Legislators return to Capitol for summer school

The Colorado Statesman

After a two-month break, some legislators are returning to the state capitol for the start of summer interim committee meetings.

First out of the gate: the economic opportunity poverty reduction task force. Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, chairs the 10-member group. The task force was authorized by 2009 legislation, but in the wake of budget cuts did not formally meet after that.

In 2010, the task force sent eight bills to the General Assembly, on topics like TABOR refunds prioritization, identification documents, supplemental nutrition and rent. All eight passed the General Assembly and were signed into law in 2010 by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The eight bills grew out of discussions held by five subcommittees that focused on housing, job creation, poverty and benefits coordination.

The first order of business for the 2013 task force, which met on Tuesday, July 9, was to set an agenda for its summer meetings and to figure out the issues the task force would deal with throughout the summer.

The inaugural 2013 meeting drew a full room of interested stakeholders to the state capitol. That included representatives of organizations that have continued to discuss poverty issues. The task force also has not been entirely dormant in the last four years; some members have continued to meet in an ad hoc manner to assess progress on efforts to reduce poverty and increase economic opportunity.

Kefalas and Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Arvada, are the only legislators who were part of the 2009 task force, and they led much of the discussion on Tuesday.

To lead off the session, committee members briefly talked about their interest in poverty issues. Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, mentioned his long-time commitment to Warren Village, including eight years on its board of trustees. Warren Village provides housing to previously homeless single mothers. Reps. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, both noted that they had grown up in poverty. Pettersen said neither of her parents had graduated from high school and she was the first in her family to do so. Kefalas, who calls himself a “social-worker wannabe,” is a former Peace Corps volunteer who has been involved in poverty issues throughout much of his working life.

The task force then moved on to deciding the issues and subcommittees that will govern their work for the next several months.

The group approved four subcommittees. The first is effective use of public-private resources. Kefalas said the subcommittee could look at the role of organizations like EPIC (Executives Partnering to Invest in Children) and how the business community addresses poverty issues. Churches also should be included in that discussion, added Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins.

A second group will look at early childhood education. That raised concerns for Hudak, who asked that the group avoid duplicating the efforts of another legislative group, the Early Childhood School Readiness Legislative Commission. Hudak is a member of that commission.

However, Hudak also noted that the other group was not paid for by the Legislative Council this year, and that means it cannot advance bills as a group, although individual members can do so as part of their annual bill limits. Hudak recommended the two groups work together, and that the ECSR could forward its ideas to the interim committee for legislation consideration.

A third subcommittee will look at the continuum of housing. That ranges from emergency shelter to unsubsidized home ownership. Kefalas said the group could look at the issues of underwater mortgages, asset building, reverse mortgages, homelessness and homeless bill of rights, assisted living centers, and issues related to manufactured homes and mobile homes.

Kefalas also suggested the group look at the state’s rent and heat rebate program. Last year, Kefalas asked the state auditor for a performance audit on that program, and the report is due next month, he said.

The last subcommittee will deal with workforce readiness and development. The issues for that group include the minimum wage, income inequality, pathways to good-paying jobs and a funding increase for jobs-related legislation passed in the 2013 session. Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, suggested the group also look at economic literacy.
The task force will meet again on July 29.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com