Colorado’s Citizen Legislature – May 2015

~ By Doris Beaver ~

The 2015 legislative session is scheduled for adjournment on May 6th, and looking back over the session, legislators did a commendable job for the citizens of Colorado. With the Republicans gaining the Senate majority for the first time in ten years, citizens can be proud of the absence of blatant partisanship most “watchers” of the legislature expected.

House Bill 15-1264: As prejudice and bias against the homeless grows across the country, here in Colorado, HB 1264 was postponed (killed) by a House Committee of Reference on April 27th.

The General Assembly’s legislative declaration for a bill of rights for persons experiencing homelessness:

  • People experience homelessness because of economic hardship, a severe shortage of safe and affordable housing, inability to secure gainful employment, and a disintegrating and shrinking social safety net;
  • Criminal sanctions to push the homeless out of public places and into courts and jails are counterproductive, costly, inhumane, ineffective and violate basic civil, human and constitutional rights;
  • Civil and human rights amply protected in the home and in other private places must be extended to the public spaces in which persons experiencing homelessness live to ensure the equal rights of all Coloradans;
  • Criminalizing basic acts of survival such as sleeping, sitting, loitering, sleeping in a legally parked vehicle, having a reasonable expectation of privacy in personal property, storing belongings, asking for help and using a blanket to cover oneself in a non-obstructive manner regardless of outdoor temperature punish the homeless for doing what any person must do to survive;
  • Local ordinances do not reduce homelessness or crime. Instead, they increase incarceration rates, the financial indebtedness of people who simply have no means of supporting themselves, and prolong homelessness by making it more difficult for people to secure housing, employment, and medical care;
  • Local ordinances apply to all residents, but disproportionately impact people without homes who have no private place to rest or seek nourishment, with enforcement too often targeted at people based upon their appearance or an assumption of homelessness; and
  • The decriminalization of rest will allow local governments to redirect resources and shift their focus from law enforcement activities to addressing the root cause of homelessness and poverty.

Background statistics for HB 1264 show on January 27, 2014, at least 5,812 men, women and children in the six-county metropolitan Denver area were without a home, but no breakdown of just how many were age 50 and over.

Testimony on this bill was gut-wrenching – a former legislator testified he once served in the legislature, had a business, home and family – his message, it can happen to you!

Lead Sponsors of House Bill 15-1264 were Representatives Joseph A. Salazar and Jovan Melton, and Senator John Kefalas.

House Bill 15-1033: HB 1033, passed by the Senate on April 15th, creates a comprehensive strategic action plan on aging beneficial to all Colorado citizens, not just those over the age of 50, and now awaits the Governor’s action. The planning group is to study:

  • wide-ranging economic, workforce and social effects on all sectors of our society;
  • significant financial pressure on all families who will be challenged to provide long-term care, services and support for themselves and loved ones;
  • unprecedented long-term demands on public sector programs and budgets, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, housing, transportation and health at all levels;
  • future state income, sales tax, local sales and property tax revenues could be significantly impacted; and
  • there will be a historic demographic shift over the next 50 years as longevity increases and the percentage of the population 50 years of age and older will increase rapidly and significantly.

HB 1033 requires study of issues related to the increasing number of Coloradans age 50 and older. Comprehensive data and specific recommendations to develop an action plan on aging in Colorado through the year 2030 is to be presented to the Governor and the General Assembly by November 1, 2016, with updates due in 2018 and 2020.

Lead Sponsors of House Bill 15-1033 were Representative Dianne Primavera and Senator Larry Crowder.

Doris Beaver

Doris Beaver

Doris Beaver is a free lance journalist who writes from her home high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains on senior issues, politics, ethics and environmental issues. Visit her website www.dorisbeaver.com, or e-mail her at doris@dorisbeaver.com.