CCC Voices for Justice Final Advocacy Report

We’re now a ways out from the end of our legislative session ending and we wanted to provide a final update on the bills that we on the Voices for Justice team were tracking. In addition, this will be my last advocacy update, as my internship with the Colorado Council of Churches has come to a close, so I wanted to thank you all for allowing the platform to share both my voice and the voices of the incredible Voices for Justice volunteers—Wesley Moncrief, CCC 2022-23 Social Justice Fellow

Affordable Housing reported on by Wesley Moncrief

Of the bills regarding Affordable Housing that we were primarily monitoring HB23-1068 and HB23-1134 were both signed into law, HB23-1190 was vetoed, and SB23-213 never made it to the Governor’s desk. HB23-1068 (Pet Animal Ownership In Housing) not only relates to housing, but also relates to race, and prevents insurers from using the breed of a dog against renters or homeowners. Most notably targeted here historically are breeds such as Pitbulls and Staffordshire Bull Terriers that are popular breeds among communities of color. HB23-1134 (Require Electric Options in Home Warranties) was passed fairly early on during the legislative session and simply requires home warranty contracts to contain terms for the removal of gas-fueled devices for electric alternatives.

            Aside from those that were signed, SB23-213 (Land Use) was supported by Governor Polis and was based on measures in other states that had seen success, but as it moved forward, it met steep opposition from across the state, arguing that it was not adapted well to fit Colorado’s needs and would do more harm than good. Ultimately, it failed, however I would expect further iterations of it to appear, and hopefully they will be more carefully crafted with the needs of Coloradans in mind. Additionally, HB23-1190 (Affordable Housing Right Of First Refusal) was vetoed by Governor Polis on June 6th. The stated reason for this veto was that it could have unforeseen financial effects on the housing market, and given the failures of other housing bills this legislative session, it feels as if perhaps it was vetoed as part of a transition to a change in strategy of approach for affordable housing in Colorado.

Criminal/Restorative Justice reported on by David C. Taussig and Nadine Kerstetter

Voice for Justice supported legislation this year that aligns with Colorado Council of Churches’ policy statements concerning criminal and restorative justice by recognizing the humanity of those incarcerated, protecting their civil rights, facilitating their healing and rehabilitation, reducing recidivism, and fostering community support.  All of the legislation that VOJ tracked and supported became law. 

Specifically in the House: HB23-1013 persons with mental disorders in the prison system from excessive restraints and involuntary medication.  HB23-1034 expands postconviction DNA testing for those wrongly convicted. HB23-1037 allows inmates with a nonviolent felony to earn time off for college courses completed while incarcerated. HB23-1133 provides funding for phone calls for people in prison to call their loved ones.  HB23-1187 requires a balancing of a pregnant person’s risk to the public with the risks of incarceration.

Two bills in the Senate were enacted to help with post incarceration rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. SB23-067 extends the ongoing program at the Sterling Correctional Facility to support rehabilitation and reduce recidivism upon release.  SB-157 continues offender grant programing allowing those persons released to gain education and employment skills and tracks the reduction of recidivism for those participating in the program. 

In addition, several bills were enacted that protect the civil rights of juveniles moving through the criminal justice system, including HB23-1042 that makes statements by juveniles inadmissible in court if law enforcement uses untruthful information during interrogation and HB23-1145 that aligns timelines for hearings for juveniles in adult facilities with federal requirements. 

Education reported on by Mary Ann Panarelli and Dianne Ritzdorf

Most education bills proposed this legislative session received broad bipartisan support. These included bills focused on creating additional pathways for licensed mental health workers to work in schools (SB23-004), developing a Teacher Apprenticeship Program as a pathway to certification for career switchers (SB23-087), and affirming that Colorado is willing to accept teachers licensed in seven other states, if these states agree to an Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact (HB23-1064). There was broad support for bills to improve Adult Education career and academic opportunities, including SB23-007 which focused on career training and SB23-003 which creates a pathway for adults to obtain a high school diploma. (HB23-1191), which prohibits corporal punishment,  (HB23-1168) which protects the rights of students with disabilities, and (HB23-1263), which increases meaningful parent participation for parents who speak a language other than English in developing Individual Education Programs for their children, all received bi-partisan support. A bill which requires training for school resource officers and administrators on responding to Safe2Tell reports (SB23-070), as well as one which expands the ability of specialized programs for students with severe disabilities to offer both residential and day school programs (SB23- 219) passed the Senate unanimously.

Bills which passed but reflected more debate, amendments, and final votes along party lines included bills where the debate was largely about governmental and school efforts to address concerns, which sometimes involved the creation of new programs or taskforces, versus parental rights and responsibilities. Three of these bills propose study of or increase school involvement in early identification and referral for treatment of suspected behavioral health disorders including Disordered Eating Prevention (SB23-014), Secondary School Substance Abuse (HB23-1009), and School Mental Health Screener (HB23-1003). Also passing after considerable debate were bills focused on ensuring that schools and school employees were acting to reduce discrimination and racial and economic disproportionality in disciplinary outcomes, including Prevent Harassment and Discrimination in School (SB23-296), Disproportionate Discipline in Public Schools (SB23-029) and Procedures for Expulsion Hearing Officers (z).

HB23-1109 was a hotly contested bill which would have increased due process rights for youth being considered for expulsion and would have required schools to indicate a clear nexus between the community behavior and imminent physical, psychological or emotional threat to other students before making a recommendation for expulsion. It was anticipated that this bill would address the significant disproportionality currently present in the number of students of color who are recommended for expulsion after being accused (but not yet convicted) of a crime committed in the community. This bill died in committee, but is likely to return in some form next year.

The Colorado Healthy Meals for All Program (SB23-221) was strongly advocated for by the Colorado Council of Churches. It codified the budgetary process to implement Proposition FF, passed in the November 2022 election. It creates a general fund exempt account, allowing expenditures in excess of appropriations, and excludes any monies left in the fund at the end of the year from state surplus calculations. This bill passed along party lines in the House, and passed unanimously in the Senate.

Environment reported on by Daniel Wright and Mark Meeks

The 44 page “Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Measure” was signed by the Governor on May 11, 2023 with goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 65% relative to 2005 levels by 2035 and a new goal of 100% reduction by 2050. To help reach these targets this law requires 1) the Public Utilities Commission and local governments to upgrade the states electrical transmission infrastructure 2) incentivize retirement of gas powered lawn equipment by creating a tax credit worth 30% of the purchase price of electric lawnmowers, leaf blowers, trimmers and snow blowers 3) encourages climate aware financial investing by requiring large insurance companies to complete a climate risk disclosure annually 4) includes the use of wastewater thermal energy technology as a clean heat resource and 5) pursues carbon sequestration techniques by applying to the EPA for class VI injection well primacy. Enactment of these measures place Colorado as an encouraging, sincere striver for the goals of local and global climate and environmental health!

In addition to SB23-016 which provides various ways towards Greenhouse Gas Reduction in Colorado, a large number of other legislative actions passed the Colorado Legislature this year and were signed into law by the Governor.  These include HB23-1069 to study the use of biochar in plugging used oil and gas wells.  Hopefully this will lead to less pollution escaping from those old wells.  Seeking to enable more transition opportunity for our workforce, HB23-1074 established a study to further enable such opportunities.  To create greater flexibility in addressing the ozone challenge when most pressing, HB23-1101 provides opportunity for public transit to offer free transportation when most needed under ozone pollution allowing local entities to be able  decide when such an offering would be most helpful.  HB23-1242 addresses water conservation in oil and gas operations seeking to diminish the loss of fresh water in those activities and advance the use of recycled water.  Water preservation being so critical now in Colorado this measure would strengthen such conservation.  Increased use of Thermal Energy was advanced in HB23-1252 which supports clean thermal energy for heating and cooling in homes, saving costs for consumers and creating jobs.  Environmental Standards for certain appliances are sought to be enhanced through HB23-1161 which intends to make common household appliances, fixtures and lighting to be more sustainable and energy efficient.  Putting in place tax policies that aid decarbonization is the intent of HB23-1272.  This would include support of more electric vehicles, e-bikes, and heat pumps.  HB23-1294 addresses poor air quality in our state seeking to add pollution protection measures including a summer committee to study how to improve air quality.  The study and these efforts address the ozone crisis in Colorado and the cumulative impacts of oil and gas production.

SB23-092 enables collaboration between agricultural activities and alternative energy resources.  For example, this bill enables consideration of the effectiveness of solar installations that are placed over agricultural land and bodies of water, thus integrating agriculture activity with solar energy.  It also seeks to examine possibilities for carbon sequestration opportunities within the agricultural sector.  SB23-270 strives to support stream restoration projects in Colorado.  SB23-291 addressing Utility Regulation reduces incentives for utility providers to expand their fossil fuel infrastructure while also restricting costs that providers pass on to consumers.  The bill ends subsidies for natural gas line extensions.  Finally, SB23-295 establishes a state task force to provide recommendations for additional means to deal with drought conditions on the Colorado River.

All of these measures provide meaningful steps forward in environmental protections for Colorado as well as open possibilities for further action in the future.

Healthcare reported on by Kelly MacKean

This session, our group monitored several bills. Of the 16 bills either monitored or supported, all were signed by the Governor. The 16 signed by the Governor are a positive outcome for the CCC.

This legislative session, 72 bills were introduced fell into the category of healthcare or public health. The bill topics of interest to the CCC (linked in text) were wide-ranging, including legislation:

  • regarding regulation, certification and oversight of healthcare providers – many of these initiatives are aimed at increasing the number of providers in the state, particularly in underserved rural areas (SB23-083, SB23-162)
  • surrounding finance, pricing, and credit reporting of medical debt (HB23-1126)
  • focused on addressing mental health issues (HB23-1130, SB23-033)
  • miscellaneous items such as lead exposure and children (HB23-1058), amenities for all genders in public buildings, programs for deafblind children (HB23-1067), improving services for the elderly (SB23-031), restrictions on intimate examination (HB23-1077)

Not surprisingly, the most intense interest has been in reproductive health/rights this legislative session. 

In the mid-term report, there was some concern about the passage of HB23-1057 “Amenities for all genders in public buildings.” This bill was signed at the very last minute by the Governor.

Immigration reported on by Jean Demmler

Voices for Justice strongly supported two immigration-related bills considered by the 2023 Colorado Assembly, HB23-1100 and HB23-1117.  While US immigration policy is established by Congress, state legislatures pass laws that significantly affect migrants who have arrived in the US and reside in each state. Both of these bills aimed to increase immigration justice in Colorado and both became Colorado law!

HB23-1100 (Restrict Government Involvement in Immigration Detention) prevents additional privatized detention centers to be established in Colorado and ends formal agreements (between ICE and Colorado counties) that pay county jails to house migrants detained by ICE. Voices For Justice testified in the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of this bill. After HB23-1100 was passed by the Colorado Assembly in early May, the governor received pressure to veto the bill.  Voices For Justice members continued to advocate for the bill to become law and encouraged congregants of CCC congregations to contact Gov. Polis with requests that he sign the bill.  Recognizing that the law would be in the best interest of Colorado residents, Gov. Polis signed HB23-1100 on June 6.

Prior to the passage of HB23-1117, legal immigrant residents of Colorado who receive public or medical assistance were prohibited from executing an affidavit of support for the purpose of sponsoring family members or friends who desire to immigrate to the US. HB23-1117 (Affidavit Support Eligibility Public Benefits) repealed this prohibitive law by allowing legal immigrant residents who receive public benefits the same right as legal residents who do not receive such benefits. Voices For Justice testified for immigration justice inherent in this bill when it was considered by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Passed by both legislative bodies, this bill became law on April 11 with Gov. Polis’ signature. Before the repeal of the older law, many immigrant families refused to accept public benefits in order to be able to assist others to join them in Colorado. With the passage of HB23-1117 our immigrant neighbors will no longer be required to choose between reuniting their family or receiving public assistance. 

Poverty reported on by Wesley Moncrief

In regards to Poverty Assistance, many of the bills that we supported were passed. The most notable of these bills was HB23-1008, HB23-1184, and HB23-1158. The first of these, HB23-1008 (Food Accessibility), provides funds with partnered nonprofit organizations for the purpose of providing healthy eating programs for low income populations and it was signed into law on June 2nd. In a similar vein, HB23-1158 (Colorado Commodity Supplemental Food Grant Program) created a system for grants to be provided for food banks, food pantries, and food delivery services to specifically help serve low-income seniors in Colorado. Lastly, HB23-1184 (Low-Income Housing Property Tax Exemptions) provides exemptions for non-profits that are geared towards creating specifically low-income housing. It passed on June 7th.

Notably, not among these bills is one we discussed earlier in the legislative session, HB23-1118 (Fair Workweek Employment Standards), which attempted to change service industry work requirements in favor of the workers, but it was pushed back on by both the service workers as well as their supervisors. The intent behind the bill was good, and I only bring it up because I genuinely hope that another pass can be taken at it next year that’s been more informed by those in the industry. Especially following the burden service workers and small businesses faced following the pandemic, finding ways to give financial stability back to the service industry without harming the flexibility it offers its workers is the least that can be done.

Racism reported on by Ann Rosewall

Issues of racism are not always obvious in the bills presented to the Colorado legislature. Many proposals cross over from one area into another, such as immigration (see HB23-1100 Restrict Government Involvement in Immigration Detention, which prohibits government entities contracting with for-profit detention centers for immigrant confinement. Signed 6/6) or environment (see HB23-1257 Mobile Home Park Water Quality, requiring testing and remediation of contaminated water in areas where minority populations reach up to 50%; see also HB23-1194, providing a grant pool of $15M to remediate 10-15 contaminated closed landfills, Signed 6/5). 

The Congress continued to show support for Native and Indigenous peoples this year. SB23-054 increases funding for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Office. The Office, established in 2022, increases awareness and investigation of these cases. Appropriations approved $540M over the next two years to finance family support. SB23-202 permits graduates to wear traditional Native American regalia at commencements.

            SB23-172 Protecting Opportunities And Workers’ Rights Act rejects the “severe or pervasive” standard for proof of workplace harassment in favor of a standard that prohibits unwelcome harassment.  For example, an employee is permitted to file harassment charges for a one-time event of finding a noose on their desk (actual testimony). Signed 6/6.

HB23-1237, Inclusive Language Emergency Situations. The legislature modified this act from a mandate to provide minority language notification of emergency situations to launching a study by the University of Colorado Natural Hazard Center to assess communication gaps and propose mechanisms for providing emergency alerts by July 2024.

Resolutions were signed (HJR23-1018 & HJR23-1019) establishing Equal Pay Day (encourages implementation of policies advocating for women and minorities) and Recognition of Latino/a/x Advocacy Day (appreciation for representation in political life).

Sexuality, Family and Abuse reported on by Sue Ricker

This 2023 session introduced bills that became law focusing on establishing and encouraging family communication.  HB23-1024 Relative and Kin Placement of a Child; HB23-1026 Family Time for Grandparents;  HB23-1027; HB23-1027 Parent and Child Family Time; HB23-1043 Emergency and Continued Placement with Relatives or Kin; SB23-039 Reduce Child and Incarcerated Parent Separation.  All passed and were signed by Gov. Polis.  

A bill that faced opposition by some law enforcement organizations, HB23-1249, Reduce Justice Involvement for Young Children was rewritten in the Senate and replaced the change in minimum age for prosecution to 10 from 13 with an increase in funding for collaborative management funding.  This happened late in the session.

HB23-1135 Penalty for Indecent Exposure in View of a Minor was moved to a class 6 felony

Foster care youth having problems with housing after aging out at 18 were addressed with SB23-082.  Colorado Fostering Success Voucher System.  It provides housing vouchers and case management services to former foster youth up to age 26.

Veterans/Military reported on by Vicky Daub, Executive Director, Veteran Servants Corps Project.

Several veteran and military bills were passed this legislative session. These bills are detailed below.
House Bill (“HB”) 23-1064 allows teachers from one state to receive a teacher’s license from
another member state. The Department of Defense started this initiative. This bill was signed by
Governor Polis March 10, making Colorado the first state (at least six more are needed) to join the
Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact. Utah, Kentucky, and Kansas also recently approved the

HB 23-1088  reimburses mental health-care providers for ten mental health-care visits with eligible
veterans who have exhausted their VA mental health benefits. It is important to note that more than
20 veterans complete suicide daily in the United States. It is estimated that almost $6 million dollars
will be needed for the first fiscal year. This bill was signed by Governor Polis May 16.

In the Colorado Senate, Senate Bill (“SB”) 23-154  allows for the continuation of the veterans one-
stop center in Grand Junction. It is estimated to cost just under $400K in the first fiscal year. This
one-stop center allows Western Slope veterans/military and their families to continue to access non-
medical related services, such as military IDs and other needed services. This center opened in May 2019. This bill was signed by Governor Polis April 28.

SB 23-302 allows for the continuation of an existing program. The program supports eligible
veterans to continue skills training and other support services. The requirement that federal funding
must be used first is now repealed. Additionally, this program is now extended through January 1,
2029, at an estimated expense of $500K for the first fiscal year. This bill was signed by Governor
Polis on June 2.