Big wins, lots of wins, and more wins from the 2022 Colorado legislative session

The 2022 Colorado legislative session was a productive one. Here at CoPIRG, we’re celebrating a lot. Bills to ban PFAS from many consumer products, and develop a producer responsibility waste system to cut unnecessary packaging and expand curbside recycling. The nation’s first non-vehicular Right to Repair bill and a nation-leading bill on consumer protections around predatory towing. We also saw new protections from toxic air pollutants and major investments in electric school buses, e-bikes, fare-free transit, Bustang, and cleaner buildings. 

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Danny Katz
Executive Director

Author: Danny Katz

Executive Director

(303) 573-7474 ext. 303

Started on staff: 2001
B.A., University of Virginia

Danny has been the director of CoPIRG for over a decade. Danny co-authored a groundbreaking report on the state’s transit, walking and biking needs and is a co-author of the annual “State of Recycling” report. He also helped write a 2016 Denver initiative to create a public matching campaign finance program and led the early effort to eliminate predatory payday loans in Colorado. Danny serves on the Colorado Department of Transportation's (CDOT) Efficiency and Accountability Committee, CDOT's Transit and Rail Advisory Committee, RTD's Reimagine Advisory Committee, the Denver Moves Everyone Think Tank, and the I-70 Collaborative Effort. Danny lobbies federal, state and local elected officials on transportation electrification, multimodal transportation, zero waste, consumer protection and public health issues. He appears frequently in local media outlets and is active in a number of coalitions. He resides in Denver with his family, where he enjoys biking and skiing, the neighborhood food scene and raising chickens.

Protecting consumers, reducing pollution, expanding transit options, transforming our waste system - there were a lot of victories for Coloradans at the legislature this year.

A lot of victories.  

The Colorado General Assembly closed their 2022 session on Wednesday but not before sending nineteen CoPIRG-backed bills to the Governor’s desk. 

Here’s my look back at all the wins we all had and a few missed opportunities. 

Big Wins

Right to Repair for Wheelchairs - Colorado became the first state in the nation to pass a wheelchair Right to Repair bill. It’s also the first non-vehicular Right to Repair bill to pass. 

As more of our stuff comes with software, more companies are able to lock us out of fixing it. So HB22-1031 requires manufacturers of powered wheelchairs to make available parts, tools, repair manuals, documentation and digital access to owners and independent repairers at fair and reasonable prices. 

When you are in a wheelchair, even a day or two delay to repair your equipment can lead to injuries or emergencies.    

This bill means people in wheelchairs will have access to what they or someone they trust needs to fix it. It should also open up the marketplace so there are more repair options. 

This is a quality of life issue. No one should be left with only one option for repair, especially when that option has a track record of stranding people without access to mobility.

In addition to the right to repair bill, the legislature passed HB22-1290, which will remove barriers for wheelchair users to get repairs done via Medicaid, adding even more value to our right to repair win. 

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Sponsors Rep Titone and Rep Ortiz present HB22-1031 in first committee (Photo Credit- staff)

Ban PFAS Forever Chemicals in Consumer Products - Colorado passed one of the nation’s most comprehensive bills to tackle toxic PFAS chemicals. 

PFAS are a class of chemicals that are specially engineered to be resistant to both heat and water. They’re called forever chemicals because they build up over time in our ecosystems and bodies. According to the EPA, PFAS have been linked to serious health impacts like cancer, organ damage, and suppression of the immune system.

PFAS have already had a devastating impact on drinking water supplies in Colorado at a time when the state is suffering through historic drought and cannot afford to lose a drop of water to chemical contamination.

This year, a bipartisan group of legislators put together a more comprehensive approach to tackling the various PFAS containing products. HB22-1345 will ban PFAS from carpets, furniture, cosmetics, juvenile products, some types of food packaging, and the fluids used in oil and gas production. The bill would also require labeling of cookware containing PFAS. 

These are dangerous chemicals and there is no reason to allow them in our consumer products.

 

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CoPIRG executive director Danny Katz speaks to CBS4 Denver about our new study on PFAS in clothing

 

Less Packaging, More Recycling - Colorado became only the third state to pass a Producer Responsibility waste policy. 

The bill, HB22-1355, would require producers to pay dues into a fund based on the packaging around their products, whether that packaging is cans, bottles, boxes, containers, shrink wrap or paper. 

The dues should disincentivize the excessive packaging (like plastics that won’t break down for hundreds of years) that inundate Colorado consumers and incentivize producers to use more recyclable materials. 

The money from the dues would fund an expansion of recycling infrastructure so that everyone in Colorado would have easy access to recycling at no additional cost. This is critical to improving our state’s abysmal 15% recycling rate and give companies access to a reliable source of recycled materials to use like glass, aluminum, and paper from our recycling bins instead of from more environmentally harmful virgin sources. 

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Bill sponsors Lisa Cutter (left) and Kevin Priola (right) joined by Westminster City Councilmember Obi Ezeadi (center) brief the media on HB22-1355 (Photo Credit - Staff)

 

 

Consumer Protections around Predatory Towing - Colorado passed new consumer protections tackling predatory towing making our state a national leader. 

Towing is a painful ordeal, even if it’s justified. For many vehicle owners, however, the pain is compounded because towing companies too often try to take advantage of you when you’re at your most vulnerable. 

The new bill, HB22-1314, updates Colorado’s towing regulations by adding new consumer protections, including banning kickbacks from towing companies to property owners, capping consumer notification fees and adding new rules that should accelerate how quickly a vehicle owner is notified. 

The bill also increases transparency around towing costs and fees, providing consumers with an option to get an itemized bill. Towing companies will also have to provide more evidence, including photographic documentation, to prove why a vehicle was towed. 

It also gives the state’s towing task force a chance to hold bad actor towing companies more accountable.   

Based on our national analysis of towing laws in all 50 states, Colorado’s bill will place us in the top tier and is a model for the surprisingly high number of states that have limited consumer protections. 

 

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Cover of CoPIRG's Getting Off the Hook of a Predatory Tow -

Toxic Air Pollutants - The state now has a strategy to protect Coloradans from toxic air pollutants, something states like California, Texas, and Kentucky have had for years. 

According to the American Lung Association, toxic, or hazardous, air pollutants like hydrogen chloride, benzene or toluene, dioxin or elements such as cadmium, mercury, and chromium cause or are suspected of causing cancer, birth defects, or other serious harms. 

These pollutants are emitted into our air from a number of places including industries and refineries and Colorado has not had an effective way to ensure public health was protected. 

The bill, HB22-1244, has a number of components. It requires Colorado to establish health-based air quality standards and requires the state to meet these levels. It will increase reporting of toxic emissions across the state, strengthen monitoring, and create a system to identify additional toxics of concern and reduce the emissions of those toxics to levels established based on health-based air quality targets. 

Polluted air is a major detriment to our quality of life and physical health. We need to clean up Colorado’s air to provide a better quality of life for everyone now and into the future.
 
 

More Wins

Colorado took a number of good steps forward around the health of our state. One theme was the investment of millions of dollars into important solutions.

Transit - $28 million was dedicated to at least a month of fare-free transit during summer ozone season at RTD and other transit agencies around the state. 

Eliminating transit fares can increase transit ridership, which is an important long-term strategy to reduce air pollution. A recent "Free Fare February" pilot undertaken by the Utah Transit Authority saw ridership increase 17% during weekdays, 58% on Saturdays and 33% on Sundays during the course of the program.

A month of fare-free transit is not enough to solve our ozone problems but eliminating fares will recruit a lot more people to ride transit and build momentum for the bigger investments we need to significantly increase and improve transit service.

SB22-180 also invested $30 million in Colorado’s statewide bus system, Bustang. Launched in 2015, Bustang’s ridership significantly grew from 102,503 annual riders in its first year to 238,302 annual riders in its fourth year. 

$30 million is enough to take Bustang routes that have a few buses a day and expand them so they come hourly. That kind of service will increase clean travel options along I-25 and I-70, some of our busiest corridors. 

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RTD buses will be running for free, likely in August, under SB22-180 (Photo Credit - staff)

Electric Transportation - The legislature approved $65 million to convert diesel school buses to cleaner electric-powered. 

Diesel exhaust has been linked to several serious health risks, including increased rates of respiratory illness and cancer. Diesel exhaust is internationally recognized as a cancer-causing agent and classified as a likely carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Getting to school shouldn’t include a daily dose of toxic pollution, or increase the chances that people will get sick.  

The same bill, SB22-193, also included $12 million to expand access to e-bikes. 

E-bikes can reduce pollution by replacing car trips and bring with it additional benefits including much lower transportation costs than owning and operating a vehicle, health benefits from the associated exercise and a much smaller footprint in our urban areas, freeing up limited street space. 

Nearly 50% of trips in the DRCOG region are less than three miles, a distance that can be covered easily with an e-bike.  

 

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CoPIRG co-hosted a media event showcasing Denver's first electric school bus (Photo Credit - staff)

 

Cleaner Buildings - New requirements around energy codes will make sure new homes and major renovations are ready for electric vehicles, solar panels, and electric heat. 

Fuel used in residential, commercial, and industrial spaces is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution in Colorado along with our vehicles. We can cut pollution (both indoor and outdoor) and our utility and gas bills by switching to electric vehicles, heat pumps and solar panels. 

Unfortunately, that shift is really costly if the house wasn’t built to handle them. 

That’s why it’s critical our energy codes require electric and solar-ready new buildings, paving the way to a cleaner, more affordable energy and transportation future. The bill, HB22-1362 also includes $25 million to help convert buildings to cleaner electric-fueled.

In addition, HB22-1218, adds electric vehicle charging requirements for commercial buildings and multifamily residences, supporting our transition to 100% electric-powered vehicles. 

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Cover of CoPIRG's Electric Buildings report

Get the Lead Out of School Drinking Water - HB22-1358 dedicates $21 to identifying and remediating lead-contaminated drinking water in K-5 schools and child care centers. 

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can affect how children learn, grow and behave. There is no safe level of lead exposure for children

This bill requires covered buildings to test all sources of drinking water for lead and post the results publicly. If lead is detected at concentrations of 5 parts per billion (ppb) the entity must install filters that prohibit lead exposure at that tap. 

We’re recommending that all schools and child care centers go beyond the requirements of this bill and use 1 ppb as the standard to filter. 

Our Get the Lead Out toolkit offers additional avenues for funding so we can filter all taps and protect all kids no matter the grade. 

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Coverage of CoPIRG's Get the Lead Out report, KDVR Fox31, March 28, 2019

Stopping Online Counterfeiters - One of the earliest bills to pass and be signed by the Governor was HB22-1099, which requires third-party sellers on online marketplaces to disclose basic information so the public can verify who and what is actually behind the products they are purchasing. 

This kind of transparency is important to stop counterfeiters from evading the consumer protections we have in place for everything from masks to toys

Reducing Wildlife/Vehicle Collisions - SB22-151 will dedicate $5 million to build out more wildlife corridors under/over our major roads. 

There are thousands of vehicle-to-animal collisions every year because we have not adequately designed a transportation system that gives animals the ability to move through their environment without walking across a busy road. 

Colorado has a track record of successful wildlife crossings reducing collisions - some by as much as 92%. We just need more money to build more of them. 

Save the Bees - SB22-199 requires the state to develop best practices and policies to protect bees, whose populations have been steadily declining. 

As much as 75% of our crops depend on pollinators like bees to some extent, so we must act quickly to stop the loss of these critical species. 

Surprise Medical Bills - HB22-1284 will align state and federal surprise medical billing laws to maximize protections for Colorado consumers. 

The problem of surprise medical billing is so rampant that 1 in 5 Americans who visit an emergency room or have surgery receive them. The average surprise emergency room bill costs the consumer about $600 and air ambulances can be in the thousands of dollars. 

By aligning previous state and federal protections, we’re giving consumers ample time to know and understand the costs and implications of out-of-network services and the ability to make alternative arrangements if they choose. 

Front Range Rail - With the population of Front Range urban communities from Pueblo to Fort Collins growing quickly, SB22-176 invests millions to help move a front range passenger rail system forward as a transportation option.

Specifically, the bill zeros in on a key bottleneck in Denver - the Burnham Yard. Using this old train yard in a way that allows for passenger rail from Denver to Colorado Springs and beyond, will provide a necessary transit option and reduce the need to waste billions adding new lanes to I-25 that won’t actually reduce traffic.  

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Map of Burnham Yard rail choke point, CDOT I-25 Central PEL, page 21

Capping Contributions to School Board Candidates - For the first time ever, HB22-1060 will ensure that candidates for school boards can no longer receive campaign contributions of unlimited size.

Elections should be about broad support, not about the size of any one individual’s wallet. Colorado has contribution limits for every other major electoral office. School boards should be no different. Now, school board races have been brought under the same contribution caps as other offices.  

Consumer Protection - One way to reduce the success of predatory companies in the marketplace is to ensure people have the help and alternatives on the front end to avoid them. 

HB22-1315 allocates $1 million to support the 2-1-1 program, a statewide call system that allows people to access trained professionals with information on everything from legal services to tax preparation, rental and utility assistance. 2-1-1 is a proven way to help people avoid predatory traps and cycles of debt. 

HB22-1359 would create a pilot program to help Coloradans struggling to make ends meet by helping expand affordable small dollar loans. With $5.2 million, the State Treasurer’s office will have an opportunity to develop ways to keep people away from predatory lending products. 

Missed Opportunities

Unfortunately, there were a few bills that did not pass. These bills are missed opportunities to protect the health of our kids, reduce unwanted single-use plastics, cut the use of pollinator-killing pesticides, and strengthen consumer protections around home and automobile insurance rates.

Ban the Sale of Flavored Tobacco - Today, teens are facing an unprecedented health risk as flavored nicotine products like bubble gum, cotton candy, and blue-raspberry entice kids to try products, creating a new generation of nicotine addicts.

In 2018, one in five high school students reported vaping - a nearly 80% rise from the previous year. Even more alarming, Colorado youth are vaping nicotine at twice the national average. 

Many youth report that flavors are what got them to start vaping. 

We need to act quickly. Nicotine is a dangerous and addictive drug, which can impair brain development, increase anxiety, and increase risk of future addiction to other substances. 

The impacts of these choices will follow kids for the rest of their lives: studies show that young adults who vape are three times more likely than nonusers to start smoking cigarettes. 

HB22-1064 would have banned the sale of all flavored nicotine products in Colorado, including synthetic nicotine. The bill failed this year but cities and counties have the authority to act and we’ll be working to pass more local bans in the year to come. 

 

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HB22-1064 sponsor Kyle Mullica joins youth organized by NAACP at media event calling for bill passage (Photo Credit - staff)

 



Reducing Single-use Plastics - If you are like me, too often you order food, get home, and find the company crammed a bunch of plastic straws, forks, and spoons that you did not want and do not need into your bag. 

I’ve got a special drawer where I put them, hoping one day they can be used at least once before they are disposed of and pollute our planet for hundreds of years. 

The drawer is overflowing. 

HB22-1134 was a simple bill. It sought to establish that anytime someone orders food for pick-up or delivery, they need to be asked if they want accessories. Some online ordering already has a checkbox that the consumer can select. But not all. 

Given how much food is ordered for pick-up and delivery every day, we can’t afford the thousands of unnecessary plastic straws and cutlery that will just go to a landfill or worse yet pollute our parks and waterways for centuries.

Without state action this year, we’ll be working with businesses and local governments to move local ordinances forward.

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Unwanted take out utensils, condiments and chopsticks received in to-go orders over the last two years (Photo Credit - Danny Katz)

Protecting Pollinators, Reducing Pesticides - Pollinators are critical to our food supply and we can’t afford to kill them off with pesticides that can also undermine our health.  

One type of pesticide, neonicotinoids, clearly impacts bees and is a leading factor in pollinator population decline. Reducing the use of these products would protect the pollinator habitats that are critical to the future survival of these species.

SB22-131 would protect the health of pollinators by restricting the use of pesticides like neonicotinoids. It would lift a ban on cities and counties regulating pesticide use in their communities.

With our ability to take action on a local level still restricted, we’ll be looking at ways to push major companies to limit the sale of bee-killing pesticides. 



Consumer Protections for Auto and Home Insurance Rates - Currently in Colorado, our Insurance Commissioner reviews rates for health insurance, helping to keep in check unnecessary rate increases in those markets. 

This bill, HB22-1357, would have extended that oversight to homeowners and automobile insurance.  

Data from a 2019 study from the Consumer Federation of America on auto insurance rate regulation nationwide highlights how prior approval systems like this provide good consumer protections and lower rates. 

Without this protection, we’ll be working with the Insurance Commissioner to see if there are other tools they have to identify and stop arbitrary rate increases. 

 
 
 

2022 and Beyond

I hope everyone takes some time to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of the 2022 legislative session. 

In the next few weeks, we’ll be working to make sure Governor Polis signs these bills into law. 

Implementing some of these bills properly will require watchdogs. That's where we come in again. 

But for today, we all deserve a moment of reflection and pride. Our winning combination of good ideas, dedicated legislative champions (with many working in a bipartisan way), broad coalitions, attention from the media, and lots of public support, got significant results on huge problems facing our state.

In 2022 and beyond, Colorado will be healthier and safer because of the actions our legislature took over the last five months. 

Danny Katz
Executive Director

Author: Danny Katz

Executive Director

(303) 573-7474 ext. 303

Started on staff: 2001
B.A., University of Virginia

Danny has been the director of CoPIRG for over a decade. Danny co-authored a groundbreaking report on the state’s transit, walking and biking needs and is a co-author of the annual “State of Recycling” report. He also helped write a 2016 Denver initiative to create a public matching campaign finance program and led the early effort to eliminate predatory payday loans in Colorado. Danny serves on the Colorado Department of Transportation's (CDOT) Efficiency and Accountability Committee, CDOT's Transit and Rail Advisory Committee, RTD's Reimagine Advisory Committee, the Denver Moves Everyone Think Tank, and the I-70 Collaborative Effort. Danny lobbies federal, state and local elected officials on transportation electrification, multimodal transportation, zero waste, consumer protection and public health issues. He appears frequently in local media outlets and is active in a number of coalitions. He resides in Denver with his family, where he enjoys biking and skiing, the neighborhood food scene and raising chickens.