After Colorado Democrats defied expectations and gained seats in the 2022 midterms, coming close to a supermajority, all the eyes were on the Democratic side for this legislative session. Our newly elected members are, like our party, quite diverse, including community activists, former Republicans, and representatives from traditionally red parts of the state.
There wasn’t really a news story on the Republican side; with only 19 of them in the 65-member House, divisions in a minority caucus aren’t nearly as exciting as the anticipated infighting among the House Democrats.
What really happened is much less dramatic than anticipated. But for those of us who have worked on trying to change policy for decades, it was transformative and exciting. We didn’t get here by accident, and it took years of grassroots power-building to do so.
I have three areas of focus as a legislator, two of which — reproductive rights and gun violence prevention — are issues I have worked on since moving to Colorado in 1999. The third issue, victim and survivor rights, has been informed by the amazing community survivors and advocates I have learned from over the years.
For reproductive rights, we built on last year’s Reproductive Health Equity Act, which put abortion access and reproductive rights into Colorado state law nearly two months before the Dobbs decision that overturned the Roe v. Wade precedent and the Constitutional right to abortion that had stood for 50 years.
After the fall of Roe with the Dobbs decision, State Sen. Julie Gonzales and I set out to do two things. One, to model the work of other legislatures that were pro-actively protecting abortion and gender affirming care. Two, we wanted to anticipate what our dystopian future could look like as we assessed the experiments in cruelty with abortion bans and attacks on trans folks that other states were enacting.
The result was the Safe Access to Protected Health Care bill package, signed into law this year. It protects patients, abortion providers, and helpers in Colorado and helps remove barriers to access. This was huge, and we should not underestimate the ongoing work to ensure Colorado remains a safe and welcoming place for reproductive health care.
We also passed five significant, far-reaching gun violence prevention bills that will save lives and make Colorado communities safer. The gun violence prevention movement has been and must continue to be led by survivors who have turned their personal pain into activism. We serve with State Sens. Rhonda Fields and Tom Sullivan — two unflagging champions of gun violence prevention. We set out to support them, to share the work, and the result was the passage of this historic package of bills.
It’s simply wrong to think that passing any gun violence legislation is easy or assured. A boring, but necessary, part of all legislation is that we have to get the intricacies of the policy right from the beginning. We have to have our eyes on the new Supreme Court with its unprecedented rulings overturning settled law, and we have to be mindful of how laws will be enforced. When bills don’t make it to the finish line, it is these early, neglected legal details that are often the cause.
Speaker McCluskie, Majority Leader Duran, and Assistant Majority Leader Bacon, the leaders who shepherded our large, at times unwieldy, majority through the session and managed the calendar, deserve huge credit. The bullying tactics of the other side to run out the clock should not be allowed to interfere with the business the voters sent us here to do.
In addition to reproductive rights and gun violence prevention, the House delivered on healthcare, mental and behavioral healthcare, housing, climate change, K-12 funding, and criminal justice reform. By working with the majority leader, we were able to pass significant legislation to not only support victims and survivors but to provide the funding to do so. We are the first state to pass a state version of the federal Protecting Children from Family Violence Act, which will allow us to qualify for federal Violence Against Women Act funding. We joined with other states to initiate a system for sex assault victims to track their forensic evidence, known as rape kits.
It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty because democracy is messy, but we got it done, even as we sat through a lot of hateful, ugly rhetoric from the other side. The truth is that on Sine Die our leadership received several standing applause moments, which they deserved.
Our majority made major gains for the people of Colorado, and we still have more to do. That is the real story of the Colorado House in 2023.
Meg Froelich, of Englewood, represents District 3 in the Colorado House of Representatives. She is the former Majority Caucus co-chair and current chair of the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee.
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