2020 Voices For Justice Final Report

Voices for Justice 

Final Legislative Session Report

The Voices for Justice Task Force members have written this final report, providing an overview of legislative highlights from the 2020 Colorado General Assembly. This report focuses on Colorado’s legislative response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and it is based on our nine public policy priorities which are: Affordable Housing and Justice, Criminal and Restorative Justice, Education of Children, Environment, Healthcare,  Immigration, Poverty, Racism, and Sexuality, Families and Abuse. 

The 2020 Voices for Justice Task Force team members are: Alexandria Gerace (coordinator), Jean Demmler, Adrian Miller, Weston Morris, Sue Ricker, Susan Ritter, Deborah Sampson, and Anthony Suggs. We thank each one for their time and dedication as we conclude this legislative session.

Affordable Housing and Justice 

To address housing hardships due to COVID-19, HB20-1410, “COVID-19-related Housing Assistance,” became law June 22nd. This law provides support to individuals financially impacted by the pandemic and allocates $20 million of federal funds from the CARES Act for housing assistance. The bill increases state expenditures in FY 2020-21 only.

Criminal and Restorative Justice 

Earlier on this year Colorado had a major win with criminal and restorative justice when SB20-100, “Repeal The Death Penalty,” was passed. The law abolishes the death penalty for any charges on or after July 1st, 2020. Colorado now only has three inmates on death row; a huge win for restorative justice. 

Colorado then made further history with SB20-217, “Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity”. Signed June 19th, this law protects our civil rights and intends to hold all local law enforcement accountable to the communities they serve. By July 1st 2023, all Colorado State Patrol officers will be required to utilize body-worn cameras when responding to any law enforcement related incident. Acceptable use of force will also be reevaluated and removes any immunity officers have from civil or criminal action. The Division of Criminal Justice will also maintain an annual report and records on their website for full transparency to the public. 

Education of Children

There were numerous bills introduced this legislative session focusing on the improvement of childhood education in Colorado. Two of note, which advanced after the May 26th reopening, are: HB20-1418, “Public School Finance,” and HB20-1420, “Adjust Tax Expenditures For State Education Fund”. 

HB20-1418 passed June 9th and became law on June 30th. Starting this next fiscal year, this law ensures funds are set aside for all Colorado school districts and increases the per pupil funding  base to $7,083.61. This is a 1.9% increase from 2019, and it will aid schools ast they respond to the pandemic. 

HB20-1420 passed June 8th and became law on June 19th. This bill reallocates state income tax expenditures for the next two fiscal years to provide more support to the State Education Fund. This is in response to the CARES Act and will be implemented by reserving specific income tax deductions. The General Fund will then transfer $113 million on March 1st, 2021 and $23 million on March 1, 2022. In fiscal years following 2022, the reserved income tax deductions will be reinstated and the General Fund expenditures will drop to .6 million for both FY 2022-2023 and 2023-2024. This law will aid in securing academic staffing and a successful future for our young learners for the upcoming school years.  

Environment 

SB20-204, “Additional Resources To Protect Air Quality,” aims to preserve Colorado’s air by reducing pollution. This law increases standard fees for air pollutant emission notices, annual emissions, hazardous air pollutants, and application processing fees collected by the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC). The Department of Public Health and Environment will also form the Air Quality Enterprise. This enterprise’s duties are to conduct research, allocate contracts and services, engage shareholders and promote “unbiased, high quality, science and not advocate for or develop air quality policy”. 

Another important bill in this legislative session was HB20-1163, “Management Of Single-use Products”. This bill was intended to substantially reduce waste and promote recycling by prohibiting stores and food establishments from providing “plastic carryout bags, single-use plastic stirrers, and single-use plastic straws to consumers beginning July 1, 2022”. This bill was introduced to the House 1/21/2020, but was dropped from consideration during the truncated legislative session.

Healthcare 

As we self quarantine and maintain the health of our households, the Senate addressed the increased need for sick leave by introducing SB20-205, “Sick Leave For Employees,” passed June 13th. This law creates the “Healthy Families and Workplaces Act” in response to federal laws “Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act,” and “Families First Coronavirus Response Act”. Effective January 1st, 2021, all employers are required to provide 1 hour of sick time for every 30 hours of work and employees are able to use their time as it accrues. This time is also eligible for a rollover into the next year. $206,566 was also allocated to the Department of Labor and Employment.

In addition to the sick leave triumph, HB20-1385, “Use Of Increased Medicaid Match,” was passed June 6th temporarily increasing a 50% match of funds provided by the federal “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” for Medicaid services. These funds will be allocated to the “Healthcare Affordability and Sustainability Fee Cash Fund,” the “Medicaid Nursing Facility Cash Fund,” and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

These bills especially focused on mental health:

HB20-1086. Insurance Coverage Mental Health Wellness Exam. This bill adds a requirement, as part of mandatory private health insurance coverage of preventive health care services, that health plans cover annual mental health wellness examinations of up to 60 minutes. Examinations must be conducted by one of eight types of qualified mental health care providers. For FY 2020-21, the bill requires an appropriation of $13,347 to the Department of Regulatory Agencies. The bill had bipartisan primary sponsorship and was passed by the Colorado House of Representatives on Feb. 20, 2020. On Wednesday, March 11, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony and referred a slightly amended bill to the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 3-2 vote. This bill was indefinitely postponed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB20-001. Expand Behavioral Health Training For K-12 Educators. This bipartisan sponsored bill, which resulted from the School Safety Committee, would expand behavioral health training for kindergarten through twelfth grade educators. The bill requires the department of education to offer a train the trainer program designed to improve school culture, promote youth behavioral and mental health, and prepare attendees to teach a youth behavioral and mental health training course. The department must make the program available to employees of a school district, charter school, or board of cooperative services (local education provider). For FY 2020-21, the bill requires an appropriation of $997,850 and for FY2021-22 an appropriation of $980,000 to the Colorado Department of Education. This bill passed out of the Senate Education committee on Feb. 6 and was referred to the Appropriations Committee. A 2nd reading on the floor of the Senate was scheduled for March 30, but because the Assembly was not in session due to the COVID-19 virus, a 2nd reading was laid over until Dec. 31, 2020.

SB20-014. Excused Absences In Public Schools For Behavioral Health. Current law requires school districts to adopt a written policy setting forth each school district’s attendance requirements. The bill requires the policy to include excused absences for behavioral health concerns. The School Safety Committee recommended this bill and there is no fiscal implication. This bill has been smoothly legislated through the General Assembly. On Feb. 6, the Senate Education Committee referred the bill to the Committee of the Whole with favorable recommendation (unanimous vote) and with a recommendation that it be placed on the consent calendar. After passing in the Senate, the House Education Committee recommended SB20-014 be referred to the Committee of the Whole with favorable recommendation. The bill passed its third reading unamended in the House on March 9 and was signed by the Governor on March 23, 2020.

Immigration 

This year Colorado has passed notable immigration legislation. On March 23rd, SB20-083, “Prohibit Courthouse Civil Arrest,” was signed into law and prohibits the civil arrest of any person present or in the vicinity of a courthouse. This aims to prevent the targeting of protected immigrants on official business and the Attorney General may take civil action against any officers violating this law. 

One unfortunate loss for Colorado immigrants was bill SB20-108, “Landlord Prohibitions Tenant Citizenship Status.” This bill intended to prevent landlords from using a tenant’s citizenship status for any purpose. This bill was postponed indefinitely on May 27th. 

Poverty 

As many Colorado families are heavily impacted by COVID, one bill immediately addressed our communities’ need for food. HB20-1422, “Food Pantry Assistance Grant Program,” became law June 22nd and allocates $500,000 to the Department of Human Service to use this fiscal year and the next. This grant program will support our Colorado’s agriculture by working with farmers, producers and food pantries statewide, providing much needed food relief for our residents.

Per the Department of Labor and Employment, Colorado’s unemployment rate is currently at 10.2%, a record high prompted by the COVID-19 crisis. The Senate immediately worked to address this issue with SB20-207, the “Unemployment Insurance,” bill. This law amends the Colorado Employment Security Act to include specifications on addressing public health emergencies and increases the amount an individual can receive. This was signed into law June 8th and requires a final report written by the Future of Work Office, specifically reviewing unemployment assistance and methods for responding to future crises. 

For those essential workers, going out and protecting us everyday, the Senate introduced bill, SB20-216, “Workers’ Compensation for COVID-19”. This bill was intended to protect “essential workers who “are presumed to have contracted the disease COVID-19 through the course of employment”. This bill proposed compensation pay under the Workers Compensation Act of Colorado. Unfortunately this bill was lost in early June but we aim for future legislation in 2021 to support our essential workers. 

Racism

As our nation battles systemic racism, important Colorado legislation was passed on March 6th, 2020. HB20-1048, “Race Trait Hairstyle Anti-discrimination Protect,” prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in the context of “public education, employment, housing, public accommodation, and advertising, the bill specifies that race includes hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles that are commonly or historically associated with race, such as braids, locks, twists, corn rows, tight coils or curls, Bantu knots, Afros, and headwraps”. The bill also specifies that school districts and charter schools may not apply to the State Board of Education for a waiver from state laws related to discrimination based on hair texture, type, or protective hairstyles commonly or historically associated with race.

This legislation is important because seemingly benign policies and regulations about hair have limited opportunities for people of color. 

Sexuality, Family and Abuse

With COVID-19 putting many Coloradans in a public health emergency, funding for additional human services is critical. HB20-1197, “2-1-1 Statewide Human Services Referral System,” was signed into law June 22nd and provides a $500,000 grant to the Colorado 2-1-1 Collaborative in an effort to support the increase in human services referrals. The bill increases state expenditures through December 30, 2020. 

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