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Scott Franz

Aspen Public Radio Capitol Coverage Reporter
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.
 

One of the biggest and most consequential battles of the 2020 legislative session is expected to start this week, once Democrats unveil their latest plan to create a statewide paid family leave program.

The bill's sponsors had to make some big concessions to try and get the measure passed this time around. A year ago, their last effort failed due to opposition from the business community and Gov. Jared Polis.

Americans saw the flaws of a presidential caucus this week after vote totals in Iowa were delayed by technical glitches. The complexity of a caucus is one of the reasons why Colorado is back to conducting a primary.

Morgan Carroll, the chairwoman of Colorado's Democratic Party, thinks the switch will have additional benefits.

As Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic lawmakers wage a war with hospitals over the rising cost of health care in Colorado, many residents like Jamie Harrison are still stuck paying high premiums on the West Slope.

"I think paying $1,700 a month for an insurance policy I don't use is not sustainable," Harrison said last week after finishing a day of skiing in Beaver Creek. "Something has got to give."

One rural community in Colorado was so frustrated with high health insurance costs and government inaction that a few years ago, residents took matters into their own hands.

And their plan worked.

Locals in Summit County found a way around traditional insurance processes to lower local health care costs and save consumers an average of 20 percent on their monthly premiums.

Colorado's legislative session is just over two weeks old, and lawmakers have already introduced more than 270 bills and counting. With hundreds more bills expected to land in the coming weeks, here are some of the ones we are starting to watch at the state Capitol.

When Blondie's Diner closes around 9 p.m. and a table of hunters finish their green chili cheeseburgers and head back to their hotel, the town of Naturita feels a bit like a ghost town.

There are two new marijuana dispensaries still open late with green neon signs, but on a November night at the start of hunting season, not many customers are partaking.

The only sound punctuating through the cold evening is a semi-truck idling in the parking lot of the Rimrocker Hotel, its driver trying to stay warm.

It's a good day when Tammie Delaney hears a train rumbling down the tracks outside of the century-old granary building she owns in Hayden.

"Oh, you get the train noise today!" she shouts as a train whistle pierces the usual silence in the small town of about 2,000 people.

The train whistles are an indicator of the economy in the Yampa Valley.

Gov. Jared Polis recently outlined an ambitious agenda for lawmakers in 2020. He vowed to reduce health care costs, find a solution to the state's road funding woes and get more children into preschool. But some of the governor's priorities will prove to be contentious.

Capitol Coverage reporter Scott Franz sat down with the governor after his State of the State address to talk about some of the hot-button issues that are on the table this legislative session.

The opening days of Colorado's legislative session are typically jovial and largely free of partisan politics. The governor capitalized on that mood during his roughly hour-long speech. After an interruption from a heckler in the gallery shouting, "Ban fracking now!" Polis started with a recap of his first year in office.

There were the usual jokes and friendly banter between the House and Senate.

State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle exchanged hugs in a chamber that felt a bit like a school getting back to work after an eight-month break.

But amidst the pomp and circumstance of the opening day of Colorado's 2020 legislative session, lawmakers also drew some clear battle lines.

Some of the biggest and most contentious laws the state legislature passed this year are going into effect on Wednesday.

Together, the new laws aim to prevent suicides and gun violence, protect hospital patients from unexpected medical bills and give local governments the power to raise their minimum wages higher than the state level.

State Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Avon) represents two counties on Colorado's Western Slope that face some of the highest health insurance costs in the state. So for his first two years in office, Roberts has been a key player on some of the biggest health care proposals coming out of the Capitol. His latest, which has bipartisan support, would create a new health insurance plan.

Phil Weiser

Hate crimes are on the rise in Colorado. The state is partnering with eighteen private groups to address the issue. 

Attorney General Phil Weiser announced the initiative Monday morning, saying he doesn’t know why hate crimes are up, but that new efforts are needed to stop them.

“It’s that spirit of welcoming everyone, regardless of where you came from, regardless of who you love, regardless of what you look like, regardless of who you worship, and so together we can stand against hate,” said Weiser.

Colorado residents have rejected a request from their state legislature to remove an annual government spending limit that some elected officials argued is holding back the state’s roads and schools.

Instead, voters opted to continue getting tax refunds when the state reaches a revenue cap set by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Gov. Jared Polis has unveiled a budget proposal for 2020-21 that would expand the capacity at some state parks and boost spending on school safety in the wake of the deadly shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch.

Polis’ spending plan would also provide about eight weeks of paid family leave for all state employees.

State lawmakers are advancing a bipartisan response to the deadly shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch that occurred in May.

On Thursday, lawmakers on a new school safety committee approved five bills they think will make schools safer in the wake of that shooting.

A tougher set of winter traction rules passed by state lawmakers this year didn’t stop some drivers from getting stuck and snarling traffic on Interstate 70 for several hours Wednesday and Thursday.

Colorado conservatives have spent the last six months knocking on doors and manning recall booths around the state as they tried to convince residents to help them remove six Democrats, including Governor Jared Polis, from office.

Colorado’s oil and gas regulators say they will start putting some drilling applications through a more rigorous review process after a study found people face short term health risks, such as headaches and dizziness, if they are within 2,000 feet of the wells.

The study released Thursday specifically found the health risks occur when a well is being constructed, with the highest risk coming at a time when a process called “flowback” occurs.

Colorado is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a case that could have big implications for future presidential elections.

Tracey Olson/Flickr

Former governor John Hickenlooper is way ahead of his Democratic rivals in the fundraising race for a US Senate seat.

Hickenlooper’s $2.1 million haul in the last three months is more than four times bigger than the amount raised by his closest rival.

When Gov. Jared Polis used an executive order to create his new Office of Saving People Money on Health Care eight months ago, he said it was the first office of its kind.

Proposition CC is pitting lawmakers who are seeking more money to pay for roads and education against residents who think government spending should have a limit.

Elise Thatcher


Coloradans who purchase their health insurance on the individual marketplace can expect to save even more money next year than lawmakers originally thought.

 

Governor Jared Polis says premiums on the marketplace will go down by an average of twenty point two percent next year thanks to a new reinsurance program. The savings will be two percent higher than what the state projected in July.

After hearing hours of emotional testimony from parents and students who don't think Colorado's schools are safe enough in the wake of deadly shootings, state lawmakers are now considering eight measures to address the issue.

And they will spend the weekend working on them to meet a Monday bill drafting deadline.

Coloradans on both sides of the political aisle are celebrating the approval of a new reinsurance program that is expected to dramatically reduce health insurance premiums for some residents.

"By bringing down rates, we'll make a dent in the number of uninsured, and today we're really seeing the hard work we did this legislative session is coming to fruition," Gov. Jared Polis said last month.

Reinsurance is often described as insurance for insurance companies.

To the untrained eye, the pink marble walls outside Gov. Jared Polis' office look like, well, marble walls. But tour guide Ellen Stanton sees something else.

As a curious group of visitors gets closer to the wall, Stanton points out how the wavy lines in the stone create a face that looks like George Washington's.

"And over here we've got a turkey!" Stanton says, as the adults on the tour join the children in 'ooh'ing and 'ahh'ing at the hidden discovery.

In a Denver ballroom filled with red "Make America Great Again" hats and hundreds of conservatives, Ann Howe doesn't appear daunted by the task of gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures to attempt to recall her governor.

Most of the offices inside the state Capitol are locked and dark this time of year as lawmakers enjoy some time off. But there was recently a flurry of activity in Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet's office as she prepared to lead a new committee of lawmakers who will try to make classrooms safer in the wake of the deadly shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch.

Some presidential candidates like Sen. Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg are seeing their profiles and poll numbers rise after last week’s debates in Miami. But others, including former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, are making headlines for the attention they’re still not getting.

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