The second regular session of the 72nd General Assembly kicked off earlier this month. Before they got to work, we talked with two North Denver legislators: State Senator Julie Gonzales and State Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez to discuss their legislative priorities and what people can expect the state legislature to work on this year.
With Colorado now a Super Tuesday state for the presidential election, many are focused on the national stage, but Sen. Gonzales said, “I really encourage people not to overlook what the state legislature is doing.”
One of the biggest bills both legislators said to pay attention to is Family Medical Leave. In 2019, the legislature commissioned a study on a statewide program for paid family and medical leave to be presented by the start of the 2020 legislative session. That study’s findings were not available by our publication deadline, but it’s expected the legislature will again take up the issue.
Rep. Gonzales-Gutierrez said that she generally used up all of her sick time during her three maternity leaves, which left no time off to tend to medical matters when her children were young. She believes passing the bill this year will help working families.
Sen. Gonzales, who serves on the finance committee, said she is looking into more ways to help working families access capital. When voters passed a measure capping the amount payday lenders could charge, many simply shut down. While Sen. Gonzales said she supports stopping predatory practices, she also believes it’s also hurt people’s access to funds and the state can do more to help single mothers, lower income families and others to achieve financial security.
One bill that’s solidified is her second attempt to repeal the death penalty in Colorado, a bill that was introduced but ultimately pulled last year.* This year, Sen. Gonzales is sponsoring it alongside Centennial Republican Senator Jack Tate.
“I’m really passionate about criminal justice reform. In the past year, I’ve had conversations with people impacted by the criminal justice system in many ways: as offenders, as prosecutors, as victims, as district attorneys and as family members,” said Sen. Gonzales. “I’m struck by the question: should the criminal justice system be punitive or offer options for rehabilitation? Our system should focus on rehabilitation. The death penalty is punitive and a failed policy.”
Repeal advocates often point out that all three men on Colorado’s death row are black and from the same community in Aurora as proof of the death penalty being a failed policy.
Rep. Gonzales-Gutierrez has several bills related to housing, including giving municipalities more control over their ability to require affordably-priced housing in new projects. “It’s not just about Denver. It’s a statewide issue,” Rep. Gonzales-Gutierrez said, noting that while Denver’s housing crisis gets a lot of attention, many suburban and rural communities are facing housing shortages as well.
She’s also continuing a series of bills to create renter protections, namely stopping landlords and management companies from charging fees in excess of the actual costs for applications, background checks, trash service, pest control, etc. She also wants to require proof that services were actually done.
Another bill that will likely get attention this year? Rep. Gonzales-Gutierrez is the sponsor for another attempt to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in school board elections, a bill she said is about “making sure youth have a voice on things that impact their lives.”
Outside of the capitol, Sen. Gonzales said she’s also changing how legislators interact. Rather than the traditional town hall format, she and two house members held what they called a listening session where attendees all introduced themselves, shared their ideas on flip charts, and broke out into small groups to discuss. She hopes to re-create that style, or hold more integrated events with elected officials from other bodies, such as RTD or city council.
Editor’s note: In addition to his role at The Denver North Star, David Sabados still does limited policy work, including with an organization focused on abolishing the death penalty in Colorado.