Rep. Martinez already up and running with legislation

Photo courtesy of Gov. Polis’ office Gov. Polis signs Rep. Matt Martinez’s HB23-1037 into law in 2023.

Focus on education, veterans, behavior health, farming, water

ALAMOSA — With the 2024 session already underway, the Valley Courier caught up with Rep. Matt Martinez (D-62) to get his take on what legislative priorities he has for this session and what’s ahead for Colorado’s legislature.

Martinez has already introduced two bills, both bi-partisan and bi-cameral, with a slate of additional bills to follow. In a furtherance of priorities reflected throughout his tenure, he continues to focus on behavior health, education, veterans, boosting tourism, farming and water.  

Martinez’s HB24-1002 “Social Work Licensure Compact” addresses the critical shortage of experienced, licensed social workers while also expanding access to behavioral health by removing the barriers to licensure often faced by professionals moving to Colorado, including those licensed social workers in military families whose spouses may have just been reassigned.

In agreement with other states, HB24-1002 would eliminate the need for social workers to obtain licenses from multiple states by providing for the mutual recognition of licenses from those states that have signed the compact (referred to as “member” states). 

“Doing this for those who have just moved to Colorado allows them to get a job in their field more quickly and become entrenched in their communities,” he says.

Martinez plans to introduce a similar bill addressing those licensed in cosmetology, something that would also be very helpful to military families.

“It’s a slow process,” he says, “because the bill has to pass in almost exactly the same language as it’s passed in other states.”

Martinez has also introduced HB24-1048 “Providing Veterinary Services Through Telehealth”, which would do exactly what the name of the bill suggests.

“With the growing shortage of veterinarians in Colorado over the last year,” he says, “providing vet services through telehealth is one way to increase access to a veterinarian by people with animals, such as pets or livestock, out in the field or over their phone or their iPad or whatever.”

HB 24-1048 is bi-partisan and came out of the Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources Committee, of which Martinez is a member. It’s also co-sponsored with Rep. McCormick, who is a veterinarian, and Senators Joann Ginal and Pelton. 

Another bill — the Ninth Grade Student Success Grant Program — would provide grant funding for schools to hire counselors to support students in making that difficult transition from middle to high school, which can be a determinant of future success in secondary schools.

“If you can provide them with that support in the ninth-grade level, it helps to make them more successful and keep them in school,” he says.

Again, with an eye on Veterans’ health, another one of Martinez’s bills coming up would make it a requirement to include in all state literature and advertising information for Veterans on how to apply for and access benefits.

“We already have information on employee rights and how to apply for workers compensation and other areas. There should also be information for Veterans. That will also help them to advocate for themselves,” he says.

In what he describes as his “big bill” this session, Martinez plans to restart the Regional Tourism Act.

“The act already exists but there’s no funding for it,” he says. A distinct difference this time from previous years would involve specifically targeting rural areas as the need in other cities like Denver or Colorado Springs is not nearly as great.

“We’ll be putting money into places where it’s most impactful and for communities to decide the best way to use the funding.”

The problem they’ve run into, he says, is the definition of “rural”, which is somewhat “nebulous” in the state statutes.

“We’re aiming for those really much smaller communities, like frontier counties with minimal populations, and to redefine that within the bill,” he says.

“The entire San Luis Valley would be eligible for this funding. But we also have to be careful because a lot of the ski towns were coming up under the definition, so we’re working through that, as well.”

Senator Cleave Simpson and Martinez are cooperating on getting support for the Costilla Water Conservancy District that is facing significant challenges ahead with creating water augmentation plans, something they had been exempt from developing in the past.

Simpson and Martinez are also working on a bill that will provide resources to potato farmers who have been dealing with PVY, a virus that, if allowed to spread as it has over the past few years, runs the risk of decimating seed growers in the San Luis Valley.

“That business has already dwindled in the past few years because of the virus. They really need our help,” Martinez says.

Rep. Martinez is following through on an issue he’s previously identified as a priority related to defining in clear, exact terms the data on recidivism rates in Colorado’s Department of Corrections. 

“Right now, there are 15 different data points used to measure recidivism. Defining that data is critical when you’re trying to measure if a program has been successful,” he says.

Martinez first identified this issue last year when his bill, HB23-1037 Dept of Corrections Earned Time for College Program Completion, passed with overwhelming bi-partisan, bi-cameral support.

Last on the list (so far) of Rep. Martinez’s legislation for the 2024 session is a bill that would grant individuals exiting the military who worked as military police while in the service with reciprocity on the Colorado Peace Officers Standard and Training (POST) certification.

“Military Police have gone through enhanced training in the past few years,” he said, “and it would help address the serious shortage in law enforcement if that training would make them immediately eligible for employment.”

When asked if this session was going to be as crazy as last year, Martinez said, “I think it’s going to be…interesting. Housing is definitely a big issue this session with a lot effort focused on that area.”

He believes that “the old Land Use” bill will probably come back to the floor but this time in smaller segments that would allow support for some parts of the bill and opposition to others.

Martinez made it clear that he will continue to be the loudest voice advocating for language about water augmentation and sustainability to be included in any land use legislation that comes before the House.

When asked if last summer’s visit to the Valley by the Latino Caucus seemed to impact his colleagues in any way, Martinez immediately mentioned water, saying Rep. Ortiz of Littleton has already added provisions related to water in various pieces of legislation.

“They’re also attuned to any efforts to export water — back door or otherwise — and understand how devastating that would be to the Valley,” he says.