Colorado Rights Blog

ACLU of Colorado By: ACLU of Colorado 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.



  • Cedric Watkins is a father, uncle, entrepreneur-in-training, and a vital community pillar for many others. While behind bars, he has tirelessly devoted himself to serving his peers and his community. He developed gang disaffiliation programs for other incarcerated individuals and is currently involved with Defy Ventures. He sends letters and calls his daughter as much as he can.

    Cedric is currently in prison at Sterling Correctional Facility. He was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping, theft and sentenced to 80 years; no one was seriously injured or killed. For comparison, a person convicted of second-degree murder in Colorado faces a maximum sentence of 48 years. Cedric has already served 20 years and has fully rehabilitated during that time.

    It’s time to bring Cedric home: Redemption is real. Clemency is compassion.

  • On November 21, 2016, 13 Aurora police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at Alberto Torres’s home. As happens all too often, Aurora police officers escalated this minor issue into a brutal affair. They beat Mr. Torres solely because he delayed exiting his garage to ask his wife to interpret for him. With that beating, the lives of Mr. Torres and every member of his family were changed and he has yet to recover. ACLU of Colorado fought to obtain justice for Mr. Torres, and Aurora has now paid him $285,000. But money is not justice, and the brutality of the Aurora Police Department against people of color has continued unabated.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Imagine, if instead of 13 officers being dispatched to Mr. Torres’s home for a noise complaint, the City of Aurora sent a civilian-led response team to check on his welfare and ask that he and his friends lower their sound, resulting in a non-violent solution to a minor issue?

    ACLU Settles Case With Aurora After Police Brutalize and Unlawfully Arrest Alberto Torres

  • Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment that together, we can create a more perfect union. We won’t rest until we fulfill the promise of equal rights for ALL people in the United States.

    Join us in our fight to fulfill this promise and move forward with hope by donating to the ACLU of Colorado. Your donation supports the ACLU’s strengths that make our work effective and collaborative.

    Donate now at

  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people.