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  • Writer's pictureVoces Unidas de las Montañas

This is what democracy looks like

Today we concluded the 16th Annual Latino Advocacy Day with a rally at the State Capitol and dozens of individual meetings to urge lawmakers to pass legislation addressing Latino rights and interests around crime, the economy and housing, education, environmental protection, immigration, and reproductive rights.

After holding a virtual event in 2021, more than 300 people attended the two-day event this year — among the largest in recent history. And, we are proud to say, more than half came from outside the Denver-metro area, including 70 leaders from the Western Slope.

We had Latinos and Latinas from Grand Junction, Fruita, Delta, Rifle, Silt, Glenwood Springs, El Jebel, Basalt, Eagle, Gypsum, Edwards, Silverthorne and Leadville. We had attendees from Durango, Steamboat, Greeley, Pueblo and Boulder - from every single corner of this state.

The message: Latinos and Latinas belong in all policy discussions and we are showing up.

In his remarks to the group, our President and CEO, Alex Sánchez, said: “This is our Capitol. This is our state. It’s not just our right to demand and advocate from our lawmakers and our policymakers — it’s our responsibility. Democracy cannot work without every single one of us being engaged and demanding what we need from our state — from our government.”

Dusti Gurule, President and CEO of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), a co-convener of LAD, said: “You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore -- so that’s why we started Latino Advocacy Day 16 years ago. Because we know that we cannot continue letting policy happen to us, we have to be here leading, advocating and challenging and calling out and voting those who continue to hold progress from our communities.”

Colorado Latino Advocacy Day was conceived in 2006 as a response to a special legislative session where Colorado lawmakers convened to pass several anti-immigrant, anti-Latino laws -- resulting in unprecedented protests and marches by more than 50,000 immigrants and allies. In the 16 years since, LAD has brought families and communities together to share stories and advocate for the issues we are facing.

Given the last two years of the pandemic, we know that the effects and impact of COVID-19 is top of mind for many Latinos.

“If COVID has reminded us of anything, it is that Latinos tend to be an afterthought — even when our community was the hardest hit,” said Beatriz Soto, Director of Protégete for Conservation Colorado. “To this day we continue to feel the effects of COVID in our lives. This is why more than ever we need unity from Latinos across the state. We must work together to ensure our resiliency and long term health of our community.”

In welcome remarks on Sunday, Sen. James Coleman reminded participants — many of whom had never advocated at the Capitol — “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

“There is no Colorado without the Latino community. There is no Colorado without the Black community. But sometimes we’re made to feel that we only belong in the streets, that we only belong in protests — which is a powerful and impactful place to be,” said Coleman. “But you also deserve to be at the leadership table. You also deserve to be in the (Capitol) building.”

On Monday morning Gov. Jared Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser each addressed participants.

“As we see the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, we are reminded that democracy is more important than ever and by simply being here today, you are making our democracy and our state, even stronger," said Governor Polis. "Standing up for what we believe in is at the core of our spirit here in Colorado, and I'm proud to stand with you as we work together to find solutions."

Added Weiser: ”You all are such a core fabric for our state. I love that you’ve got students here, that you’ve got people from all over the state. This is who we are in Colorado. We are inclusive, we are collaborators, and we are problem-solvers.”

This year’s LAD was convened by Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), Voces Unidas de las Montañas, and Protégete. As nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations, LAD co-conveners do not support or endorse any candidates for elected office or any political parties.

The focus was to help educate attendees and influence policies that affect the daily lives of community members across the state -- as identified in the first-ever Colorado Latino Policy Agenda released in the fall. That included urging lawmakers to support 11 measures across six issue areas.

Here are the issue areas and specific bills that participants learned about:


Support HB1131 — Reduce Justice-Involvement for Young Children

Right now, children as young as 10 can be arrested, prosecuted, and locked up in juvenile detention. The majority of children ages 10-12 are arrested for non-violent crimes. Black and Latino children are arrested at higher rates than their white peers, and it is not in the best interest of the child, the family, or public safety for young children to be arrested.

Sponsored by Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (D-Denver); Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver), this bill prohibits juvenile court prosecution of children 12 years and younger (with the exception of Homicide and Felony Sexual Assault cases) and ends the transfer of 12- and 13-year-olds from juvenile to adult court, instead allowing prosecutors to request the transfer of children 14 and older who have committed a class 1 or class 2 felony or a crime of violence.


HB1287 — Protections For Mobile Home Park Residents

At least 20 mobile home parks have been sold without fully following Colorado's Opportunity to Purchase law. Each time a new operator takes over, homeowners face monthly lot rent increases of as much as 80%. Large, out-of-state investment funds are purchasing mobile home parks at an alarming rate causing lot rents to increase without accompanying infrastructure improvements, displacing residents and pushing families into homelessness.

Sponsored by Reps. Andrew Boesenecker (D-Fort Collins) and Edie Hooton (D-Boulder) and Sen. Faith Winter D-Westminster, this bill creates a loan program to fund revolving loan programs for residents to purchase their park or for owners to access infrastructure upgrades; stabilizes lot rent if the park is not in compliance with applicable laws and state registration processes; and gives the Attorney General ability to enforce, investigate, and bring legal action for violations of previously passed mobile home park protections.


SB023 — Prohibit Deceptive Tactics In Juvenile Interrogations

Right now, it is legal for law enforcement to lie to kids during an interrogation to get them to confess to crimes. Youth are uniquely vulnerable to these coercive techniques, and it’s time to stop deceptive practices that encourage kids to make false confessions.

Sponsored by Reps. Jennifer Bacon (D-Denver) and Serena Gonzalez-Gutierrez (D-Denver); Sen. Julie Gonzalez (D-Denver), this bill requires all juvenile interrogations to be recorded and for judges to consider the individual juvenile’s susceptibility to coercion by deception. It allows a confession where deception was used to be admissible at trial if a judge finds it was voluntary.

HB1131 — Reduce Justice-involvement For Young Children

Children in Colorado can be arrested and placed in juvenile detention starting at age 10. Young children do not need to be arrested and separated from their families, as most 10-12 year-olds are charged with non-violent crimes.

Sponsored by Reps. Jennifer Bacon (D-Denver) and Rep. Gonzalez-Gutierrez (D-Denver) and Sen. Julie Gonzalez (D-Denver), this bill would end wasteful spending and improve community safety by prohibiting juvenile court prosecution of 10- to 12-year-old children, protecting them from the negative impacts of formal justice system involvement and clarifies that 10- to 12-year-old children may be taken into temporary custody.


HB-1244 — Public Protections From Toxic Air Contaminants

Colorado has experienced some of the worst air quality in the world in the last 12 months and Latinos here breathe some of the worst air pollution in the nation. Air pollution and the cumulative effects of historical environmental racism in our state, increases susceptibility for respiratory diseases, COVID-19 and other complications in connection with underlying health conditions and lack of access to adequate health care coverage.

Sponsored Reps. Chris Kennedy (D-Lakewood) and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (D-Denver) and Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver) this bill expands the authority of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, CDPHE and the Air Quality Control Commission, AQCC to identify and regulate additional air toxics; consider their impact on public health and monitor and model the cumulative impacts. These are common sense policies in line with a number of states across the nation, and will allow our air quality regulators to better protect all Coloradans.

Removing Lead from Drinking Water

Lead is a poisonous heavy metal that can cause irreversible damage to children and fetuses. The best way for a school to protect children from lead in drinking water is to apply a filter, remove the lead, and test to ensure it’s working.

We can protect our children from lead exposure by funding clean water filters and maintenance for all schools and childcare centers and monitoring and sampling for lead in schools and childcare centers twice a year.

Protecting Colodrans from PFAS pollution in our drinking water

PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are toxic human-made chemicals—known as “forever chemicals” because they do not easily break down. Today, 99% of Americans have PFAS in their blood! These hazards have been linked to serious health effects such as cancer; reproductive problems; hormone disruption; immune system harm; and damage to the liver, thyroid, kidney and pancreas. Exposures are highest for newborns and young children.

This bill will protect our water and streams from PFAS contamination by restricting the sale of certain consumer products containing PFAS where safer alternatives exist; establishing a process to phase out all consumer products containing PFAS by 2031and restricting the sale and use of poisonous PFAS fire fighting foam.


HB1279 — Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA)

Access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care including contraception and abortion helps ensure people can control their own bodies, lives, and futures.

Sponsored by Reps. Meg Froelich (D-Greenwood Village) and Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) and Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, this bill defines abortion for the first time in Colorado statute and will protect reproductive rights as fundamental rights, and allow any person the right to choose or refuse contraception; give any pregnant person the right to continue a pregnancy and give birth or to have an abortion, and affirm that a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights under State law.

This measure passed the House on third reading on Monday afternoon and will now be considered by the Senate.


HB1289 — Health Benefits For Colorado Children And Pregnant Persons

For decades, Colorado has been working to expand access to prenatal and pregnancy-related care and to get every Colorado child covered by health insurance. Unfortunately, thousands of pregnant people and children with undocumented immigration status in low-income families are still left out of affordable health insurance plans under Medicaid and the Colorado Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+). Health insurance coverage is an important social determinant of health and a building block of family financial security.

Sponsored by Reps. Serena Gonzales Gutierrez (D-Denver) and Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon) and Sen. (D-Commerce City), this bill would expand healthcare coverage for children and pregnant people who are undocumented who are income eligible for Medicaid and the Colorado Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+).

HB155 — In-state Tuition For Colorado High School Graduates

In 2013, Colorado passed ASSET into law which allowed undocumented students to get in-state tuition at public universities if they attended a Colorado high school for 3 years and graduated. While ASSET was an incredible win, it continues to deny access to many undocumented Colorado residents.

Sponsored by Reps. Perry Will (R-New Castle) Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon) and Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver), this bill allows all Colorado high school graduates (or equivalent [GED]) to receive in-state tuition under the same rules by reducing the residency requirement for undocumented students to 1 year; removing the requirement that students must enroll in college within 12 months of high school graduation; and allowing students who decided to work after high school or delayed their enrollment a chance to return to college.

HB1094 — Medicaid Assistance for Survivors of Torture

Torture has a devastating impact on the physical and mental health of survivors. Survivors of torture, who are present in the US while their asylum claims are being processed do not qualify for Medicaid because of their pending immigration status. Asylum seekers are also required to wait 365 calendar days to apply for work authorization. Without having work authorization, survivors of torture cannot access employer-sponsored programs or pay out of pocket for health care. As a result, these survivors often struggle to access medical and mental health services.

Sponsored by Rep. Brianna Titone (D-Arvada) and Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), this bill builds additional support for immigrants and refugees who are survivors of torture by granting them access to affordable insurance coverage through Medicaid while they are undergoing their trauma recovery treatment process.


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