Colorado Rights Blog

Denise Maes By: Denise Maes 5.18.2017

Good policy-making (mostly) won out over partisan politics in the 2017 Legislative Session

The post-mortem on this year’s legislative session has been mostly positive. Lawmakers are being applauded for their willingness to place good policy-making above partisan politics. Governor Hickenlooper referred to the 2017 session as “the most productive” since he took office in 2011.

Legislators made big news for finding common ground on some of the state’s most critical issues, like construction defects reform and addressing the hospital provider fee. Lawmakers also found common ground – most of the time – on legislation affecting civil rights and civil liberties.

For almost three years now, the ACLU has been working with the Division of Youth Corrections attempting to reverse the punitive culture that has been pervasive within the Division. Earlier in the year, the ACLU, along with other child advocates, released Bound and Broken, a report documenting the harsh and punitive nature of DYC practices. DYC has for years relied heavily on the use of solitary confinement, a full-body straitjacket called the WRAP, pain compliance techniques, knee strikes, leg irons and handcuffs to control kids. This punitive culture endangers both staff and kids. As the state legislature has given DYC more and more money over the years, violence has increased. More money alone is clearly not the answer.

Relying on the facts presented in Bound and Broken and other evidence revealed through investigative journalism, Representatives Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs) and Lois Landgraff (R-Fountain) sponsored HB 1329 — legislation that mandates DYC retain an outside consultant to evaluate all Division facilities and make recommendations to bring DYC in line with best practices.  It also requires the Division to work with an independent consultant to develop a pilot program that relies on non-punitive approaches to caring for kids. The bill also changes the name from the Division of Youth Corrections to the Division of Youth Services and establishes the mission as rehabilitative rather than punitive.

The bill received unanimous support in the House. In the Senate, after some legislative procedural acrobatics, it passed with bipartisan support in a 21-14 vote. It was sponsored by Senators Daniel Kagan (D-Cherry Hills) and Don Coram (R-Durango). The legislation really had only one vocal opponent – Senator Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) and thankfully, his voice was overwhelmed by the majority of those seeking much needed reform.

The ACLU continued its work on municipal courts and correcting harsh penalties that largely affect poor people and particularly people of color in the criminal justice system, and these efforts received great bipartisan support. After extensive research, the ACLU discovered that many people incarcerated on minor municipal offenses – including park hours violations and open container – were held in jail for days and even weeks on end just waiting to see a judge. These individuals were stuck in jail only because they were too poor to post bond.  HB 1338 begins to address this problem by requiring that municipal inmates who are not brought before a judge within 48 hours or 72 hours over a weekend, will be automatically released from jail on their own recognizance. This bill garnered unanimous support from both chambers. The bill was sponsored by Representative Jeff Bridges (D-Cherry Creek) and Senator Vickie Marble (R-Broomfield).

HB 1168, another bill supported by ACLU of Colorado, decriminalizes “Driving Under Revocation” when one’s license was revoked because of an unpaid traffic ticket. Currently, the Department of Motor Vehicles revokes on average 205,000 driver’s license each year. Many of these revocations occur for extremely minor infractions simply because people cannot afford to pay their fines, creating a vicious cycle that punishes people for their poverty. Under HB 1168, jail time is no longer a penalty when a person drives with a license that was revoked simply because they failed to pay. Although the ACLU would have preferred to see revocations for inability to pay eliminated altogether, rendering driving in this scenario to a civil offense is a step in the right direction. We thank Representative Matt Gray (D-Adams County) and Senator Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs) for sponsoring this legislation, which passed both chambers with strong bipartisan support.

Other ACLU-supported bills which passed with bipartisan support included Campus Free Speech and Asset Forfeiture Reform. Lawmakers also came together to support legislation that requires insurers to cover a 12-month supply of contraception for women. This legislation has been defeated in the past, but this session, it found bipartisan sponsorship and votes in both chambers. Also of great significance, the Republican-controlled Senate voted down a bill that would have mandated ultrasounds and a waiting period for women seeking an abortion. The bill – titled Women’s Right to Accurate Health Care – was voted down 19-16.

These victories didn’t prevent several legislative attempts to limit women’s access to reproductive care. The House alone saw five bills that would have done just that. One such bill, predicated on “junk science,” would have required doctors to inform women about an “abortion reversal” pill. Another bill would have enacted personhood, subjecting anyone performing an abortion to the criminal charge of first degree murder, the potential penalty for which is the death penalty. Personhood has been resoundingly defeated by Colorado voters multiple times.

Partisan politics also persisted in the area of LGBT rights, immigrant rights and a key area of criminal justice reform. For the second year in a row, the Senate State Affairs committee voted down bills that would have limited the use of conversion therapy and made it easier for one to change their gender marker on their birth certificate. Both bills were defeated on a party line vote.

The legislature also refused to advance legislation that intended to benefit our immigrant and refugee communities. And a Senate committee rejected a bill that would have repealed the death penalty. We thank Minority Leader Senator Lucia Guzman for her persistence and passion on this issue.

Much can be and was accomplished in 120 days. ACLU’s policy work, of course, continues beyond the legislative session. The policy team will continue to persist in advancing civil liberties and resist attempts to take us backward. Sine die.



  • One year ago, thousands of Coloradans marched in a historic display of resistance. At the ACLU of Colorado we carried that spirit throughout the year, fighting on many fronts for civil liberties. We won’t stop now.

  • By canceling DACA, Trump has put 800,000 young people at risk of losing their jobs and being deported from the only country they know as home. Passing the bipartisan Dream Act would protect them. We asked four Dreamers why the Dream Act is important to them and their future.

  • James Fisher spoke at the ACLU of Colorado Bill of Rights Dinner about how he and the ACLU are working together to stop the criminalization of poverty for the thousands of Coloradans who are trapped in debtors’ prisons.

  • Our membership has quadrupled in the last six months, making it possible to do more than ever to protect civil rights and civil liberties in Colorado. Thank you to all our new members, supporters, and donors, and the ones who’ve been with us for years.