The Colorado National Guard gets called up by the governor to assist the people and state during disaster emergencies, such as we are living through now.
On March 11, Gov. Jared Polis declared a disaster in Colorado due to the presence of the novel coronavirus. Less than a week later, on March 17, he called up 50 National Guard members to assist with medical support and logistics at drive-up COVID-19 testing centers throughout the state.
Just this month, on April 6, more than 250 National Guard members were called up to help shelter people in Denver experiencing homelessness during this crisis; on April 15, 50 soldiers were called up to help convert the Colorado Convention Center into a 2,000-bed medical shelter; and on April 20, 70 Colorado Army National Guard members were called up to assist with COVID-19 testing at long-term care facilities, including one here in El Paso County.
The incredible service given to Colorado by these National Guard members cannot be overstated or over-appreciated. I thank you for your service.
Sadly, though, some of these members — who are all volunteers, giving up their regular jobs to put on the National Guard uniform and help save us — are not being very well paid for their services and sacrifice.
Under current state law, certain National Guard members only get paid $20 per day when called up to serve during emergencies. Assuming those members work a 12-hour shift (which is common), they earn only $1.67 per hour doing difficult and dangerous work.
It does frequently happen that National Guard members are only paid that $20 per day rate. During the 2018 Red Canyon Fire, two National Guard members were paid at that low rate. During the disastrous 2018 Spring Creek Fire, 61 National Guard members each were paid just $20 per day.
As a former firefighter, I know what it means to be willing to put your life on the line to save others. It’s dangerous work, and these service members more than deserve a boost in their paychecks.
That’s why earlier this year I wrote, sponsored and passed legislation to more than quadruple the rate of pay for the lowest ranking members of the National Guard, to $88 a day.
Although the bill has been signed into law by Governor Polis, it has not yet been implemented because a provision known as the “petition clause” was drafted into the bill. A petition clause means the act won’t go into effect until 90 days after the Legislature wraps up for the year. Although the last day of the legislative session usually happens in early May, this year that date has been pushed back due to COVID-19.
While I’m disappointed that the National Guard members who are currently serving on the front lines of our state’s coronavirus crisis won’t immediately see the benefit of this new law, I hope to be able to update this legislation when I get back to the Capitol so they will be paid the new rate that they deserve, as soon as possible.
In the meantime, my thoughts and prayers are with the members of the National Guard who are working tirelessly to protect Coloradans across the state. Your hard work is not taken for granted; you will be rewarded accordingly. And again, thank you.
State Rep. Tony Exum represents Colorado’s 17th district, which includes Southeast Colorado Springs.