Capitol Report: Democratic majority pushes Legislature to left

Party in power highlights sex education, conversion therapy, Electoral College


The blue wave crashed months ago in Colorado's midterm elections, but the tide is still high at the Capitol, where Democrats wasted no time in taking up liberal causes in the first month of this year's session.

Democrats aim to push against abstinence-only sex education, while requiring that participating students learn about LGBTQ relationships. They've also moved to outlaw conversion therapy — the practice of trying to change a person's sexual orientation — and to stand in solidarity with other Democrat-leaning states in an effort to effectively do away with the Electoral College. That current system gives voters in less populated states more weight in presidential elections than they otherwise would have.

Meanwhile, three gun-related bills proposed by Republicans were promptly defeated.

With a majority in both houses of the Legislature and control in the governor's office, Democrats appear to have few hurdles to enacting their agenda.

The 2019 regular session — the part of the year when legislators pass bills — began Jan. 4 and will run roughly four months. Here's what's caught attention so far.

'No person should be shamed'

An LGBTQ advocacy group lauded the introduction of a bill to ban conversion therapy for minors, calling it a “dangerous and discredited practice.”

“Thank you to Rep. (Dafna) Michaelson Jenet and Rep. (Daneya) Esgar for introducing this bill to protect LGBTQ youth in every corner of our state,” said Daniel Ramos, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado. “No young person should ever be shamed by a medical or mental health professional into thinking that who they are is wrong and needs to be changed.”

The bill would prohibit licensed physicians and mental health-care providers from engaging in efforts with patients under 18 years old to change their sexual orientation or gender expression, according to the Legislature's website.

Neither party in either chamber appears to have put out a news release on the proposal. House Bill 19-1129 was introduced Jan. 24 and is set to be heard in committee Feb. 13.

Sex ed bill not a mandate

Among the most discussed bills so far is one to discourage abstinence-only sex education, which heard discussion and public comment on Jan. 30 that turned contentious.

“There is no LGBTQ agenda, as some attempted to argue today,” said state Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, in a news release. “This bill simply creates a discussion about what is safe, comprehensive sexual education.”

The bill would not require schools to teach sex education — Colorado doesn't have a mandate — but if a school does teach it, it would have to include topics including birth control and pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease prevention, consent, and abstinence, said state House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, on Twitter.

Schools could not exclude “relational or sexual experiences” of LGBT individuals, if they did choose to teach sex education, according to the Legislature's website. The proposal also bars shame-based language, gender norms or gender stereotypes.

Current law already outlines “comprehensive” sex education standards, but the proposal adds some topics, House Democrats said in the release. In 2013, the Legislature passed some "comprehensive" standards in connection with a grant program to support teaching sex education.

But that law didn't fund the grant program it created. The current proposal would give $1 million to the program, and rural schools and public schools that don't have resources to offer sex education would be prioritized for the funding, the release said.

The current bill also would require that all sex education in general include the required topics, regardless of whether a school receives grant money.

The Elbert County Republican Party said numerous bills are concerning this session, but “none more profound” than the proposal.

“It forbids teachers to endorse 'religious or sectarian' views,” the party wrote in a newsletter. “It's not fair to criticize and prohibit one ideology and then replace it with another ideology.”

House Bill 19-1032 moved forward to the House Appropriations Committee after the hearing Jan. 30.

Dropping out of college

The state Senate passed a bill to have Colorado award its presidential electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

Democratic Sen. Mike Foote's bill would have Colorado join 11 states and the District of Columbia in what's called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

It would effectively replace the Electoral College, in which 270 out of 538 electoral votes are needed to win the presidency. Proponents say it would go into effect once enough states with 270 votes enter the pact. States have electoral votes equal to their number of House representatives — which depend on population — and senators.

In presidential elections, generally, the winner of the popular vote in each state earns the electoral votes of those states under the current system.

Colorado has nine electoral votes. Compact members, as a group, currently have 172 votes.

Several presidents, most recently Donald Trump in 2016, were elected with an Electoral College majority despite losing the popular vote.

State Senate Republicans, in a news release, said the bill “disenfranchises” Colorado voters and would allow “tyranny” of large metropolitan cities.

Foote said in a release that the bill “is about making sure 'one person, one vote' becomes the law of the land … no matter where that voter happens to live.”

“This really is a victory for those who believe that every vote should be counted equally,” Foote said in the release.

The bill passed on party lines Jan. 29 and proceeds to the House.

Gun bills thrown out

House Democrats on a committee have rejected three bills favored by gun-rights activists.

One, sponsored by House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, would have allowed concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns on school grounds. Neville argued the measure could better protect students from threats.

A bill by GOP Reps. Lori Saine and Stephen Humphrey would have repealed ammunition magazine limits.

Lawmakers in 2013 limited magazines to 15 rounds after the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.

A bill by GOP Rep. Shane Sandridge would have increased legal protections for business owners and employees who use deadly force against intruders they fear could harm them. Colorado law extends similar protections to residents of a home.

The State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee rejected the bills on party-line votes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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