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'Coloradans are tougher': Polis says state will rebound after year of tragedies

Gov. Jared Polis waves after delivering his State of the State address at the Colorado state Capitol building on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.
AAron Ontiveroz
Pool photo, The Denver Post
Gov. Jared Polis waves after delivering his State of the State address at the Colorado state Capitol building on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.

Gov. Jared Polis' final State of the State address of his first term was more subdued and somber than his previous speeches to lawmakers.

It started with a moment of silence for the thousands of Coloradans who have lost their lives to COVID-19, as well as many others who have been affected by the fires, mudslides and other natural disasters that struck the state over the last year.

“I know how easy it is to get lost in the pain and sadness of what we’ve all endured together,” Polis said. “But no matter how tough this year has been, I know for a fact that Coloradans are tougher… We care for one another, and we are tougher than anything thrown our way.”

He praised first responders who saved lives and homes during the Marshall Fire, a police officer who made the ultimate sacrifice trying to protect shoppers during the mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers, and the thousands of health care workers who have experienced waves of coronavirus patients.

“Politicians talk about improving lives. You actually save lives,” he said of health care workers.

He then called on lawmakers to pass policies to protect against a new threat: inflation and rising housing costs.

“I’m proposing that we further reduce fees like the unemployment insurance premium and the paid family and medical leave premium, resulting in hundreds of millions in savings for the businesses and workers that power our economy,” Polis said.

He said his top priority this session would be to save Coloradans money and make the state more affordable.

He also vowed to make Colorado among the top 10 safest states in the nation over the next five years.

The governor’s usual references to the sci-fi series Star Trek were back. But new in his address this year were his attempts to sing.

“The pandemic has taken so much from us, but no more, as Taylor (Swift) says,” he said, singing the next part,“I don’t know about you but I’m feeling 2022, everything will be alright, because we know what we gotta do.”

But the governor’s hopeful outlook faces some immediate challenges.

Gov. Jared Polis arrives to deliver his State of the State address at the Colorado state Capitol building on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.
AAron Ontiveroz
Pool photo, The Denver Post
Gov. Jared Polis arrives to deliver his State of the State address at the Colorado state Capitol building on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.

He is kicking off another session under the cloud of a deadly pandemic that continues to drive his agenda.

All guests in the House Chamber had to test negative for the virus and wear medical grade masks. And about 4,000 more Coloradans have died from COVID-19 since his last State of the State address.

Both parties agree that inflation and housing costs are becoming bigger issues as the pandemic drags on. And hundreds of Coloradans are still piecing their lives back together after the Marshall Fire tore through Boulder County.

“We were reminded, once more, that our lives and everything can go up in an instant,” Polis said. “I'm requesting additional support for the men and women on the ground, including personal protective equipment, training and many other needs that we can help meet for local fire departments. The fresh mountain air that so many people associate with Colorado isn't a given. We have to fight to protect it.”

Lawmakers are already in the early stages of crafting a response to the latest record-breaking wildfire. They spent tens of millions on the issue last year, mostly to purchase a more versatile firefighting helicopter. But it was still being built when the Marshall Fire swept through entire neighborhoods. And Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg says it may not have even helped.

“We can't necessarily stop every fire,” Fenberg said. “We can be better at making sure those fires don't turn into devastating mega-fires with resources and equipment and training. But we also need to think about how communities can respond and prepare and bounce back faster.”

One issue that likely won’t return from last session is Republican attempts to strip Polis of his pandemic powers. Instead, ahead of the governor’s reelection campaign, lawmakers in the minority party are focusing on the economy and blaming the governor and Democrats for rising costs.

“The state of the state is not strong,” House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, said. “And we are going to spend the next 120 days fighting to make it better.”

Republicans have unveiled more than 40 bills this year that they are calling their commitment to Colorado.

But many of them, including a measure that aims to allow unvaccinated people who have had COVID-19 the same rights to enter a business as a vaccinated person, lack the bipartisan support right now they would need to pass. Other Republican initiatives include letting residents deduct their rent payments from income taxes.

Copyright 2022 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.