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October 26, 2023

JOINT RELEASE: Colorado Youth Advisory Committee Recommends Bills to Improve Dignity for Students, Get More Mental Health Professionals Into Schools

DENVER, CO - The Colorado Youth Advisory Council Committee (COYAC) yesterday voted to advance three bills that would require public schools to address a student by their preferred name in school, study the existing barriers to gender affirming care, and create a loan repayment program for school mental health professionals.

Bill 1 would require public schools to address a student by their preferred name in school and in school-related publications without requiring the student to obtain a court-ordered name or gender change. The bill also establishes the Non-Legal Name Changes in Schools Task Force under the Department of Education to help examine existing school policies regarding non-legal name changes, and provide policy recommendations for school districts. 

“Prioritizing the health and well-being of all Colorado youth makes our families and communities more resilient. All kids should feel safe and accepted in order to grow, learn, and thrive,” said COYAC Chair Rep. Stephanie Vigil, D-Colorado Springs, sponsor of Bills 1, 5, and 6. “We need to strengthen these protective factors, particularly for families of LGBTQ youth who have been met with hostility for raising their children in an accepting and affirming environment, and for youth who lack resources for mental health support. I'm proud of our student participants' hard work on these policies, and look forward to advancing what we've accomplished together. Our bills will provide clarity to schools when addressing students by their preferred names, increase mental health support with loan repayments to school mental health professionals, and map out access to gender affirming care across our great state. By implementing these improvements and sharing essential resources, we will better support Colorado kids so that all can thrive.”

“Every year, legislators on the Colorado Youth Advisory Council Committee join bright, engaged students to collaborate on legislation that supports their future success,” said COYAC Vice Chair Senator Janice Marchman, D-Loveland, sponsor of all three bills. “This year, the bills we are advancing prioritize the mental health and well-being of students and address much needed staffing shortages for mental health professionals who work in schools. Students deserve to feel safe, confident and supported at school, and these bills mark meaningful steps towards making that a reality for every Colorado kid.“

“Every Colorado child deserves to live and learn with dignity, but right now too many kids have to deal with stigma and harassment. Tragically, 82 percent of trans youth have contemplated suicide at some point in their lives,” said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Faith Winter, D-Broomfield, sponsor of all three bills. “By letting kids go by their preferred name in class and increasing access to gender-affirming care, Bills 1 and 6 will give students and young people the support and security to be themselves in the classroom and throughout their lives. Bill 5 meanwhile will help school mental health professionals save money, and make it easier and more appealing to enter this critical profession. These bills are common sense steps that will help students across the state feel more comfortable and confident while they learn and grow.”

Bill 5 is a bipartisan bill, also sponsored by Rep. Ron Weinberg, R-Loveland, that would create the Licensed School Mental Health Professional Loan Repayment Program in the Department of Higher Education, and require the Commission on Higher Education to adopt program policies, review applications for loan repayment, and report annually on the program. Applicants must be licensed and have a masters or doctoral degree in a program that qualifies the applicant to be a mental health professional and must agree to work as a school mental health professional in Colorado for at least three consecutive academic years to qualify. 

Bill 6 directs the Department of Public Health and Environment to study the disparities and inadequacies in Colorado’s gender-affirming health care sector. The study will investigate the number of gender-affirming health care providers and facilities throughout the state, the availability of resources for these providers, the number of patients seeking this type of care, the prevalence and impact of non-prescribed treatments, and the availability of insurance coverage. 

The three bills will now go to the Legislative Council for approval before being introduced next session. Once introduced in the 2024 session, interim bills will follow the legislative process in the same manner as all other bills.

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