Conversations from the Capitol – 2022

With the legislative session wrapped, CoPIRG staff had the chance to talk to several legislators who sponsored CoPIRG-backed bills that resulted in big wins for consumers, our health, and our quality of life.

Cris Gonzales via wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

We’re not done celebrating a productive 2022 legislative session. From reducing waste and eliminating toxics in products to protecting consumers and cleaning up our air, many legislators stepped up to lead on important issues by sponsoring these CoPIRG-backed bills. 

Following the end of the session, we sat down with several of the sponsors to talk about their bills and learn a little bit more about what motivated them to lead on these issues.

 

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The buses and the bees with Representative Meg Froelich

Representative Meg Froelich sponsored a major bill to address air quality improvements, alongside two bills designed to protect pollinators this past session. Her air quality bill, SB22-193, invested $65 million to tackle air pollution by transitioning Colorado’s school buses from dirty diesel-powered to clean, electric-powered. This is the largest per capita investment by any state nationwide

We spoke about the urgency of taking action to address Colorado’s air pollution as one of the reasons she was moved to sponsor this bill. 

“We live under this brown cloud, we are in ozone non-attainment at ridiculous levels, we’ve had days when our quality was worse than Beijing — that’s not the Colorado we know, and it’s terrible for our health and the health of our residents,” noted Representative Froelich

Electric school buses offer numerous benefits to the community, including a cleaner ride to school for many of our students. Diesel exhaust has been linked to serious health impacts like asthma and respiratory illnesses – especially in children. Electric-powered school buses offer kids a clean, zero-emission ride to school. 

One thing is clear – kids deserve a ride to school that doesn’t force them to breathe toxic diesel pollution. 

When it comes to food and pollination, our ecosystem cannot afford to continue losing bees at their current rate of decline. In recent years, beekeepers report they’re losing on average 29 percent — and sometimes nearly 40 percent — of all honeybee colonies each winter. It’s twice the loss considered economically tolerable

Rep. Froelich sponsored two bills on this topic. The first one, SB22-131, proposed limiting the application of pesticides, which are known to harm pollinators. That bill did not pass but Rep. Froelich and her colleagues were able to pivot and pass a second bill, SB22-199, which will gather important data on the challenges associated with native pollinating insect populations, associated ecosystems, and their health and resilience in the state.  

“When the study comes back, and if there is a connection between pesticide application and pollinators, or the challenges pollinators like our worker bees are experiencing, then that gives us the data for the next step” said Froelich looking toward potential action in the future. 

Watch the full interview here.

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Air quality and kids health with Representative Jennifer Bacon 

Representative Jennifer Bacon sponsored three CoPIRG-backed bills, including SB22-180 which aims to tackle air pollution through investments in public transportation. One piece of the bill funds a month of free transit for transit riders across the state during the summer ozone season. 

Eliminating transit fares can increase transit ridership, an important long-term strategy in reducing air pollution, and build momentum for bigger investments

Rep. Bacon talked about her first hand experience with air pollution. 

“We know what it means to go to work outside, and not be able to breathe,” she remarked.

Incentivizing public transportation helps replace individual car trips, which can reduce both air pollution and congestion along busy corridors. In addition to those benefits, she offered the following insight: 

“In addition to the environment, we are also figuring out how to get people to work. To introduce people to riding [public transit] will also introduce people to more opportunities for work and to explore the city.”

She also sponsored legislation to end the sale of flavored tobacco products in the state through bill HB22-1064

Recent data shows that nearly one quarter of high school students in Colorado used e-cigarettes. While the bill did not pass this session, it sparked an important conversation about kids’ health and the role of the tobacco industry. 

“I was hoping we could show how people feel about a product and an industry and its place in our lives and our health – that industry has such an impact on all our lives from our health to economics,” she explained. “Our kids are being exploited and manipulated, and we actually have the power to do something about that.” 

Lastly, we spoke about her leadership on HB22-1359, which helps reduce the draw of predatory loans by increasing access to more affordable small-dollar loans.

On the need for this type of assistance, Representative Bacon explained: 

“Right now, if you are in a community that has been discriminated against in lending or does not have access to traditional banking, you can either turn to a credit card or a payday loan with 30% interest. We wanted to provide a space where people can go, who may need to recover their credit, but won’t be charged 30% interest, and that’s what this loan program has done.” 

Watch the full interview here.

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Civil engineer and House Representative Tracey Bernett on shaping our transition to clean energy   

I spoke with Representative Tracey Bernett, learning about her family and background as a civil engineer and how that shaped her ongoing interest in improving our built environment. One way she did this was through HB22-1362, a bill to adopt stricter energy codes that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by modernizing building practices in ways that benefit consumers and our health. 

Changes like high efficiency heating equipment, solar technologies, and incorporating charging capabilities for electric vehicles can reduce overall energy use, saving consumers money and improving air quality. 

Representative Bernett spoke about why she felt compelled to address greenhouse gas emissions from the building sector: 

“Buildings will be the longest to decarbonize, the hardest nut to crack, and with my engineering background – I’m a structural engineer by background – it was a natural thing for me to take on something really technical and hard.” 

Rep. Bernett’s went on to emphasize the importance of implementing these changes in a way that benefits everyone. 

Watch the full interview here

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Senator Bob Rankin on the importance of the Joint Budget Committee’s teamwork and his efforts to make textbooks more affordable 

I spoke with Senator Bob Rankin about his sponsorship of SB22-176, a bill that funds passenger rail development, which is a critical part of expanding our public transportation network. 

This led to an interesting conversation about his role as the longest serving member of the Joint Budget Committee, the legislature’s point on all things budget.  

He shared his perspective from 9 years as a member on the committee and the importance of working across party lines to get the budget completed.

“Its’ very much a team effort,” he noted about serving on the committee.  “Most of the time you can’t tell who is a Republican and who is a Democrat in our sessions as we consider each department – 22 different departments and agencies.”

I also took time to check back in on a CoPIRG-backed bill he sponsored in 2018, which funded an open textbook pilot program in Colorado. 

According to the College Board, the average undergraduate student should budget between $1,200 and $1,300 for textbooks and supplies each year just to have the right edition for their classes. The high cost is often driven by a broken marketplace where publishers force the use of unnecessarily new, more costly additions or add-on materials professors don’t use. 

Open textbooks refers to textbooks under an open copyright, which allows them to be reused, adapted, and republished with few restrictions. Professors and students can use open textbooks for free, saving students thousands of dollars throughout their college careers

Senator Rankin revealed some encouraging data on the success of Colorado’s pilot program so far, citing that a total of $1.5M of grant funding has saved students over $10 million so far and that 87% of eligible institutions have applied and are using it. 

He concluded with this vision of a successful program:

“I always hoped it would go away, because I think it will become part of the culture – it will just be the way we do things, and the institutions will actually do it… It’s a great example  of government helping get something going that will then have a life and culture of its own, so I’m really proud of that.”

Watch our full conversation here.

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From community organizer to Senator, Faith Winter pairs science and policy on issues like climate change and clean drinking water

In our conversation, Senator Faith Winter shared her background as a community organizer and her long history of working on climate issues. 

This past session, she sponsored SB22-180 which invests in public transportation to combat ozone pollution as well as HB22-1362 which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our built environment. Fuel used in residential, commercial, and industrial spaces is one of the largest sources of GHG pollution in Colorado.  

“Being smart about how we build – making sure that we’re building it right first – making sure that as we’re growing and retrofitting we’re reducing the carbon footprint from our built environment, and that saves consumers money as well as saving the environment and saving the climate,” she noted. 

In addition to her work on climate issues, Senator Winter sponsored HB22-1358 which will provide funding to test for and remediate lead contamination in schools’ drinking water.

Lead is highly toxic and can impact the way children learn, grow, and behave.  

Senator Winter emphaszed that no matter where you live in Colorado, everyone should feel that the drinking water is safe at their kid’s school.  She is looking forward to tracking data on the issue and potentially targeting lead in multifamily apartment buildings next.  

Watch our full interview here. 

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Acting on common sense solutions started in college for Senator Jessie Danielson

When talking to Senator Jessie Danielson, she spoke about finding bills that promote common sense solutions to problems many of us face. 

Following the success of a bill legalizing rain barrels, she sponsored SB22-151, which will fund $5 million to build more wildlife crossing across Colorado.

Wildlife crossings are a proven design strategy in Colorado to decrease vehicle to animal collisions, saving lives and money. 

“If we can utilize infrastructure in a way that protects the wildlife that we love and the motorists that use our roadways, then we should do it,” she stated. 

Senator Danielson shared how the lack of divisiveness and widespread community support reminded her of the positive reception a bill to legalize rain barrels received in 2016. It’s such an easy issue to grasp and support, she noted, even her 4 year-old daughter thinks it’s a good idea.  

We are excited to build on the momentum of SB22-151 and ensure we have enough money for wildlife crossings everywhere they are needed across the state. 

See our whole interview here.

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Representative Naquetta Ricks: Fired up to take on predatory towing

This past session, Representative Naquetta Ricks sponsored HB22-1314, which addresses predatory practices in the towing industry. 

The new bill updates Colorado’s towing regulations by banning kickbacks from towing companies to property owners, capping consumer notification fees, reducing notification time and empowering the state’s towing task force to examine towing rates and problem companies.

These protections will protect consumers from many unfair or predatory towing practices and bad actors. 

Representative Ricks opened up about her background as an immigrant from Liberia, and the silver lining to not winning her first political race. Click here to hear Representative Ricks talk about getting started in politics.  

“I was able to build a relationship with community members, and even though I didn’t win, I realize now my name was getting out there,” she noted (spoiler alert: she eventually wins). 

We dove into what motivated her to take action around predatory towing, and how an unfortunate personal experience translated into her passing a bill to fight back against unfair – but commonplace – industry practices. 

Before we wrapped up, Representative Ricks noted how important CoPIRG’s report on predatory towing practices and policies states can adopt to protect consumers was in shaping the Colorado statute. Click here to hear Representative Ricks talk about the towing task force and how this bill provides maximum protections to consumers. 

“This is an industry that had a lot of vertical integration going on. They basically were the jury, the bail bondsman, and the judge on whether or not you were violating something,” she noted about the power towing companies held prior to this legislation. 

Following the passage of HB22-1314, Colorado has some of the strongest protections around towing industry practices in the country. 

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Authors

Alexandra Simon

Transportation Advocate, CoPIRG

Alex is an advocate on Colorado-based campaigns to promote a healthier, cleaner and safer world. She previously served as the Director of Strategic Planning for The Public Interest Network. Alex lives in Denver, where she enjoys hiking, skiing and seeing live music.

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