Youth ‘reasonable independence’ bill passed by Colorado Legislature

By: - March 24, 2022 12:04 pm

A group of children are indoors in their preschool classroom. The camera focuses on a boy who is playing with wooden building blocks. (Getty Images)

A bipartisan bill that advocates say will give Colorado youth “reasonable independence” passed the Colorado Legislature last week and now heads to the desk of Gov. Jared Polis for his signature.

House Bill 22-1090, dubbed the Reasonable Independence for Children bill, would foster independence by tightening the definition of child neglect, giving children reasonable independence to walk to school, ride bikes and play in their neighborhood without the supervision of an adult, according to a Colorado House Democrats statement last month. 

The legislation was sponsored by state Sens. Janet Buckner, a Democrat of Aurora and Jim Smallwood, a Republican of Parker, and state Reps. Kim Ranson, a Republican of Lone Tree and Mary Young, a Democrat of Greeley. 

“This bill makes it clear that there is no need to get the authorities involved when kids are out and about in their neighborhood, walking to school or playing on the playground,” Young said in the House Democrats statement last month. “When youth are given independence they grow, learn and thrive and we’re pleased to pass legislation that empowers their right to independence.”


Under current law, a child is neglected if the child’s environment is “injurious to the child’s health or welfare,” according to a bill summary. 

HB-1090 would amend the statutory definition of neglect, to clarify that a child is not neglected when allowed to participate in certain independent activities that a “reasonable and prudent” parent or guardian would consider to be safe, given the child’s maturity, condition and abilities, according to the bill text.

The legislation unanimously passed the state House of Representatives last month and passed the state Senate on third reading with no amendments last week. No senators voted against the bill, though state Sens. Dom Coram, a Montrose Republican, and Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, were excused from the vote.

Buckner wrote in an email to Newsline last month that she is proud to sponsor this important legislation because parents know their children and how mature they are, and how they will handle various situations. “I remember the testimony from the wife of a police officer, who left their child alone at home and a neighbor called the police,” Buckner wrote. “Their lives were forever changed because of this situation.” 

Last month ​​Ransom told Newsline that she believes children need non-directed play, as non-directed play helps children use their imagination, and develop their creativity and sense of independence.

If signed by Polis, Colorado will be the fourth state to have legislation like this, sometimes referred to as “free-range parenting laws,” according to Let Grow, a nonprofit that works to promote childhood independence. 

In 2018, Utah became the first state to pass this type of legislation, according to the New York Times. Texas and Oklahoma also have legislation that says parents can allow their children to engage in independent activities without it being considered neglect. 

In a January letter of support to Ransom, William Estrada, president of Parental Rights, a nonprofit that works to preserve parental rights through legislation, wrote that this bill will protect innocent families from being caught up in the unnecessary and potentially traumatic investigations by the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Division of Child Welfare.

The bill will allow Colorado’s children to start building the responsibility and problem-solving skills most adults got when they were younger, Smallwood and Young wrote in a Greeley Tribune guest column last month.

“That unsupervised time wasn’t wasted — it made us strong,” Smallwood and Young wrote. “Whether by choice, custom, or financial necessity, parents can give their children some old-fashioned freedom — including the freedom to stay out till the streetlights come on.”


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