A Broad’s View: Highlights and Lowlights of the Recent Legislative Session
By Guest Contributor Annmarie Jensen
What do women care about at the Colorado Capitol? The answer probably depends a bit on your politics, your religion, and your social class. So instead of delving into an argument about what women care about, what follows are some of my own personal highlights and lowlights of the recent legislative session, informed by the issues I worked on as a lobbyist and public affairs professional, but also informed by my own opinion and experience when it comes to what is important to women.
As working people, as parents, as employees, women care about a variety of economic issues. It is unfortunate so many of these issues affecting families are called “women’s issues” when all people, no matter their type of family, or gender, should be concerned about child care, education that prepares people for a living wage job, parental leave, equal pay and workplace rights. In my eyes, some of the note-worthy 2017 legislative activity are as follows:
HB 1307—sponsored by Faith Winter (D), Rhonda Fields(D) and Dominic Moreno (D)—created the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program Wage Replacement. Most of the rest of the world grants some form of paid family leave. The US is unique in having none. HB 1307 was an attempt, that did not pass, to join three other states and the rest of the world in creating funding for paid leave to care for a new child or a family member with a serious health condition or for an employee’s own serious health condition.
Many families end up in dire financial straits because of a medical emergency. This concept of helping families safeguard against such an emergency is going to take a while to percolate among legislators. However, in the future, I believe the general public and its representatives will come to see wage replacement programs for family and medical leave as a rational supportive framework for families to care for their own without government intervention.
SB 245—sponsored by Keven Priola (R) and Dan Pabon (D)—extends the amount of notice for a landlord or a tenant in a month-to-month lease. Currently a week’s notice is all that has to be given for termination of a month-to-month lease. SB 245, signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper in early June, extends notice to 21 days. This should give tenants an opportunity to find another place to live following a lease termination. In today’s housing market, renters—the majority of whom are women—have been forced to live in their cars because they cannot find replacement housing within a week.
A Society Valuing Women and their Needs
HB 1127—sponsored by Susan Lontine (D) and Beth Martinez Humenik (R)—a proposed bill to exempt feminine hygiene products from sales tax. Coloradoans do not pay sales taxes on food because it is considered a necessity. A bipartisan attempt by Representative Lontine and Senator Martinez Humenik to grant feminine hygiene products a similar exemption from state sales tax failed in House Appropriations. Its annual price tag was estimated to be $2.4 million, and the price proved too high. Seven states currently exempt feminine hygiene produces from sales tax.
Budget Amendment for Tampons. Often, during the legislative session, there are inspired amendments that make huge differences, but receive little splash and attention. In that vein, Representatives Leslie Herod (D) and Faith Winter (D) passed a $40,000 amendment to the $26.8 Billion state budget allowing women in prison to get tampons or extra pads without a charge. Currently to get more than their allotted share of pads (no tampons), women have to prove to a guard that they are in need. While this was a small budget amendment, it is symbolic of the state taking women and women’s bodies seriously. “For a small amount of money, we can help provide a small piece of dignity,” states Representative Winter.
HJR 1022—sponsored by Jessie Danielson(D), Dominique Jackson (D), Kerry Donovan (D), and Andy Kerr (D)—resolution to support pay equity. Both Houses considered a resolution regarding pay equity for women stating both houses “urge governmental agencies, nonprofit and labor organizations, businesses, and individuals to take steps to implement equal-pay policies to help close the pay gap for Colorado's women and minorities.” While this resolution designating April 4th as Equal Pay Day passed overwhelmingly, six Senators voted against it: Baumgardner (R), Cooke (R), Holbert (R), Lambert (R), Lundberg (R), Marble (R). It’s also worth noting in 2016 there were not enough votes to continue the state’s Pay Equity Commission whose job it was to make actual recommendations about how to ensure pay equity. There is still much work to be done.
Justice for Survivors of Interpersonal Violence
HB 1322—sponsored by Daneya Esgar (D), Lois Landgraf (R), Kerry Donovan (D), and Kevin Lundberg (R)—allows a victim-centered approach to medical care for domestic violence survivors. The bill changed the state’s mandatory reporting law to allow flexibility so medical professionals are not mandated to call law enforcement when they treat a victim of domestic violence. Currently, victims are often afraid to access health care for fear of a mandatory report. This bill was signed by the Governor and was opposed by the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, but is a huge victory for survivors. Many courageous women came to the capitol to tell their story in support of this bill.
HB 1035—sponsored by Dominique Jackson (D) and John Cooke (R)—allows certain crime victims to break a lease. This bipartisan bill extends protections to victims of stalking and sexual assault (a privilege currently granted to victims of domestic violence), the ability to break their lease if need be for their own safety, and expands the documentation that can be used to prove the need.
These crimes disproportionately affect women. Can you imagine living across the hall from someone who assaulted you and not being able to leave without a huge financial penalty? Sadly, in today’s very hot housing market, housing is often a barrier to supporting survivors of these crimes. HB 1035 improves these circumstances and was signed by the Governor in early June.
There are clearly some specifics about health care, most explicitly reproductive health care, that directly affect women. Several bills sought to put severe restrictions on reproductive services and I won’t go into those here. Instead, kudos to the bipartisan sponsors of the following bills and to ending on two highlights.
HB 1186—sponsored by Brittany Pettersen (D), Lois Landgraff (R) and Don Coram (R)—requires health insurers to reimburse for a 90-day supply of contraception. This bill was an important bipartisan success for women’s reproductive health and as of being signed into law in early June, women will now be able to receive a three-month’s supply of their contraception prescription. Research shows this to be an effective way to ensure family planning.
HB 1302—sponsored by Pete Lee (D), Yeulin Willett (R), Bob Gardner (R), and Rhonda Fields (D)—addresses juvenile sexting. This bill was the product of years of negotiation. Prior to the passage of the bill, juveniles who shared explicit pictures of themselves could face felony charges and a lifetime of sex offender registration. Additionally, victims of malicious sexting could be charged when the perpetrator shared their picture without their consent. The District Attorneys Council and others advocated for continued available criminal penalties for juveniles who sexted consensually.
A broad coalition of youth, GLBTQ, the defense bar, and women advocates disagreed, advocating that consensual activity should not be subject to a prosecutor’s whim regarding who to prosecute. The bill brought to light various dialogues about sexuality and modern society. The coalition was able to get the bill passed and, while it is not perfect, it removes the felony threat and does not create a crime for doing something digitally (sexting) that is legal if you do it in person.
How to Stay Plugged In
To get more information, or to follow bills during a legislative session, I highly recommend connecting with organizations that have a full-time, at the capitol every day, lobbyist. Without such a presence, it is hard to know how to spend your time reaching out to representatives and working for the issues that matter to you. A lobbyist can tell you which bills have a reasonable chance and where to focus your advocacy time to do the most good. Contrary to the bad reputation some lobbyists have, many of us specialize in public interest advocacy for worthy causes, and pride ourselves on our integrity.
Here is a partial list of organizations you can turn to for more information on issues of concern to women:
9 to 5 Colorado focuses on working women issues such as pay equity, and family leave, child care, job training.
Colorado Center on Law and Policy is a leader in increasing access to healthcare, family economic security, job training and other critical family needs and supports.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains empowers individuals and families to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health by providing high quality health services, comprehensive sex education, and strategic advocacy.
Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault is a membership organization promoting safety, justice, and healing for survivors while working toward the elimination of sexual violence.
Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence works to break the silence surrounding domestic violence. The Coalition works on behalf of survivors and the advocates who serve them, engaging in systems advocacy and public policy development to enhance the safety and quality of life of victims and survivors of DV.
The Women’s Foundation of Colorado uses their strategic research, collective voice, and statewide network to affect policy and create systemic change for women & girls. They engage annually in public policy by monitoring legislation, sharing research, meeting with legislators and policy partners, and taking positions on bills that have a direct effect on women and girls' economic self-sufficiency.
The Women’s Lobby of Colorado seeks to provide better opportunities for women in Colorado by ensuring public policies reflect gender equity and justice.
Annmarie Jensen is the president of Jensen Public Affairs, a Colorado government relations/lobbying firm. She has been a registered lobbyist in Colorado since 1995. Her lobbying successes include creating the first-ever state funding for domestic violence services, creating the state’s Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity grant program, significant improvements in air quality, accomplishing police reform in a balanced way and a variety of other criminal and social justice policy changes. For questions or further information, reach Annmarie at firstname.lastname@example.org