Unpredictable session finishes strong with victories in racial justice, early care and education, and paid sick leave
The 2020 Legislative Session is one that we won’t forget. From the jump, WFCO planned to put our organizational resources, such as lobbying and advocacy, behind early care and education (ECE) and paid family and medical leave. Both issues are critical to the economic mobility of Colorado women and families. Little did we know that the last time we’d physically be in the Capitol during the session was our 75-person-strong Lobby Day on March 5th. With support from generous funders, including WomenGive, a program of United Way of Larimer County, WFCO used our public policy expertise and resources to address systemic changes with the goal of improving women’s economic security despite significant changes to the “typical” legislative session.
COVID-19 hit soon after and the Colorado General Assembly went into recess on March 14. When it resumed at the end of May, policymakers stated that legislation related to the pandemic would be the priority for the remainder of the session. The economic fallout of the pandemic, record unemployment, and a $3.3 billion budget shortfall made it seem as though our priority bills would not move forward. Though the pandemic exposed for all to see and feel the urgent need to transform our child care system, our priority bill, House Bill 20-1053, appeared to be dead.
Early care and education bill passes with bipartisan support
Yet, the unpredictability of the session continued even after it resumed. Thanks to our legislative champions, the strong advocacy of WFCO public policy grantee, the Colorado Children’s Campaign; and the quick work to amend the bill by the statewide ECE workgroup convened by WFCO, the Children’s Campaign, and the Office of Gov. Polis; HB 20-1053 passed with strong bipartisan support.
The bill, Supports for the Early Childhood Workforce, was amended to include parts of HB 20-1006, Early Childhood Mental Health Consultants, and HB 20-1016, Increase Quality In Early Childhood Education Programs. The amended bill advances three key priorities of the early childhood community: 1) to enable programs that are re-opening by bolstering recruitment and retainment of educators; 2) support mental health needs of educators and families; and 3) allow for the state to support continued quality improvement.
”Women in Colorado have known for decades that access to high-quality and affordable early care and education is required for economic viability, let alone security. This is doubly true for those in the ECE workforce,” said Alison Friedman Phillips, director of programs at WFCO. “The impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic underscores just how essential ECE is for our state. WFCO will continue to convene key stakeholders to find effective solutions and advocate for the early care and education sector.”
Paid sick leave passes while paid family and medical leave is postponed
A paid family and medical leave bill was not introduced this legislative session. Similar to child care, the pandemic harshly revealed the importance of paid family and medical leave in our state. Too many Coloradans must choose between caring for loved ones or providing for them. WFCO is encouraged that signature gathering efforts are underway for a potential statewide ballot measure this fall to seek voter approval to establish a paid leave system in Colorado. The proposed ballot measure uses recommendations from the task force and is the most business friendly of the options originally proposed.
Petition signatures were due in the first week of August for initiative #283 to qualify for the November ballot. WFCO joined the broad coalition working to advance this measure and you can, too. Visit Colorado Families First to endorse the measure.
While paid family and medical leave may be up to Colorado voters in the fall, the General Assembly did pass Senate Bill 20-205, the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act. The bill requires all employers in Colorado to provide earned paid sick leave on an accrual basis beginning on January 1, 2021. This is an especially important development for women who are part of the minimum wage workforce, which often does not provide this benefit.
Colorado leads the nation with law enforcement integrity legislation
In addition to the HB 20-1053, another groundbreaking and highly visible bill supported by WFCO garnered strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate. SB 20-217 – Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity — will improve accountability and integrity in law enforcement agencies. Gender equity cannot be achieved without racial equity. Racism and violence in policing lead to disproportionate deaths, injury, and incarceration of women of color, impacting generations of individuals, families, and communities of color in countless ways, both directly and indirectly. The sweeping law enforcement reform bill marks one of the country’s most significant changes to policing amidst the protests over the brutal killing of George Floyd.
CROWN Act another victory for racial justice
Another significant racial justice victory took place earlier in the session when Colorado joined four other states in banning natural hair discrimination after Gov. Jared Polis signed the CROWN Act, HB 20-1048. Lauren Y. Casteel, president and CEO of The Women’s Foundation commented on The CROWN — Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair — movement.
“As a black woman who has worn my hair natural for fifty years (with the exception of six months) I celebrate the long overdue acknowledgement and protection of the beauty of every woman’s true self. Similarly, WFCO believes that it is our right to wear our hair as we choose without stigma or retribution. I am also proud that my sisters Rep. Herod, Rep. Buckner, and Sen. Fields carried this legislative CROWN Act of 2020 as queens!”
Looking to November
Next, WFCO looks to the ballot in November to continue creating systemic change. Fiscal reform as well as other measures that greatly impact a woman’s economic security will appear. We will update The Womanifesto, our nonpartisan voter guide that we created in 2018, to help our community fill out their ballots and center women’s advancement through their votes.
Thank you to all our supporters who make WFCO’s public policy and advocacy work possible through grants and individual contributions and by taking action and sharing insights. Thank you to Frontline Public Affairs, our lobbying partner, and our public policy grantees that supported many of these bills and others that further our mission.
Read the complete list of bills that WFCO supported and their status. Please also check out the important work of our public policy grantee partners – 9to5 Colorado, Bell Policy Center, Colorado Center on Law and Policy, Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Fiscal Institute, Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation, Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC), and Young Invincibles.