BY FREDA MIKLIN
State Representatives Ruby Dickson (HD37) and David Ortiz (HD38), and State Senator Chris Kolker (SD16), held a joint town hall meeting on February 2 at the Southglenn Library at the Streets of Southglenn in Centennial.
HD38 includes Littleton and part of western Centennial. HD37 includes Greenwood Village, part of central Centennial, Foxfield, and a portion of unincorporated Arapahoe County. Kolker, who was elected senator of SD27 in 2020, became state senator of SD16 on January 1, 2023 as a result of redistricting. His term will last until December 31, 2024. The new SD16 includes a small part of western Centennial, part of Littleton, Columbine, and Ken Caryl.
Ortiz, who became disabled while serving as a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army, is Vice Chair of the State, Civic, Military & Veterans Affairs Committee and also sits on the Health & Insurance Committee. He talked about legislation he is working on to make sure government, workplaces, and new housing developments include accessible options.
Kolker is focused on tax policy and the Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA). He is working on getting $35 million put into PERA to make up for the shortfall in the state contribution in 2020. He is also working on a bill to provide consumer protections for those who purchase vehicles online.
The senator, whose wife is a middle school counselor, talked about providing continued funding for special radios for school security staff to directly access first responders in an emergency without having to go through 911. The senator is also working with others on a bill that would allow victims of gun violence to sue gun manufacturers. He noted that Colorado is one of only four states that provide “excess immunity—more than the federal government” to gun manufacturers, while 17 states offer those companies no protection from liability for bad acts performed using their products.
Dickson, who is on the Transportation, Housing & Local Government Committee, as well as the Energy & Environment Committee, said she started in politics by working in constituent services. She shared that she has sponsored a bill that would require the office of future work to investigate transitions for oil and gas workers and those displaced by automation.
Dickson talked about her strong interest in climate policy and said she is working on a bill on carbon management and “working with the state energy office on geothermal energy.”
Kolker and Dickson said they are both members of the Gun Violence Prevention Caucus. They expect to see a bill introduced to ban AK-47-type weapons during this session. Dickson added she hopes it will become law.
In response to a question, Kolker said that Sen. Tom Sullivan is working on a bill to expand the number of people, including teachers, counselors, and mental health professionals, who can request that action be taken under the state’s 2019 Emergency Risk Protection Order (“red flag”) law. Under that law, family members or law enforcement can ask a judge to order the temporary confiscation of firearms from people who are deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others. Kolker said he is also involved with bills that would delay when any purchased gun can be physically picked up and prevent anyone under the age of 21 from buying firearms.
Kolker noted that he expects over $1 billion to be returned in TABOR refunds this year.
Regarding large increases in Xcel Energy bills, while the company produces high profits, Dickson explained that Xcel’s profit structure was set up by the Public Utilities Commission, that “It does seem questionable,” and, “It is something that we are definitely looking into,” since it benefits the company’s shareholders at the expense of its customers, notwithstanding the well-recognized increase in the price of gas in the global market.
On a question about the housing shortage, Dickson said that Gov. Polis plans to use “whatever levers he can to increase the housing supply across the state.” She said the plan, called, “Gentle density,” could include, “Slightly higher density than we currently have…in some areas,” adding that there is lots of discussion going on about the impact the policy could have on home rule municipalities.
On the topic of rent control, Dickson said that state law currently prohibits cities from imposing rent controls but, “One option could be to exert some state control over certain kinds of zoning to allow very slightly denser housing in certain areas within the bounds of infrastructure…but give municipalities power that they did not previously have to stabilize rents…”
Ortiz pointed out that rent stabilization is important because, “How can you think about getting a down payment on a home or affording to own if three-fourths of your paycheck is going for housing expenses?” He added that housing costs have gone up across the country for many reasons.
A member of the audience asked the elected officials if they would support a bill being proposed that would raise the minimum age at which a child could be tried as an adult from 10 to 13. All three said yes. They also agreed they would support a bill that would prohibit law enforcement from lying to children.