Arvada resident Rachel Zenzinger won election to the Colorado Senate, representing District 19, in November. Previously, she served in the same capacity during the 2014 legislative session. During the 71st General Assembly, she served on the Senate …
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Arvada resident Rachel Zenzinger won election to the Colorado Senate, representing District 19, in November. Previously, she served in the same capacity during the 2014 legislative session. During the 71st General Assembly, she served on the Senate Education Committee, Transportation Committee and the Student Safety and Youth in Crisis Committee. During this session, Zenzinger signed on to 11 bills, half of which were successful. Colorado Community Media sat down with the Democratic lawmaker following the close of the legislative session to talk about the year.How did it feel being back at the Capitol?It was really exciting. I enjoy being a legislator. I enjoy learning new things. I enjoy interacting with lots of different people and I really enjoy trying to solve community problems and address issues that are really important to people. I had a blast.What are you proud of accomplishing this session?As a whole, I'm really glad that we were able to pass the reclassification of the hospital provider fee. It was a really tough negotiation with lots of different stakeholders with different interests and philosophies. So, at the end of the session to be able to pass that bill because it was so significant — it helped prevent major cuts to hospitals and in particular rural hospitals that would have probably ended up closing because they wouldn't have been able to absorb those costs. Also I think reclassifying the hospital provider fee has been on the agenda for a while now, so to finally accomplish that with bipartisan support, I think was really significant.The second thing I'm really pleased about is that we were able to finally chip away at the construction defects reform. The compromise bill that came out of the House — 1279 — I think is a good first step. One of the issues I heard going door to door every single day was housing; and cost of housing; and not being able to afford housing; or having to still live with their parents; and older couples looking to retire. I heard that repeatedly. Finally, taking a positive step in regards to construction defects. While it won't solve our housing problems, I think it will help make a dent in the first classification of housing — which are condos. These are first-time home buyers or young families first getting started and single individuals.The way that I heard it explained to me is that when you think about the ladder of home ownership, if the first rung is missing on that ladder, it's going to be very difficult getting up.I feel its very gratifying that we were able to make a step in that direction. Especially since this is an issue that I've been dealing with since my days on (the Arvada) city council. It's come up every single year.It was pretty significant to make that first step.Let's talk about some legislative wins.I had a couple of legislative wins that were exciting. One was the bill that we (signed) May 18, STEM education — it's an endorsement on a high school diploma that really signals to colleges, universities and the workforce that this high school graduate is proficient at an extremely high standard in the STEM areas. We're really excited about it because we think it will raise the bar for STEM education in Colorado so that we're not just a bunch of talk, but walking the walk as well.Also, the seal of biliteracy bill, which passed earlier this year, the governor will do a mock signing at Foster Elementary. Our new superintendent, Dr. Jason Glass ... I was reading an article today in about his views on education and what he's most excited about and he specifically mentioned how back in Eagle they implemented the seal of biliteracy. And now that it's a state law he can get the program off the ground here in Jeffco.What are you disappointed about?The biggest disappointment for me was that were not able to address transportation issues. Next to housing, transportation is the second thing that I heard most about.There was a bill, House Bill 1242 — that was sponsored in a bipartisan manner by leadership in both the House and the Senate. And it was a bill that was heavily vetted by lots of stakeholders from across the state that accomplished what I felt was really important to accomplish in a measure that you're going to be referring to the voters.There were four policy goals around transportation.The first was that we needed to have a new sustainable revenue source. With $9 billion worth of transportation needs, this is not something you can do with existing resources. So, referring a measure to the voters for a very modest half-cent tax increase would have provided that.The bill also was statewide, which was really important that we don't just address transportation solutions in the metro region, but that we offer something for everybody in the state.The third thing is that we really needed to play catch-up on the maintenance — on basic roads and bridges and filling potholes.And then the last thing, we really needed to make some investments to impact congestion from all of the growth. So, that bill did those four things and it was really frustrating that it was killed in a Senate committee by three individuals that didn't want to give the taxpayers an opportunity to weigh in on this very comprehensive, bipartisan solution for transportation.It was extremely disappointing.How do you move forward from the disappointment and continue to work on them?I do sit on the Senate Transportation Committee and I worked very closely with the Department of Transportation to try to figure out what our next steps should be. I think right now, we're going to wait and see if governor decides to call a special session or not. Because I know this was a pretty big disappointment for himself as well — to not address it. I think we regroup. I think we start over and try to build a new plan that can garner a majority of support.Now that the session has concluded, what are you working on?There was a bill that I carried that did not make it out of committee that actually addressed housing. I really feel that while I'm excited about the construction defects reform helping to take that first step, there's still a lot more to be done to address attainable housing. So, I'm going to be working with a group of stakeholders — people who actually opposed my bill and came back and said, “that might not be the right solution, but we're committed to finding a solution and would you like to join us and be a part of that conversation.” And I said, “absolutely,” because it was such a big priority for the district and I feel that I need to keep working in that direction.The second thing is now that I don't have to go down to the Capitol every day, I can spend more time in the district. So, I have a series of tours that are planned: a business tour, a nonprofit tour, a healthcare tour, and a school tour.The third this is I'm on some interim committees that meet will continue to meet during the interim. Currently I'm on three: the Transportation Legislative Review Committee, CDOT's Efficiency and Accountability Committee, and the School Safety and Youth in Crisis Committee.I've also expressed interest in a new committee that was just formed in the last days of the session to study school finance. So, I'm hoping I get that one.And then, I'll continue to host different town hall meetings and coffees and doing one-on-one meetings with constituents.What do you want the community to know going forward?It was a really productive year. I think I fulfilled my commitment to the community that I made of working in a bipartisan manner and trying to reflect the community to the best of my ability because we're a pretty diverse community.
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