Commentary

Things to look for in successful coalitions during Colorado legislative session

In the 2023 General Assembly, the people most impacted by policy should lead on legislation

January 9, 2023 1:05 pm

A view of the Colorado Capitol on July 7, 2021. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

The Colorado General Assembly has seen substantial historic legislative wins in the last couple years at the Colorado state Capitol. Many of those successes were made possible by hundreds of people, working in coalition in and outside of the Capitol.

Monday, Jan. 9, launches us into Colorado’s 74th legislative session. As we look back on the last couple years we have great lessons that progressive leaders, lawmakers and advocates have given us in the fight for a better Colorado. Democrats had successful midterms in November, but Coloradans are still facing the ongoing housing crisis, rising COVID infection rates and a continued increase in the cost of living.

This 2023 legislative session, we have an inevitable opportunity for more historic wins. A main ingredient to successful policy wins has been strong coalitions. Coalitions can be compiled of hundreds of people, nonprofit organizations, advocates, lobbyists, or regular working Coloradans. A few recent famous legislative wins by coalitions were:

The Birth Equity Bill Package (Senate Bill 21-193 and Senate Bill 21-194) that closed racial inequities in perinatal health and birth outcomes, expanded postpartum coverage for Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus recipients from 60 days to 12 months, and established requirements for prisons and jails where pregnant or incarcerated individuals were detained; the Tax Package (House Bill 21-1311 and House Bill 21-1312) doubled the refundable state earned income tax credit and began to pay a sliding scale Colorado Child Tax Credit to families with children under 6 for 2022; and the famous bill that made Colorado a regional safe haven for abortion care after the Dobbs decision in June 2022 — the Reproductive Health Equity Act (House Bill 22-1279) — that ensured Coloradans had access to essential reproductive health care and abortion.

The Removing Barriers coalition was a diverse coalition that passed Senate Bill 21-199 —  Remove Barriers to Certain Public Opportunities — that ensured undocumented people could partake in public opportunities like obtaining child care licenses, or other certificates and contracts. Similarly, the passage of the Agricultural Workers Bill of Rights (Senate Bill 21-87) was led by a successful and diverse coalition of community members and organizations. The Agricultural Workers Bill of Rights extended labor protections, like established minimum wages, overtime pay and lunch breaks, as well as the ability to organize or join unions.

All these coalitions have a couple things in common:

  1. The people most impacted by the policy are leading, and resourced to do so. Great advocates have shown us — this has meant bringing together multiple organizations to pay stipends to a steering committee, or a consulting firm being paid to build a community-informed advisory board. The Removing Barriers coalition behind SB-199 was led by (recently-selected House District 35 designate) Lorena Garcia and the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, which has always been led and centered around the community it serves. Similarly, the Birth Equity Bill Package, which made national news, was driven by the community most impacted — the leadership team and advocacy was led by Elephant Circle.
  2. Long-term visioning and multi-year funding. Long-term and flexible funding allows coalitions to invest in relationship-building, language justice practices, and taking the needed time to create community-designed policy. Another example was the fight for paid family leave: Voters passed Colorado’s Paid Family Medical Leave plan after it was fought for at the state Capitol for more than 13 years. Organizations like 9to5 Colorado, community members and lawmakers never put it down. In 2021, we passed legislation that established the first Early Childhood Department (House Bill 22-1304) in Colorado, which was years in the making of multiple pieces of legislation that was advocated for at the state Capitol by multiple coalitions, organizations, and working parents.
  3. Above all — shared leadership and transparency are proven characteristics of a successful coalition. In 2021, the Colorado Organization for Latina Leadership Opportunity and Reproductive Rights passed Senate Bill 21-9 with a diverse coalition. The legislation expanded Medicaid to provide contraceptives for undocumented communities in Colorado and ensure access to a 12 month supply of contraceptives for everyone on Medicaid. That same year, the Children’s Campaign worked with diverse coalitions (driven by undocumented people most impacted) and successfully passed Senate Bill 21-25, which directed our state Medicaid Department to create a reproductive health care program for undocumented people who would be eligible for Medicaid. Both of these initiatives were outstanding successes for immigrant rights and health equity in Colorado, and both had a framework of shared power with the community that understood the issues better than anyone.

The design and passage of policy has been historically exclusive, and over and over again coalitions prove that in order to gain legislative wins we have to resource the people most impacted to lead in systems that impact (our) lives.

This legislative session will be huge for affordable housing, community safety, criminal justice, reproductive justice, and early childhood again. Legislative session 2023 will give us an opportunity to see bold progressive policies that are built from our communities on up.

Editor’s note: This commentary was updated at 3:17 p.m., Jan. 10, 2023, to correct the designation of the current General Assembly. It’s the 74th.

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Kayla Frawley
Kayla Frawley

Kayla Frawley (she/her/hers) is a single mom in Denver, former midwife, and currently the abortion rights and reproductive justice director with ProgressNow.

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