Weeks 9 and 10 – Doing the right thing

A wise politician once told me, “When you cast your vote, be mindful of the 3 Cs – your constituents, your colleagues and your conscience. You need to go home to your district and live with your neighbors, you will need to go back into the chamber and work with your colleagues, and you need to be able to go home and sleep at night.” To that end, I have been hosting biweekly town hall events throughout the district, reading thousands of emails, and meeting with constituents, community leaders and businesses. I’ve also been working with my Democratic and Republican colleagues to find solutions to the big issues facing the state. Although I cannot guarantee we will agree on an issue, I think it is incredibly important that I weigh all perspectives in moving forward this session. Thank you for engaging with me on these important issues; I’m honored to represent our community!

Some political pundits have claimed that the Colorado legislature has taken on too many controversial subjects this session, suggesting we should delay justice on various issues for a more politically convenient time. However, on the campaign trail I heard from nearly every voter that they were tired of politicians pointing fingers of blame without ever taking action. Instead, I heard loud and clear that voters wanted their elected officials to find solutions to the most difficult issues facing us today. I had no illusions that this job would be easy and I am honored to fight hard to build a better Colorado for all of us. To that end, we are officially halfway through the session and I have great news to report!

Civil Unions – SB 11
After 3 years of struggle in the legislature, Civil Unions finally became law in Colorado! Governor Hickenlooper signed the bill into law on, Thursday, March 21, 2013, at 3:00pm at History Colorado. With nearly 1,000 people in attendance, we were able to celebrate this moment of making history. My family and I have fought for the passage of this legislation since it was introduced and it has been a surreal experience to see it become law this year. Finally, my family, and hundreds of other families throughout Colorado, will be afforded basic legal protections to care for the people that we love. Louis and I haven’t decided on a ceremony option yet (the legislative session is still in full swing!) but I will keep you apprised as we figure out all of the details!

ASSET – SB 33
Colorado ASSET passed both the House and Senate and will be signed by the Governor in the near future. I have worked on this bill for 10 years, fighting side by side with many students, parents and teachers, to ensure all Colorado kids have a fair shot to succeed. This bill was the first bill I testified on at the age of 19, and I am so relieved to see it finally become law. SB 33 will allow all Colorado high school graduates an opportunity to pay in-state tuition rates at Colorado colleges and universities if they meet standard admission criteria.  I believe all people, regardless of your background, should have a fair shot to succeed in America. Colorado ASSET ensures that we keep our best and most talented students in Colorado. I will send additional details about the bill signing as soon as the Governor designates the time/place he will host the event.

GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION
As I indicated in previous messages, we have spent a significant amount of time discussing community safety and gun violence prevention. After a marathon two weeks (I had 3 work days in that time period that lasted 17 hours each) we finally passed a comprehensive package of bills that are designed to protect community safety for all of us. Here is a quick rundown of the bills:

Background Checks – HB 1229 (signed by the Governor on 3/20/2013)
This bill requires every person who purchases a gun to pass a background check. The bill will prevent criminals and people with severe mental health issues from obtaining a gun. Millions of guns (an estimated 40% of all guns) are sold without background checks (private sales). Last year alone, the Colorado background check system kept more than 5,000 guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

Background Check Fees – HB 1228 (signed by the Governor on 3/20/2013)
The bill reinstates the Republican-initiated fee ($10) for a background check to purchase a gun. Taxpayers currently subsidize gun owners to the tune of $1,500,000 per year to pay for background checks that gun owners once took responsibility for. Those who wish to purchase a gun should be responsible for the costs. Newspapers pay licensing fees (1st Amendment), churches pay registration fees to secure their nonprofit status (1st Amendment), and cities charge permit fees for parades (1st Amendment), and this bill continues to recognize that all of our constitutional rights are coupled with responsibility.

High Capacity Magazine Limit – HB 1224 (signed by the Governor on 3/20/2013)
The bill limits the capacity of a gun magazine to 15 rounds, to reduce the damage of guns by reducing the number of rounds that can be quickly fired. The difference between a 30 round magazine and 15 round magazine is 15 less dead people. Reloading a gun allows anyone, of any size, to tackle the shooter – like in Tucson. The ONLY thing that stopped the shooting in the Aurora theatre was the fact that Holmes’ 100 round magazine jammed. The sole purpose of high-capacity magazines is to inflict the most damage in the shortest period of time.

Domestic Violence – SB 197 (headed to the House for consideration)
This bill aligns state law with federal law by keeping guns out of the hands of domestic violence abusers when a protective/restraining order is in place. Domestic violence perpetrators use extreme acts of violence to control their victims. Abusers with access to guns are much more likely to kill their victims. In Colorado, thirteen women died this way last year alone.  

In-Person Training for Concealed Carry – SB 195 (headed to the House for consideration)
The bill clarifies the existing concealed carry permitting process to ensure that hands-on experience with a gun is included in the training, instead of training exclusively online. Simply stated, someone with a concealed carry permit should be able to show they can actually shoot a gun.  Carrying a concealed weapon is a great responsibility. A person should be able to demonstrate basic knowledge of handling a weapon if they want the ability to shoot/maim/kill another person for self-defense.

For those of you who haven’t been able to join us for the town hall events, here is a recap of meetings I’ve hosted to date, with links to the resources/information that have been presented:

Saturday, January 19th  – Westminster (co-hosted with Rep. Peniston and Sen. Tochtrop)
The first town hall we hosted focused exclusively on public safety and gun violence prevention strategies. Many attendees expressed their deep concern over violence, especially with the Aurora shooting, Newton massacre, and the brutal murder of Westminster’s own Jessica Ridgeway. The meeting had over 100 attendees, who all indicated that we needed to take a multi-pronged approach that balanced individual responsibility, law enforcement coordination, mental health care access, and strong laws focused on ending violence.

It was mentioned in the meeting that a new park is being planned in honor of Jessica Ridgeway.  To learn more about the park and to donate go to the Jessica Ridgeway website.

Saturday, January 26th – Commerce City (co-hosted with Rep. Moreno and Rep. May)
Based on the feedback of voters, the second town hall event focused exclusively on transportation issues, with a broad concern about the lack of development of mass transit in the north metro area. We invited RTD Directors Paul Solano (who represents Commerce City) and his colleagues, Director Claudia Folska and Tom Tobiassen, to present on the plans to develop FasTracks in the north metro area. Residents expressed their concern that our neighborhoods have been overlooked for transit development, and the RTD Directors committed to carrying that message back to the board. To learn more about FasTracks plans in our neighborhoods, please visit the FasTracks website.

Saturday, February 9th – Thornton/Welby (co-hosted with Rep. Salazar and Sen. Hodge)
This town hall focused on broad issues of concerns among the residents of Thornton and Welby. Residents expressed their support on various issues, including health care reform, gun violence prevention and higher education. The Adams 12 School District and a representative of the teacher’s union presented to the full group about the controversial budget issues facing the schools. Overall, residents, parents, teachers and administrators agreed that we should continue to have a dialogue about making our school systems transparent and accountable, ultimately to ensure that all of our kids have a great public education.

Saturday, February 16th – Westminster (co hosted with Rep. Peniston and Sen. Tochtrop)
With the federal sequester looming and state forecasts better than expected, we invited the nonpartisan group, The Bell Policy Center, to give residents an overview of Colorado’s fiscal health and what we can do to improve it. They presented the budget in a straightforward fashion and were incredibly helpful in assisting all Westminster residents to understand the complex budget situations we face here in our great state. Click here to see their informational videos about the state budget.

Saturday, February 23rd – Perl Mack/Sherrellwood (co-hosted with Rep. Moreno)
Before the town hall event, Rep. Moreno and I visited the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site at Adams City High School. Business students (juniors and seniors) are working with local volunteers to assist individuals to fill out and file their taxes. It was amazing to see the great work we can do when our community comes together to support one another! The town hall focused on immigration laws. We invited local immigration experts to present about current immigration laws and the proposed changes on the national level. It was the first time that I had to use my bilingual skills and it was painfully evident that I need to practice my Spanish more frequently!

March 16th – Westminster (co-hosted with Rep. Peniston and Sen. Tochtrop)
The Colorado Center on Law and Policy presented to the full group about the state and federal health care reforms taking hold this year. Residents were able to get a full overview of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) and the Colorado health benefit exchange. One of our own Adams County residents, Ken Connell, also presented on a proposed bill to establish a statewide health care cooperative system that would reduce costs for every resident of the state.

Although we are only halfway through the session, we are not halfway done with our work! We still are required to approve a budget and we have many issues to consider before the session ends. I was recently appointed the Joint Select Committee for the Implementation of Amendment 64, which is charged with establishing all of the regulations related to the voter-approved measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use. In addition, I have two high-profile bills that will be introduced in the next two weeks related to privacy and public safety. Stay tuned, there are many more issues to be addressed in the coming weeks! With that said, I’ll leave you with these words from our 26th President, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt:

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” – President Theodore Roosevelt

Doing the right thing,

Jessie

Weeks 7 and 8 – Working through the violent blizzard

In some parts of this country there is the saying, “When it rains, it pours.” Due to the semi-arid climate here in Colorado, this has always been a difficult phrase for me to understand (both literally and metaphorically). Here in Colorado our views on weather and life are fundamentally different. We say, “When it snows, wait 5 minutes.” In other words, we always know that, even in the heart of the most violent blizzard, sunny days await us in the minutes/hours/days to come.

I mentioned in my last message that I had been the recipient of disgusting and offensive threats against my family due to my support for common sense solutions to end gun violence. I did not dwell on the darkness we were facing, but it did weigh heavily on me. These last two weeks I have been able to see light between the storm clouds. The Senate has taken up the bills and we are taking this opportunity to debate each measure in a civil fashion and have an honest conversation about the importance of public safety for all Colorado residents. It may get difficult in the coming days, but I know that the status quo of community violence is unacceptable and we find solutions to the difficult challenges we face. I will be chairing the full Senate debate on the measures this morning, so please take the time to listen in online if you have the chance.

Although there has been an extensive focus on guns in the media, the Colorado legislature has been hard at work. As I promised on the campaign trail, my focus in the Senate is to build an economy that works for all Coloradans. I mentioned in the last message that the Employment Opportunity Act (prohibiting employers from using credit reports in hiring/promotion) passed out of the Senate and is on its way to the House for full consideration. I’ve been working with my colleagues on a variety of issues, and we will soon see the bills before us in the Senate. Here is a quick preview of our economic opportunity package:

Income Protection Act – HB 1227 (with Rep. Jonathan Singer)
People work hard to earn a living. For some families, one paycheck can mean the difference of having a roof over your head or living on the streets. Under current law, there are very few consequences when an employer intentionally and maliciously withholds pay from people who have worked hard to earn it.  As drafted, HB 1227 would create a criminal charge when an employer steals the wages of his/her employee and would create an easy process for employees to receive the wages they are due. It is already a crime if an employee steals money out of the cash register and employers would be held to the same standard if they steal from their employees.

Family Care Act – HB 1222 (with Rep. Cherylin Peniston)
Federal law, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), currently allows certain qualified employees (depending on size of business and length of time in the company) to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to attend to personal health needs, to care for a sick family member, or to have a kid (either biologically or through adoption). This law has been in place for 20 years and has significantly helped families to care for the ones they love. Because this is a federal benefit, the definition of family is narrowly defined to married spouses, parents and kids (under 18), which does not fully reflect the way our families look. As drafted, HB 1222 would create a Colorado definition of family members that could use this important tool. With this bill, any qualified employee could take the unpaid leave to care for a domestic partner (in a civil union or long-term domestic partnership), grandparents, grandkids, or children (of any age). It is a big sacrifice to take unpaid leave to care for a person during an emergency, but we should all have the opportunity to care for our health and the health of our families.

Social Media Privacy Act – HB 1046 (with Rep. Angela Williams)
Due to the technological advancements we have witnessed over the last decade, many intimate details of our lives are now shared through social media sites. Any information that is shared publicly (i.e. searchable through Google) is fair game for employers, so be cautious when posting information online. However, many social media sites allow for additional levels of privacy to ensure that your information, photos, etc. are shared with only a select group of family members and friends. Employers are now requesting access to private social media accounts by asking for usernames and passwords of potential job applicants. This is an intrusion of privacy that opens the door for employers to learn an applicant’s sexual orientation, eating habits, or hobbies, which should have no bearing on a person’s work prospects. This practice is becoming a barrier for people who are applying for work or who may be working hard to be promoted in a job. As passed out of the House, HB 1046 prohibits employers from asking job applicants and workers for access to private social media accounts.

With these bills (and many others focused on rebuilding our middle class) making their way through the legislative process, I hope to see many of our neighbors getting back to work. As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me by email, phone, Facebook, Twitter, or in person at the Capitol. I look forward to hearing from you soon. I will leave you with this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, a leader who uniquely understood the challenges of positive social change work.

“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face…we must do that which we think we cannot.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

With strength, courage and confidence,

Jessie

Weeks 5 and 6 – God, gays and guns

Weeks 5 and 6:

With the incredibly busy legislative session before us, I did not get my blog post distributed last week, so this message is a consolidation of weeks 5 and 6. I apologize for the lengthy message and delay! 

The last two weeks will forever be ingrained in my memory due to its historic nature.  Over this course of time I have witnessed the resignation of the Pope (which hasn’t happened in over 600 years), the passage of Civil Unions and the Employment Opportunity Act in the Senate, and the House passed four bills to help curb gun violence, which has caused me to reflect on my spiritual journey and core beliefs. To provide background, I was happily raised in the Catholic Church. I received my holy sacraments at Our Lady Mother of the Church in Commerce City, where I volunteered as an altar server and also taught catechism with my parents. I considered the seminary in lieu of a college education, but ultimately felt that my calling existed outside of the Church.

Per Catholic tradition, last week marked the beginning of Lent, which honors Jesus’ journey into the desert to fast and pray for 40 days and 40 nights in anticipation of his crucifixion. Many Catholics give up a personal vice during this time to honor the sacrifice made by Christ. In previous years, I have sacrificed my consumption of chocolate, grains, refined sugar and meat. This year, I have decided to give up on resentment, which I believe to be a useless and debilitating emotion. Conversely, I intend to greet every day and every challenge with a smile throughout the Lenten season (which also correlates to the most contentious time in the legislature). It is in this context that I offer you my summary of the last two weeks.

Civil Unions
As I reported earlier, I had the great honor of chairing the Civil Unions hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I also had the opportunity to vote on the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee, before it was sent to the full Senate for debate. Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll approached me the weekend before the full Senate debate and asked me to chair the committee of the whole as we discussed the bill. I gladly accepted the opportunity knowing that it would a monumental occasion that would not present itself again.

As I took the Chair, I looked out to the Senate floor and gallery where I saw many friendly faces. My partner and son, Louis and Israel, sat on the Senate floor during the course of the debate, and I would look to them and smile when things would get tough. Senators Pat Steadman and Lucia Guzman presented the bill with the same level of poise, thoughtfulness and passion that they have demonstrated throughout this entire effort. The Republicans who argued against the bill again made the claim that the Civil Unions bill would infringe on their religious beliefs and the bill would force them to treat gays and lesbians equally in the course of public life. Senator Steadman pointed out (as I had in committee) that the law already states that you cannot deny someone a product or service based on his/her sexual orientation if you would normally offer the product to the public (e.g. selling cake in a bakery). Although I was unable to directly respond to their arguments from my position in the Chair, the opponents had to direct their comments to me, an openly gay legislator, or to the two bill prime sponsors, also openly gay legislators, as they defended their opposition. It was no surprise then that the floor debate lacked the vitriol and venom that had been demonstrated the previous year in the House. In this sense, the debate was incredibly civil despite our disagreements. After three hours of debate, I asked for the vote and was able to happily declare that the bill had passed! On Monday, the bill passed on 3rd and final reading (21-14) and is now headed to the House for full consideration!

Employment Opportunity Act
On last Tuesday, my first bill, SB 13-018, passed out of the full Senate on a party line vote (20-15). This bill, also known as the Employment Opportunity Act, prohibits employers from using credit information in hiring/promotion decisions if the information is unrelated to the job. I argued that no one should be denied an employment opportunity because they have fallen on hard economic times. Despite the fact that the business community has been working with me on the bill, Republican senators argued that this would put an undue burden on businesses. I replied that we should be just as concerned for the middle class and the working people of our state as we are about being supportive of our local businesses. I believe you can support workers and businesses simultaneously — and this bill is proof of this belief. The bill is now headed to the House for full consideration.

Gun Violence Prevention
In the wake of the recent high profile gun violence that has occurred in Colorado and the nation, it is clear that we must have a public debate about gun safety, mental/behavioral health, and school security. As you may have read in the papers, the House introduced, considered and passed four bills to help curb gun violence in our state. Specifically, the bills would require a background check for all gun transfers/sales, ensure that gun purchasers pay for their own background checks just as teachers do, limit the size of a magazine to 15 rounds, and prohibit concealed weapons in college buildings. Passions are high on both sides of the issue and Colorado has fallen into the national spotlight as this unfolds. The bills will be before the Senate in the next few weeks, and I presume a few of the measures will come to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

The U.S. Constitution is a complex document that outlines the fundamental liberties that we value as a nation. In considering any issue that deals with constitutional rights, we must consider the totality of the document to understand that one right does not supersede any other right. Since its founding, the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the intent of the Constitution and has ruled on how to balance competing interests that may arise. For example, to safeguard the constitutional guarantee to pursue life and liberty, a person cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. In this example, the right to free speech is limited to safeguard life and liberty. Similarly, we already recognize that murder is against the law, and our justice system exists to ensure that our equally important constitutional rights of due process and the right to a fair trial are also upheld.

In the most recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on the 2nd Amendment (District of Columbia v. Heller), the conservative justices declared in a 5-4 vote that individuals have the freedom to keep and bear arms, but they also specifically noted that reasonable policies can be enacted to encourage responsible gun ownership and use. This decision is widely understood to allow lawmakers to consider legislation that creates a responsibility associated with the right to bear arms, to protect ALL of our constitutional rights and liberties. It is with this understanding that I will consider the proposed legislation soon to be placed before me.

As a side note, I have received some of the most hateful, offensive and threatening messages in the course of this debate by those purporting to be law-abiding citizens who own guns. My family and I have been threatened in emails, phone calls and Tweets. I’ve had individuals demand for my immediate deportation to a foreign country, recall of my position in the Senate, and a request to see my family and me literally raped in the public square.

I inspired the ire of the extreme gun lobby because I made the simple claim that more and more guns in civic life will jeopardize public safety (and their response has not diminished my belief in this statement). In my comment, I made the point that it is our job to write laws that protect safety. I am not the first person to claim that the pen is mightier than the sword, and I know it’s my responsibility to write laws that protect our fundamental liberties, including the right to life and the pursuit of happiness. Apparently symbolism does not translate well into a two- second sound bite circulated by extreme right wing ideologues.

The issues of gun violence and public safety are incredibly complex and sensitive. I know that we will not fully resolve the issues before us only through legislation. We must fundamentally work to change our culture that glorifies violence and permits open threats of hostility and violence. We must acknowledge our fellow citizens and residents with basic human dignity if we want anything to change. I am committed to this principle and I hope to receive the same level of consideration moving forward.

Please continue to email, call, Tweet, Facebook, or visit me if you’d like to talk about any issue that may be facing the State of Colorado. I will leave you with this quote from the beloved Catholic nun and humanitarian, Mother Teresa:

“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” – Mother Teresa 

With love and without resentment,

Jessie

 

Week 4 – With low ambitions…

Last weekend Louis and I decided to go to the movies during our family time on Sunday. Although the film has been out for weeks, we finally made it to see Lincoln. If you have not yet seen the movie, it is a fascinating portrayal of how our 16th President navigated difficult political waters to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which ended slavery in our country. For political nerds like myself, the film highlights the struggles that elected officials face as they struggle to live their values in the face of extreme opposition. I was particularly taken with Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of U.S. Representative Thaddeus Stevens, who was an ardent abolitionist and advocate for racial equity. At the climax of the film, Rep. Stevens must choose between making a bold statement for racial equality or having the 13th Amendment become law. Ultimately, he decides to minimize his own beliefs publicly to ensure passage of the amendment, which causes him immense personal grief. The lesson was clear – it may be difficult to know which path will lead to victory but, regardless of the challenges we may face, we must continue on in pursuit of the ideals we hold dear.

This week has been full of intense debates centered on our core values as Coloradans. I have seen my first bill and resolution pass, and I have also voted down legislation after many hours of emotional public testimony. This job is incredibly challenging, but I am honored to represent my community in this venue.

Emancipation Proclamation Awareness Month
One hundred and fifty years ago President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law, freeing thousands of slaves during the Civil War. This courageous act was the culmination of years of struggle based on the simple premise that all people are created equal. This action paved the way for the full abolition of slavery, which helped to reunify our country during one of the most divisive periods in our history. I was approached by the NAACP Colorado, Montana, Wyoming State Conference to run a resolution that declared February 2013 the Emancipation Proclamation Awareness Month for the state of Colorado. As a member of the NAACP Colorado Springs Branch, I was honored to carry this resolution and I was happy to host additional members of the NAACP on the Senate floor as the resolution was presented. The House considered the resolution on Tuesday and passed it on for final signature by the Governor.

Economic Opportunity Act
On Monday, my first bill, SB 13-018, was heard in the Senate Business, Labor, Technology (BLT) Committee. This bill, also known as the Economic Opportunity Act, prohibits employers from using credit information in hiring/promotion decisions if the information is unrelated to the job. I believe that no one should be denied an employment opportunity because they have fallen on hard economic times. We have just come through the worst recession since the Great Depression, and many Coloradans have experienced extreme financial hardship. We should be focused on returning people to work rather than creating arbitrary barriers to employment that keep people in debt. The BLT committee heard testimony from employees, advocacy groups, lawyers and others that indicated that this bill is good for Colorado’s economy. Unlike previous years, the business lobby was neutral on the bill because I worked with them to craft an amendment that permits employers to use credit reports in the hiring of CEOs and CFOs (while still allowing them an opportunity to explain any credit discrepancies that may be due to military service, medical expenses, divorce, etc.) and requires the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to investigate claims of violation instead of having these issues heard in the courts. The bill passed out of committee with Democratic support (3-2) and is now headed to the full Senate for consideration.

Gun Safety
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard both SB 13-009 and 13-062 last week. Both bills were presented as an extension of the extreme, national agenda of the NRA to have more and more weapons in civic life. SB 13-009 would have permitted school boards to allow school employees (teachers, administrators, janitors, paraprofessionals, cafeteria staff, etc.) to carry concealed weapons in schools. I think it’s important to note that under current law you can take an online course (with no live training) to receive a concealed carry permit here in Colorado. As a parent, I believe that our kids should feel safe in school. In fact, the testimony, data and research shared with me by educators, law enforcement officers, parents and students proved that this bill would have put kids further in harm’s way by exposing them to adults with minimal training to properly handle a firearm. I thought it unfortunate that SB 13-009 figuratively and literally placed all Colorado kids in the crossfire, and for that reason I voted against the measure.

Senate Bill 13-062, would have mandated private businesses to hire armed security guards (1 guard for every 50 patrons) if lawful business owners did not permit members of the public to carry a weapon in their establishment. If they didn’t comply with the concealed carry mandate, they would have been held liable under civil law for any damage that may happen in a rampage. The VP for Kroenke Sports, which owns and operates large sporting venues (e.g. Pepsi Center, Dick’s Sporting Goods Field, etc.), testified that his company would be forced to hire over 400 guards for a standard concert. Like most Coloradans, I believe that more and more guns in civic life will jeopardize our safety. We have all seen the violence that erupts on Black Friday when patrons fight over discounted microwaves; I cannot fathom what these events would look like if the entire store was armed and ready for battle. I voted against this measure because I believe that the 2nd Amendment does not supersede our constitutional guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We need common sense gun safety laws that honor our core values and do not cater to the extreme gun agenda.

I will continue to stand up for our core beliefs, even when the fight gets difficult. Again, I am always happy to hear from you. Please email, call, Tweet, Facebook, or visit me if you’d like to talk about any issue that may be facing the State of Colorado. I will leave you with this quote from U.S. Representative Stevens:

“I will be satisfied if my epitaph shall be written thus: ‘Here lies one who never rose to any eminence, who only courted the low ambition to have it said that he striven to ameliorate the condition of the poor, the lowly, the downtrodden of every race and language and color.’” – Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, January 13, 1865

With low ambitions,

Jessie

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

Week 2 – Arc of the moral universe

This last week we celebrated the shared birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and my Grandma Thelma (January 15, 1929). She still recalls the impact this man had on her life while living in the segregated south in the 1950s. Although they walked different paths in life, they both were firmly committed to build a better world through incredible acts of love. In the 84 years since their birth the world has changed dramatically due to the individual calls for justice that have culminated in a more perfect union. I am fortunate to be a beneficiary of their courage and I feel a deep responsibility to continue their work and legacy.

I have heard the phrase, “it’s like drinking from a fire hose” more times than I would care to recall in the last week but despite the cliché it accurately sums up the last few days of the legislative session! The sunshine may say different, but the days are long and the nights are short. With committee hearings, community events, town halls, impromptu meetings in marble staircases, and hundreds of pages of audit reports to review, I find myself busy nearly every waking moment. Despite the pace, exhaustion is the furthest thought from my mind. Instead, my brain is abuzz from the excitement of what we may accomplish this year in pursuit of justice.

Civil Unions

On Friday afternoon it was announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear the Civil Unions bill (SB 13-011) on Wednesday, January 23 at 1:30pm in the Old Supreme Court Chambers (State Capitol, 2nd Floor). This bill will allow committed couples, including LGBT individuals, to receive critical legal protections that are not currently afforded under the law. Within minutes of announcing the committee hearing, my email account was inundated with messages regarding the bill. At the time of writing this message I had received 1,289 emails, with 1,211 messages in favor of Civil Unions and 78 opposed.

As you may know, my family and I have testified at every committee hearing in support of this bill since it was initially introduced. My partner and I, like so many families in our state, want to ensure that our kids are protected in the event of tragedy but we currently lack the basic protections that many other families enjoy. Unfortunately this year my family and I will be unable to testify on the bill as I will be preoccupied chairing the committee hearing! The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Lucia Guzman, is a co-prime sponsor on the bill and will be presenting it to our committee. This means that, as Vice-Chair of Senate Judiciary, I will be responsible for running this hearing. We have fought long and hard to move Colorado to a point where this legislation may become law, and I am honored to have a role in this journey.

Colorado ASSET

Last Tuesday, hundreds of students flooded the Capitol to advocate for the passage of the Colorado ASSET bill (SB 13-033), which will provide all Colorado high school graduates, to attend our universities and colleges at the in-state tuition rate. In Senate District 21 we have many youth who have grown up in our neighborhoods who aspire to be US citizens. We all understand that our immigration system is broken and that the federal government must take action to rebuild our immigration laws that respects our history as a nation of immigrants and a nation that honors hard work. However, Colorado kids are caught in the crossfire of a toxic and stagnant political debate in Congress regarding the broader issue of immigration. The state has the ability to act to ensure that all of our kids have a fair shot to succeed.

Over 10 years ago, I was one of three students to testify in favor of the bill when it was initially introduced. Growing up in southwestern Adams County, my friends and classmates were faced with the realities of an unfair system that penalized hard work and dedication. It seemed fundamentally unfair to me that the kids I knew since kindergarten, who are long-term Colorado residents and Americans-in-waiting, were denied an opportunity to receive a higher education because they didn’t have the right piece of paper. It was an inspiration to see how this movement has grown to include hundreds of students, teachers, parents, businesses and faith communities. Now is the time to pass the Colorado ASSET bill and it will face its first public hearing on Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 1:30pm in the Old Supreme Court Chambers (2nd Floor, State Capitol).

Please continue to engage with me throughout this session. We will have many more issues to consider and I welcome your thoughts, comments and feedback on how I should move forward. You’re also welcome to visit the Capitol (just email me and we’ll schedule a tour) or to connect with me at one of the community events listed below. I will leave with you one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Bending toward justice,

Jessie

 

Week 1 – Punching holes in darkness

In preparation for the legislative session, I hired staff, moved into the Capitol and began meeting with community stakeholders on the bills I’ve initiated for this session. I was incredibly fortunate to hire two extremely talented individuals to manage my office, Donna and Mary. Donna has worked for 4 State Senators over 13 years and carries a deep institutional knowledge of how the building functions. She will be responsible for managing my schedule and keeping me organized for the legislative session. As a small business owner in Adams County, Mary has deep ties in Senate District 21. She is new to the legislative process but she understands our community from a lived perspective. She will assist me with constituent services and outreach. If you need a tour, would like to attend a community town hall, or have an issue/question you’d like for me to address, please connect with Mary and she’ll make sure I respond.

In my second stroke of luck, I was paired to share an office with State Senator Angela Giron (SD 3), a progressive champion from Pueblo. She has been an incredible friend and mentor and I know that we will work closely to help build an economy that works for everyone in Colorado. Our office (room 339) is highly coveted in the Capitol because we are next door to one of the few bathrooms in the building. This means we can use the facilities when needed, but it also means that Senators line up outside of our door, which gives us time to socialize and connect on pending legislation. It’s amazing how persuasive I can be with a captive audience!

On Wednesday, January 9, 2013, I took the oath of office to be the next Senator for District 21. Surrounded by family, friends and neighbors made me realize how much responsibility I have to my community. People are counting on me to get their voices heard, and I am deeply honored that you trust me to fight the good fight.

As a freshman, I was given the honor to escort Governor John Hickenlooper to his State of the State address and I was able to sit with him on stage in the House chamber. The Governor is affable and charming, not through his grace but his humanity. He stumbled various times throughout his speech, and I realized he was as nervous as I was to be in front of this crowd full of expectation. His voice filled with emotion and cracked the various times he described the Aurora shooting and the wildfire tragedies. He finished his speech with these words that struck me at my core:

“When I was a kid I loved adventure stories. Being dyslexic meant that reading was a challenge, but I could still get carried off by a great writer. Robert Louis Stevenson was a favorite. I later heard a story about Stevenson’s childhood in 19th century Scotland. At night, he would peer from his window and watch lamplighters go about their job. Climbing tall ladders, carrying torches, the lamplighters would light the street lamps one after another. The process fascinated young Stevenson. One night, as he watched with growing fascination, his father asked what he was doing. Excitement in his voice, Stevenson said, ‘Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!’

Punching holes in the darkness.

When you think about it, there is nothing more rewarding than punching holes in darkness. The young entrepreneur punches a hole in darkness when she sells a product that creates a job. The dry land farmer on the Eastern Plains punches holes in darkness every time he harvests a crop. Missy Franklin punches holes in the darkness by inspiring a new generation of athletes. Teachers punch holes in darkness every day. Whenever a child learns something new, light emerges in that child’s life.

This past year we saw lamplighters all around us.

We can all be lamplighters … working together, we can punch some pretty big holes in the darkness.”

I spent my earliest years of life in the Lamplighter Trailer Park, which now feels a bit like fate. I believe I was sent to the Capitol to “punch holes in the darkness” by finding solutions that work for the people of Colorado.

As I head into the next week of the session, I will carry with me the Governor’s charge and these haunting words from civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois:

 “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year.” W.E.B. DuBois

 With light,
Jessie

The beginning (again)

I’ll keep it simple – thank you! I feel so incredibly humbled and honored to have received your support with your time, energy and contributions to the campaign this year. Whether you were writing postcards to neighbors, knocking on doors or helping to raise money for the campaign, you played a crucial role in this effort and helped me to be elected to the Colorado State Senate. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Despite the myth that things slow down after the Election, I have been working nonstop to prepare for the 69th General Assembly, which starts officially on Wednesday!!! Each legislator must have his/her bills prepared to ensure that work can start on opening day. As my closest friends and supporters, I wanted you to be the first to know of the issues I’ll be working on this year on behalf of the people of Senate District 21.

On the campaign trail, voters spoke with me about their hopes for Colorado. The issues I’m working on this year reflect the core values I heard from community members on their porches and in their living rooms. Here are the first few items I’ll be leading on this year:

1) Responsibility – With federal health reforms taking hold, I will be working closely with the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and the Department of Corrections to determine a better way to pay for the required hospitalization and inpatient treatment for our inmate population. Other states, including Alabama, Washington and Louisiana, have adopted policies that allow the state to share costs of care with the federal government and have experienced millions of dollars in savings for their state budgets. These savings can be reinvested in the broader health reforms to ensure that all Coloradans can have access to high quality, affordable health care. I’ll also be working with our leaders in the Senate and House Education committees to find a long-term fix to school financing to ensure equity and accountability in the classroom, while also getting more money into our schools.

2) Opportunity – Every person I meet wants a fair shot to succeed and achieve the American dream. This year, I will be working with Senator John Kefalas and others within the Senate to extend state tax credits to working families. Specifically, this economic stimulus package will allow parents, those caring for aging parents or dependents with disabilities, and/or middle-income workers to receive a state match of the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit, or Child Care Tax Credit, to help make ends meet in this recovery. Also, I’ll be sponsoring additional legislation that ensures individuals that have faced financial difficulties during the Great Recession are not unfairly denied employment opportunities. This bill will stop employers from using credit score information in hiring decisions; no one should be denied a job because they have hit hard times.

3) Fairness – I’m coordinating with law enforcement officials, nonprofit organizations, and victims of crime to develop policies related to the appropriate use of emerging technologies in law enforcement. The policy will balance how law enforcement officials can access cell phone location data and automated license plate readers to ensure public safety and also safeguard our constitutional rights to privacy. I will also be working to develop policy solutions with law enforcement to determine how we can encourage vulnerable victims of crime, including our immigrant neighbors and friends, to come forward with information without concern about retribution.

Please come visit at the Capitol, follow me on Facebook or Twitter, or give me a call if you’d like to know what I’m working on. My new contact information is listed at the bottom of this page.

I will also be co-hosting town hall meetings in conjunction with House Districts 30, 31. 32, 34, and 35 during the legislative session to connect with community members one on one. I will be posting a full list of town halls and in-district events as soon as the calendar is finalized. Again, thank you so much for your support. I look forward to continuing on this exciting journey with you.

With gratitude,

Jessie

You have options…

Voting has begun! Thankfully there are many methods to vote here in Colorado.

By mail:

  • Complete your ballot and send it back to the county clerk by mail. You will need $0.65 in postage for it to be delivered. It must be received by the county clerk on or before November 6th, 2012 (postmarks do not apply).
  • Complete your ballot and drop it off at any of the designated sites throughout Adams County. Locate your nearest ballot site here.

In person:

  • You can cast your ballot early at any of the designated early voting sites in Adams County. Early voting begins Monday, October 22nd and extends until November 2nd. Hours of operation are 7am-5pm, Monday through Friday, and 9am-3pm on Saturday. Locate your nearest early voting site here.
  • You can cast your ballot on Election Day at any of the designated vote centers in Adams County. Election Day is Tuesday, November 6th. The polls will be open from 7am until 7pm. You can find your nearest vote center for Election Day voting here.

In addition to the political races on the ballot, you will see questions related to judicial retention and amendments to our state constitution.

The Colorado Office for Judicial Performance Evaluation conducts a nonpartisan evaluation of judges and they compile information on each judge for the review of voters. You can find more information about the judges up for retention in Adams County here.

The Legislative Council also creates an impartial Blue Book of voter information regarding proposed constitutional amendments. They compare the arguments of those in favor of and those against each measure. You can download a copy of the voter blue book here.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me by phone or email if you have any questions or if you need any additional information to prepare your ballot.

Walking the walk…

As you know, I’ve been knocking on doors throughout the district to connect one-on-one with voters. On Monday night, I enjoyed a great conversation with an unaffiliated voter named Bobby who lives in Belle Creek. We sat on his front porch as the sun set and discussed issues ranging from the economy to job creation to immigration. Bobby shared with me his “truck driver wisdom” and expressed frustration with our current political system, where so many people “talk the talk,” but so few folks “walk the walk.”

In this fast paced campaign atmosphere, I think it’s so important that my actions closely align with my values. I let Bobby know that my campaign literature and signs were printed by local businesses that employ union workers, my t-shirts were made in the U.S.A. and my campaign funds are held in a local credit union account. I believe we build an economy that works for everyone by supporting good, local jobs and by remaining committed to our values of integrity, opportunity and fairness.

Bobby expressed appreciation that I was sitting on his porch, and that I was “walking the walk,” which was promised on my campaign mailers. With our conversation concluded, he promptly asked for a yard sign and planted it where his neighbors could see his show of support. He is ready to “walk the walk” on Election Day in support of my campaign.

We are now only 26 days from the Election and I need to talk with many more voters like Bobby before they cast their ballots.

Can I count on you to walk with me?

We are meeting every Saturday to knock on doors and talk with voters. Email me at Jessie@JessieForColorado.com for more details about locations/times. We are so close to the finish line, and I need your help once again to make it to the end!

Thanks for your continued support,
Jessie