During a historic 84-day session interrupted by the pandemic, Colorado lawmakers passed a slew of major legislation — some of it so early on that it might feel like it happened in a different session.
Here are a dozen of the most significant bills the General Assembly passed between January and June, with a lengthy pause in between — pre- and post-coronavirus, pre- and post-protests. All have been signed into law or are expected to get Gov. Jared Polis’ signature.
1) Police accountability and reform
Senate Bill 217, considered one of the most comprehensive police reform packages in the country, would set additional limits on police use of force for departments across the state. That includes banning chokeholds and requiring a legal basis for all police contacts. The bill requires all police officers in the state to use body-worn cameras by 2023, and for departments to release footage within 45 days after an incident. It creates a database of officers with a history of misconduct, so that officers fired by one agency can’t easily get hired by another.
One of the biggest wins for reform advocates: The bill removes qualified immunity, which typically protects government workers, as a defense for civil rights violations — meaning that officers could be held personally liable for their actions. The bill also would make it a crime for law enforcement officers not to intervene when fellow officers are using excessive force.
2) Repeal of the death penalty
Shortly before the legislature took a break amid the state’s public health emergency, lawmakers passed a bill to end the use of capital punishment in the state. The governor signed Senate Bill 100 into law and commuted the sentences of the three black men on death row. This was the sixth attempt in about a dozen years to get rid of the death penalty in Colorado. It’s in line with national polling that shows a decrease in support for the death sentence as public debate has focused on its disproportionate use against minorities and on cases in which death row inmates have been exonerated.
3) Ban on civil immigration arrests in courthouses
In recent years, immigration advocates have documented numerous cases of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arresting people in or around courthouses. Advocates have said fear of such civil arrests for immigration violations can prevent the criminal justice system from working correctly: People are afraid to cooperate with law enforcement on crimes, victims are afraid to testify in court and even those trying to take care of traffic offenses skip out on court dates.
So Senate Bill 83 seeks to prevent ICE from making civil arrests on courthouse property or targeting people going to and from court. Opponents argued the new law improperly restricts federal immigration operations. Polis signed the bill into law in March.
4) Improving Colorado’s air and water quality
Lawmakers passed several bills aimed at improving Colorado’s air and water quality. They include House Bill 1143, which increases daily fines for violations of standards, and House Bill 1265, which requires refineries to send emergency alerts to residents who live near them and might have been exposed to hazardous air toxins. One of the biggest changes comes through Senate Bill 204, which aims to improve Colorado’s air quality monitoring and will provide more money for that process.
For the second year in a row, sponsors proposed legislation aimed at increasing Colorado’s worst-in-the-nation immunization rates. Senate Bill 163 would set additional restrictions for parents seeking to exempt their children from vaccination. They could take an online course on vaccines and submit a certificate of completion, or they could get a note signed by a medical provider. The bill would also require schools to provide parents and students with information on their immunization rates.
The bill faced heated opposition from a vocal coalition of parents, backed by Republicans, who cited parental rights and privacy as concerns. But polling shows the majority of Coloradans side with the Democrats and public health experts on the issue.
6) Collective bargaining for state employees
After what proponents characterize as a 12-year fight, Polis signed a bill Tuesday giving state employees the opportunity to collectively bargain for pay, benefits and working conditions through union representation. House Bill 1153 allows state employees to negotiate and create formal agreements with the executive branch. The new law does not allow employees to go on strike or stop working.
7) Providing retirement options
Nearly 40% of Colorado’s workers don’t have a retirement savings or investment plan through their employers. Senate Bill 200 creates a program that automatically enrolls workers in an individual retirement account (IRA), giving them an investment option. The program is expected to affect about a million Coloradans and save the state’s government-assistance programs about $10 billion over the next 15 years, analysts project.
8) Eliminating tax breaks
A bill eliminating some state tax breaks — though not as many as Democrats would have liked — won approval after lawmakers reached a deal with the governor and other players on House Bill 1420. It would repeal some tax exemptions for higher earners in the state and is expected to help lowest-income earners. Much of the revenue it will produce will help plug budget holes for K-12 education.
9) Extending reinsurance
Democrats couldn’t get all their health care affordability bills passed this year, but health advocates have applauded Senate Bill 215. This bill extends the state’s reinsurance program for another five years and creates a new funding structure for it. The goal of the program is to bring down insurance costs on the individual market by reimbursing some of the money insurance companies pay out in claims, especially in areas with fewer insurance options.
10) Compensation for college athletes
Starting in 2023, college athletes will be able to make money for the use of their names, images or likenesses without worrying about losing their scholarship eligibility. Senate Bill 123 has been signed by the governor.
11) Abolishing Columbus Day
After years of advocacy against recognition for Columbus Day, legislators approved a new state holiday to replace it. Frances Xavier Cabrini Day will be the first Monday of October each year. It will be the first paid state holiday in the United States honoring a woman, in this case the Catholic saint who created dozens of schools, hospitals and orphanages from the United States to South America. Polis signed House Bill 1031 in March.
12) Pandemic relief
A package of loans, grants, unemployment assistance and other spending assists individuals and businesses affected by the pandemic. Senate Bill 205 mandates that employers allow their employees to earn paid sick leave.
Coming soon to a ballot near you
The voters will have to make decisions in the Nov. 3 election on other changes proposed and referred to the ballot. Those include higher tobacco taxes and a new nicotine tax, along with whether to repeal the Gallagher Amendment in November.
Some of those, if approved, would affect state budget discussions once lawmakers return for the next legislative session, scheduled to begin Jan. 13.
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