Democrat State Rep. Tony Exum is the incumbent representative for Colorado House District 17.
What is your top issue for the next legislative session, and how do you plan to fix it?
One thing I’ve learned from being a state legislator is that different people have different urgent needs. Some people are unemployed and need immediate assistance, which is why I’ve supported bills to expand unemployment benefits. Some people are experiencing homelessness, which is why I’ve supported bills to increase the availability of affordable housing. Other people are being poisoned by contaminated waters, which is why I’ve run bills to ban toxic PFAS firefighting foams.
There isn’t just one pressing issue facing people in HD 17, there are several, and they all need immediate attention.
If I am re-elected to continue serving in the state legislature (and I hope I will be re-elected), I will of course work with the other state legislators and the Governor’s office to help Colorado recover from this coronavirus crisis, and I will continue working on my top three legislative priorities: supporting public education, protecting the environment, and helping low-income families, people of color, veterans, first responders, and the elderly all live better lives.
I’m on the House’s Education Committee because supporting public education is a high priority of mine: making sure our schools are well funded, our breakfast and lunch services are healthy, affordable, and filling, and our school buildings are well-maintained, safe and secure.
Just as importantly, I run legislation protecting Colorado’s beautiful environment from exploitation and destruction: giving local governments more power to regulate oil and gas drilling within their jurisdictions, and prohibiting the use during training of certain toxic PFAS firefighting foams.
And to help the people of not just HD 17 but in all of Colorado, I’ve also run bills to extend the breakfast-after-the-bell program in some public schools, so students can still be served breakfast even if they arrive after the first bell (when breakfast would otherwise be over); require landlords to give tenants a copy of the signed rental agreement and receipts when rent is paid; pay for the testing of the levels of lead in drinking water of public schools; help active duty military members and veterans receive mental health treatments, substance abuse treatments, and other helpful services before court proceedings; and raise the pay of National Guard members who get called up by the Governor into emergency service, such as we’re experiencing now with this COVID-19 crisis and declared State of Emergency.
I will continue working on these issues, among others, in the next legislative session.
How can the legislature address the state's housing and cost of living issues?
The state legislature has already taken some steps to address the crisis of affordable housing.
For example, in 2019 we passed a bill to put an extra $30 million into the housing development grant fund, to help pay for building more affordable housing units around the state and to help low-income families and certain other people pay their rent or mortgages.
And in 2020, to help combat the many disasters caused by the pandemic, we lawmakers passed more than a dozen pieces of legislation: providing $270 million in grants and loans to small businesses; channeling tens of millions of dollars in direct housing assistance, utilities support, and mental health assistance; ensuring access to paid sick leave for Colorado workers; and expanding unemployment benefits, helping hardworking Coloradans make ends meet.
This suite of COVID-19 relief bills also included my bill HB20-1410, providing $20 million in direct rental and mortgage assistance to Coloradans experiencing a financial need, including $350,000 for legal aid for renters at risk of eviction.
Governor Polis has taken some emergency actions to forestall evictions during this pandemic and help people stay in their homes, by issuing executive orders. But when the legislature comes back in session next year, we’ll need to take a look at what more we can do to help people facing evictions.
Should COVID-19 be handled more at a local level or from a top-level approach in the state?
Every level of government has a role to play in this pandemic, because COVID-19 affects everyone everywhere.
There will always be a balance, ever shifting, between the different levels of government, about who should have the greatest responsibility for protecting the people and how to do so, and people of good intentions may disagree on what that right balance is. But I believe Colorado has found a good balance between local and state government responsibilities: with the state government devising science-based measurements for when restrictions need to be implemented and when they can be lifted, and local governments taking the lead on enforcing those restrictions or applying for waivers and variances if their local area is less affected by the virus and can safely go without those restrictions.
Local governments have the best information about what’s going on within their areas, and it’s right that they should have the most control over what’s happening in their areas; but the state government (including the Governor) has its own responsibilities for protecting the people of Colorado everywhere, because the virus doesn’t care about city limits as it goes everywhere.
We’re all in the same boat, and we need to work together to weather this storm.