The San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative and Ciello install internet at the home of a Mountain Valley School District RE-1 student. The district partnered with the cooperative and Ciello to install internet for about 15 families so that students can complete schoolwork remotely. (Travis Garoutte, Special to The Colorado Sun)

A month ago, I joined my colleagues at the state Capitol in a special session to pass legislation that will bring relief to the families and small businesses in Colorado that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. 

Since March we’ve worn masks, we’ve stayed at home when we can, and we’ve virtually celebrated big moments or grieved losses. Coloradans have made incredible sacrifices in order to slow the spread of the virus and keep one another safe. 

For too many, though, those sacrifices have meant losing critical income, or risking their health to provide for their families. And for our front-line workers keeping grocery stores open, supply chains in place, or helping the sick, the sacrifices have been even greater.

Colorado state Sen. Kerry Donovan

I’m proud of the work we did during the General Assembly’s Extraordinary Session to address Coloradans’ most urgent needs. 

My bill, HB20B-1001, improved access to technology for our students and educators and will immediately provide $20 million in grants to school districts where students, who were already struggling, continued to fall further behind their peers because they couldn’t access the internet. All of Colorado’s kids deserve access to high-quality education, and that bill got us closer to reaching that goal by helping students, teachers, and staff.

In addition, I supported bills to get $50 million to the small businesses in our state that have been impacted by capacity limits. We also helped fund food banks, people paying their energy bills, bolstered the emergency fund, helped renters and allocated funds to support essential child care services.

We celebrate those achievements now, with the knowledge that there is a lot more work to be done. From breweries to barbers, from ski towns to college towns, I know that a lot of people are still hurting. 

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Looking ahead to the upcoming 72nd General Assembly, I’m excited to not only expand on the bills that we passed during the Extraordinary Session but to start to think about a post-COVID future and the long term outlook for Colorado.

Over the last year, having reliable internet service has become more important than ever, and that importance will only continue to grow going forward. But for many small-business owners, college students, middle school teachers, and telehealth professionals, consistent access wasn’t, and isn’t, a reality. 

That’s why expanding broadband will be a top priority for me in 2021. The bill passed during the Extraordinary Session was just the start for our state, as we work to improve connectivity and increase equity as a result. 

In rural Colorado, better broadband means more connectivity and assurance that even when something goes wrong, the important local systems like emergency medical services and public safety networks can stay online. 

In the more urban and suburban parts of Colorado, broadband might be humming under your street, but financial barriers prevent you from accessing it. We can use one-time money to build out final pieces of infrastructure to make sure that no part of our state finds itself unable to connect to robust broadband. 

There are opportunities to work with new partners — like using the Colorado Department of Transportation’s assets to reach further faster and finding emerging technologies to connect remote locations. 

Next session, let’s take a big step forward and use the urgency of the moment to set us up for long-term success. A well-connected Colorado will be safer and stronger.

The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine represents a light at the end of the tunnel for Colorado and for the country. And while we must continue to make efforts to slow the spread, it’s time for legislators to forge ahead and help Colorado emerge from this challenging period in our history. 

Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, represents Senate District 5 in the state legislature and serves as Senate President Pro Tempore.

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Sen. Kerry Donovan

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @KerryDonovanSD5