumer-driven goals and benchmarks, not on government regulation and price control.

I’ve had some success to date with bills to support adult education, help our fantastic search-and-rescue volunteers, and a bill to help counties deal with the rise in short term rentals. I’m also the co-sponsor of a bill to upgrade our policies on child welfare. I’ve continued to work with legislators across the aisle that, like me, value rural and western Colorado, always my priority. I’ll be the prime sponsor on several Joint Budget Committee bills yet to be introduced.

I had planned to spend at least the weekends in my senate district since campaign season is here, but those meetings and trips may have to wait. I’ll provide a weekly email update to keep you informed on COVID-19 actions and budget progress. If you’d like to be included, send me your email.

“Under the Dome” appears on the third Tuesday of the month. State Sen. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, is in his first term representing Senate District 8, which includes Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit counties.

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