Legislative Session in Review

Legislative Session in Review

By Liz McKay, Education and Policy Intern
May 19, 2016

The 2016 legislative session has come to a close, and while this year did present Colorado lawmakers with opportunities to promote the wellbeing of young people across the state, little significant change was made. In 2016, Colorado lawmakers proposed bills to increase contraception access, protect student privacy, support LGBTQ residents, and support parenting and pregnant women. Colorado lawmakers also followed national trends in introducing legislation aimed at restricting reproductive healthcare access and increasing parental control over young people’s health and educational decisions.

In order to support the healthy sexual development of all young Coloradans, the state must ensure access to affordable and confidential health care services, including contraception and abortion access, mental health services, and LGBTQ services, in addition to ensuring that pregnant and parenting teens receive the support they need to finish school and find fair employment.

Colorado continued to lead the nation by passing the state’s budget that included $2.5 million for its Family Planning Initiative. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative has reduced teen abortion rates by an incredible 42 percent and has saved the state an estimated $111 million1 by providing young and low-income Coloradans with access to Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) options for little to no cost. The program was originally piloted in 2009 for a five-year trial, but did not receive funding last year due to Republican objection. Colorado lawmakers also looked to increase contraception access through House Bill 1322, sponsored by Rep. Lontine (D-Denver) and Senator Guzman (D-Denver), which would allow insured individuals to access a 12 month supply of contraception that is prescribed to them. This bill unfortunately died on a party line vote in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee.

Colorado Youth Matter supports a woman’s right to choose, and believes that preserving access to abortion services for young people is a crucial aspect of promoting youth sexual health and ensuring that young people have the resources they need to succeed. Unfortunately, Colorado Republicans mirrored national trends this session by introducing six pieces of legislation aimed to restrict reproductive healthcare access. Nationally, over 411 restrictions on abortion access were proposed within the first quarter of 2016.2 In Colorado, Republicans again attempted to pass an outright abortion ban, the Protect Human Life at Conception Act sponsored by Rep. Humphrey (R-Severance) and Senator Lundberg (R-Berthoud), in addition to a dangerous Fetal Homicide bill, Offenses Against Unborn Children sponsored by Rep. Joshi (R-Colorado Springs), both of which were killed by the Democratic controlled House. However, Republican lawmakers also proposed two controversial TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws, which aim to reduce abortion access by regulating abortion clinics out of existence and creating additional hurdles for women seeking to access abortion care. The Women’s Health Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock), would have required Colorado abortion clinics to obtain an expensive license from the Department of Public Health and Environment in addition to requiring expensive and difficult to procure building standards and equipment upgrades. The law requires provisions similar to Texas’ devastating HB-2, the constitutionality of which is currently up for debate in the Supreme Court case Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The other TRAP law, A Woman’s Right to Accurate Health Care Information sponsored by Rep. Saine (R-Greeley) and Senator Tim Neville (R-Littleton), would have required that clinics provide ultrasound images, in addition to scientifically inaccurate information about fetal pain3 to women seeking abortion care at least 24 hours in advanced. Mandatory waiting periods are a popular method to deter women from accessing abortion, as they force women to make multiple trips to obtain a safe and simple outpatient procedure, making access even more difficult for young people with less resources. This drives up the final cost to women through time off from work, transportation costs, and potential overnight stays for those that must travel long distances to access abortion care services.4 These bills were inevitably killed by Democratic lawmakers joined by a few Republicans.

Student privacy and parental involvement were two major issues to arise in education this session. House Bill 1002, the Parental Involvement in K-12 Education Act, was sponsored by Rep. Buckner (D-Aurora) and Senator Kerr (D-Lakewood). The bill simply reinstated a law passed in 2009, the Parental Involvement in K-12 Education Act which had been active and functioning for five years. The act provided Colorado parents with 18 hours of unpaid leave each year to attend their children’s academic events, including parent-teacher conferences and graduation ceremonies. The bill was killed on a party-line vote in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs committee. The Parent’s Bill of Rights was another bill to reappear this year. Father-son duo Senator Tim Neville (R-Littleton) and Rep. Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock) sponsored the bill that would have restricted government interference in parenting decisions without a compelling interest. Additionally, the bill would have caused a severe loss of privacy for young people looking to access sensitive health services, including accessing contraception, LGBTQ care, and mental health services. It was killed by House Democrats in the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. Finally, within the last few weeks of the session, Colorado lawmakers passed the Student Data Privacy bill (HB-1423) with bipartisan support. The bill aims to strengthen the privacy of students by ensuring that the Department of Education abides by certain transparency requirements when it comes to student’s personally identifiable information. Parents will also have uninhibited access to their child’s records. Colorado Youth Matter supports a young person’s access to confidential health services while at school, and this bill could infringe upon their privacy.

Many bills were introduced this session that were in support of young families. The Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act (HB-1438), sponsored by Rep. Faith Winter (D-Westminster) and Senator Beth Martinez-Huminek (R-Adams County), passed with bipartisan support within the last few days of the session. The bill requires that employers provide basic accommodations to pregnant workers, including allowing pregnant workers to sit when needed, to carry water bottles, and to have extra restroom breaks. Another bill (HB-1227) passed with bipartisan support, sponsored by Reps. Kagan (D-Englewood) and DelGrosso (R-Loveland) and Senators Hill (R-Colorado Springs) and Crowder (R-Pueblo). The bill aimed to grant young parents easier access to Colorado’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP). The bill exempts young parents and victims of domestic violence from having to request child support before receiving financial assistance from CCCAP. Lack of affordable child care is a major barrier to young parents’ completion of high school.5 By waiving the requirement, the state is helping to ensure that young parents are better able to take care of their families and better prepare for their futures.

Democrats also fought but failed to pass two bills in support of LGBTQ individuals.6 Rep. Moreno (D-Commerce City) and Senator Ulibarri (D-Thornton) proposed a bill (HB-1185) to simplify the process of changing gender on birth certificates. The current process can be complicated and invasive for transgender individuals looking to legally recognize their gender identity. Another bill (HB-1210) was sponsored by Rep. Rosenthal (D-Denver) and Senator Steadman (D-Denver) and proposed to ban the controversial practice of conversion therapy on minors. Conversion therapy is a damaging, discredited practice attempting to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ individuals. Both bills died on party-line votes in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs committee.

The 2016 legislative session included many pieces of legislation that had the ability to impact the sexual and emotional health of young people across the state. Young people were ensured continued access to Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) through additional funding procured for the Colorado Family Planning Initiative as well as protection from pregnancy-related discrimination on the job through the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act. However, many bills that could have strengthened protections for LGBTQ individuals were not passed and abortion access was continually threatened through the proposal of controversial TRAP laws and other means aimed to restrict reproductive healthcare. With the session over and attention beginning to drift toward implementation and the November election, Coloradans must continue to support the healthy development of all young people by supporting legislators that believe the same.