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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis says housing and health care are two of the most critical issues facing Coloradans, and on Saturday he addressed them both during a visit to Eagle County.
In Edwards, Polis signed Senate Bill 23-174, “Access To Certain Behavioral Health Services,” and House Bill 23-1268, “Private Treatment for Out-of-state Defendant.” Fifteen minutes later, from Dowd Junction in EagleVail, Polis signed Senate Bill 23-001, “Authority Of Public-private Collaboration Unit For Housing.”
At both stops, the governor was joined by Rep. Meghan Lukens and Sen. Dylan Roberts. He praised the two Western Slope lawmakers who represent Eagle County for their work in getting the bills through the legislature.
Polis said the Vail Health Behavioral Health site in Edwards was a good place for the signing of SB23-174 because the location will soon house a 50,000-square-foot inpatient behavioral health facility, providing 28 beds for short-term stays and treatment.
“This bill allows Medicaid members under 21 to get (behavioral health) services, and that’s so important because members will benefit by having access to behavioral health services sooner, and that means that they won’t need a covered diagnosis to get care,” he said. “If they’re having a psychotic episode or are in immediate need, they shouldn’t be forced to go through the paperwork of having to have a covered diagnosis before a payer can allow them to get the care they need.”
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Lukens said SB23-174 will invest in early solutions for Colorado children needing behavioral health services.
The bill “will provide equitable access and affordable, early, prevention-focused services before a crisis occurs,” she said.
Services upon arrival
HB23-1268 is focused on something Colorado is known for — attracting new residents from out-of-state who have sought out the Rocky Mountains for a fresh start.
Polis said HB23-1268 will make Colorado safer by streamlining services that will keep people healthy upon moving to Colorado.
“It’s very important to make sure nothing is lost as people move from one jurisdiction to another, across different states,” Polis said.
Roberts said HB23-1268 cuts down barriers to mental health services.
“When somebody comes from another state and they have a criminal background, we want to make sure they’re getting the behavioral health services that they need as soon as possible,” Roberts said. “This bill will cut down some of the barriers that people have been having to do to go through background checks and onerous processes before they can even step inside the doors and get services that they need.”
’99-yard touchdown run’
The EagleVail bill signing took place on state-owned land near the Colorado Department of Transportation the Colorado State Patrol’s Eagle County operations in Dowd Junction.
Polis said it was a good location for the signing of SB23-001 because the bill will allow for the creation of 80 new housing units on the site.
“I know, I know, it’s just a drop in the bucket, but you have to start somewhere,” Polis said.
Polis said SB23-001 will authorize the public-private partnership office to identify underutilized state lands for housing.
“Colorado is a great place to live, and Eagle County is a great place to live, and in many ways, we’re victims of our own success, because demand has exceeded supply of housing, for years,” he said. “And that’s why the price of housing costs so much, that’s why people are priced out of living in Eagle County and, increasingly, the Denver metro area. And that’s why the state is stepping up to tackle this.”
Polis said he has personally watched the changes take place in Eagle County throughout his life as his family has owned a home in Vail since 1981.
“The valley was a very different place 30 years ago,” Polis said. “It’s grown, and it’s successful, and it’s a wonderful place to live, but it’s very hard to have a workforce to power the economy and sustain the quality of life here in Eagle County, because of the high cost of real estate and homes.”
Polis said the idea to make more state-owned land available for housing has been on his mind throughout his entire term in office.
“When I first became governor, we started an inventory of our state-owned land … and this was a plot that the state land-board owns, but CDOT uses, and it’s an important function,” he said. “But there’s additional space here, which we made a priority to deploy any additional state-owned land for housing, where appropriate, and this is a perfect site for it.”
SB23-001 will also allow for similar sites to create housing in other parts of the state, Polis and Roberts both said in their comments.
Roberts said local leaders helped make it possible, specifically mentioning Greg Moffet, a former Eagle County Planning Commission member who brought the idea to Roberts.
“It’s been talked about for years and years, maybe even decades,” Roberts said. “But three years ago we started working with the Polis administration on seeing if we could actually get it done here in Dowd Junction.”
Moffet served as a commissioner on the Colorado State Land Board under both Hickenlooper and Polis, and in serving on that board he gained expertise on state land in Dowd Junction. In passing the idea to Roberts, called it one of the biggest unmet opportunities for housing in Eagle County.
“(Roberts) took the idea and took off,” Moffet said following Saturday’s bill signing. “That was a 99-yard touchdown run we just saw come across the goal line here today.”