A view of the Colorado Capitol on Sept. 30, 2022. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
A freshman in the Colorado House of Representatives wants to make it easier for non-English speakers to access and understand insurance documents, drawing from her years of experience as a translator and interpreter.
Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, a Democrat from Glenwood Springs, introduced her first piece of legislation as part of House Democrats’ first five bills of the new session. It is cosponsored by Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Democrat from Denver. Velasco said she saw the early introduction of the bill as indication that House Democrats are prioritizing diverse communities this session.
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House Bill 23-1004 is a consumer protection bill that would require insurers to offer policy documents in the same language they advertise in. It would also require insurers to certify that policy documents have been correctly translated by a certified translator.
It is a straightforward concept, but one that impacts non-English speaking communities in Colorado.
“We want to make sure people know what they’re signing. It can be a complicated process, especially with legal documents. It is a way of protecting them,” Velasco said. Referring to a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, she said, “Because of Title VI, our community has language access in court and in schools. This is broadening that umbrella.”
Velasco drew on her experience as a professional translator for the bill. She runs a small translation and interpretation firm and said language access is a key issue she wants to focus on in the Legislature.
“Language access is needed across the board for diverse communities to have access to justice, to have access to basic needs and lead a dignified life,” she said.
This bill ensures that the meaning and context, not just the words themselves, would be interpreted accurately by a professional.
The bill will have its first committee hearing Jan. 25.
Velasco said she also wants to work on language access in other areas, such as emergency alerts sent out by governments in case of disasters like wildfires and flooding that could require residents to evacuate. Velasco has experience doing translation work during the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire, when she helped get Spanish information out to the local Latino community, which represents 30% of the population in the Glenwood Springs area.
“This is life or death. We need to make sure people know what is happening and can make the best decision for themselves and their families,” she said.
Last session, the Colorado Legislature passed another language access bill, also sponsored by Gonzales, that requires Colorado counties with a minority language spoken by at least 2.5% of the voting-age population to provide ballot translation services.
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