What can we reason but from what we know? -Alexander Pope

2022 legislative session set to open Wednesday, Jan. 12

The 2022 General Assembly session, which begins its 120-day run on Wednesday, Jan. 12, will be the last year in the legislature for state Senator Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

He intends to go out with a bang, sponsoring a measure that could be among the most significant in his 16-year history as a lawmaker.

Sonnenberg is teaming up with Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, to change a state law that would eventually allow the University of Northern Colorado to open only the second public medical school in the State.

A new medical school would help alleviate an anticipated shortage in physicians, due to an aging workforce and anticipated population growth over the next several decades, according to a feasibility study University of Northern Colorado commissioned last year.

Weld County grew by 30 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to United States census data.

The medical school would provide osteopathic training, a growing field within medicine. Osteopathic physicians focus on whole health, can choose any specialty, prescribe drugs and perform surgeries. 

“I’m optimistic I can still get something done across the aisle,” Sonnenberg told this reporter, although it’s been tougher the last few years, after Republicans lost control of the State Senate.

A second bill for 2022 is a rehash of a 2021 bill that would allow a family member to visit their loved one in a nursing home or other health care facility during a pandemic. That bill, which was backed by the family of the late Richard Gillham of Peetz, failed to move out of the House in 2021. Sonnenberg said it drew objections from the State Public Health Department and nursing homes, but “we’ve learned enough now” to change how the bill was written, with hopes it will have better luck in 2022.

Sonnenberg also has a concurrent resolution — a bill that voters would ultimately decide on — regarding the legislature’s ability to raise fees. His resolution, which mirrors a bill that he said will be offered by Representative Matt Soper, R-Delta, would require a supermajority of lawmakers to approve any new fees collected by the State. A supermajority is 24 votes in the Senate (out of 35) and 44 in the House (out of 65).

Another bill will expand the scope of the interim water resources review committee to include agriculture, with Sonnenberg as the sponsor. A second water committee bill, to be offered along with Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, will deal with retiring wells to ensure compact compliance in the Rio Grande and Republican rivers. 

Finally, Sonnenberg intends to carry a bill to make changes to the hospital provider fee statute, which was modified in 2017. The bill would give a hospital the option to disclose the amount of the provider fee on a patient’s bill, which currently is prohibited. 

The provider fee is collected by the state from hospitals, pooled with federal dollars and then redistributed back to hospitals to cover costs such as for unreimbursed care and Medicaid expenses.

With redistricting for the General Assembly completed (maps were approved by the Colorado Supreme Court in November), Senate District 1, which includes Logan, Yuma and Phillips counties, shifts to draw in more of Weld County. The district, come 2023, will no longer include Lincoln County, which moves into a new Senate District 35.

Rep. Rod Pelton, R-Cheyenne Wells, is throwing his hat into the ring to vie for the Senate District 35, seat, so this is his last year in the House as well as his last year representing northeastern Colorado. The new Senate District 35 starts with Lincoln County and goes all the way to the New Mexico state line and west to Trinidad.

For 2022, Pelton intends to continue working on the new Behavioral Health Administration. Pelton was a sponsor of the 2021 legislation setting up the new department, which for now will be housed in the Colorado Department of Human Services. It will, however, have its own commissioner who will be a member of the governor’s cabinet. On Jan. 4, Polis appointed Dr. Morgan Medlock, formerly Chief Medical Officer and Director of Crisis and Emergency Services for the Washington, D.C. Department of Behavioral Health. Medlock starts in her new role on Jan. 18.

The new administration still requires some changes in State law for some of its key functions, such as rulemaking authority and transferring certain programs from other state agencies and that’s part of what Pelton’s bill will do in the 2022 session.

A second Pelton bill will try to find a solution for dealing with the effects of blizzards and high wind events on the Eastern Plains. Pelton said he’s working on a bill to set up a community resiliency grant program to help small rural communities when they lose power during these weather problems. He likened it to a backup generator for a home, but this would be on a bigger scale, he said.

He intends to be a cosponsor on the water committee bill dealing with the Republican and Rio Grande compact compliance issue. 

Pelton will also be a sponsor of bills tied to the Republican Commitment to Colorado, announced in August. Those bills are expected to focus on expanding school choice, public safety and reducing fees and other costs. 

The General Assembly will begin its 2022 session at 10 a.m. on Jan. 12, with speeches from legislative leaders. Polis will present his fourth State of the State address at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 13.


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