On February 1st, I joined State Representative Salazar, environmental activists, and concerned citizens in supporting HB 18-1071, a bill that clarifies language in already-existing policy governing the manner in which the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission grants permits for new oil and gas operations in the state. Currently, the COGCC believes that they are required to balance the health and safety of the public evenly with the interests of oil and gas companies. This bill states that the health and safety of the public should be the priority consideration for new permits. To-date, the COGCC has not denied a single permit in the state of Colorado; however, since the explosion of a home in Firestone that killed two men and injured a woman and child, an explosion caused by a severed and uncapped flowline connected to a gas well nearby, there have been over a dozen more, serious accidents across the state. This bill does not increase oil and gas regulation, it does not impose fines or burdens on oil and gas companies, it simply assures the residents of Colorado that the COGCC will consider their health and safety before they consider the needs of the oil and gas companies seeking permits.
After a 4.5 hour delay in hearing the bill, the committee convened, and listened to nearly 5 hours’ worth of testimonies. Out of over 50 people testifying, only 6 spoke in opposition of the bill, and 5 out of those 6 people were paid representatives of the oil and gas industry. The outcry from concerned citizens – from people who live in communities directly affected by active drilling operations (people living in the Greeley ‘donut’ have over 2,400 wells surrounding them), to those who spoke from the heart about the need for legislators who are willing to put the health and safety of the public before special interests.
At 10:20pm, the bill passed through committee by a one-vote margin. The deciding vote was cast by Rep. Buckner, who had a very moving statement. She said that she had entered chambers ready to vote “no” on the bill, because she admittedly “loves oil and gas”; however, she said, the sheer volume and message of those coming to speak in support of the bill, including people from her own district, made her realize that she needs to be voting in her constituents’ best interests, that she truly needs to be willing to hear and respond to their needs, and so changed her vote to “yes” when the final count was made. This is hugely important. This is why many of us are involved in politics, why we take time off (when we can) to testify at hearings, to call and write and petition our lawmakers, because we know that while our voices might not always be heard or heeded, when they are, it’s an amazing victory for democracy.
On February 6th, I joined fellow supporters of working families in defending and promoting HB18-1001, which would create an insurance pool for workers seeking paid family and medical leave. The vast majority of testimony for this bill, sponsored in part by Representative Faith Winter, was supportive, and both small businesses owners and working families were well-represented. Small businesses pointed out the cost of having to find, train, and employ temporary workers when their employees get sick or have new babies. Representatives from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology talked about the emotional and physical needs of both new babies and new parents that are not met when parents are forced to go back to work 2-weeks after birth. Other people testifying told stories about having to go on public assistance after being forced to leave their jobs because they could not care for family members with medical emergencies, and being forced to stay at work as sole-breadwinners in their families while their spouses entered treatment for and recovered from cancer. Many important statistics were also given during testimony; including the fact that the US is one of only two nations in the world to not have a paid family and medical leave program (the other being Papua New Guinea), and that 25% of people with cancer do not continue after their first round of treatment because they cannot afford to miss work.
I gave personal testimony by telling a story of my childhood during which my mother underwent a double-mastectomy because of invasive breast cancer. No one in our family could take unpaid leave to take care of my mother, so that task fell on myself (at 10 years old) and my sister (16 years old). Because my mother’s medical leave itself was unpaid, my sister’s wages as a part-time, minimum-wage earner (and full-time high school student) were all the income our family had at the time. These are but a few of the many, powerful stories about the impact of not having a paid family leave program in place.
The bill passed through committee on a 7-6 party-line vote, and is headed to the Committee on Finance, where we are hoping that it will pass on to a vote by the full House; however, should that happen and the bill is sent to the Republican-controlled Senate, it is likely to be killed in committee. HB-18-1071 passed through the House on the third reading, has now been introduced in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy committee, where it will likely be killed on a party-line vote.
The outcomes of these two essential bills speaks to a larger issue – that the Colorado State Senate is run by a Republican party determined not to listen to the needs and wants of Colorado’s residents. If we ever want to see positive, meaningful change in our state, it is imperative that we ensure the Governor and House remain Democratic, and that we flip the Senate (now held by Republicans by a single seat) back to being blue.
Thanks for reading!