News Law and Policy

GOP Response to Nightmarish Attack on Pregnant Women: ‘Personhood’ Legislation

Jason Salzman

In March, an attacker in Colorado cut a fetus from the womb of a pregnant woman. Now, state Republicans have introduced legislation allowing an "unborn child," from fertilization until birth, to be considered the victim of a crime.

Colorado Republicans, in response to a nightmarish crime during which a pregnant woman was attacked and her fetus cut from her womb, introduced a bill Tuesday allowing prosecutors to file murder charges for destruction of a fetus.

The proposed lawSB 15-268, expands the definition of “person” in specific state laws, including Colorado’s murder statute, to include an “unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth.”

Democrats immediately denounced the legislation, accusing Republicans of taking advantage of the March 18 attack on Michelle Wilkins to try to pass a so-called personhood bill in a state that has seen voters reject such amendments three times, most recently in November.

“I am disappointed that the Republicans are choosing to use what happened to the Wilkins family to get ‘personhood’ into law,” said state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) in a statement after the GOP bill was introduced Tuesday afternoon.

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“The Senate Democrats want to relay our deepest condolences to Michelle Wilkins and her family,” Steadman said. “What occurred in Longmont was horrible, and the perpetrator deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, which if found guilty could result in a sentence of over 100 years in prison. Using this tragedy to promote new laws that Colorado voters have soundly rejected is out of bounds.”

State Senate President Bill Cadman last week promised to introduce a bill that would “provide a protection for a woman to do with her body as she desires.”

The actual bill, sponsored by Cadman and 14 other Republicans, excludes from prosecution acts “committed by the mother of her unborn child,” “a medical procedure” performed by medical professionals or doctors, or the “administration” of legal medicine.

The legislation does not define “medical procedure,” leaving open the possibility that it does not include abortion, which is not mentioned in the bill’s text, either allowing for it or forbidding it. In contrast, Colorado’s existing Crimes Against Pregnant Women law, which does not give legal rights to fetuses, states that “nothing in this act shall be construed to confer personhood, or any rights associated with that status, on a human being at any time prior to live birth.”

“Colorado’s current law protects pregnant women from violence and does not punish them,” Steadman pointed out in his statement, adding that fetal homicide laws in other states have been used to prosecute pregnant women. “[The current law] protects pregnant women from prosecution while providing our justice system with proper tools to prosecute individuals that attack pregnant women.”

But Cadman has insisted that fetuses must be recognized as victims.

“I think at its core, we would all agree that there is no justice if you cannot prosecute for a victim,” Cadman said during a radio interview.

News Economic Justice

Colorado Voters Could Get a Chance to Boost the State’s Minimum Wage

Jason Salzman

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees "far above" the required minimum wage in their location.

Colorado’s minimum wage would increase from $8.31 to $12 by 2020 if Colorado voters approve a ballot initiative that could be headed to the November ballot.

Patty Kupfer, campaign manager for Colorado Families for a Fair Wage told reporters Monday that Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, a coalition of groups, submitted more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of state, more than double the number required to make the ballot.

Hundreds of volunteers and dozens of organizations collected signatures, Kupfer said.

“Raising the minimum wage is fair and it’s smart,” Kupfer said. “It’s fair because people working full time should earn enough to support their families. It’s smart because when working people have more money in their pockets, they spend it here in Colorado, boosting our economy and helping our community thrive.”

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Speaking at the news conference staged in front of stacked boxes of petitions, Marrisa Guerrero, identified as a certified nursing assistant, said she works seven days a week and still relies on subsidized housing.

“Making $300 a week is not enough to pay rent and buy groceries for a family like mine,” said Guerrero, adding that she’d “really like” to see an increase in the minimum immediately, but “2020 would work wonders.”

After 2020, the state’s minimum wage would be adjusted annually for cost-of-living increases under the initiative.

Tyler Sandberg, a spokesperson for Keep Colorado Working, an organization opposing the initiative, appeared at the news conference and told reporters that he was “especially” worried about the initiative’s impact on small businesses.

“The big corporations, the wealthy areas of Denver and Boulder, might be able to afford [it], but small businesses, rural and poor communities, cannot afford this,” Sandberg told reporters. “So you are going to put people out of work with this. You’re going to harm the same people you’re trying to help.”

“It’s one size that doesn’t fit all. It’s the same for a small business as it is for Pepsi Cola,” said Sandberg, whose organization includes the Colorado Restaurant Association, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and the National Association of Independent Business.

Asked by Rewire to respond to Sandberg’s argument against a higher wage, Kupfer said, “Research shows small businesses support increasing the minimum wage. The truth is, when workers make more, that means more customers in local Colorado businesses. Both in rural and urban parts of the state, when working people do well, our communities thrive.”

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees “far above” the required minimum wage in their location.

“In my company, we have customer service representatives being paid $15 per hour,” Yoav Lurie, founder of Simple Energy, told reporters at the news conference. “While others might choose to pay customer service reps minimum wage, we have found that higher pay leads to improved performance and better retention and better customer satisfaction.”

Workers who rely on tips would see their minimum hourly wage increase by about 70 percent, from $5.29 to $8.98, while other workers would get a 44 percent increase by 2020. The initiative states that “no more than $3.02 in tip income may be used to offset the minimum wage of employees who regularly receive tips.”

Colorado passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 that bumped the minimum wage to $6.85. It’s been raised according to inflation since then.  The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and has not been increased since 2009.

Colorado’s Republican legislators killed legislation this year to allow cities to raise the minimum wage.

News Law and Policy

Colorado Law Requires ‘Reasonable Accommodations’ for Pregnant Workers

Jason Salzman

In signing this bill into law Wednesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper added Colorado to a growing list of states that have passed laws requiring worker protections for employees who are pregnant or have related conditions.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law a bill Wednesday requiring “reasonable accommodations” for workers who are pregnant, recovering from childbirth, or suffer from pregnancy related medical conditions.

The accommodations may include: longer or more frequent breaks for food or water, modified schedules, adjusted seating arrangements, assistance with manual labor, “light duty,” and more. But the law specifically states that an employer is not required to hire, transfer, or fire an employee to make such accommodations on behalf of a pregnant person, unless such actions were already planned or would be reasonable.

The bill, HB 1438, garnered bipartisan support in Colorado’s divided legislature, drawing “no” votes only from Republicans, such as state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (Colorado Springs), state Rep. Stephen Humphrey (Severance), and Sen. Randy Baumgardner (Hot Sulphur Springs).

All house and senate Democrats backed HB 1438.

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The intent of the general assembly, the bill states, is “to combat pregnancy discrimination, promote public health, and ensure full and equal protection for women in the labor force by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related condition.”

Pro-choice advocates see HB 1438 as advancing reproductive justice in the state.

“Our mission is advocating for reproductive justice and ensuring every woman has the right and the ability make her own health care choices,” said Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, in a news release. “And when women do choose to have children, workplaces should respect that choice, not discriminate, and accommodate their needs on the job.”

Opponents of the bill worry that the law will have a negative effect on businesses and jobs.

“I didn’t have a tenacious opposition to the bill,” state Sen. Chris Holbert (R-Parker) told Rewire. “But I’m concerned that this is another requirement for employers, making it more difficult for them to hire or keep people employed.”

At least 17 states, including California, New York, and Texas, have passed similar laws providing different levels of protection.

However, a bill this year to provide pregnancy accommodations in Washington state cleared the Republican-controlled senate but died in the hands of GOP house members.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 clarified that it’s sex discrimination to discriminate based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling held that employers are in violation of the PDA if they don’t accommodate pregnant workers as they would accommodate their non-pregnant employees.

Federal legislation with expanded protections and accommodations, called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, has stalled in Congress, even though it has some bipartisan support.

In 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a non-binding guidance on pregnancy discrimination, stating that in the years since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, charges “alleging pregnancy discrimination have increased substantially.”