By Kaley Day and the Arc of Colorado
The 2021 Colorado legislative session began with uncertainty. Amid COVID protocols that required distancing and virtual testimony, economic concerns, and fear that any bill with a fiscal note may not make it to the governor’s desk, advocates and community members were unsure how far their efforts to promote legislation for the disability community would go. In the end there was cause for celebration as the session closed officially on June 8th and the state saw major legislation, some years and decades in the making, passed in order to support and advance the rights of Coloradoans with disabilities.
In this issue of the Policy Perspective, we will highlight four priority wins and the legislative champions that made them possible. All legislators highlighted in this issue received an “A” grade from The Arc of Colorado in a groundswell of bi-partisan support. The descriptions are not exhaustive.
For full descriptions of each bill, please visit: http://leg.colorado.gov/bills.
Senate Bill 21-075: Supported Decision-Making Agreement
Colorado joins 10 other states and the District of Columbia that legally recognize supported decision-making agreements and outline their implementation as a less-restrictive alternative (or supplement) to guardianship. People with disabilities and older adults may voluntarily enter into an agreement with chosen supports who the individual trust to assist with understanding options and consequences, answering questions, communicating the individual’s decisions, and ensuring the execution of those decisions. The act includes protections and limitations such as:
- Agreements will not override existing authority by a court-appointed guardian, conservator, or power of attorney, and do not create a fiduciary relationship.
- Members of the supportive community are not entitled to compensation for their role.
- Agreements may not be used as evidence of incapacity of the individual.
With this new option, adults can retain their independence and authority over decisions while also receiving the support they need to lead healthy, safe, and self-determined lives.
Senator Bob Gardner (R) – “As a legislative advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and a supporter of their rights, I was happy to lead on the voluntary agreement to advance independence and self-determination for people with I/DD. This bill creates a less restrictive approach, which is required to be considered before rights are removed through other legal arrangements. I am happy that older adults and people with disabilities in my district and across the state, have another tool to remain in charge of their own lives.”
Representative Kerry Tipper (D) – “We had a lot of work to do this session and I am particularly proud of this bill. Supported Decision-Making gives people with disabilities the help they need to make choices about their own lives, such as where they want to live; the services, supports, and medical care they want to receive; whom they want to live with; and where they want to work.”
House Bill 21-1166: Behavioral Health Crisis Response Training
A 2014 statewide study revealed significant gaps and barriers for Coloradoans that are dually diagnosed with both an intellectual/developmental disability and a mental health diagnoses, especially in obtaining timely, high-quality, and effective care. This bill directs the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) to obtain a training vendor in order to provide statewide, teleconferenced training on behavioral health crisis response management to case management agencies, mental health centers, and program-approved support providers. The training will reach 20 providers, including 10 additional providers from underserved areas of the state.
Representative Mary Young (D) – “This bill was introduced in the 2020 session to address the ongoing need to remove significant barriers and bring needed training to communities to help people with I/DD with co-occurring disorders access needed behavioral health case management and crisis response services. The pandemic has increased the already identified need of this community. The need for quality care for individuals in crisis is a statewide issue and thus demands a statewide solution. It was a tremendous pleasure to work with the state, families, advocates, mental health providers, school personnel, and individuals to enhance the safety-net for people with I/DD.By training behavioral health providers to meet the unique behavioral health needs of this population we reduce the likelihood of their involvement in the justice system and jail, in an out of home placements away from their community, or a psychiatric placement. Prison inmates are 4 times as likely to report cognitive disabilities as the general population and jail inmates six times more likely. This bill provides essential training to continue to increase mental health parity for individuals with cognitive disabilities.”
Representative Perry Will (R) – “It was a tremendous honor to bring the challenges faced in rural communities to the forefront with this bill. When cross-system responses have been implemented, they have proven to support key outcomes, such as reduced jail admission, access to supportive services, and less system fragmentation. This bill allows individuals to remain in community settings with their friends, family, and loved ones, rather than using the emergency department, inpatient psychiatric facilities, regional centers, and the State Mental Health Institutes far from home.”
Senate Bill 21-039: Elimination of Subminimum Wage Employment
Federal law has long allowed employers to pay people with disabilities substantially less than the minimum wage if their disability impacts their earning or productivity capacity. Now, 10 employers in Colorado who retain special certificates to pay subminimum wage must develop plans to phase out these models by 2025. The bill also allocates dollars and development toward Medicaid waiver supported employment options to ensure successful transitions and reduce barriers to competitive integrated employment. Under this act, Colorado affirms its position as an Employment First state dedicated to the advancement and economic justice of workers with disabilities across the state.
Senator Rachel Zenzinger (D) – “The inequity of subminimum wage, which dates back to 1938, has finally been addressed. This bill, which I was proud to carry, aligns Colorado with national policy. As Gov. Jared Polis signs this bill into law, countless individuals with a wide range of physical and intellectual disabilities will finally take their rightful place in the workforce, with equal opportunities. By implementing these changes over the course of four years, I believe we will soften any impact on employers, and they will find that this is a law worth supporting. Additionally, the positive impact on the whole community will be significant, as the beneficiaries of the bill become less reliant on public support.”
Senator Dennis Hisey (R) – “I was honored to continue the work. Colorado has declared itself an Employment First state, and this bill promotes competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Research shows that 85% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not employed. Employment opportunities should be available to all people with who wish to explore opportunities to work, regardless of the nature and extent of their disabilities.”
Joint Budget Committee: Developmental Disability Waiver Slots
A significant indent was made to the list of over 3000 individuals across the state on the waitlist for the comprehensive Developmental Disabilities waiver. The Joint Budget Committee allocated enough money to open 667 slots, allowing for individuals and families—some who have waited decades, to finally access vital supports in their community.
Senator Bob Rankin (R)— “I have worked for several years to provide resources and supports in the person’s home and community to help with activities of daily living like bathing, getting dressed, finding and getting to work, and participating in community life. Especially in rural Colorado, these supports are critical to ensuring that people with I/DD can access the services they need to fully participate in the communities of their choice.”
Senator Dominick Moreno (D)— “In a difficult budget year with so many unknowns, I was happy to advance more support and resources for people with I/DD. Unfortunately, despite the intensive level of care needed by people on the waiting list, it continues to grow each year. Many of these individuals have been waiting for more than a decade for the critical supports they need to fully participate in their communities. Each year we chip away at the list and I am honored to support the most vulnerable in our communities yet again this session.”
Kaley Day is an Advocate for Adults with AdvocacyDenver.
She is a graduate of the University of Denver, and a sibling to a young man with disabilities. Kaley publishes Policy Perspective featuring interviews with state policymakers and community members on issues that affect the work and mission of AdvocacyDenver.
For questions or comments, contact Kaley at firstname.lastname@example.org