2015 Legislative Session in Review: Youth Sexual Health in Colorado
As the dust settles after an uphill 2015 legislative session, we would like to take a moment to reflect on challenges, successes and the road ahead. A divided Colorado House and Senate resulted in a session slowed down by gridlock and partisanship. By the end of the session, legislators had approved fewer bills than any term in the past four years. There were several opportunities to promote the health and well-being of Colorado youth through policy reform and the introduction of new legislation and unfortunately, most of these important initiatives were defeated. Most remarkably, the Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) bill, legislation with bi-partisan sponsorship, was defeated in the Senate State, Military and Veteran Affairs Committee. This bill would have extended funding for the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a program that provides long-acting reversible contraceptive to underserved teens and women at a free or reduced cost. While it is incredibly disheartening that legislation with clear fiscal and health benefits was defeated, we were inspired and encouraged by the many legislative champions and community advocates who showed up in support of it. We are not giving up and will continue to advocate for programs that work because we know how important it is to ensure that youth have access to the most effective forms of birth control as a part of their sexual health.
Outside of the state legislature, Colorado Youth Matter staff worked hard to advocate for the continued statewide administration of the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) a voluntary, anonymous survey that provides vital information about students' health behaviors, reported by students themselves. Survey topics include sexual health, mental health, engagement in school, personal safety, bullying and more. The survey data helps guide funding priorities and programming in schools, districts, state agencies, local public health agencies and community-based organizations. The efforts of our staff and partners proved successful as the Colorado State Board of Education voted to table discussion on the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey indefinitely! This means that the 2015 administration of the survey will continue on as planned, and our state will have access to critical information about youth health and protective factors that is integral in informing our work.
Nationally, Congress passed a $200 million healthcare package that included a 2-year funding extension for PREP, a program that supports comprehensive sexual health programs across the country and in Huerfano, Garfield and Denver counties in Colorado! The down side is that the compromise bill also included a 2-year funding extension – and increase – of ineffective Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs, also present in Colorado. While we are disappointed with many of the session's outcomes, we are committed to continuing our work on future initiatives that increase access and promote youth sexual health. Below is a brief list of some of the bills that Colorado Youth Matter supported and opposed throughout the session. Be sure to *like* our Facebook page and stay tuned for more updates regarding upcoming Federal legislation and future advocacy opportunities!
Special thanks to our coalition partners and leaders in the advocacy efforts this session and the resources they provided that helped to inform our decisions throughout the session: COLOR, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, One Colorado, NARAL Pro Choice Colorado and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Legislation Supported by Colorado Youth Matter:
Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (HB 1194) - Defeated. This bill would have extended funding for a program that has provided over 30,000 women and youth with long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) at a free or reduced cost. Between 2009 (when the funding began) and 2012, the teen birth rate dropped by 39%.
Teen Pregnancy Dropout Prevention (HB 1079) - Defeated. This bill would have extended the repeal date of the Teen Pregnancy and Dropout Prevention Program to 2020. For 10 years, the program has given teens and parents access to low-cost counseling services that provide opportunities for discussion about topics related to sexual health.
Parental Involvement for Academic Achievement (HB 1221) - Defeated. This bill sought to permanently expand the 2009 Parental Involvement Act that allowed many Coloradans to take up to 18 hours of work leave annually to attend their children’s school activities. The amended bill would have expanded the definition of “school activities” to include meetings with school counselors and sporting events.
Birth Certificate Modernization (HB 1265) - Defeated. This bill would have implemented a less invasive process for transgender Coloradans trying to change the gender that is listed on their birth certificates. Current legislation requires that transgender adults and youth undergo surgery before being allowed to change the gender on their birth certificate.
Legislation opposed by Colorado Youth Matter:
Parent’s Bill of Rights (SB 77) - Defeated. This legislation would have established a set of parental rights giving parents increased control over the education and health care of their children. The long list of parental rights, included the withdrawal of children from classes whose content they find objectionable, receiving notifications about opting out of sex education classes, and consent for all physical and mental health services.
Offenses Against Unborn Children (SB 268) - Defeated. This legislation sought to create a new criminal charge of fetal homicide. It would have established a Colorado law that defined a “person” as “an unborn child at every state of gestation from conception until childbirth.”
This blog was written by Holly Ponton, Community Outreach and Education Intern, Colorado Youth Matter.