The 2021 legislative session wrapped up work on June 8, about a month later than the typical Sine Die adjournment date. This delay was due to the legislative recess taken from mid-January to February to ensure lawmakers and their staff could be vaccinated. There were 678 bills and resolutions introduced, 502 bills passed, and as of June 24, 326 bills have been signed by the Governor, who has exercised one veto. As The Kempe Foundation looks back on the session’s accomplishments, we’d like to thank our legislators for their tireless efforts in representing the people of Colorado and the many stakeholders and agencies that play an important role in the legislative process.

BUDGET

A combination of factors led to the state having significant revenue above expectations. State revenue came in well above the economic forecast and federal legislation brought in $3.8 billion in relief funds to the state government. This session, the legislature was able to restore the budget cuts made in 2020, provide additional funding to core areas of the budget, prepay future state obligations, and increase the end of year reserves to a historic level. Kempe programs including the CARE Network, Child Welfare Training System and SafeCare received full funding for FY 2021 – 2022.

LEGISLATION OF INTEREST 

The mental and behavioral health of our children and youth is a high priority in Colorado. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought Colorado to an inflection point in the care and well-being of our children and youth. They’ve suffered disproportionately from lockdowns, closed schools and general isolation. The trauma children and youth are experiencing is certain to have major, short- and long-term damaging impacts for them individually and for our communities, state and country.

We are already seeing negative impacts on our children and youth. The last week in May, Children’s Hospital Colorado (CHCO) declared a state of emergency for pediatric mental health as suicide attempts rise. The hospital is seeing three to four kids a week who have tried to kill themselves. The top overall reason children arrive in the emergency department is a suicide attempt. CHCO also reported that mental health emergency visits were up 90% in April 2021 compared to April 2019.

The crisis for our children and youth is not just a recent development because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Colorado Public Radio News in September 2019 reported on a study by the United Health Foundation that Colorado’s teen suicide rate increased 58% from 2016 to 2019. That increase was more than twice that of any other state.

The protection and well-being of Colorado’s children and youth were high priorities in the 2021 legislative session. The following bills were passed and signed by the Governor or awaiting his signature.

Behavioral Health

  • HB 1258: Rapid Mental Health Response for Colorado Youth
  • SB 154: Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network
  • HB 1097: Behavioral Health Administration
  • SB 137: Behavioral Health Recovery Act
  • HB 1317: Cannabis Concentrate Regulation

Early Childhood

  • HB 1304: Early Childhood Department and Systems

Child Welfare

  • HB 1248: Colorado Children’s Trust Fund Act
  • HB 1272: Supporting the Child Protection Ombudsman
  • HB 1099: Policies and Procedures to Identify Domestic Abuse

LOOKING AHEAD

Several legislative committees will meet prior to the 2022 session including an interim committee on school finance, a task force to recommend policies to spend federal stimulus dollars that provide economic relief and stimulate the economy, the Legislative Oversight Committee on Tax Policy, and two working groups on higher education issues.

The Kempe Foundation will be actively engaged over the summer and fall in agency and stakeholder work groups and interim committees addressing the forming of the Behavioral Health Administration, domestic violence taskforce, Colorado Children’s Trust Fund, Rapid Mental Health Response for Colorado Youth, forming of an Early Childhood Agency, and research and education related to THC potency in marijuana concentrates. We also have been approached by certain legislators to work with them on exploring legislation for next session regarding concerns they have about the protection and well-being of children and supports for families.

We will continue to provide important policy updates as we approach the 2022 Legislative Session. To receive Kempe Advocacy Updates via email, please sign up here.