Week 3 – It’s getting hot in here

Time continues to fly by as the legislative session advances. The family and I are starting to adjust to the new schedule, but it is hard to be away from them so much. My normal day usually includes a meeting at or before 7:30am (meaning I leave the house around 6:30am), official Senate business throughout the day, and evening events and town halls, which lands me back at home around 8pm or 9pm. We have blocked out Sunday fully for family time, with no emails, phone calls or meetings allowed. This has helped us to re-ground, touch base and enjoy time with each other without the stresses of this job.

I’m so fortunate to have the support of my family in this process, as I’m coming to learn that human interactions in the Capitol are very strange. My colleagues in the Senate and House have offered a great deal of mentorship and guidance, but I’m unsure if I will ever become accustomed to the lobbyist culture that permeates the building. At any hour of the day, in any location, I may run into a person that I do or do not know, representing an organization or interest that I do or do not know, and he/she will ask me to vote a certain way, sponsor a bill, draft a resolution, or authorize a drafter to make an amendment to a proposed bill. As a community organizer at heart, these actions seem incredibly foreign to me. In fact, it reminds me of the awkward friendship interchange in the movie Pitch Perfect, where the lead nerd is trying to make friends by saying,

“Why don’t we just exchange emails and then totally hang out right now together?” – Benji Applebaum    

For this reason and many others, I am relying on the conversations I’m having with constituents at town hall meetings, by email, phone, Facebook or Twitter when looking for direction on a bill. Please keep the messages coming, I’m happy to hear from you!

Civil Unions
This week I had the great honor to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee as we considered SB 13-011 (Civil Unions). Senate procedure says that when a Committee Chair is the sponsor of a bill, she/he must relinquish control of the committee to the Vice-Chair during the public hearing in order to present the bill. Senator Lucia Guzman, who is the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is the co-prime sponsor with Senator Pat Steadman on the Civil Unions legislation, which meant that I was in charge of the hearing. Mind you, this was also my first real committee hearing, and with nearly 5 hours of emotionally charged testimony, I joked that this was my version of freshman hazing.

You can find the full audio recording by clicking here:

http://www.leg.state.co.us/clics/clics2013A/cslFrontPages.nsf/Audio?OpenPage

By all accounts, I exceeded expectations for a freshman senator. I allowed proponents and opponents of the bill an equal amount of time to speak to the measure, and we had a lively debate about the intricacies of the law. I am a firm believer in the fundamental liberty of freedom of speech because it affords everyone an ability to express themselves, but it does not guarantee an agreement between all parties. I listened intently to the testimony and would ask questions related to the underlying principles identified by the witnesses. As I found many comments from the opposition to be offensive, this was the most difficult part of the managing the process. I heard more than once that gay people should not raise children for a multitude of reasons and as a gay dad it was difficult for me to not take their comments personally.

At the end of the day, it was phenomenal to cast a vote and declare that Civil Unions cleared its first legislative hurdle this session and it appears positioned for passage. I am very thankful to Senators Steadman and Guzman, who brought the measure forward. It is time that Colorado recognizes that all families deserve critical legal protections to care for the ones that they love!

Colorado ASSET
The day following the hearing on Civil Unions, Senators Angela Giron and Mike Johnston brought forward SB 13-033 (Colorado ASSET bill), which would allow all Colorado high school graduates an opportunity to pursue an affordable higher education. The bill was presented to the Senate Education Committee, and endured hours of emotional testimony. With nearly 4 hours of testimony, only one person spoke against the bill.

I sat as an onlooker to this hearing and witnessed over a decade of work culminate in a bipartisan vote to move the bill forward. Hundreds of students, parents and community activists have worked to build support for this measure and I am optimistic for the outcome this year. Many individuals, including the first sponsor on this bill, former State Representative Val Vigil, stated that now is the time to deliver justice for our students. I will keep you updated as this legislation makes its way through the process!

Military Appreciation Day
Friday was Military Appreciation Day at the Capitol, and I was honored to be in the presence of our service men and women who work so hard to protect our country every day. Adams County is proud to be home to thousands of active and former military members and their families. During the proceedings in a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives, six joint resolutions were passed honoring our current and former members of the military – at home and abroad, as well as our fallen heroes. We also commemorated the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War. On a personal note, I am also grateful to have the privilege to serve with a number of veterans and active members of the military in the State Senate, including Senators Rollie Heath, David Balmer, Bill Cadman, Larry Crowder, Owen Hill, and Kent Lambert.

Town hall events
To ensure that I’m connecting with friends, neighbors and constituents on issues that we are discussing in the legislature, I am co-hosting legislative town halls throughout the district. To date, we have held an event in Westminster to discuss public safety and a town hall in Commerce City to discuss transportation issues. In the first event, we were fortunate to be joined by Adams County Commissioner Chaz Tedesco, Assistant District Attorney Jess Redman, Adams 50 Superintendent Dr. Pamela Swanson, and the Executive Director of Community Reach Center Dr. Rick Doucet. In the second event, we invited RTD Directors Paul Solano, Claudia Folska and Tom Tobiassen to present on the plans to develop FasTracks in the north metro area. We will continue to host these meetings to ensure that we are working hand-in-hand with our residents to build the Colorado we deserve. I hope to see you at our next event!

In closing, I want to leave you with a quote that has guided my approach to the legislative process thus far:

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

With mindfulness,

Jessie

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