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Debating high profile, volatile issues

Every week, this session seems to feature a new high profile and volatile issue to be debated.

Last week, it was the start of the school finance bill. Colorado’s approach to funding our schools has been incredibly complex and difficult to understand. There’s a formula that takes into account many factors which then determines how much funding each school district will receive from the state.

Getting to fair and balanced funding of schools hasn’t been achieved and is evident in my senate district. I was hopeful that those working most closely on the new formula would be able to arrive at something that would transcend the rural versus urban disparities.

The bill sponsors hope to arrive at a new formula that would be sufficiently popular to help pass a billion dollar tax increase to be proposed this fall for a statewide vote. It’s an ambitious goal and one that will require buy-in from across the state to succeed.

I’ve been very fortunate to have a number of fully engaged school district superintendents and school board members who are not only monitoring the situation from afar, but traveled to the Capitol to testify in the Senate education committee about how the new proposed formula fell short of an equitable approach for some of the rural areas of the state.

Amendments were made to address at least some of the problems, but it was done in a rush. The dust hasn’t yet settled on what was done and it remains to be seen whether those amendments will survive through the debates in the Senate and over in the House.

While all of this was happening, I was in other committees, getting three of my bills passed out of committee. Two of those bills address improving Medicaid fraud detection and recovery of misspent funds. There’s still a lot to do to reduce Medicaid fraud and a recent study by the Pew Center estimates that between seven and nine percent of the Medicaid funds are paid to fraudulent claims.

Medicaid expenditures at the state level are on a trajectory to overtake the only other area of the state budget that’s larger — K-12 school funding — so, addressing Medicaid fraud has been a high priority for me. I’ve carried a number of bills addressing this topic and am pleased that the advocates for Medicaid beneficiaries in the disability community have been strong supporters of my bills.

I also had two bills signed by the governor this week. One was the bill allowing electronic participation in meetings by school board members and the other was making some changes in the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs, which was also sponsored by the two state representatives in my senate district, Representatives McLachlan and Coram.

Sadly, the events of the past week were overshadowed by the ruthless murder of Colorado’s Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements. Details of the killing are still unfolding, but there will be no adequate explanation of why this thoughtful and kind public servant was shot at the door of his home. I knew Director Clements from working with him on the criminal justice commission. His tragic death is a great loss for Colorado and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and coworkers, including the governor.

This story was posted on March 28, 2013.