Gov. Polis signs 3 bills into law in Alamosa

Courier photo by John Waters Governor Jared Polis signs three bills into law on Tuesday in front of Richardson Hall on the campus of Adams State University. The bills were all sponsored by Rep. Matthew Martinez (D-62), standing left. Adams State University President David Tandberg is standing right.

All bi-partisan and sponsored by Rep. Martinez

ALAMOSA — With Representative Matthew Martinez (D-62) at his side, a lineup of leadership from the Alamosa School District and Adams State University behind him and a good-sized crowd looking on, Governor Jared Polis signed three bills into law in a signing ceremony held in front of Richardson Hall on the Adams State campus on Tuesday afternoon.

The three bi-partisan bills — creating a high school scholarship program, removing a barrier to applying for college and increasing access to mental health services for veterans — were all sponsored by Rep. Martinez, the Democratic first-term office holder representing the San Luis Valley.

“Representative Martinez has been very busy this session serving the San Luis Valley with these three bills I’m going to sign today,” Polis said. “All the bills are important but there’s one that I’m especially excited about for our graduating seniors class of 2024 who will get a $1,500 scholarship.

“When first lady Jill Biden visited Colorado, she highlighted Representative Martinez’s bill as a really great example of the kinds of things we need for workforce readiness. We’ll be really excited to see what the class of 2024 does with this scholarship that, thanks to Representative Martinez’s bill, helps to reduce the cost of higher education.”

The governor was referring to SB23-205 that puts into law a “Universal High School Scholarship Program” for Colorado high school graduates that prioritizes awards for students pursuing high-priority postsecondary pathway.

Beginning with the 2024-25 academic year, students who graduate or get a high school equivalency certificate (such as a GED) in Colorado during the 2023-24 school year and choose to pursue an in-demand or high-priority postsecondary pathway will be eligible for a $1,500 scholarship to be used for tuition, fees and books.

The bill is unique because it provides financial support to students pursuing not just college degrees but also certificates and registered apprenticeships.

The bill was supported by an overwhelming majority on both sides of the aisle.  However, Senator Cleave Simpson was not present to vote on the bill as he was out of state due to a death in the family.

The second bill Polis signed — HB23-1261 “No Requirement for Selective Service Higher Education” — does exactly what the name of the bill implies. Currently, a person who is applying for enrollment or reenrollment to a state-supported institution of higher education and who is at least 17 years and 9 months old but younger than 26 years old must provide the institution with a statement of registration compliance for the United States Selective Service system. HB23-1262 removes that requirement.

”This bill makes Colorado standards fall in line with federal standards and removes a barrier that had been in place for students applying for college,” Martinez told the Valley Courier. “Colleges and universities will provide a link to register on their website for those who still want to register.”

Sen. Simpson, the Republican elected to represent Colorado District 6, including the San Luis Valley, voted against the bill.

Now that Martinez’s third bill has been signed into law, HB23-1088 ”Veterans Mental Health Session Reimbursement Program” will take on a long standing and often devastating obstacle faced by veterans in need of mental health services by paying for up to 26 mental health sessions per year per eligible veteran with a provision for more sessions if the mental health provider deems it necessary. That marks a sharp increase from the two mental health visits veterans are currently allowed.

The bill applies to veterans in community living centers, such as nursing homes.

Before signing the bill, Polis said, “Veterans living in our community living centers need better access to mental health care. They served our nation and protected our freedom. This bill represents a partnership between the Department of Human Services, the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Behavioral Health Administration to make sure none of our veterans living in community living centers fall through the gap and we’re able to meet their behavioral health needs with Post Traumatic Stress or whatever it is for all of our men and women who have proudly worn the uniform and served our nation.”

Veterans' issues are of special importance to Rep. Martinez. Not only is he a member of the bi-partisan Veterans Caucus in the state House, Martinez also served in the United States Marine Corps and is familiar with the challenges veterans experience in accessing health care services, including mental health.

HB23-1088 passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in the House with only one Democratic representative voting against the bill and all senators, including Sen. Simpson, voting in favor.

“It’s good to be back home, both in the Valley and Adams State,” Martinez told the crowd, highlighting the Universal High School Scholarship Program. “In working at Adams State, financial barriers were always a hindrance for our students and (SB23-205) will really address that with $25 million worth of scholarships. This will get them through the door, across the finish line and into the workforce, making the Colorado economy even stronger.”

Martinez also spoke of his personal commitment to providing veterans with the mental health services they need.

“I appreciate everybody coming out here and Gov. Polis coming to Alamosa,” he said in closing. “We’ve got a lot more work to do.”