What Legislation Colorado’s Legal Community is Watching in 2023

The 74th Colorado General Assembly opened its session Jan. 9 and in the days since, lawmakers have introduced over 100 bills. Law Week Colorado caught up with bar associations and legal organizations to hear what topics and bills they’re keeping an eye on this session. 

Colorado Women’s Bar Association 

The Colorado Women’s Bar Association has worked at the Colorado legislature since it was founded in 1978. With the mission of promoting the interests of women in the legal industry and beyond, CWBA volunteers have helped pass a number of laws impacting women, children and more in Colorado. 

Ariana Busby, a co-chair of the CWBA Public Policy Committee, explained volunteers offer unique insights to lawmakers which combine their personal experiences with their legal backgrounds in diverse areas of the law. When CWBA’s Public Policy Committee identifies legislation of interest, Busby added, bar association volunteers work with a lobbying firm to support the bills through written and oral testimony, research and more. 

This year, CWBA is looking at several pieces of legislation. 

The bar association will keep monitoring bills introduced last week that take aim at Colorado’s judicial discipline process after a special committee last summer held multiple hearings about the topic. CWBA and its members provided testimony and research to the interim committee which drafted two bills for the 2023 session that would make it easier to submit a complaint against a judge, establish rights for complainants and create a new office to oversee the process. 

“That’s something that we’ve been engaging on for many, many months now. So we’re excited to see what that looks like moving forward this session and continue engaging on that,” said Busby.  

CWBA also plans to support a bill that will expand worker’s rights protections in Colorado. 

Last year the Protecting Opportunities And Workers’ Rights Act, which would expand the definition of workplace harassment and the time limit on bringing discrimination complaints, failed in committee. Busby said CWBA expects the POWR Act to be reintroduced this session and the bar association will put its support behind the bill. 

The final area of interest going into the session, Busby said, is expanding reproductive rights for women in Colorado after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down abortion protections last summer. 

Lawmakers last year codified abortion access in Colorado after a draft of the decision was leaked, but Busby said CWBA is interested in supporting legislation that would protect patients who come to Colorado from other states for the procedure and for providers. 

“This year, we’re hearing that there might be changes to provide protections to patients and providers if they’re coming in from out of state,” said Busby. 

Busby added CWBA’s public policy efforts are driven by volunteers. The Public Policy Committee meets every month and anyone interested in joining can contact her or the other co-chairs. 

Colorado District Attorneys’ Council 

The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council represents the interests of prosecutors in Colorado’s 22 judicial districts. Along with offering training, legal research and other forms of support to DAs, CDAC monitors public policy and legislation that could impact state prosecutors.

CDAC Executive Director Tom Raynes explained Colorado’s 22 district attorneys meet up every fall to discuss legislation for the following year. He said while the DAs often disagree, the process usually results in several topics and bills the prosecutors support. Raynes and others at CDAC testify to lawmakers to share their perspectives on proposed laws. 

This year, CDAC is looking at legislation to rethink how certain crimes are classified, increase penalties for drug distribution resulting in death, restructure how driver’s license revocation appeals are handled and more. 

Car theft rates in Colorado have increased rapidly in recent years, and Raynes said discussions about restructuring criminal charges around them have been in the works for a while. 

After Colorado’s misdemeanor reform law went into effect, car thefts were reclassified based on a car’s value with second-degree aggravated motor vehicle theft for cars under $2,000 and kept for less than 24 hours potentially only drawing a class 1 misdemeanor charge.  can be 

But Raynes explained the value-based model doesn’t account for the impact a crime has on victims. Someone with less money and a cheaper car will likely be more impacted by car theft than someone with an expensive car and more resources. 

This year, CDAC is hoping lawmakers will pass legislation that removes a car’s value from what charges prosecutors can bring. 

Raynes said CDAC is also interested in increasing the charge classification for indecent exposure to a minor. Currently, indecent exposure to a minor in person is a misdemeanor but doing so online is a felony. Raynes said CDAC would like to see in-person exposure also increased to a felony charge. 

DAs are also asking lawmakers to clarify the definition of serious bodily injury following a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in 2021. 

The Colorado Supreme Court ruling in People v. Vigil found that under state law “serious bodily injury,” defined as an injury with a serious risk of death, is based on the outcome of a crime, rather than the risk associated with the injury. In Vigil, a defendant stabbed someone through the neck but missed all vital structures. Even though his conduct could have resulted in serious risk of death, since he missed all vital structures and the victim wasn’t at risk of death, prosecutors couldn’t charge him with serious bodily injury, the court ruled. 

“We’re trying to, from our perspective, clarify or redefine the meaning of serious bodily injury,” said Raynes. “[If a crime results in] no permanent life-threatening damage, per this case, that’s not serious bodily injury. We think that’s ridiculous.”

Last year, CDAC supported a bill that, among other things, increased penalties for the distribution of fentanyl resulting in death in Colorado. This year, Raynes said CDAC is hoping to increase penalties for distribution resulting in death charges for other substances as well.

“We want to expand that to any drug where the drug dealer gives it out, and someone dies as a result of that,” said Raynes. 

The final piece of legislation on CDAC’s list at this time concerns how Colorado’s government handles driver’s license revocation appeals. Raynes explained if someone appeals the decision to revoke a license from the department of motor vehicles, local district attorneys rather than the attorney general’s office handle the appeals. For nearly all other administrative agency appeals, Colorado’s AG Office takes point on the case. 

“It’s kind of a historical anomaly,” said Raynes, who said the policy was likely enacted for convenience but it doesn’t make as much sense anymore. “We’re asking that the AG do the appeals on motor vehicle revocations.”

Colorado Trial Lawyers Association 

The Colorado Trials Lawyers Association includes over 1,300 attorneys across the state and according to 2022-23 President Thomas Neville, the organization looks out for the interests of the “pre-injured” at the legislature.  

This year, CTLA is hoping to make headway on a number of issues. 

The bar association has put its support behind HB23-1004, introduced Jan. 9, which would require non-English insurance policies in Colorado to be translated by a certified translator and checked for accuracy.  

“This means that [insurers] can’t just do a Google Translate of an insurance policy and then sell that knowing that if there’s a discrepancy between the two documents, the English language documents are going to control,” said Neville. 

CTLA is hoping to open up medical corporations, such as hospitals, to negligence claims. In Colorado, vicarious liability doesn’t apply to medical corporations meaning a patient can only pursue claims against a doctor if injured. 

But Neville said as health care has become increasingly centralized, with corporations acquiring medical practices, patients should be able to also hold corporations liable. 

For doctors, he added, company-wide policies or case management systems can restrict what they can or can’t do for patients and potentially contribute to poor outcomes for patients. In cases where a corporation’s business practices play a role in medical malpractice or negligence, CTLA is hoping new legislation will hold them liable for damages. 

“Professional corporations and hospitals should be held accountable if their business needs put people in jeopardy and limit the care that people get,” said Neville.

While it isn’t on the legislative agenda this year, Neville said CTLA is looking to introduce a ballot measure to do away with wrongful death caps. 

Colorado trial lawyers have long sought to do away with the current $250,000 wrongful death damages cap, but this year instead of taking the effort to the legislature, CTLA hopes to bring it straight to voters in 2024. 

“A one size fits all solution doesn’t work when deciding wrongful death, damages or the impacts of a horrible injury,” said Neville. “We will be working very hard for the next several years to restore the rights of jurors to decide how much a family or person should receive in damages as a result of injuries, not politicians.”

Colorado Judicial Institute

The Colorado Judicial Institute was started in 1979 and works to make sure judges are able to interpret the law independently from undue influences. 

While it offers services, like education, to state judges who can also be CJI members, CJI Executive Director Jeff Rupp and emeritus board of director Marilyn Chappell emphasized it doesn’t advocate for judges, but rather advocates for their ability to preside over cases fairly, impartially, based on the law and removed from extraneous influences. 

As a 501(c)(3) charity, CJI has a limited role when it comes to legislative advocacy. Rather than pushing for specific bills, the organization monitors legislation and will offer written or oral testimony to lawmakers when appropriate. 

Last year, that included testifying to lawmakers during the session and at an interim committee over the summer about bills to reform judicial discipline proceedings in Colorado. With draft bills from the summer hearings introduced last week, Rupp and Chappell said CJI will continue to monitor the legislation and provide testimony as needed. 

“We will be paying attention as they wind their way through and it’ll be interesting to see what happens,” said Rupp. “Whether the interim committee bills are adopted as written or if there is additional debate or changes to the bills.” 

They explained that as an organization that represents the interests of judges, CJI is careful about how it holds meetings to decide what position it will take or testify to in front of lawmakers. 

“Discussions of public policy issues are very, very carefully conducted, to make sure that sitting judges are not part of those discussions,” explained Chappell who added state judges are limited in taking public positions by their code of ethics. 

Rupp explained public policy stances on behalf of CJI are decided by its executive committee which does not include any active judges to prevent conflicts of interest. When judges are involved in other committees, Rupp said they recuse themselves from internal discussions around public policy. 

“We will always be vigilant at CJI to monitor, not just legislative developments, but all sorts of developments in Colorado to make sure that our judges have the ability to decide cases fairly and impartially and to maintain public trust in the course,” added Chappell. 

Colorado Hispanic Bar Association 

The Colorado Hispanic Bar Association was created in 1977 to advance the interests of Hispanic and Latino attorneys in the law and beyond, including at the state legislature. 

CHBA President Amber Gonzales explained CHBA monitors legislation in four main areas that usually disproportionately impact Hispanic and Latino people in Colorado: criminal justice and law enforcement (including immigration matters), labor and employment, public health and education. 

The organization’s volunteers identify bills of interest and provide testimony to lawmakers that draws from their personal experiences and legal knowledge, Gonzales explained. 

“We do our best to be twofold, not only serving the Latino and Hispanic population of attorneys and those who are members of the bar in Colorado, but also using our professional role to kind of steward the larger interests of the Latino community,” said Gonzales. 

As for specific bills this session, CHBA plans to support SB23-017 which was introduced Jan. 10 and would allow workers in Colorado to use accrued sick leave to take care of sick family members, watch children when school is shut down unexpectedly or take time off when grieving or handling logistics due to a death in their family. 

“A lot of families in our community really utilize family care, in some instances more than other communities, rather than outside care,” explained Gonzales. “So the benefit of being able to use accrued leave to care for a child who’s out of school because of inclement weather, or things like that, when you don’t necessarily have that kind of infrastructure in place with outside care is really important.”

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