A Note from Public Policy Director Denise Maes
Colorado’s legislative session is 120 days and a great deal happens in these mere four months that affect many Coloradans. For example, in the 2018 session, transportation and education saw unprecedented gains in funding. The legislature infused $645 million into multi-modal transportation and infrastructure and increased per pupil funding by $469 per student.
Civil liberties legislation rarely gets much attention. The one exception this year was the reauthorization of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which protects all Coloradans from discrimination in employment, housing, and public spaces. The division has been under attack stemming primarily from its role in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Thanks to immense public response, the commission was reauthorized this year in relatively good form, despite efforts to defund it or severely weaken its enforcement power.
In legislative sessions past, I have proudly reported unanimous victories on the legislation we proactively championed. I was told that losses would eventually come. In 2018, they did. The losses weigh heavily not simply because loss is always hard, but because these legislative efforts—had they become law—would have brought relief to many Coloradans.
We were unsuccessful in our attempt to implement a statewide court reminder program. Such a program would greatly reduce the number of failure to appear warrants, and therefore, the number of people in our county jails. We also attempted to bring greater transparency to police internal affairs’ files, to no avail. Our efforts to stop the practice of revoking an individual’s driver’s license for their failure to pay a traffic-related fee was also rejected.
Our gains, however, are not insignificant. We championed a bill sponsored by Sen. Vicki Marble and Rep. Susan Lontine that will bring independent and robust public defenders to all Colorado municipal courts. Incarcerating kids for missing school is a harsh punishment. Thanks to Sen. Chris Holbert and Rep. Pete Lee, this practice is now limited.
We also championed a bill expanding voting rights in Colorado by ensuring that all eligible voters in county jails are able to vote. Ultimately, the Secretary of State acknowledged that legislation was not necessary and agreed to implement rules facilitating in-jail voting. This practice will be fully implemented in time for the 2018 general election.
Through our work with juvenile justice advocates, we learned that the Department of Youth Services was not providing bras to teenage girls in their care. We brought this matter to the attention of Rep. Leslie Herod, and she pushed the Department to fund bras for these teenagers. The small price tag of $40,000 matters a great deal to our girls in youth services.
We’re gearing up now for the 2019 session, where much of what we can accomplish will be directly impacted by the results of the statewide elections in November. Be sure to vote!