Legislature: You can’t legislate kindness, empathy or understanding

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    By Representative McLachlan
    Special to the SUN

    In the last few weeks, the Colorado House of Representatives has made national headlines for all the wrong reasons. Twice now, there have been high-profile incidents of Republican legislators using discriminatory or racist language on the House floor. 

    My colleagues in the Black and Latinx caucuses have asked us, their white allies, to stand up in the face of these incidents. I will not be silent and I am committed to speaking up when I see something wrong. 

    I condemn the comments that have been made,and am thankful that House Speaker Alec Garnett has since made it abundantly clear that such displays have no place in the People’s House. 

    I wish we could legislate kindness. Or empathy. Or understanding.

    But while we can’t legislate these things, we can pass policies to help balance the scales. We can work to correct historical injustices and ensure that our laws to improve health care, support small businesses and grow our economy take into account how different communities are impacted. We can legislate equity.

    Just this week, the House passed a bill to create a new health insurance option for Coloradans, known as the Colorado Option, which will help us afford quality health care by lowering insurance premiums by 18 percent. The standardized plan must address historical health inequities and will also lower out-of-pocket costs for consumers. We on the Western Slope have some of the highest health care premiums in the country.

    There is substantial evidence that people of color or living in poverty in Colorado often suffer worse health outcomes because they don’t have access to an affordable insurance option. The Colorado Option improves health equity by increasing access to affordable insurance products for these underserved communities so no one has to go without the care they need.

    The sponsors, Reps. Dylan Roberts and Iman Jodeh, took great care to ensure this bill is good for everyone, from rural families to communities up and down the Front Range, and Coloradans of all ages, races and backgrounds. I am proud to support it. 

    Many other major pieces of legislation this year are focused on equity, from criminal justice reform bills that will help Coloradans get a second chance to proposals that will improve diversity in our educator workforce and much more. 

    However, one bill that is particularly important for my constituents to know about is the state budget, the Long Bill, which is due to be signed by the governor very soon. This year’s budget invests in equity to ensure that as we work to build back a stronger Colorado, we create an inclusive economy that leaves no one behind. 

    The budget prioritizes equity by funding the Colorado Comeback Plan. It invests $800 million into our historic state stimulus package, which is designed to help Colorado rebuild and recover in the wake of COVID-19. Communities of color, including the Native American tribes I proudly represent in southwest Colorado, have been disproportionately impacted by the economic and health effects of the pandemic. And, it’s our job to ensure all of Colorado comes back stronger. 

    Among many other proposals, our budget invests $30 million into a loan fund to provide assistance to entrepreneurs who have traditionally lacked access to capital in order to help them start, restructure or scale up their business. It also puts $100 million toward additional funding for higher education, with over half to be used for recruitment and retention of underrepresented and underserved minority students; Fort Lewis College and Western Colorado University are serving their minority student populations well.

    Legislating equity doesn’t mean prioritizing one community over another; it means creating policies that help all of Colorado while taking into account the historical and systemic realities we live in. Despite the headline-grabbing incidents of discrimination on the House floor, we’re busy working to make Colorado a better, more prosperous and more equal place for everyone to live.