The Voices for Justice 2023 Mid-Session Legislative Report

It’s been an interesting few months of our legislative session, and now we’ve reached the point of the year where the House and the Senate convene to work on the “Long Bill”, Colorado’s budgeting bill. Since not much else is progressed during this time, we wanted to take this time to present to you our legislative halftime reports from our Voices for Justice members to bring you up to speed on what has happened thus far. Included below will be a collection of legislative write-ups about the different policy areas that we have and the movement in the legislation surrounding each of those areas. I hope that they serve to inform you well and equip you to feel comfortable to push for legislation that engages with the ideals you may hold. Thank you to our wonderful volunteers for their time and efforts thus far, this write-up only expresses a sliver of the work that they have done so far!

Affordable Housing reported on by Wesley Moncrief

When looking at our Affordable Housing & Housing Justice bills, most of what we see being worked on is to create and incentivize opportunity for the creation of new, more affordable housing, with hopes that the housing market will begin to normalize after scarcity is ended. Falling under that umbrella are HB23-1184 (Low-Income Housing Property Tax Exemptions), HB23-1190 (Affordable Housing Right of First
Refusal), and HB23-1115 (Repeal Prohibition of Local Residential Rent Control). Other bills that we have followed have been general quality-of-life improvements that touch on other areas of our public policy areas, such as HB23-1068 (Pet Animal Ownership in Housing) seeking to combat the usage of dog breeds commonly owned by minorities as a tool to preserve racial cohesion in neighborhoods. Additionally, HB23-1134 (Require Electric Options in Home Warranties) provides opportunities for renters and homeowners to replace certain appliances with more eco-friendly electric options in affordable ways.

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

Voice for Justice is supporting 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. Specifically in the House: HB23-1013 protects persons with mental disorders from excessive restraints and involuntary medication. HB23-1034, signed by the Governor, expands postconviction DNA testing for those wrongly convicted. On its way to the Governor is HB13-1037 which 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 are aimed at 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 and 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 the

In addition, several bills 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

Education bills proposed this legislative session focused largely on youth mental health, school discipline, and safety. Some of the key bills introduced in the Senate include Senate Bill (SB) SB23-004 which would permit mental health workers licensed in Colorado to work in the schools. SB23-014 would seek to raise awareness and improve resources for prevention and treatment of Disordered Eating. As amended SB23-029 would create a taskforce of school and community stakeholders, including at least four youth with a history of involvement with school discipline practices, to report on best practices for alternatives to traditional disciplinary practices to reduce disproportionality in discipline and related student outcomes. SB23-070 would require specialized training for police working in schools as school resource officers.
In the Colorado House of Representatives several bills to address mental health, discipline and safety were also introduced. House Bill (HB) HB23-1003 would establish a mental health screening program to help identify mental health concerns and refer youth for further assessment and treatment. Parents would have the option to have their child opt out of the screening. HB23-1009 would direct DOE to identify best practices for early identification, brief intervention and referral for substance use disorders in youth.

HB23-1109 is a hotly contested bill which would increase due process rights for youth being considered for expulsion and require that schools would have to indicate a clear nexus between the behavior and imminent physical, psychological or emotional threat to other students before making a recommendation for expulsion for behavior which took place off school grounds and not at a school sponsored activity. There has been significant debate and consideration of amendments for many of these bills. At the time of this report, none has been enacted into law.

Environment reported on by Daniel Wright and Mark Meeks

SB23–016, sponsored by Senator Hansen, outlines a multifaceted 14 section document to promote Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions in Colorado. This bill was referred from Finance to Appropriations on 2/21/2023. Given the ongoing urgency of global voices ranging from students internationally to Pope Francis to the synthesis report in the past week from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2023, one can only hope that this bill will be passed, even strengthened. Perhaps recent weeks of seeming inactivity represents not postponement but a strategy to finance it in the current creation of the 2024 budget.  The UN study recommended that greenhouse gases globally be reduced at least 50% by 2030
matching this bill’s 2030 target.  One hopes that measures taken now further accelerate those Colorado target goals to achieve more than the minimum pace to salvage environmental and climate health.

In addition to SB23-016, other bills addressing environmental issues include SB23-092 which addresses the integration of agricultural activities with renewable energy developments, agrivoltaics.  It is now in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee awaiting a hearing on April 6.  Concerning water conservation is HB23-1242 seeking to limit freshwater use in oil and gas developments, requiring instead recycled water use. This bill has been referred to Appropriations.  SB23-198 seeks to enhance the pace of reducing greenhouse gas emissions such as those from the electricity sector being reduced by 47% by 2027 from the 2005 levels.  The plan would require various sources of GHG likewise increase their pace in reductions similarly.  HB23-1101 strives to enable transportation companies to alter when they might provide free transit when ozone levels are very high to that time most critical for their community needs.  The bill has passed both House and Senate but now is in conference seeking to reconcile their differences.  Other bills are being monitored in addition to these. 

Healthcare reported on by Kelly MacKean

As of March 29, 61 bills introduced to date are either directly or tangentially related to healthcare issues. The bill topics of interest to the CCC (linked in text) are 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. 

Many of the bills supported by the Council are currently moving easily through
the session. One bill that has currently “stalled” is HB23-1057, which stipulates that all
public buildings have amenities for all genders. We’ll continue to monitor this bill’s

Immigration reported on by Jean Demmler

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. Some current Colorado laws have facilitated keeping our immigrant community members behind bars and often keeping immigrant family members apart. Voices For Justice is tracking and strongly supports two bills that have been under consideration by the Colorado Assembly.

HB23-1100 (Restrict Government Involvement in Immigration Detention) will prevent additional privatized detention centers in Colorado and will end formal cooperation between ICE and Colorado sheriffs. This bill has passed the House and will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17.

Legal immigrant residents of Colorado who receive public or medical assistance have been 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) repeals this law allowing legal immigrant residents who receive public benefits the same right as legal residents who do not receive such benefits. This bill passed the House earlier in the legislative session and on Monday, March 27, the bill had its Third Reading and Final Passage in the Senate! The impact will be significant as there have been many immigrant families who have refused public benefits in order to be able to assist others to join them in Colorado. Our immigrant neighbors will no longer be required to choose between reuniting their family or receiving public assistance as they establish themselves in Colorado.

Poverty reported on by Wesley Moncrief

Regarding bills that focus on poverty in this legislative session, most of what we have tracked seek to tackle food insecurity. Among these are HB23-1008 (Food Accessibility), HB23-1158 (Colorado Commodity Supplemental Food Grant Program), and SB23-027 (Food Pantry Assistance Grant Program).
Many of the other poverty-related bills look more closely at affordable housing, which have been expanded upon in our policy update on housing justice. While there has been a great deal of intention on focusing on Colorado’s housing crisis, I do wish that there were more bills that dealt more directly with poverty and wealth inequality as a root cause, rather than the specific symptom of housing hardship.

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 opposes immigrant confinement in for-profit detention centers; passed the House) or environment (HB23-1257 Mobile Home Park Water Quality, supporting remediation of contaminated water in areas where there are higher minority populations; see also
HB23-1194 supporting remediation of closed landfills; passed the House). SB23-054 proposes increased funding for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Office. The Office was established last year to increase awareness and investigation of these cases. The current bill (in Appropriations) will finance family
support. Also, SB23-202 was introduced in the senate last week to allow graduates to wear traditional Native American regalia at commencements.

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). Next week, SB23-172 Protecting Opportunities And Workers’ Rights Act will be heard in Judiciary. The bill specifies that in harassment claims, the alleged conduct need not be severe or pervasive to constitute a discriminatory or unfair employment practice (includes discrimination based on gender, marital status, race, or disability).

Sexuality, Family and Abuse reported on by Sue Ricker

Protection of children is a focus point currently in the Colorado General Assembly. Several bills are working their way through the legislative process devoted to keeping open ties and encouraging communication between children and family members under difficult circumstances. Some such bills that we have been tracking are HB23-1024 (Relative and Kin Placement of a Child), HB23-1026 (Family Time for Grandparents), HB23-1027 (Parent and Child Family Time), and SB23-039 (Reduce Child and Incarcerated Parent Separation).

In addition to family communication-oriented bills, there are also a good deal of bills geared toward assisting minors in various aspects. Primary examples that we have taken interest in are HB23-1135 (Penalty for Indecent Exposure in View of Minors), HB23-1157 (Uniform Unregulated Child Custody Transfer Act), SB23-075 (Deleting of Child’s Name from Criminal Justice Records), and SB23-082 (Colorado Fostering Success Voucher Program). The last of these allocates housing vouchers and case management services to former foster care youth who are at least 18 but less than 26.

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

Several veteran and military bills were introduced this legislative session. HB23-1064 would allow 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 nine more are needed) to join the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact. HB23-1088 would reimburse mental health-care providers for 10 mental health-care providers 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. This bill is currently being considered in the House Appropriations committee. It is estimated that almost $6 million dollars will be needed for the first fiscal year.

In the Colorado Senate, SB23-154 would allow for the continuation of the veterans one-stop center in Grand Junction. This bill was passed by the Senate in mid-March. The House Appropriations committee is now considering the bill. It is estimated to cost just under $400K in the 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.