Abortion Rights and Reproductive Health Care
A year after the hijacked conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court made good on the right’s long-standing threat to overturn Roe v. Wade, Colorado as expected became a haven for abortion care, offering help to thousands of people fleeing abortion ban states. This year, Colorado passed critical protections
building on last year’s historic Reproductive Health Equity Act and combatting escalating red state attacks seeking to undermine abortion access and gender-affirming care for trans folks across state lines. Colorado also passed Senate Bill 23-284
to make sure patients can get a twelve-month prescription to contraceptives. All of this took place while the far right continued to push for a national medication abortion ban, reminding voters that reproductive rights we’ve taken for granted for generations are only one election away from being lost forever.
Gun safety supporters
In 2023, Colorado advanced the boldest package of gun safety legislation
since the historic 2013 session–and with far less political backlash, showing how far the debate has evolved on this central issue. New laws raising the age requirement for gun purchases to 21, instituting a three-day waiting period on purchases, banning untraceable “ghost guns,” and strengthening Colorado’s landmark “red flag” law will save lives, while the gun lobby’s promised “circus” in opposition never materialized. Sen. Tom Sullivan, the General Assembly’s foremost authority on gun safety, led the drive to pass these bills keeping Colorado at the forefront of the struggle to reduce gun violence.
K-12 public schools
For many years, Colorado has fallen short of voter-approved constitutional requirements to sustain and grow public education funding for the long haul. This year, leaders in both parties came together to draft a budget that fully funds Colorado’s public schools
with no “BS factor” by 2025. While that doesn’t make up for the years that schools have already been short-changed, it’s a commitment to honoring both students and voters that’s desperately overdue.
With the passage of a referred measure to provide long-term property tax relief
while still meeting funding obligations to public schools, Colorado homeowners who were dreading a massive property tax hike after historic appreciation now have a better option available at the polls this November. A voter-approved change in the property tax formula combined with runaway increases in home values made swift action necessary. Proposition HH is the responsible way to reform Colorado’s broken property tax system in a way that doesn’t leave our kids high and dry.
Families with kids
Sen. Michael Bennet’s groundbreaking federal Child Tax Credit, though sadly not renewed after one year of operation, made huge strides toward reducing child poverty. In Colorado, progressive lawmakers are doing all they can to help families with children by increasing the state’s earned income tax credit and child tax credit
by nearly $75 million. This targeted tax relief helps those in society who need it most, and is also some of the most effective economic support dollar for dollar the state can provide.
Patients and People with Allergies
House Bill 23-1215
passed in the final two days of the session to limit highly controversial outpatient hospital fees, as well as House Bill 23-1002
, which capped the price of EpiPen injectors. This last measure builds on Colorado’s existing law capping the price of insulin–all part of part of the broader campaign launched by Gov. Jared Polis in 2019 to save Coloradans money on health care.
Families separated by incarceration
For years, Colorado families have had to make difficult decisions to afford to stay connected with their incarcerated loved ones via for-profit telecommunications companies. Despite years of pleas for help, Colorado families continue to have to penny pinch just so a child can hear the soothing sound of their parent’s voice for a few minutes. Every year, Colorado families spend over $8.8 million lining the pockets of the state’s private telecom provider to talk to their incarcerated loved ones. That will change with the passage of House Bill 23-1133
, which will reduce and eventually eliminate the cost of voice calls between inmates and their families.
The urban-wildland interface
Learning from the experience of the devastating Marshall Fire, this year lawmakers created an “insurer of last resort”
to provide coverage where private insurance companies won’t. In addition, a new board is working on a statewide update to building codes to promote wildfire resiliency
. Finally, a second Firehawk aerial firefighting helicopter
is set to join the state fleet thanks to bipartisan legislation from Senate President Steve Fenberg and GOP Senator Perry Will. This issue didn’t attract the same sort of headlines that other legislative fights did, but this wildfire season, these measures will likely take on much more importance in hindsight.
This year, thanks to prime sponsor Rep. Brianna Titone of Arvada, Colorado became the first state in the nation to grant owners of agricultural heavy equipment the “right to repair” their own hardware
, potentially saving Colorado farmers millions of dollars over the lifetime of their equipment. The bill requires manufacturers to provide owners and independent repair shops with service information, tools, and parts to enable them to service their own agricultural equipment. Titone herself generated national headlines
for her ability to reach out to Republicans and bridge the rural-urban divide. This bill witnessed fierce opposition from tractor manufacturers and was a powerful lesson in who really has the best interests of rural Colorado at heart.
The new “big tent”
Not everyone got what they wanted from this year’s legislative session, which is nothing unusual–particularly given the large diverse Democratic majority voters elected. Democrats truly are the “big tent” party in Colorado now, and many of the gains we’re most proud of in Colorado like oil and gas reform and equal pay laws took years of patient organizing to accomplish. In the meantime, the Democratic supermajority will have another opportunity to make progress on their bold agenda in 2024.
The Ultra-MAGA wing of Colorado Republicans
Defeated Republicans called 2022 an “extinction-level event,”
and in 2023 they proved it’s all over but the shouting. Although Colorado Republicans currently hold the smallest minority in state government since FDR was President, the far-right faction of the GOP minority in the legislature more than made up for their lack of numbers by using every trick in the parliamentary book to grind the lawmaking process to a crawl. Far-right ex-Rep. Dave Williams, now chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, appears to have exerted more influence than the House Minority Leader over the Republican caucus. New fringe luminaries like Reps. Scott Bottoms and Ken DeGraaf made sure that there was no “turning over a new leaf” for Republicans this year.
Two important bills providing eviction protections
to renters who are already receiving certain forms of public assistance and saving renters money in the rental application process
made it through the legislature and on to Gov. Polis’ desk. Other good pieces of legislation to help beleaguered renters in Colorado like a local option for rent stabilization were not successful this year and are expected to return in 2024, the beginning of a long-term campaign to address an issue that isn’t going away.
Early in the legislative session, an ambitious Fair WorkWeek bill to give hourly workers more flexibility and rights in schedule-making was killed
, along with legislation to provide pricing transparency to both gig workers and their customers
. Both of these issues are expected to be revisited in the future, and passage of legislation modernizing workplace harassment standards
and further promoting equal pay
will make workplaces fair and more decent places to be.
Colorado is fortunate to have a General Assembly led by Democrats that reflects the true diversity of our state, including our first trans legislator, Rep. Brianna Titone
. As we watch the horrific bullying of trans legislators, kids, and families in other states
, Colorado instead marked a moment on the floor recognizing Trans Day of Visibility. As lawmakers passed the gender-affirming care shield law, two legislators, Karen McCormick and Jennifer Parenti, spoke openly about the challenges and joys of being the parent of a trans child. Compassion and decency won. Haters lost. And that’s something we in Colorado should be proud of.
The disastrous “extinction-level event”
of the 2022 elections for Colorado Republicans marked yet another opportunity for the party to change course away from the weak extremist loser candidates who have cost them every election since at least 2016. After failing to trick Colorado voters into supporting Joe O’Dea and Heidi Ganahl and further deepening the GOP’s historic political abyss in this state, there’s no question that dramatic change is needed. Unfortunately, the party lurched in exactly the wrong direction in 2023, empowering the worst actors responsible for previous defeats and elevating their most embarrassing lawmakers
to star status. For Republicans hoping 2024 might be different, those hopes have arguably already been dashed.
House Minority Leader Mike Lynch
From the opening day of the session, when far-right Rep. Scott Bottoms made a symbolic bid for the House Speakership later won by Julie McCluskie, it’s been obvious that Minority Leader Mike Lynch has no control over the House Republican Minority. This meant that agreements Lynch made with majority Democrats for changes to legislation that would benefit Republican interests were broken
when Lynch’s own lawmakers refused to keep their end of the bargain. At the beginning of the year, former party chair Dick Wadhams held out hope that legislative leadership could store some sense of legitimacy. But with Lynch at the mercy of the MAGA wing of his caucus, all he could do was stand by while the extremists dug the party’s hole even deeper.
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners
A racist meltdown
from a lobbyist for the “no compromise” gun rights group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners in the opening weeks of the session shocked the nation and provided the latest example of this organization’s repugnant extremism. Once considered a pariah among “respectable” Republican organizations, RMGO has cemented control over the Colorado Republican Party at the highest levels with the elevation of long-time RMGO supporter Dave Williams to the chairmanship. Despite this, the organization has never been weaker in terms of impacting gun policy, ridiculed after failing to turn out their once-feared supporters to testify against this year’s gun measures–despite promising a “circus.”
“Skin in the game”
A decade ago, former GOP Sen. Greg Brophy outrageously claimed
that Medicaid patients blow their money on “cigarettes and air conditioning” and should have “skin in the game” to help pay for their care. This year, GOP Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer sponsored a bill largely eliminating Medicaid copays
, driving a stake in the heart of a longtime GOP talking point. In 2011, one of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s first vetoes was of a GOP measure to charge children higher co-pays, which Republicans then called “welfare reform.” This capitulation shows how politics in Colorado have evolved in the long term away from small-minded cruelty and toward real solutions.