The 2021 legislative session was a return to normalcy.
Thanks to better-than-expected economic prosperity during the pandemic, our state’s budget-makers were able to restore all of the cuts that were in last year’s budget. In FY 2019-2020, before the pandemic, our state’s budget was $33.6 billion. In FY 2020-2021, because of the pandemic, we lost a projected surplus and had to slash funding down to just $31.9 billion. This year, for FY 2021-2022, because of the ongoing recovery, our state’s budget rebounded up to $34.6 billion — a return to normal, pre-pandemic levels.
With extra funds, too, we were able to pass two major stimulus packages for the people and businesses of Colorado, one using state money and the other using federal dollars.
The Colorado Recovery Plan (also called the Colorado Comeback State Stimulus Plan) invested $800 million in state dollars into five key areas: strengthening small businesses, revitalizing our infrastructure, supporting Colorado families, investing in rural Colorado, and developing our workforce.
Two of my bills were part of this state-funded package, including: HB21-1270, using $3 million state dollars to get $3 million in matching federal funds, to help pay for employment and training programs for SNAP recipients, helping people find work; and SB21-110, putting $30 million into CDOT’s Revitalizing Main Streets and Safer Main Streets programs, helping local communities everywhere in Colorado fund transportation and infrastructure improvements to help main streets and business districts survive this COVID-19 pandemic.
The Build Back Stronger federal stimulus plan put nearly $2 billion of the $3.8 billion Colorado got from the American Rescue Plan Act (saving the other $1.8 billion for next session) into tackling our crisis in housing costs, combating our crisis in mental and behavioral health, and investing in our people through workforce development. This federal money helped us make sure Colorado builds back stronger by investing in what we know makes Colorado special: our people, our small businesses, our quality of life and our public lands.
This year’s return to normalcy also extended to the other kinds of bills we were able to pass this year. A lot of the bills we introduced last year, but which died on the calendar as pandemic business took over everything else, were brought back. For example, last year I ran a bill to reimburse counties for the costs of driver’s education classes for youths in foster care, so those young people can get the classes they need to get their driver’s licenses. That bill was one of the many lost last year when the pandemic hit, but passed nearly unanimously through the legislature this year as HB21-1084.
Another one of my bills passed this year was HB21-1067, which removed the requirement that colleges and universities in Colorado must use a national assessment test score (like the ACT or SAT) as an eligibility criterion for admission. Removing this requirement
will help many eager students get into college.
While several bills about improving Colorado’s gun laws were already introduced and working their way through the legislature, the deadly mass shootings at a grocery store in Boulder and at a birthday party here in southeast Colorado Springs brought a critical urgency to the issue of gun violence.
We passed laws requiring the safe storage of firearms when children are present, requiring lost or stolen firearms to be reported to the police when the firearms are discovered to be missing and allowing local governments to enact more strict regulations of firearms beyond what state law already requires (so if a local government wants to ban certain kinds of semiautomatic rifles, they can, even though state law may not ban such weapons).
We even created the Office of Gun Violence Prevention to educate the public about gun violence prevention through public awareness campaigns including how to file an Extreme Risk Protection Order, how to access mental health resources, and how to store firearms securely. The office will also facilitate gun violence prevention research in Colorado.
We restored the state’s budget and focused on passing regular kinds of legislation, all while still being focused on pandemic relief and public safety. We did a lot of good work this session.
I look forward to continuing to represent southeast Colorado Springs in the next legislative session, which begins on January 12, 2022.
Rep. Tony Exum Sr. is the state representative for Colorado District 17, which includes Southeast Colorado Springs.