Polis Colorado

In this file photo, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis holds up his face mask to make a point during a news conference on the state's efforts against the spread of the coronavirus on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Denver.

In a Monday bill signing at the LGBTQ Community Center of Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis — the country's first openly gay governor — signed into law four bills tied to LGBTQ issues.

Senate Bill 221 would limit the use of the gay and transgender panic defense legal strategy.

The bill had an odd trip through the General Assembly. A prior version — House Bill 1307 — was killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee the day the General Assembly returned from a seven-week recess. During the hearing, committee chair Sen. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat, indicated he did not believe the bill was necessary since he had never heard of the gay panic defense being used in Colorado. Republican Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, the bill's co-sponsor, noted it was backed by the District Attorneys' Council. 

“It’s not compelling” in this current environment, Lee said, and moved to postpone the bill. 

The bill's demise outraged the LGBTQ community, and LGBTQ members of the General Assembly, including Rep. Brianna Titone of Arvada, were quick to bring back another version.

Titone, the General Assembly's first transgender lawmaker, said in a statement Monday that it is past time to eliminate "this abhorrent and dangerous legal defense in Colorado. By ridding our justice system of prejudiced legal defenses like this, we correct a long-standing and cruel injustice in our legal system and make Colorado a safer place for black trans women and our broader LGBTQ community.”

With the signing of SB 221, Colorado becomes the 11th state to limit the use of the gay panic defense. The District Attorneys' Council in a tweet Monday afternoon thanked the bill's bipartisan sponsors "who refused to let this wait another year after the original bill was voted down in committee."

Polis also signed House Bill 1061, which allows Coloradans to seek treatment for HIV prevention; SB 166, which simplifies the requirements for a minor to obtain a new birth certificate; and HB 1419, which takes pharmaceutical rebates and uses those dollars to fund a drug assistance program for low-income individuals with AIDS or HIV.

HB 1061 was among a list of bills that the Colorado Association of Health Plans said would increase health insurance costs. CAHP estimated HB 1061 would increase health insurance premiums by $11 million annually. Polis previously vetoed a bill that also would have increased those costs, pointing out that he had asked the General Assembly back in April to stop sending him those kinds of measures. 

HB 1061 appears to be the exception for Polis, who is also gay.

Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat and the legislature's first Black lesbian, said of HB 1419 that “all Coloradans deserve access to life-saving medical care, and this new law will ensure that the most systemically underserved groups have that access. HIV impacts the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our state, often people of color who already face systemic health disparities and barriers to getting the care they need. This law will reduce the stigma of HIV and save lives."

Herod was also one of the sponsors of SB 221, and said she was very proud that Colorado is "able to do away with the discriminatory gay and trans panic defense today, and am so grateful to the trans women of color who brought the issue to my attention and worked tirelessly to ensure the legislature took action.”

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat and member of the LGBTQ caucus, said in a statement that “Colorado is growing into a progressive and welcoming place but these bills highlight the ongoing fight for justice. The LGBTQ community, particularly queer people of color, are still very much at risk under the Trump administration." The bills signed Monday "are all important measures to further safety and equality in our state.”

"Today Governor Polis signed into law four pro-equality bills," said Daniel Ramos of One Colorado, the state's leading advocacy organization for LGBTQ individuals. "Although the legislative session took many twists and turns this year, we are proud to see these bills make it through. We are grateful to our legislators and to all Coloradans who advocated to see these bills pass with bipartisan support."

The birth certificate law follows previous efforts by the General Assembly to make it easier for transgender Coloradans to get new birth certificates, rather than having to accept birth certificates that indicate it has been amended. Advocates say a birth certificate marked with "amended" leads to questions that could force someone to out themselves as transgender or nonbinary, which can result in harassment or violence.

The 2020 bill "eases legal barriers by removing the requirement that the minor has undergone or is undergoing surgical, hormonal, behavioral health, or other medical or mental health treatment." 

Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat and a member of the LGBTQ caucus, said “being true to one’s gender identity should never be limited by legal or health accessibility barriers. This law will ensure that when it comes to official government documents, Colorado recognizes and respects the gender identity of everyone in our state."

Polis has until Wednesday to make decisions on the rest of the bills adopted by the 2020 General Assembly. 

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