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August 7, 2023

JOINT RELEASE: New Laws to Protect Workers from Harassment and Discrimination, Improve Equity in Colorado’s Justice System Go Into Effect

New laws include updates to the POWR Act, alternative sentencing options for pregnant people and admissibility standards for youth interrogations 

DENVER, CO – Three new laws aimed at improving equity in workplaces and Colorado’s justice system take effect on August 7.

“SB23-172 provides long overdue modifications to Colorado’s law that will improve accountability measures, create safer workspaces and allow workers to fight back against harassment and discrimination,” said Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, sponsor of SB23-172, HB23-1187, and HB23-1042. “Another new law I championed allows alternative sentencing options for pregnant people so they can focus on their health, the health of their child, and keeping their families united. Lastly, we know children and teens are very susceptible to deceptive law enforcement tactics. In order to keep our kids from having permanent records for crimes they didn’t commit, we passed legislation to make juvenile statements inadmissible in court if law enforcement uses untruthful practices during interrogation. Together, these laws work to create a more just society we can all benefit from.”

“Every year, I work with my community to identify ways we can build a more just and equitable Colorado, and I fight hard to see those ideas become laws,” said Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, sponsor of SB23-172, HB23-1187, and HB23-1042. “There is more hard work ahead to ensure every single Coloradan is treated with dignity and respect, but today’s new laws bring us closer to our goal of a Colorado for all. This year, we can be proud of our efforts to protect Colorado workers from discrimination and harassment of all types, our policy to ensure pregnant Coloradans navigating the justice system are able to care for their newborn while remaining part of their community, and our new law to reduce false confessions from kids and ensure law enforcement is keeping our communities safe by finding the correct perpetrator of crimes.”

“Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws needed to be revised to protect our workers, and this law does that and more to foster more equitable workspaces,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, sponsor of SB23-172. "No one should have to suffer workplace harassment because it doesn't align with a nearly 40-year old legal standard. The POWR Act modernizes the definition of workplace harassment and discrimination, so we can hold wrongdoers accountable thus creating safer and more productive workplaces in the process. If you’re earning a living, you should be able to do so in a space that’s free from harassment or discrimination, and this legislation puts policies that protect workers first.” 

“No Coloradan should face harassment or discrimination at the workplace, yet our state still lacks adequate policies to protect our workers and hold bad actors accountable,” said Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, sponsor of SB23-172. “This new law takes an important step forward in deterring bad behavior and better supporting survivors. By improving accountability measures and enhancing equity in the workplace, we will ensure that every Colorado worker can feel safe and secure on the job.”

Beginning on August 7, the Protecting Opportunity & Workers’ Rights (POWR) Act (SB23-172) will update the definition of harassment and specify that harassment does not need to be “severe or pervasive” to constitute a discriminatory or unfair practice. The law also deters future harassment by modernizing language around non-disclosure agreements, expanding protections for people with disabilities, and adding marital status as a protected class.

The “severe or pervasive” standard was established by the U.S. Supreme Court more than three decades ago and assumes that some harassment is tolerable as long as it is not “severe” and does not happen frequently. It allows employers to tolerate a level of groping, touching, crude sexual or racist comments, and other offensive behavior that creates a toxic work environment and leaves employees as targets for offensive behavior. 

Eliminating the excessive “severe or pervasive” hostile work environment requirements and replacing them with clear standards for “harass” and “harassment” considers the totality of the circumstances, and allows survivors of discrimination and harassment to better pursue justice.

The POWR Act also removes language in the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act that permitted employers to discriminate against people with disabilities or refuse to accommodate them if “the disability has a significant impact on the job." Additionally, it establishes an affirmative defense for an employer if the employer meets certain requirements, including establishing a harassment prevention program and taking prompt action in response to a complaint.

“The stress of navigating the criminal justice system on top of a pregnancy can be overwhelming to future parents,” said Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, sponsor of HB23-1187. “This law establishes dignity and respect for pregnant people, allowing alternative sentencing opportunities that keep families united and have the potential to reduce recidivism.” 

“As a mother I know firsthand how difficult it is to give birth - and adding the trauma of being separated from your newborn makes things even harder,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, sponsor of HB23-1187. “Keeping new families together will benefit both infants and parents while reducing the chances of future involvement in the justice system.”

Beginning August 7, HB23-1187 allows courts to consider alternative sentencing options for anyone who is pregnant or in the postpartum period. Alternative sentencing options would include bail, diversion, deferred judgment, deferred sentence, and stay of execution.

If a defendant is arrested or in custody at a county jail or correctional facility, the defendant may request a pregnancy test following admission to the county jail or correctional facility. Law enforcement would be required to provide the defendant with the pregnancy test within 24 hours after the request, and the request and results would be kept confidential.

“As a criminal defense attorney, I see families on their worst days and know innocent kids' extreme distress when they’re accused of committing a crime,” said Rep. Said Sharbini, D-Brighton, sponsor of HB23-1042. “Our law requires juvenile interrogations to be recorded, which means judges can determine if untruthful practices were used in a juvenile’s confession. Weeding out false confessions shifts the focus from innocent people that can help track down the perpetrator and keep our communities safer.” 

HB23-1042 makes a juvenile’s statement inadmissible in court if a law enforcement official knowingly uses untruthful practices during a custodial interrogation, unless the prosecution can prove that the statement was made voluntarily despite the untruth. It requires an interrogation to be recorded and would allow a judge to use the recording to determine if the statement or admission is voluntary and admissible. While the law officially begins August 7, law enforcement departments have until February 2024 to complete officer training.

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