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The Spot: The pros and cons of power, rural vaccinations, rental assistance and Boebert’s new assignments

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Colorado state Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg made an important point last week in the Post’s story on climate legislation.

“We need to remind ourselves that if we can’t get something done through the legislature because we don’t have the votes,” he said, “then we can’t blame the governor’s office.”

Fenberg was speaking on climate in particular, but his comment applies to many different areas of lawmaking, and it’ll be fascinating to see how the Democratic majority wields its power as it enters Year Three of a Democratic power trifecta.

The party has struggled in the last two years to coalesce around a number of high-profile proposals, including repealing the death penalty, creating a statewide paid family and medical leave benefit and installing an eviction moratorium during the pandemic.

And this year, the following likely bills (among others) will demand teamwork and backbone from the Democrats: The public health insurance option. A proposal to fund transportation by increasing certain fees. (Another) proposal to install an eviction moratorium at the state level.

It’s safe to assume Democrats will have an easier path this session, especially after expanding their Senate majority from +3 to +5 in the 2020 election.

But it goes deeper than the numbers. The November seat shuffle made the majority more progressive generally in both chambers, and several who represent traditional “swing” districts are facing new, blue electorates — like Greenwood Village’s Jeff Bridges and Arvada’s Rachel Zenzinger, who both cruised to victory in state Senate districts that only four years ago were single-digit wins for Democrats.

It’s not hard to imagine that with greater sheer numbers, new and further left-leaning members and increasing popularity of Democrats in the suburbs, the majority will feel free to govern with a little less fear and a little more unity this session.

Elsewhere in The Spot: Saja Hindi writes about rural vaccinations, Conrad Swanson talks about ’s new rent and utility aid, and Justin Wingerter catches you up on Colorado’s brashest member of Congress.

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gas oil drilling and fracking coming nearer to housing  2hr61421 - The Spot: The pros and cons of power, rural vaccinations, rental assistance and Boebert’s new assignments
Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file

A derrick pumps oil near houses in Dacono in 2017.

President Joe Biden signed a lot of executive orders in his first week, including one with particular importance in Colorado, which is the seventh-biggest energy producer in the U.S. and has 36% federally managed lands. More from the Post’s Judith Kohler here.

Capitol Diary • By Saja Hindi

Rural area vaccines

Colorado’s vaccine rollout has had a bit of a rough start, and at least one state lawmaker — Republican Rep. Matt Soper of Delta — questioned this week whether rural communities were getting the resources they needed.

At a legislative hearing for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Soper said there didn’t appear to be a coordinated effort, at least in Delta and Mesa counties, to get the vaccine into enough arms.

“Is there a state plan?” Soper, who sits on the Delta Memorial Hospital board, asked CDPHE Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan. “Because from my perspective, it seems like a real hodgepodge.”

Rural areas in Colorado also have fewer vaccine providers who are able to administer the shots. And while state officials recently announced the creation of a new team focusing on equity to ensure better access in rural areas and underserved communities, early state data shows Coloradans of color are being immunized less than their white peers.

Ryan told lawmakers vaccines are being allocated based on population, and the state works directly with local public health agencies. She said those agencies can request more vaccinations if they’re planning something like a mass clinic, but it will reduce their numbers at other times.

“I agree that 100 and 200 at a time for local communities isn’t much,” Ryan said. “It’s just completely on a population basis.”

More Colorado political news

Federal politics • By Justin Wingerter

Boebert’s committees

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert was appointed this week to two congressional committees overseeing the nation’s natural resources and the federal budget.

The freshman Republican, who lives in Silt, follows in the footsteps of her GOP predecessor, Scott Tipton, by nabbing a seat on the House Natural Resources Committee. A lot of western states’ members sit on the committee, including four now from Colorado, because it oversees public lands, mineral rights and tribes.

“With over half of Colorado’s Third Congressional District containing federal land, I’ll have a unique opportunity to be a strong voice for my constituents on important issues impacting their livelihoods,” Boebert said in a statement.

The committee also plays a small role in energy policy. Boebert, like Tipton, has pushed for what she calls an “all-of-the-above” approach, nominally supporting renewables as well as oil and gas. But she has been critical of subsidies for green energy and mocked Democratic concerns about climate change on multiple occasions. Boebert’s husband works in the natural gas industry.

Boebert made clear for more than a month that she wanted a seat on the committee. Its chairman, Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, questioned whether she should be a member due to her attention-grabbing behavior. Grijalva cannot block the appointment, which was made by a group of Republican lawmakers.

“It’s a huge concern that GOP leadership thinks it’s appropriate to put a seditionist like Lauren Boebert on the committee that oversees America’s public lands,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Denver-based environmental group Center for Western Priorities.

Boebert will also be on the House Budget Committee. In a news release, she called herself “a fiscal hawk” and pledged to “tackle our growing national debt.”

More federal politics news

Mile High Politics • By Conrad Swanson

Rent and utility money for Denverites in need

Colorado’s coronavirus cases are trending in the right direction, but its unemployment rate is not — and that means less money in Coloradans’ pockets and, of course, trouble paying the bills.

Denver offers rent and utility assistance through several programs, and data shows high demand during the pandemic.

Before COVID-19 was a thing in Denver, in January and February 2020, Denver gave 188 households money to pay rent and utility bills, according to data from Derek Woodbury, spokesman for Denver’s Department of Housing Stability. That’s an average of 94 homes for each month.

But in March, as cities locked down and imposed restrictions on businesses, restaurants, group activities and more, things changed. Between March and December, Denver gave 2,332 households rental assistance, Woodbury said. That’s an average of 233 a month, about a 250% increase.

In all, the city spent $7.5 million through December, Woodbury said, $5 million from the federal CARES Act and $2.5 million in local funds. On average each of those 2,332 homes received $1,400 each month for three months, Woodbury said.

There’s also more money for rental assistance on the way: Denver is getting nearly $22 million more from the federal government, and the City Council is considering allocating $1.5 million more from the federal relief money.

Denverites in need of help with their rent and utility bills should call 720-913-1311.

More Denver and suburban political news

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