Senator Julie Gonzales of Senate District 34 is looking to pass several bills for the 2022 legislative session, focusing on housing affordability and trust in public safety. Gonzales’ district, which includes North, West and part of downtown Denver, is seeing increasing wealth inequality in the current economic recovery here in Colorado.
“In Colorado, we are seeing a K-shaped recovery, which showed that wealthy Coloradans actually recovered fairly quickly from the economic impacts of the pandemic,” Gonzales said, “But for the middle class and working class Coloradans, the economic impact is still very real and visceral.”
Gonzales’ primary area of focus to transform this inequality into equity is affordable housing. As the population of the Denver-metro area and the state of Colorado continues to grow at a rate among the highest in the nation, the cost of living for Coloradans is becoming more and more exorbitant. Gonzales finds that this is causing the homelessness rate to rise, which is being felt hardest in Denver. When speaking to The Denver North Star, Gonzales talked about how upwards of 60% of Coloradans experiencing homelessness come to the Denver area to receive services.
To get the cost of housing down to something reasonable for average folks in Colorado, Gonzales is looking towards a bill gaining bipartisan support among state legislators. The bill will seek to ban anti-growth practices that some communities across the Front Range have implemented. Anti-growth policies limit the number of houses built in a neighborhood, something liberals and conservatives are finding hurts the housing market.
“Over 315,000 households in Colorado spend over 50% of their monthly income just on housing alone,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales is also looking to combat this by using the money brought forth by the American Rescue Plan Act to “both build more affordable housing and to protect and preserve existing affordable housing.”
Her SB22-086 Homestead and Consumer Debt bill shows this, which looks to expand the homestead exemption to include any personal property used as a residence. This would include things like campers and cars, which are aimed to help those who are homeless or dealing with the possibility of homelessness.
Another bill that Gonzales is excited to introduce is SB22-023 Deceptive Tactics Juvenile Custodian Interrogation. This bill seeks to prohibit law enforcement from using deceptive tactics in custodial interrogations of a juvenile. Gonzales hopes that once these deceptive practices get taken out of the equation in juvenile interrogations, there will be more trust in our public safety.
“This is one step we can take in order to ensure that we are rebuilding that trust between community and law enforcement,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales also told The Denver North Star a powerful story about a Northsider who back in 2000 fell victim to deceptive tactics and ended up confessing to a murder he did not commit. The man was only 14 years old at the time and ended up serving 15 years in prison for a false sentence before he was exonerated by DNA evidence.
Besides the bills that Gonzales is proposing for the 2022 general session, there are several other bills that she finds are essential for Senate District 34 and the state of Colorado as a whole.
Gonzales talked about partnering with many environmental justice organizations to ensure the people who call Colorado home have safe air to breathe. Gonzales has worked on the issue of air toxins and pollutants for several years and is looking to expand on that work to create a health and safety standard for air toxicity.
Gonzales worked last year on legislation to monitor emissions of deadly air toxins like benzene and hydrogen cyanide that could be finding their way into Colorado communities’ air by way of industrial plants. This year she is sponsoring the Public Protection From Toxic Air Contaminants Act, which, if passed, will help set a standard for healthy air in Colorado communities.
“We want to do monitoring rooted in communities so that we can see what our elders and children are breathing, and then base our enforcement mechanisms off that,” Gonzales said.
Another policy Gonzales is excited to work on is the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which she is proud to be the lead Senate sponsor of. Gonzales is working with Representative Meg Froelich and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar on this bill. The bill would make sure Coloradans have access to reproductive health care options, including abortion care if Roe V Wade were to fall in the Supreme Court.
“Although Colorado extended access to abortion care prior to Roe V Wade, there’s actually nothing in statute currently that ensures if Roe V Wade were to fall, that access to abortion care would be protected,” Gonzales said.