By Kathryn White
The state Legislature kicked off its current session Jan. 9, and lawmakers are considering more than 300 bills, memorials and resolutions, several of which have made it onto the radars of AARP, Colorado Center for Aging (CCA) and the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado.
I stopped by the Capitol Feb. 2 to watch the Senate Committee on Business, Labor and Technology consider a bill that would chip away at ageism in workplace hiring practices.
The Job Application Fairness Act, SB23- 058, prohibits employers from requiring the disclosure of “an individual’s specific age, date of birth, or dates of attendance at or date of graduation from an educational institution on an initial employment application.”
Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-17, Boulder, Broomfield and Weld counties, a bill sponsor, shed light on the need.
“There are recent AARP surveys to illustrate what I’m talking about,” Jaquez Lewis said. “Nearly 80% of older workers have either seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Almost two-thirds of women over the age of 50 listed being regularly discriminated against because of age. And that number jumps to 70% for African-American women.”
Jaquez Lewis shared the story of a friend who quit work as a nurse in the home health field during the pandemic, out of concern she would bring COVID-19 to her elderly parents. Time passed and at age 62 the friend was ready to go back to work. In her job search, she didn’t hear back from prospective employers whose applications asked when she completed nursing school. Companies that did not ask for graduation dates extended job offers.
“The Job Application Fairness Act is a great workforce bill,” Jaquez Lewis said. “Disallowing employers from using age-related questions on initial job applications gives older adults the opportunity to be evaluated on their merits and not their age. Our Colorado workforce desperately needs the skills, insight and experience these individuals have to offer. Age discrimination is depriving our constituents of a fair chance of employment.”
Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Jefferson County, a bill sponsor; Andrea Kuwik, senior policy advisor with The Bell Policy Center; Jeannette Hensley, CCA; and several community members and workforce development agency leaders provided additional data and personal stories both in-person and online.
Opponents, including Sens. Mark Baisley, R-Chaffee, Custer, Douglas, Fremont, Jefferson, Lake, Park and Teller counties; Larry Liston, R-El Paso County; and Perry Will, R-Delta, Eagle, Garfield, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose and Pitkin counties, weren’t convinced that the state’s role goes beyond policies for hiring state employees and expressed concern that small businesses could be financially penalized if they inadvertently failed to comply.
A vote of 6-3 moved the Job Application Fairness Act to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Implementing the measure will require appropriating $56,468 to the Department of Labor and Employment in Colorado’s 2023-24 budget.
There are dozens more bills — on issues including affordable housing, health care, tax credits and exemptions, and food access — under evaluation by organizations advocating for older adults. Here are a few: The bill titled “Improve Health-care Access For Older Coloradans,” SB23-031, which if passed would create a geriatrics training program.
In 2022, Colorado had only 96 geriatricians, far fewer than needed to support our older adult population. The new program would provide specialized training in the field of geriatrics to graduate students studying to become advanced practice providers, dentists, nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, physicians, physical therapists, psychologists, social workers and speech-language therapists.
Coral Cosway, senior director of public policy and advocacy for the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado, said, “People who are trained in geriatrics tend to spend more time with patients. They understand the idea of multiple chronic conditions. They’re on the lookout for diseases that affect older adults, like dementia. They’re more likely to know what they’re seeing, which makes for earlier diagnosis. And in the case of dementia, early diagnosis is important for a lot of reasons.”
SB23-031 passed the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services. It now heads to the appropriations committee, where a similar bill stalled out under budget pressures last year. This year’s version will require appropriating $784,269 to the Department of Higher Education, for the University of Colorado, in Colorado’s FY 2023-24 budget.
SB23-040, “Staffing Agency CAPS Checks,” expands the types of employers who must screen prospective workers for substantiated cases of mistreatment against an at-risk adult to include staffing agencies that provide employees who will have contact with at-risk adults.
The bill passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and was headed to a vote on the Senate floor as this story went to press.
SB23-064, “Continue Office Of Public Guardianship,” continues a recently piloted program to provide guardianship services to “indigent and incapacitated adults 21 years of age and older who lack family or friends available or willing to serve as guardian.”
The office, after piloting the program for over five years, estimates about 2,700 to 3,700 people statewide will need these services.
“Our organization doesn’t interact with a lot of people living with dementia who don’t have family or friend caregivers and can’t afford to guardianship services,” Cosway said, “but when we do it is really hard to get them connected to services. It’s not a widespread problem. It’s a big problem for very few people, but it’s a problem of basic safety and welfare.”
The bill was headed to the Senate Judiciary Committee as this story went to press. Follow these and other bills at leg.colorado. gov/bills. You can also find contact information for your local representative at the website.
Are there topics you’d like to hear more (or less) about in The Gray Zone? I’m currently following legislation impacting older adults in the Colorado General Assembly and, at the suggestion of a reader, looking into local end-of-life topics and resources. Send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathryn has lived in North Denver since around the time the Mount Carmel High School building was razed and its lot at 3600 Zuni became Anna Marie Sandoval Elementary. She’s raised two children in the neighborhood, worked at several nonprofits, and volunteered with the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter.