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What the Colorado legislature changed during their 2019 session

The Colorado legislature passed many bills that became law during their 2019 session. Here's everything that's changed all in one place.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
A winter sunset view of Colorado State Capitol Building at Downtown Denver.

DENVER — For the first time since 2013, Democrats have complete control of both chambers of the state legislature and the governor's office. Dems came into office supercharged: for the first time since before World War II, they controlled the legislature and every executive office.

At one point, there were hundreds of bills moving through the legislature and many, many, had to be abandoned for lack of time.

From Republican delay tactics to the sheer volume of bills, here's what the blue trifecta changed in Colorado this year.

All the new laws (or almost laws) that passed the Colorado legislature


Signed by Gov. Polis on April 12

What it changes:

The "red flag bill," which has become a kind of sobriquet for the Extreme Risk Protection Orders bill, would allow a judge to order a person’s guns be taken away if they’re deemed a risk.

This bill calls for sheriffs to get proactively involved on both the front side, taking red flag petitions to judges, and on the back side, in terms of seizing guns.

The bill will not go into effect until January.

What happened:

The Colorado legislature, after failing to pass a similar bill in 2018 with Republican control of the state Senate, made the "ERPO" bill a priority.

The bill, however, caused a serious backlash pretty much everywhere outside of the urban corridor. Part of the Recall Polis movement got their raison d'etre thanks to this (and the oil and gas) bill. 

On Dec. 30, 2017, Douglas County Sheriff's Office Deputy Zack Parrish was shot and killed in an ambush-style attack. Sheriff Tony Spurlock championed the bill. Parrish was killed by a man believed to be mentally ill; the deputy, right up until the moment of his death, was pleading with the suspect to "let me help you."

Many counties — even before the bill passed — declared themselves "2nd Amendment sanctuaries" meaning their law enforcement agencies would not honor the bill.

What's next:

A lot. Legal battles, for sure. The Rocky Mountain Gun Owners group filed a lawsuit against it on Thursday (this is also a group that sued after Colorado's legislature passed a law that capped gun magazine size — that lawsuit will soon be heard by the state Supreme Court).

Republican groups are also partnering with the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners to attempt to recall Democrats who voted for the bill.

The Colorado Judicial branch is tasked with figuring out how all this is going to work.


Signed by Gov. Polis on April 16

What it changes:

Oil and gas development in Colorado. Ostensibly, the bill changes the way that industry is managed, but with such far-reaching changes, it will undoubtedly change the landscape of the industry in some way.

There's a lot in this one, I'd recommend this handy write up to understand all the ins and outs

If you don't have time, here's a quick rundown:

—the importance of oil and gas production and public health will no longer be on equal ground; the environment, wildlife and public health would take precedence over oil and gas production.

—the makeup and mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission  -  the state commission that regulates the oil and gas industry  -  will change to "regulate oil and gas activities" and not simply "foster the development of oil and gas."

—the commission would also no longer be the sole regulatory body over such sites; the air quality control commission, state board of health, water quality control commission, hazardous and solid waste commission and local governments would be given control over respective portions of each oil and gas well.

There's more, but those are the "big three."

What happened:

It's a tale as old as time. The bill was proposed and immediately hailed by environmental activists and state Democrats while it was derided by industry groups and state Republicans.

With no real way to stop the bill due to the trifecta, the Republicans were forced to try and slow down its passage and appeal to their base. The latter strategy is gaining steam after Weld County activists gathered to begin recall efforts against one new Democrat who voted for the bill: State Rep. Rochelle Galindo from Greeley. The petition has been approved and recall efforts are now underway.

It passed the legislature on April 3 and was signed almost two weeks later by the governor.

What's next:

The Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission's website has already been revamped. The first readable words on the homepage point to the largest change in the bill:

"The mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is to regulate the development and production of the natural resources of oil and gas in the state of Colorado in a manner that protects public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife resources."

But it goes on:

"Our agency seeks to serve, solicit participation from, and maintain working relationships with all those having an interest in Colorado's oil and gas natural resources."

Municipalities and counties will begin drafting rules for how they intend to manage development in their jurisdictions.

The COGCC is holding a stakeholder meeting on May 15 to solicit input on rulemaking — specifically rulemaking for parts of the law that allow for administrative judges to conduct hearings and the parts that amend the requirements for pooling and drilling, as well as spacing unit applications.


Passed out of legislature on May 3, bill currently sits on Polis' desk

What it changes:

In a nutshell, the only new thing this bill does is expand upon an already-existing 2013 law to add a portion explaining consent to students. That part explains consent as: “affirmative, unambiguous, voluntary, continuous, knowing agreement between all participants.”

The language of the bill is almost completely identical to the existing law.

Opponents falsely claimed it would create a new mandate to falsely teach about LGBTQ relationships, despite the current legislation being on the books for years. 

What happened:

There was a massive outcry from parents who didn't understand or were misled about the bill. A cursory search for "Colorado sex ed bill" leads to this from the Family Police Alliance, a faith-based, right-leaning website: 

"The controversial Colorado bill that would require that Colorado students learn about “the sexual experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, [and] transgender individuals” is about to be voted on by your state representative."

That bit about requiring students to learn about the experiences of LGBT people? Completely false. It was repeated like a drumbeat, however. Hundreds of people shared their thoughts about the bill at a state Senate committee meeting.

What's next:

The law could be challenged, repeal or changed in a future session.


Signed by Gov. Polis on April 1

What it changes:

This bill fixes an oversight in state law that basically bans kids' lemonade stands and the like.

Officially, the bill prohibits any county or city from requiring a license or permit for people younger than 18 who are running a temporary business.

What happened:

The law is in response to a kids' lemonade stand that was shut down in Stapleton in 2018. Three boys and their mom, Jennifer Knowles, set up the lemonade stand near a Denver arts festival.

The backlash against the response was national.

What's next:

Your children can open up a lemonade stand without fear that "the man" will come in and bust it up.


Passed out of the legislature on April 30; Sitting on governor's desk

What it changes:

It's a little "inside baseball," but the easiest way to understand this bill is that it closes a loophole in law involving sexual assault while in custody or detained.

Current law says that victims cannot consent to sex with an officer while "detained in a jail, prison, or hospital." But that doesn't cover everywhere a potential victim may interact with an officer of the law.

HB-1250 adds three more instances where an officer cannot claim consent as a defense against a sex assault charge:

1. When the peace officer encounters the victim for the purpose of law enforcement or in the performance of the officer's duties;

2. When the peace officer knows at the time of the unlawful sexual conduct that the victim is the subject of an active investigation; or

3. When the peace officer makes any show of authority in connection with the unlawful sexual conduct.

The other big change is that it would classify sex assault by an officer as a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

What happened:

The bill passed out of the state Senate unanimously and with some bipartisan support of the House.

What's next:

Nothing else — there doesn't seem to be any real backlash against the legislation at this time. It could always be changed, removed or 


Passed out of the legislature on May 2; Sitting on governor's desk

What it changes:

Its aim is to help curtail "surprise medical bills," a problem facing many Coloradans that was highlighted by the 9Wants to Know investigation "Lien on Me."

Out-of-network doctors may work at in-network health care facilities and may, without a patient's knowledge, treat them, leading to massive health care bills their insurance won't cover.

Want to know more? | How you can visit the hospital, then get a lien on your home

According to the bill's sponsors, it's meant to eliminate “deceptive trade practices” taking place inside Colorado hospitals and other medical facilities.

The bill demands that patients ("consumers") are told of the "potential impact of receiving services from an out-of-network provider or health care facility."

What happened:

After years of similar bills in committee, this one finally made it out.

What's next:

If the governor signs the bill, nothing. If he vetoes it, expect another round of similar bills in the legislature in 2020.


Signed by Gov. Polis on April 8

What it changes:

Basically a revenge porn law, but instead of criminalizing the practice of posting intimate images of someone online or elsewhere without their consent, it provides for civil recourse against the perpetrator if they can prove three things in their claim:

1) That the victim did not consent to the photo being disclosed, 2) that the image was private and 3) that the victim is identifiable in the photo.

There is a clause exempting the poster from civil damages if the photo was provided in good faith or if the person sharing the image is a parent or guardian not posting the image for purposes of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, humiliation, degradation, or monetary or commercial gain.

A plaintiff who wins the civil case in court could be granted whatever is greatest out of:

A) Economic and noneconomic damages proximately caused by the defendant's disclosures or threatened disclosures, including damages for emotional distress whether or not accompanied by other damages, or

B) Statutory damages not to exceed $10,000 against each defendant found liable for all disclosures or threatened disclosure.

Also on the table for civil damages: punitive damages, attorney fees, additional relief and an amount equal to the gain made by the defendant from the disclosure of the intimate image if applicable.

What happened:

The bill was passed unanimously through both the house and the Senate.

What's next:

Unclear if there's any real opposition to this bill at the Capitol. The law immediately went into effect. 

There is a statute of limitations on civil action set at four years.


Passed out of the legislature on April 29; Sitting on governor's desk

What it changes:

If signed, the bill would prohibit adults “in a position of trust” from sending sexual messages, whether that be online or through text, to 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds. Current law allows for such communication, even from a teacher or coach, if photos and videos are not included.

What happened:

The bill had bipartisan support, but something weird happened in committee that politics guy Marshall Zellinger said he'd never seen before: after a Senate committee killed the bill on a 3-2 vote, the nay votes — Sen. Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs) and Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver) and Sen. Robert Rodriguez (D-Denver) all switched their votes.

From Marshall's reporting from mid-April:

Minutes after it died, however, the committee opted to reconsider. All five members of the committee then voted in favor of the legislation.

"This is very unusual. Very unusual. I think that the committee just made a mistake. They didn’t understand the message this would send to the public," said Republican Senator Bob Rankin, one of the sponsors. "I think when there was time to reconsider that, and they understood what they did, they said, 'Wait a minute.' We at least need to let this get to the Senate. I think it will pass. I think it will get through to the whole Senate. They got caught up in the legality."

Lee told 9NEWS that he took issue with the bill's language.

"I had some doubts about how the bill was written. Of course, I agree with the policy of not wanting to have predators taking liberties with children under any circumstances. I wasn’t certain it was drafted with the precision it needed. That’s why I voted no," he said.

9NEWS was told there was a discussion between the sponsors and the senators who voted no after the vote, but nothing was done to change the language of the bill before voting a second time.

What's next:

The bill waits for the governor's signature.


Passed out of the legislature on April 5; Sitting on governor's desk

What it changes:

It bans conversion therapy on anyone under the age of 18 who cannot legally consent. Conversion therapy is a highly controversial practice of trying to change someone's sexual orientation to heterosexual.

What happened:

The bill was passed out of the legislature over a month ago — and Gov. Polis has yet to sign it.

What's next:

The bill could become law after a long enough amount of time if Polis just ignores it, but there's also an opportunity for a challenge. Only a few Republicans broke to vote with Democrats on the bill. Some state Republicans have said the bill may interfere with First Amendment rights.


Signed by Gov. Polis on March 25

What it changes:

The law requires schools to provide information about the state's Safe Haven laws as a part of their health education.

State law allows a parent to hand over an infant who is up to 72 hours old to an employee at a fire station or hospital with no questions asked. As long as the child is unharmed, the parent will not be prosecuted for abandonment. The law was passed in 2000.

What happened:

It passed both chambers unanimously.

What's next:

There will be information about the Safe Haven law provided in Colorado schools. It will take effect beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. 


Passed out of the legislature on April 29; Sitting on governor's desk

What it changes:

Beginning Sept. 1, 2019, employers with 11 or more employees will be barred from asking about criminal history on an initial job application. Employers with 11 or more employees also can't advertise that a person with a criminal history can't apply nor can they place a statement on an employee application saying someone with a criminal history can't apply for a job.

Basically, this is a "ban the box" law, which have become popular in some states across the country in recent years banning the practice of asking if a potential employee has been convicted of a felony in the past.

This bill covers all crimes except in specific cases:

When law prohibits someone convicted of a particular crime from being employed at a particular job;

When the employer is participating in a program meant to encourage the employment of people with criminal histories;

When the employer is required by law to conduct a criminal history check for the particular job they're offering.

What happened:

After jimmying around the state House through February, the Senate took it up in mid-April. Two weeks after passing — almost completely along party lines — the bill was sent to the governor's desk.

What's next:

This bill doesn't create a "protected class" of citizens against discrimination; there is no private recourse if an employer does this. The state Department of Labor and Employment is in charge of enforcing this bill and imposing any civil penalties deemed applicable.

Because it was passed along such close party lines, it is possible Republicans could try to undo it in the future.

Bills that garnered a lot of interest but didn't pass


Died without a final vote in the legislature

What it would've changed:

It would have made it harder for parents to opt their children out of vaccinations. How? By requiring parents who don't want their children vaccinated for personal or religious reasons to apply for an exemption in person at their local or their state health department. 

What happened:

Gov. Jared Polis had expressed concerns about that provision so his approval wasn't guaranteed.

The push to raise the bar for exemptions came amid the worst outbreak of measles in the United States in 25 years.

What's next:

It's unclear at this point if a similar bill will be taken up next year. 

REPEAL THE DEATH PENALTY (Senate Bill 2019-182)

Laid over until May 4 (a day after the legislative session ends); Effectively abandoned

What it would've changed:

The bill would have repealed the death penalty in Colorado.

What happened:

The bill's prime sponsor asked the legislation be killed after failing to confirm how four or five Democrats would vote (a failure on this bill would mean several Democrats defected, which would have embarrassed the party). 

What's next:

Well, as far as the bill's concerned: nothing. As far as the death penalty in Colorado is concerned:

There are three inmates currently on death row in the state:

  • Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people at a Chuck E. Cheese (previously Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper stayed his death and decided to leave it up to his replacement — Polis has made no moves to expedite his execution).
  • Sir Mario Owens, who murdered a young couple (both witnesses in another murder trial involving Owens).
  • Robert Ray, who ordered the hit on Owens' witnesses.

There are also two current death penalty cases moving through the Colorado criminal court. The first, in El Paso County, has the district attorney seeking the death penalty for Marco Garcia-Braco, accused of having a hand in killing two Coronado High School students. In the other case, Adams County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Dreion Dearing, the accused killer of Adams County Deputy Heath Gumm.

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