The Colorado House chamber is pictured Dec. 1, 2020, during a special legislative session focused on coronavirus relief. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)
Following the November 2020 election, the group of Latino Democrats elected to the Colorado Legislature held strong at 13 members.
State Rep. Bri Buentello of Pueblo lost her election to GOP challenger Stephanie Luck, but Democrats gained a new Latino member with the election of David Ortiz to House District 38, which includes part of Littleton, west Centennial and Columbine Valley.
The Democratic Latino Caucus — co-chaired by Rep. Alex Valdez and Sen. Robert Rodriguez, both of Denver — hopes to pass legislation on health care, worker protections, housing and immigration during the 2021 regular session, members said during a Jan. 4 virtual news briefing.
Health care is top of mind, given the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color, Valdez said.
Legislators plan to address those disparities by “looking at what causes those disparities — why do Latino folks die at a disproportionate rate from COVID-19 and other diseases like diabetes that affect our communities,” Valdez told reporters. That will include working to improve access to affordable health care and reproductive care, he said.
Approximately 22% of Coloradans are Hispanic, but Hispanic people comprise 29% of COVID-19 infections and 32% of hospitalizations reported by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Black people are underrepresented among the state’s reported infections but are overrepresented among hospitalizations. They comprise 3.9% of Colorado’s population, 2.8% of cases and 6.6% of hospitalizations, according to CDPHE.
Rodriguez pointed out that many Latinos and people of color work in places such as grocery stores where there is more potential for infection and less ability to quarantine or work from home. The caucus will work to pass legislation that includes more protections for those essential workers, he said.
On housing, several members of the Latino caucus said they would support restoring a state moratorium on evictions, which expired Jan. 1.
The federal eviction moratorium was recently extended through January, but “it is a looming question of what happens on Feb. 1,” Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver, said. “It is something that I think many members of this caucus will continue to work on.”
She also said members hope to bring back a bill on inclusionary zoning, which would allow cities to force developers to include a certain number of affordable units when building new housing.
On immigration, Rodriguez said the caucus wants to pass legislation improving data privacy for undocumented people to prevent someone’s personal information from being used against them.
Gonzales-Gutierrez said those efforts stem from guidance issued by Polis in May, which directed state agencies not to share information with federal agencies solely for immigration enforcement, according to reporting by The Colorado Sun. State lawmakers had been working on a bill containing similar measures before the pandemic hit.
Based on preliminary research following Polis’ guidance, “there is definitely a need for more protections,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said.
Latinos now hold two of the six top leadership positions in the Colorado House and Senate. Gonzales-Gutierrez was recently elected by her fellow Democrats to serve as assistant majority leader in the House, while state Sen. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo was reelected to his position as Senate President.
Many of the caucus’s priorities that had to be postponed last spring after the pandemic hit — and the state’s financial situation took a dive — could be reintroduced in new bills this year given more promising economic forecasts, Valdez said.
“I would expect that we’ll see a lot of those coming back, because a lot of the work is already done,” he said, “unless they had a huge fiscal note.”
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