New bills introduced at state capitol

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New bill proposes universal representation for immigration court 

When Guadalupe Lopez and her husband were both put into deportation proceedings after a traffic stop several years ago, they often had to choose between paying their immigration lawyer and putting food on the table for their children. But for them, that choice made all the difference. “I can’t imagine confronting this process without legal representation,” she said in a press release circulated by several immigrant rights groups. 

When it comes to removal proceedings, immigrants don’t have a right to legal counsel since it all takes place in civil court. That’s despite the fact they are 10 times more likely to win their case with access to a lawyer and 3.5 times more likely to be released on bond. A new bill introduced on March 4 in the Colorado legislature could change that, however, as it proposes replicating a public defender model for immigration court. 

“Immigration deportation proceedings are the only legal procedures in the nation where a person can be detained without the right to a government-funded lawyer, even if that person is a child or an asylum seeker,” the press release states. 

HB21-1194, sponsored by Rep. Kerry Tipper (D-Jefferson), Rep. Naquetta Ricks (D-Arapahoe) and Sen. Dominick Moreno (D-Adams), would create a fund with public and private contributions through gifts, grants and donations to provide a free lawyer to qualifying individuals facing deportation proceedings in Colorado. 

Advocates say representation can offset the harm of deportation and detention for Colorado families. 

As Daniel Fesshaye, a Fort Morgan resident originally from Eritrea, explains in the release, “Coming up with the money for a lawyer was difficult, but I knew I had no other choice if I wanted to win my case. I had to borrow $4,000 from a friend. As soon as I got out of immigration detention, I had to focus on repaying him, instead of rebuilding my life.”    

More bills introduced at the Colorado Capitol

With the 2021 legislative session comes a slew of other bill introductions this week. Here are a few Boulder Weekly is keeping tabs on. 

• Last year, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) discovered an active data-sharing collaboration between the DMV and ICE, starting after the state passed a law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. This year, CIRC, along with its Senate sponsors, is backing a bill (SB21-131) that prohibits sharing an individual’s personal and private information with outside entities for civil immigration enforcement purposes.

• Secretary of State Jena Griswold is spearheading a bill that seeks to limit foreign influence in state elections. Corporations with a 1% ownership from a foreign government, a 5% ownership from a single non-U.S. person, or 20% aggregate ownership from multiple non-U.S. persons will be prohibited from contributing to Colorado SuperPACs, which spend money on candidate campaigns in the state. 

• With support from ACLU Colorado, Sen. Janet Buckner from Arapahoe County introduced legislation to reduce the juvenile detention bed capacity in the state and eliminate the use of cash bail for kids. While most jurisdictions in Colorado don’t use money bond for juveniles, there are a few that do, namely the 18th judicial district which includes Arapahoe, Elbert, Lincoln and Douglas County. The ACLU filed suit this week in Douglas County after several School Resource Officers from the Sheriff’s Office handcuffed an 11-year-old Latino student with autism (captured on bodycam) and placed him in custody at a juvenile detention center in 2019. He was released after his parents posted a $25,000 bond. 

• Republican Sen. Kevin Priola (Adams) and Democrat Rachel Zenzinger (Jefferson) plan to introduce a bill to expand statewide recycling infrastructure and funding by establishing a fee on all food service packaging materials in hopes of diverting more waste from landfills. While this bill could potentially help the state boost its recycling rate (currently 15.9%), it’s being put forward as more “pragmatic” for small business owners than other proposed Democratic legislation (HB21-1162) that would ban businesses from distributing single-use plastic bags and plastic foam containers (Styrofoam) statewide.      

Already thinking about the next election

After 2020’s momentous national and statewide election, it feels hard to think about voting on more ballot issues anytime soon. But in reality, the 2021 election is right around the corner, and several campaigns have already submitted ballot measure language to the state for approval. 

A bipartisan team of educators, parents, nonprofit leaders and education-focused state lawmakers is proposing the Colorado Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) Program, which would provide financial aid for tutoring and expand out-of-school instruction like career and technical education for low- and middle-income students. It would be funded by a 5% tax increase on recreational marijuana sales and by repurposing a portion of revenues derived from activities on state lands, expected to bring in an estimated $150 million each year. 

“For a generation, Colorado has struggled to close the education gap between the rich and poor, between those attending high performing schools and those not, between those who have access to tutors, technology and other out-of-school tools and those for whom even a little help with homework feels like a world away,” State Sen. Rhonda Fields, (D-Aurora) said in a press release. 

Under the ballot measure, each student would be given at least $1,500 and there would be a certification process for providers of tutoring and other out-of-school services, while school districts would be pre-certified as providers, and teachers would be given priority approval to become qualified providers. The Donnell-Kay Foundation, a private family foundation in Denver that focuses on public education, is a key architect of the program. 

There are two other amendments also currently under review at the Legislative Council: one would reduce the property tax assessment rates for both residential and commercial properties; the other would amend the requirements for spending of custodial money, or money received by the state.