Young Teenage Girl Student Driver with Her New Car

It's one of the most treasured rites of passage in a teenager's life, the day he or she gets that most coveted of adult documents: the driver's license.

But for children in Colorado's foster care system, that rite of passage is more often than not denied. State House Bill 1023, which won unanimous approval from the House Transportation and Energy Committee on Wednesday, aims to change that.

Current law requires counties to obtain permission from a foster parent for a foster child under the age of 17 1/2 to obtain a learner's permit. To obtain a driver's license, a minor must submit "driving logs" that show 50 hours of instruction. And those under the age of 16 who obtain a learner's permit must be accompanied by the person who signs off on liability for that teen.

Under House Bill 1023, a foster child aged 17 or older can obtain a learner's permit without having a foster parent sign for it. The driving logs can be signed by anyone who is 21 years of age and willing to assert that the teen has insurance.

And under the bill, anyone 21 years old or older can instruct a foster teen with a learner's permit on driving.

The bill, which came from last summer's Transportation Review Committee, also allows 16-year-olds to purchase insurance and sets up an insurance pool through the state so that foster teens can purchase insurance at a lower cost.

Under HB1023, county departments of social services that have custody of foster teens must set up a program that will help foster teens get their driver's licenses, although the bill does not provide funding to do that and instead relies on gifts, grants and donations.

Not having access to a driver's license is not fair to foster kids, according to Ned Breslin, president of the Tennyson Center for Children.

It's unclear who can sign for a foster teen to get a license, he told the committee. It's often "go somewhere else, it's someone else's responsibility," and in the end, foster teens can't get a license.

"Let them be normal kids," Breslin said. "This [bill] would unleash them. Any effort to unleash them for their potential, to give them the ability to be recognized, get a job and be held accountable, is what they desperately want."

The more you normalize their journey, the better it is for them and Colorado, he added.

Instead of a learning permit being a rite of passage, for some, it's just absurd, said attorney Ashley Chase from the Colorado Office of Child's Representative. Prior to working for the state, she was a guardian ad litum and went to court to help foster teens get licenses.

Foster kids don't always have an adult in their lives who is willing or able to take on that responsibility, she explained. In some cases, the adults in a teen's life are legally prohibited from taking on that liability. In other cases, the process requires foster parents to agree, courts to agree, and guardian ad litums or the Department of Human Services to go to court and sign the application. Then a caseworker must sit for an entire day with the teen, waiting for an appointment at motor vehicles. 

Shayne Madsen is a volunteer with Adoption Search Resource Connections and is a former foster kid who was adopted out of the system.

The biggest problems for foster kids is lack of identification documents, learners' permits, insurance and access to a vehicle, she said.

This is the first step of many to remove barriers for foster children, added sponsor Republican Rep. Lori Saine of Firestone.

"This will change lives," added her co-sponsor, Democratic Rep. Dominique Jackson of Aurora.

No one testified against the bill.

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