HB 23- 1042, Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17, 2023. The bill passed the House and the Senate and is off to the Governor’s office for signature. Below is the prepared testimony of our Government Affairs Director Bri Buentello.

My name is Bri Buentello, and I’m the government affairs director for Stand for Children, Colorado. Stand advances educational equity and racial justice through meaningful partnerships with families, educators, schools, and policymakers.  

We strongly support HB23-1042. 

But today, I’m here to talk to you about what it’s like to be Noel’s mama.  

You see, I have one child; a boy named Noel. He’s a kind, vivacious kid who’s twelve years old and already wearing size 7 men’s shoes.  

And I still remember when I realized that there was something different about him, more than ten years ago. 

As a baby, he made fine eye contact and gurgled often, but eventually fell silent and stopped looking at me. As he grew into a toddler, he began intentionally hitting his head when he was frustrated and silently dancing when he was ecstatic.  

He was soon diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as having Intellectual/Developmental disabilities.  

Becoming a mama changes everything, but becoming a mama to a child with disabilities changes it all over again. 

My whole world shifted as the thought occurred to me – what could go wrong, raising a little boy who might not ever speak? Even more distressingly, what happens when he stops being that sweet toddler, who’s afraid of sirens, loved toy trains, and trying to catch fireflies at Grandma’s cabin? 

It wasn’t so very long ago, back in our hometown of Pueblo, that there was another young man with intellectual disabilities named Joseph Arridy. He was also a sweet, naive boy that loved toy trains. 

And he was killed by the state of Colorado, at the age of 23, on a criminal conviction that was largely based on a false confession extracted by the then Pueblo County Sheriff.  

You see, the Sheriff had a witness who stated a tall man with dark features was seen fleeing the scene; he decided that Arridy fit that bill, and so Arridy became the sole person of interest in a murder investigation. 

Arridy understood so little of the gravity of the situation that he falsely confessed, thinking he could just leave afterwards. He was convicted and subsequently sentenced to death; he even requested ice cream for his last meal. 

The sad fact is that Joseph Arridy is far from the last person with disabilities to be unjustly thrown in prison or even killed by the Centennial state. Recently, the murder of Elijah McClain, another young man with autism, filled me with a profound existential anxiety; I could so easily see my own boy dancing on the side of the road and then panicking under physical restraint of a poorly trained police officer. 

Over the years, I’ve learned to live with anxiety as my boy grows up to be a man. But last year, it was estimated that 1 in 36 children were diagnosed with autism; my kid is far from the only kid in Colorado or even Pueblo, with autism. And our knowledge and understanding of this disability has changed. 

It’s about time our laws do too.  

HB23-1042 also provides some modest legal safeguards for these kids, and training for law enforcement officers for a understanding of these disabilities, as well as best practices engaging this emerging population as these kids grow into adults.  

Stand for Children, and myself as Noel’s mama, would like to thank Senator Gonzales for her fearless leadership for kids, and urge the committee to vote yes on HB-1042, unamended. Thank you.

Learn more about HB23-1042 and why we are supporting it.

Capitol Week in Review brings you news of bills we are tracking around our priorities of advancing educational equity and racial justice in Colorado and making our schools and communities safer and more supportive.  

Legislative Update

HB23-1003, School Mental Health Assessment, which creates the sixth through twelfth grade mental health assessment program will be heard April 6 in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.  

HB23-1024, Relative And Kin Placement Of A Child, which establishes measures to support reunification of a child or youth with their family when the child or youth has been temporarily placed with a relative or kin, will be heard April 5 by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.  

HB23-1089, Special Education Services For Students In Foster Care, which designates students in out-of-home placements as residents of the school district of their school of origin to increase stability and learning success, will be heard April 5 by Senate Education.  

HB23-1169, Limit Arrest For Low-level Offenses, which prohibits a peace officer from arresting a person based solely on the alleged commission of a petty offense, except for high level misdemeanors directly impacting victims (e.g. theft), was rescheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee April 5.  

HB23-1235, Technical Modification To Department Of Early Childhood, makes technical changes HB22-1295, which created Colorado’s universal preschool program. This bill would allow the Department of Early Childhood to enter into contracts for early literacy programming and whole-child services, and ensures policy is aligned to current state and federal standards and is scheduled to be considered by the House April 3.   

HB23-1241, Task Force To Study K-12 Accountability System, which creates a task force to study academic opportunities, inequities, practices in schools, and improvements to the accountability and accreditation system, passed 10-0 by the House Education Committee.  

HB23-1249, Reduce Justice Involvement for Young Children, which changes the minimum age – from 10 to 13 – of children who are subject to prosecution in juvenile court; except in the case of homicide, will be heard April 5 by the House Judiciary Committee.  

SB23-004, Employment Of School Mental Health Professionals, which authorizes a school district to employ health professions, who are not licensed by the Colorado Department of Education but hold a Colorado license for their profession will be heard by the House Education Committee April 6.  

SB23-039, Reduce Child And Incarcerated Parent Separation, which requires the Department of Human Services to prioritize and facilitate communication and family time between children and their parents who are incarcerated, is scheduled to be heard April 5 by the House Public & Behavior Health and Human Services Committee.  

SB23-70, Mandatory School Resource Officer Training, is a bill that would require a law enforcement officer to complete a Safe2Tell training curriculum before working as a school resource officer; it is scheduled to be heard April 6 in the Senate Education Committee.  

SB23-087, Teacher Degree Apprenticeship Program, which creates a teacher degree apprenticeship program as an alternative route to teacher licensure and helps to alleviate the educator shortage, is scheduled to be heard April 3 by the House Education Committee.  

Our Take

Legislators are considering a policy that will help reduce recidivism by keeping families connected while a loved one is incarcerated. HB23-1133, Cost of Phone Calls for Persons in Custody, would make prison communication free across Colorado.  

Every year, Colorado families –who are disproportionately Black, brown, and low-income – pay over $8.8 million to speak to their incarcerated loved ones. Over 50% of families with an incarcerated loved one struggle to meet basic housing and food needs. One out of three families with a loved one behind bars goes into debt just to stay in touch, and women carry 87% of the burden. 

Research has repeatedly shown that when incarcerated people and their families are in regular communication, they do better both while they are behind bars serving their sentence and when they reenter the community, which improves safety for correctional officers and the public. 

Take Action

Ask legislators to reduce recidivism and keep families connected! 

Email your representative and ask them to support HB23-1133.  

What We’re Reading

State budget clears Colorado Senate, school funding TBD 

Chalkbeat’s Education Bill Tracker 

Legislators are considering important policy that will help reduce recidivism by keeping families connected while a loved one is incarcerated. HB23-1133, Cost of Phone Calls for Persons in Custody, would make prison communication free across Colorado. Every year, Colorado families –who are disproportionately Black, brown, and low-income – pay over $8.8 million to speak to their incarcerated loved ones. Over 50% of families with an incarcerated loved one struggle to meet basic housing and food needs. One out of three families with a loved one behind bars goes into debt just to stay in touch, and women carry 87% of the burden

Research has repeatedly shown that when incarcerated people and their families are in regular communication, they do better both while they are behind bars and when they reenter the community, which improves safety for correctional officers and the public.

We need you to weigh in please! Will you email your representative today and ask them to support HB23-1133?    

High School Students With Teacher In Class Using Laptops Smiling

Today the House Education Committee heard HB23-1109, School Policies And Student Conduct.  This is a bill that promotes restorative practices, ensures reduced legal system involvement, fosters fairness in a system that otherwise considers students guilty until proven innocent, and creates accountability for unregulated and untrained expulsion hearing officers. Lauren Kinney, school counselor and Stand Advocacy Fellow prepared testimony in support of HB23-1109 that was read during the hearing by government affairs director, Bri Buentello. Below are those remarks.

“My name is Lauren Kinney and I am asking you to support HB23-1109. As a high school counselor, I am forced to witness and triage the fallout of failed exclusionary discipline on practically a daily basis. The amount of time I spend responding to frustrated teachers, admin hell-bent on maintaining the status quo of zero-tolerance policies, exhausted parents, and students that are starved for connection and struggling to cope with the trauma of a pandemic.  

Students need services, kindness, respect, and to be taught the Colorado Essential Skills (Empowered Individual, Communicator, Problem Solver, and Community Member). We have local and national data warning us for decades about the unintended consequences of even a single failed class or suspension on graduation rates and the likelihood of entering the criminal justice system. 

  • We know that one suspension in ninth grade doubles the risk of failing classes and increases the risk of dropping out by 20% (Mallett, 2016). 
  • Students that fail one or more classes during their freshman year only have a 14% likelihood of graduating on time with their peers (ASCA, 2019). 

If you explore the Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection website, you will see that regardless of the county in Colorado, our marginalized students are disproportionately impacted by these antiquated systems.  

Our best, most obvious solution is to focus on Restorative Justice Practices focused on addressing the harm done to individual and community stakeholders while focusing heavily on the rehabilitation of the perpetrator. There is  significant evidence that RJP can improve student misbehavior, minimize exclusionary discipline, reduce discipline gaps related to race and disabilities, and have a positive impact on the students’ and teachers’ perceptions of the safety and pro-social climate of the schools.  

Because you all have the advantage of using your fully-formed adult brains, I urge you to consider the long-term unintended consequences of our children’s behaviors that their underdeveloped brains cannot.”  

Today the House Education Committee heard HB23-1109, School Policies And Student Conduct.  This is a bill that promotes restorative practices, ensures reduced legal system involvement, fosters fairness in a system that otherwise considers students guilty until proven innocent, and creates accountability for unregulated and untrained expulsion hearing officers. Jesse Rula, educator, parent, and Stand Advocacy Fellow prepared testimony in support of HB23-1109 that was read during the hearing by state organizing director, Ivana Bejaran Rib. Below are those remarks.

“My name is Jesse Rula and I am asking for your support of HB23-1109. Reducing the number of expulsions happening to Colorado youth is something I feel very strongly about due to my own personal experience.  

I was a struggling teenager and was expelled from 2 different schools. I had a lot of personal things going on and it spilled into my school life. I was never expelled for anything related to drugs or violence but overall disruptive behavior. What I wish my teachers and school staff would have known was that my behavior was a cry for help.  

Being expelled didn’t help. It only left me with more time in the same unhealthy environment I was in. What I needed was for the school to see that my behavior was a symptom of something bigger but instead I was allowed to slip through the cracks. Eventually, I just quit school altogether. Being expelled and struggling to find a school that would look at me as more than the reputation that preceded me became too hard and I gave up. I ended up pregnant at 16 and a high school dropout.  

Despite all that, I am a success story. I did get my life together and I managed to go to college and eventually get my master’s degree. I ended up working for the same school system that failed me because I never wanted it to happen to another student. Despite what some of our students look like now, we have no idea what potential they have in the future. Just because a student is struggling, or making bad choices now, doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish great things with the right support.  

Expelling students, especially for smaller infractions, is only a temporary fix for a much larger problem. It often leads to kids just quitting all together. In the end, these young people will someday become adults and if we continue to treat them like marginalized members of society, we may pay a higher price in the end.  

If someone had taken the time to see me as more than a problem to get rid of, I might have had an easier road to get to where I am now. Please, don’t allow schools to be so quick to turn our students out. Give them a chance to thrive and succeed, thank you. “

Today the House Education Committee heard HB23-1109, School Policies And Student Conduct.  This is a bill that promotes restorative practices, ensures reduced legal system involvement, fosters fairness in a system that otherwise considers students guilty until proven innocent, and creates accountability for unregulated and untrained expulsion hearing officers. Tina Carroll, educator, parent, and Stand Advocacy Fellow prepared testimony in support of HB23-1109 that was read during the hearing by parent organizer, Natalie Perez. Below are those remarks.

“Hello, my name is Tina Carroll and I have a third-grade student that attends school in Jefferson County. I am an educator who also serves as a conduct and community standards officer. As a parent, educator, and servant leader in the community, I believe HB23-1109 closely aligns and has the potential to be the change we need to see in our schools and communities. The biggest component of this bill that resonates with me is the responsibility and pertinent role of the hearing officer. It is truly unimageable that we have individuals deciding our children’s future who are not trained in trauma, conflict resolution, cultural competency and familiar with milestones in children development. Although this is not an exhaustive list, it is clear that we are allowing our students to enter into an education system at a disadvantage. If we don’t make the change now to have skillful and well-versed advocates making informed decisions for our students and their families than we are accepting a system that funnels students out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal legal system.   

It is no secret that racial and ethnic minorities and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented in our legal system and in our classrooms. And to continue operating in a system where hearing officers are permitted to take a more punitive approach, instead of a responsive one is disheartening and a casualty in our education system.   

Members of the house, today I ask that you vote yes on this bill and take a stand for all children in the state of Colorado and mandate that we use best practices, by making sure that all hearing officers are subject matter experts, have ongoing trainings, and adequate resources for effective life changing outcomes and behavior modifications that will keep our children in the classrooms where they belong. ”

Hundreds of Colorado students are expelled from schools every year for low-level nonviolent conduct or based on mere allegations. This disproportionately impacts children of color and students with disabilities.

The House Education Committee will soon consider HB23-1109, School Policies And Student Conduct.  This is a bill that promotes restorative practices, ensures reduced legal system involvement, fosters fairness in a system that otherwise considers students guilty until proven innocent, and creates accountability for unregulated and untrained expulsion hearing officers. 

Expelling students exposes them to a greater likelihood of delinquency or criminal system involvement and is therefore more expensive and less effective than keeping students in school.

We need you to weigh in please! Will you email Members of the House Education Committee today and ask them to support HB23-1109? 

HB23-1100, Restrict Government Involvement in Immigration Detention, was heard (and passed 7-6) by the House Judiciary Committee February 7. For years, Colorado taxpayers have been picking up the bill of the federal government by allowing the state to contract a private company to house or detain individuals for federal civil immigration purposes. This bill would prevent any such further contracts and begins a review process of these contracts over the next two years. Below is the testimony of Vallerie Bustamante.

Good afternoon, Chair, and members of the House Judiciary Committee. Thank you for taking the time to listen to my testimony today. I am here to ask you to vote in favor of HB23-1100.  

I actually come here to ask for your vote not only as a community organizer for Stand for Children, but also as a friend, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, and most importantly as a daughter of Mexican immigrants. As a first generation everything, immigration reform has always been at the top of my mind, literally. Growing up with the fear that my parents or any extended family member would end up detained and sent off to a facility where living conditions are evidently inhumane, was probably the first thought that crossed my mind as I woke up, as I overachieved in school, as I was thinking of what college to attend, as I applied to my first job at 15 to help with bills because my mom was laid off due to a warning about ICE coming to her factory, as I watched the news with anticipation whenever the highlight said “immigration reform”. Although an end all be all immigration reform has not been passed, legislation like the one presented today is certainly a step forward towards that direction.  

It is a step toward making it known —even though it saddens me that we still have to say it out loud– that human beings regardless of status—should not have a dollar sign above their head. When creating these lucrative incentives for  local governments and private local jails or companies to house and maintain detainees, we are NOT fixing the problem, folks. This decades long problem in the US, where we see lack of resources, lack of internal oversight and accountability in federal immigration agencies is only being transferred to another setting when local governments and private companies open up facilities and contracts. Furthermore, Colorado taxpayer money is also being used for these facilities, which is unfair for your constituents.  

There have been deaths, sexual assaults, lack of medical care in these detentions—and I guarantee you that 90% of them aren’t published in a newspaper for all of us to know about. But you know who finds out about how living conditions in a US facility can negatively affect a person? The daughter, the son, the mother, all of person’s loved ones.  If we continue to consent to these agreements with federal agencies, we are only but accomplices to the pain that has been caused to so many.  

So, lets ask ourselves that question—you may not have as close a connection as I do with immigration, but we all face injustices, and aren’t we all trying to fight against them?  

Well, knowing a snippet of my story- you now know a little bit about the battle many people like me are trying to fight every day. By passing this bill—you’d be fighting with us and not against us. So again, I implore you to vote in favor of HB 23-1100. 

The House Public and Behavior Health and Human Services Committee heard HB23-1003, School Mental Health Assessment, which creates the sixth through twelfth grade mental health assessment program. Below is the testimony of Natalie Perez in support of the legislation.

My name is Natalie Perez , I am a parent of a 6th grade boy, and an organizer with Stand for Children.  

I am here today to ask you to vote yes on house bill 1003.  

I believe having all children, 6th to 12th grade mentally assessed is vital, especially after the pandemic and all the changes our children are going through.  

Personally, not only did we lose family members to covid, but we also went through a separation, we had a family member go missing and my son suffered severe bullying in his school.  

The past 2 years have been so rough for my family, and I feel very grateful that I have had the resources to help my child overcome everything we have been through.   

I think about all the children in my son’s class whose parents don’t have the resources. Especially at the age where they are changing and figuring out the world. I think about the children who went through loss in their homes during the pandemic. And children who are currently having overdoses at school because it’s the only way they have learned to cope. Children who are using violence because it’s the only way they feel heard. Children who don’t feel safe coming home and opening up to their parents.  

I believe our schools should be a safe place for our kids, and having a program where every child is assessed would go a long way. I believe every child should have access to this program even if a parent is not involved. Having a qualified provider at every school in these times where our children are going through pain and large amounts of stress would not only create safer communities but it would also help students understand what they are feeling.  

So today I ask you to please vote yes.

HB 23- 1042, Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements was heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, January 31. Below is the prepared testimony of Yaeel Duarte. Her testimony was written in Spanish and delivered by community organizer, Vallerie Bustamante. You can read both testimonies below. Learn more about HB23-1042 and why we are supporting it.

Gracias por la oportunidad de estar aquí hoy y hablar con usted sobre por qué quiero apoyar el Proyecto de Ley HB 23-1042, para la protección de la verdad y la confianza en los interrogatorios a menores. 

Mi nombre es Yaeel Duarte, vivo en la ciudad y condado de Denver soy madre de familia de 4  Este proyecto de ley está muy apegado a mi corazón precisamente porque viven conmigo 3 de mis 4 hijos. Los cuales son de edades 20,15 y 14 años de edad. En base a las estadísticas en  cuanto a interrogaciones falsas por el motivo de intimidación a los menores No me puedo imaginar la impotencia de los padres de saber cómo sus hijos por temor o estrés del momento 

No fueron escuchados y eso sin tomar en cuenta que muchos adolescentes y jóvenes No saben expresar y comunicarse en momentos de presión para ellos. Definitivamente que Nadie incluyendo los adultos puede pensar claro ni en las consecuencias a futuro de lo que hablar sin analizar me pueden traer. 

Me encantaría ver como las leyes se capacitan lo suficiente para efectuar de manera justa tales interrogaciones. Que los jueces y oficiales puedan tener la habilidad de observar cuando un joven se ve bajo presión y que se puedan hacer las investigaciones necesarias para asegurarse de que están hablando la verdad. Por supuesto que esto sea viable para todo joven frente a un oficial sin importar raza o color. 

Nuestro estado puede desarrollar ese nivel de confianza si todas las partes involucradas ponen de su parte, este es un país que practica la Justicia y la libertad y eso mismo hay que enseñar a las generaciones venideras. 

Gracias por tomarse el tiempo de escucharme. 

Good afternoon chair and members of the committee, my name is Vallerie Bustamante and I am community organizer with Stand for Children, today I will be reading for one of our community leaders who actually wrote her testimony in Spanish, but for the sake of time I translated and will be reading it in English.  

Thank you for the opportunity in presenting my testimony and letting me tell you about why I support HB Bill 23-1042, for the protection of truth and trust in interrogation settings of minors. 

My name is Yaeel Duarte, I live in the city and county of Denver, I am the mother of 4 children and I am a fellow for Stand for Children. 

This bill is very close to my heart precisely because 3 of my 4 children still live with me. They are 20, 15 and 14 years old. Based on the statistics regarding false confessions when dishonest interrogations happen to intimidate minors; I cannot imagine the powerlessness parents might feel to know that their children could be in a position where an adult in power could be using dishonest tactics to drive them into confessing something false. Nobody, including adults, can think clearly about future consequences under such pressure. I would love to see the laws empowered enough to fairly carry out such interrogations, that judges and officials may have the ability to observe when a young person is under pressure and that the necessary investigations can be carried out to make sure they are speaking the truth. Of course this is viable for every young person in front of an officer regardless of race or color. Our state can develop that level of trust if all parties involved put forth their part, this is a country that practices true justice and freedom and that must be taught to our future generations.  

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my testimony and I ask you to vote in favor of HB23-1042.