On March 5, 2022, Rob Squire and Lisa Pope of UpDoNA’s Safety & Quality of Life Committee met with Senator Rankin who represents State Senate District 8 in northwest Colorado and his wife, Joyce Rankin, who serves on the Colorado State Board of Education for District 13. Senator Rankin serves on the Appropriations and Joint Budget Committees.
Several issues were discussed including HB 19-1263 which amended the classification of certain drug possessions. This bill downgraded the possession of four grams or less of drugs such as fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine from a felony to a misdemeanor. They also discussed SB22-041 which proposed the amendment of the laws regarding pretrial release of repeat or violent offenders. The Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Senators Pete Lee and Julie Gonzales, recently killed that bill. Senator Rankin stated that several committees are working on bills to address some of the shortfalls in the current legislation in both areas, and that there is bipartisan support for changes.
Colorado HB21-1097 directs the Colorado Department of Human Services to establish a new Behavior Health Administration that will coordinate state mental health and substance use funding and programs. Approximately $100 million goes to Human Services with approximately 100 streams of funding and many points of billing. The Administration will also look at streamlining both funding and billing.
Denver has received $90 million in behavior health grants from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). $45 million has been earmarked for community programs and $45 million has been earmarked for family and youth programs. Plans for the money must be committed to by 2024 and the money must be spent by 2026. Senator Rankin stated that one of the biggest issues faced is that there are not enough counselors, staff, etc. to run the programs. Approximately 1,000 people are needed.
Senator Rankin is seeing support for a change in our current criminal system and for more law enforcement.
Senator Rankin is working on a Housing First bill that would give $90 million to transitional housing. Transitional housing would be provided to people, for example, who have been recently released from prison or who have finished their mental health treatment. Discussion with both Senator Rankin and Joyce Rankin led to the possibility that a portion of the $90 million might be used to provide new police officers with housing assistance in Denver.
Senator Rankin will provide UpDoNA with the report of the Behavior Health Commission /Administration. He also invited Rob and Lisa to attend committee sessions and to possibly testify in future hearing-