Voces Unidas: Legislative wins show promise for Latino community, but much work remains
When it comes to elections, it’s often said that all politics is local. And we might make the same argument for passing legislation, especially when it comes to state laws related to social justice issues.
Despite geography and demographics, Colorado’s issues are, for the most part, our issues here in the central mountains. From Denver to Dotsero, challenges around housing, gun violence, reproductive health, immigration, and the environment impact us all, and it’s the role of state legislators to address them to the best of their abilities. That is, after all, why they were elected.
But it’s equally incumbent upon us as constituents to help steer the course. It’s not enough to cast a ballot every couple years and then punch out. If you want to see any meaningful progress, you have to take part in the process.
More than 600 bills were debated this year in the state legislature’s 120-day lawmaking term that ended at midnight on May 8. And I’m pleased to say that some meaningful progress was made in the social justice and equity realm. Among the 21 bills supported by the Latino advocacy group I direct, Voces Unidas, our two top-priority bills will soon become state law, while 15 others have either been signed by Gov. Polis or are scheduled to in the coming weeks.
All of them are sure to make a local impact, but perhaps none more than HB23-1257, Mobile Home Park Water Quality.
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For years, residents of the Eagle River Village Mobile Home Park in Edwards have raised concerns over the quality of their drinking water — the off-putting taste, smell and color, stained clothing, damaged appliances, and even skin rashes, among other issues. They were not alone.
Our 2022 Colorado Latino Policy Agenda annual survey found that almost 40% of residents in mobile home parks statewide do not believe their water is safe for drinking. Those parks serve as the last bastion of unsubsidized affordable housing in the Vail Valley and many other parts of the state, and are disproportionately home to Latinos, veterans, seniors living on fixed incomes and people with disabilities. And for years, their complaints have largely gone unheard.
As a result, we identified legislation to address Mobile Home Park Water Quality as a top priority this year and are proud to announce that the bill introduced by Rep. Elizabeth Velasco (whose District 57 includes mobile home parks in Dotsero) will soon be signed into law. The law establishes a water testing program for mobile home parks, develops standards for an action plan to address water quality issues, creates a fund for remediation, and outlines enforcement mechanisms under the existing Mobile Home Park Act Dispute Resolution and Enforcement Program.
None of this will happen overnight, and HB23-1257 is just one of a few bills that will be required to address water quality. But by establishing a process to ensure access to clean drinking water, it serves as an important first step on the path toward environmental justice for historically marginalized mobile home park residents in the Vail Valley and throughout Colorado.
Our other priority legislation was focused on public safety through language justice, specifically for the nearly one million state residents who speak a language other than English at home. According to US Census data, nearly 300,000 Coloradans say they speak English “less than very well,” yet currently there is no state requirement that emergency alerts be sent in other languages. That could soon change, now that Gov. Polis has signed HB23-1237, Inclusive Language Emergency Situations, into law.
The bill requires the University of Colorado’s Natural Hazards Center to conduct a study to determine, by January of 2024, which municipalities, sheriff’s offices, counties, fire districts and local 911 agencies need to be able to provide emergency alerts in minority languages, and what local 911 agencies need in order to provide live interpretation during a 911 call. After the study, lawmakers will have to revisit the issue and legislate the final solutions, but this bill begins to move the needle toward equity by prioritizing the safety of all the residents of our state, including Latinos who make up 30% of Eagle County.
Overall, we saw progress this legislative session, not just with our two priority bills but also through the passage of the additional 15 bills we supported that focused on health and reproductive justice, gun safety, criminal justice reform, and environmental justice. However, we also recognize that much more work remains to be done — especially when it comes to affordable housing legislation with practical implications for Latinos and working families in the central mountains.
In keeping with our goal of using the Colorado Latino Policy Agenda to help inform our legislative efforts, over the past two years we have tried — and come up short — on bills addressing rent stabilization for mobile home residents, repealing the prohibition of local rent control, and just cause evictions, to name a few. We intend to continue to fight for these and other causes so important to our community. Please visit the comprehensive policy page of our website at vocesunidasaction.org/policy to learn more.
Progress toward social justice and equity should not be this hard or take this long, but eventually, these bills will have a positive impact on Latinos and other working families in the Vail Valley and beyond. We’re headed in the right direction, but still have a long way to go.
Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, nonprofit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. His column appears monthly.