State Sen. Rollie Heath calls for more investment in education and mental health programs

Boulder – Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, at a public meeting Friday said that by restoring tax rates to minimally higher levels, the state’s higher education crisis could be somewhat alleviated. Pointing to the tragic events last week in Arizona, Heath also argued that we must invest more in Colorado’s beleaguered public mental health services to help prevent similar tragedies from occurring here.

Both the Senator and Rep. Deb Gardner, D-Longmont, agreed that the economic recovery would be at the forefront of legislative action in the current session.

Gardner said, “everybody is on the same page in trying to create jobs and get the economy back on track.”

Heath and Gardner both made their comments at a meeting with Boulder residents and the city’s policy advisor, Carl Castillo, in a forum addressing expectations for the legislature. The forum was arranged by a grassroots organization, PLAN Boulder.

In a city of strong convictions, it is not surprising that Castillo, who works with the city council to establish Boulder’s official position on state and federal legislative agendas, handles a heavier workload than many other city policy advisors. Although Castillo doesn’t engage in lobbying himself, he makes sure somebody is talking regularly to Colorado lawmakers on behalf of Boulder.

In the beginning of December, the Boulder City Council approved formalized city positions on predicted upcoming legislative battles in both the Colorado General Assembly and the U.S. Congress.

While Boulder takes its first steps towards a clean energy future after voters approved a new occupation tax that allowed the city to remain unshackled from an Xcel contract last November, Castillo said that Boulder’s top legislative priority will be supporting legislation at the state level that will help the city meet its clean energy goals.

While it is still too early to make specific requests, Castillo mentioned community choice aggregation (CCA) as a possible policy goal of the city. Already adopted in California and other states, CCA – which would require rewriting state law – would allow the city of Boulder to purchase energy supplies on the open market without needing to municipalize the power grid from Xcel.

Castillo also said the city supports a tuition equity bill for undocumented students who graduated high school in Colorado. “This is the civil rights issue of the year,” he said.

The other two legislative priorities for the city were waste reduction legislation and transportation sustainability.

Overall, he said that with the GOP takeover of the House, this year expectations had to be drawn back and the city lobbyist will play a more defensive role.

At the federal level, the city – aside from taking public positions on heated political issues – spends most of its lobbying power on garnering federal dollars in the form of earmarks. This year, Castillo warned that earmark money would not be easy to come by, as both U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis have taken a stance against requesting them.

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