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Constituent contact shapes legislative agenda

As the summer winds down, I had a chance to take several days to go camping with my husband. It was my first break since last December and I was ready to step away from the phone, computer and meetings for a short while. We traveled the back roads of southwest Colorado, enjoying the beauty of our outdoors that I so often talk about at the Capitol. Our “excellent adventure” gave me breathing space to think over the summer’s activities and to celebrate my half century birthday in a way that I’d be proud of back when I was a mere quarter century.

With Senator Isgar off to new endeavors in Denver after his many years of legislative service, my constituent contact since returning home in May intensified by twice the volume. Many people are surprised that state legislators have no staff when we’re not in Denver for the session and apologize for calling me at home. But state legislators also aren’t provided with a district office, so that’s where you’ll find me, in my daughter’s old bedroom, with the family cat planted firmly in her favorite corner.

It’s that constituent contact that helps shape my legislative efforts for next year and also lets me know how things are working, or not, when people are dealing with our state’s agencies and laws. Based on this summer’s reports, it’s clear that our area still struggles with the bad economic times. We now must face where our revenues have fallen to, at the state and local levels. Making cuts to governmental budgets is not over by any stretch and again will be the main task we face in January. The focus must be how to cut wisely and to do our best to generate new “sticky” jobs, that is, jobs that will stick around.

I’ve heard from many about the loss of the senior’s property tax exemption, which I opposed, and how that especially hurts those on fixed incomes. I’ve also heard from many about the impacts of the increase in vehicle registration fees, with the surprise of the new mandatory late penalties being the hardest pill to swallow. And then there’s’the subject of healthcare reform.

Last month, I suggested we all start on this topic first with a deep breath. But, despite my reminder that that I’m in the state Legislature and don’t vote on congressional bills, the protests that I hear from people are not staged, but sincere and compelling in terms of seeking answers to foreseeable consequences.

My assessment is, at the most basic level, for those who see improvements needed to our healthcare system, people split into two camps. One side feels reforms should be accomplished first to the problems in how healthcare is delivered. The other side wants to expand access to the current system to as many people as possible first and fix the delivery problems on a slower time frame.

I’m in the first camp and, at the state level, we’ve been successfully working’on a number of those delivery problems. But, until we make greater progress, expanding access without an adequate number of healthcare professionals and reimbursement for services, we’re stretching providers and resources too thinly.

I was most troubled by the turn taken in the healthcare reform debates in the past month regarding end of life care. I’m on the legislative interim committee studying hospice and palliative care in Colorado. I’ll report more this fall when we complete our work identifying barriers to this care in our state.

What got lost in the verbal scuffles was that hospice care is patient-directed and patient-centered care. It’s’a compassionate choice made by informed patients. The people who provide this care, the physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, grief counselors and volunteers, are saints in my book. Their tenderness and quality of care are of immeasurable value, to the patient and family. I know this firsthand.