2014 Colorado General Assembly Roundup

2014 Legislative session wrap-up

Our Voices for Justice task force was very active in the past legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly. Here’s their recap:

By recent standards, the 2014 Colorado legislative session was unusually calm, with few of the hot-button issues, all-night debates and intensive lobbying campaigns of years past. Those hoping to see lots far-reaching, cutting edge legislation were disappointed. But even so, a great deal DID get accomplished this year to help those living in poverty, much of it with bipartisan support.

Here’s a look at some of the bills the faith community – including Voices for Justice Task Force of the Colorado Council of Churches – worked to help pass this year:

In the area of housing:

  •  HB 1017 expands the sources of money that can be used to fund the Colorado Housing Investment Trust Fund, including federal grants; makes funds available to any qualified to develop affordable housing, including for-profit developers; and provides more flexibility on the terms of loans awarded through the fund, allowing for a greater range of financing options.
  • HB 1295 provides help for homeowners facing foreclosure. It stops mortgage lenders from committing what’s commonly referred to as “dual tracking,” which means the lender is actively pursuing foreclosure while at the same time working out potential loan modifications with the homeowner. This bill will require mortgage lenders to provide homeowners with a single point of contact, and gives county authorities the power to halt a potential foreclosure if there’s a pending loan modification.

In the area of criminal justice:

  • HB 1023–provides funding for the Public Defender’s office to hire eight social workers to work with juvenile offenders to help get them out of the criminal justice system. The bill encourages a more holistic approach to juvenile justice that focuses on the social factors that led to a juvenile getting into trouble in the first place.
  • HB 1032–tightens requirements that juvenile offenders be represented by defense attorneys at some point, though amendments to the initial bill gave juveniles the right to waive that representation. This comes in light of a report last year that found more than 40% of juveniles in the state charged with a crime waive their right to an attorney, and in some counties, more than 60% do so. Thanks to this bill, all children in custody WILL be represented by an attorney at detention hearings. Those who receive a summons will be given information about how to obtain a public defender. The courts will allow children to waive their right to an attorney only if the judge is convinced they are mature enough to do so voluntarily and to understand the consequences of doing so. The law also specifies that guardians-ad-litem may NOT be a substitute for an attorney.
  • HB 1061–abolishes the notion of “debtor’s prison” in Colorado. A recent ACLU investigation found that many Coloradans were jailed for their failure to pay court fines and fees. This bill clarifies that inability to pay without undue hardship is not grounds for imprisonment. Willful failure to pay will, of course, continue to result in jail time.
  • SB 21–extends the life of the legislative oversight committee for the continuing examination of the treatment of mentally ill offenders, and it adds two new members.

In the area of poverty reduction

  • HB 1072–fixes a glitch in Colorado’s tax code that prevented low-wage parents from claiming a tax credit for child care expenses, just as higher income families already receive. It will provide a tax credit of up to $1,000 to families that earn less than $25,000 and pay for child care while the parents work.
  • HB 1085–creates a $960,000 state-funded program to tutor adults in the basics of literacy and math. Up until now, Colorado was the lone state to provide no state funding for adult basic education.
  • HB 1119–creates a tax credit for individuals who donate food to hunger relief organizations.
  • HB 1156–expands the number of Colorado school children who will receive free school lunches. Already, Colorado had eliminated for children in grades k-2 the “reduced price” category that required some low-income children to pay 40 cents per meal, so that children from families whose incomes qualify them for reduced-price lunches are given free lunches instead. This bill expands that include children in grades 3-5 as well.
  •  HB 1317–will bring a host of changes to the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, including lowering the co-pay for parents, increasing the income parents can earn and still be eligible for the program, and allowing parents who attend workforce training or college classes to receive child care assistance. In addition, SB 003 modifies the program to mitigate the “cliff effect” for low-income families that are working and receiving child care assistance.
  •  SB 5–helps workers recover lost wages that are owed to them by their employer, and rewards employers who agree to pay past-due wages promptly. It also strengthens the ability of the Colorado Department of Labor to handle such disputes.
  • SB 012–increases the benefits those eligible for the Aid to the Needy Disabled program receive from $175 a month to $268 a month, helping some of our most vulnerable citizens to be better able to provide for themselves. This program assists those who are unable to work and are awaiting approval to receive SSI assistance from the federal government. The increase basically restores this monthly benefit to its pre-recession level.
  • SB 14–modifies the state’s Property Tax, Heat and Rent Rebate program to provide increased assistance and the income eligibility requirements. Under the bill, individuals with an income less than $6,639 or couples whose income is less than $10,731 will be eligible to get up to $700 a year to help with rent and $192 to help with heating bills.
  • SB 87–makes it easier for veterans and for those over age 70 to get state-sponsored identification cards.

Some bills we opposed and helped to defeat:

  • HB 1128–which would have made it more difficult for people to obtain the forms of identification necessary to vote.
  • HB 1135–which would have large de-funded the Medicaid expansion approved last year.
  • HB 1134–which would have made it more difficult for people to participate in the Health Care Insurance Navigators program, an important part of Colorado’s Health Benefits Exchange.
  • HB 1106–which would have provided tax incentives for people to opt out of purchasing mandatory health insurance.
  • HB 1143–which would have rolled back some of the changes to Colorado voting laws approved last year. The proposed changes would have created new barriers for people wanting to vote.
  • HB 1192–would have repealed the states Health Benefits Exchange.
  • SB 85–would have required a 1% reduction in the state’s budget this year.

We thank the Voices for Justice task force for all of their hard work!

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