Bipartisan bill to modernize 59-year-old Older Coloradans Act emerges in legislature
The Older Coloradans Act might be getting a significant update by the end of the year, with a new bill in the Colorado Legislature seeking to modify the Colorado Commission on Aging, make changes to the Colorado Office of Aging, and establish a new “Lifelong Colorado” initiative.
Bill sponsors Reps. Mary Young (D – Greeley) and Mary Bradfield (R – Fort Carson) introduced House Bill 1035 last week in hopes of making the 59-year old statute more applicable to the current needs of Colorado’s older population.
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“The purpose of this bill is to establish that Colorado is committed to implementing policies that energetically support older Coloradans, their families, and communities with an orientation that recognizes that older Coloradans want and need to take an active role in the development of these policies–not just be passive recipients of these policies,” Young testified to the House Public & Behavioral Health Committee last week.
The bill prioritizes interagency collaboration and incorporates multiple state departments including the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and the Department of Public Health & Environment, as well non-profit and private organizations.
Young said the bill draws inspiration from the work of the Colorado Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging (SAPGA), which works to develop policy recommendations for supporting older Coloradans and produces the state’s Strategic Plan on Aging. Dr. Ed Leary, chair of SAPGA, testified in support of the bill. He explained SAPGA played a key role in the development of HB 1035.
Specifically, the bill would reorganize the Colorado Commission on Aging to better-incorporate the voices of older Coloradans and increase its total membership from 17 to 19, appoint a representative from the Colorado Department of Human Services to act as a liaison for the Commission to the state, and establish a technical advisory committee of state agency representatives to oversee implementation of the strategic plan.
It would also create a new initiative called “Lifelong Colorado” within the Office on Aging that would focus on implementing the strategic plan and coordinating with the commission, the committee, and state agencies.
According to testimony from Rich Morrow, director of legislative affairs for the Denver Regional Council of Governments, Colorado is the second most rapidly aging state in the country. In 2023, Young said, Colorado will have more people over age 60 than people under age 18–a trend she said will continue into the future.
Since the pandemic began, she added, those over 60 haven’t returned to work at the same rate as other groups. She said a key goal of the bill is to find out why this is and to help older Coloradans get back into the workforce.
Another central focus of the bill is to support the high number of older Coloradans who choose to receive services in their home. A significant part of this would consist of increasing the direct care workforce, Young explained.
Numerous state organizations support the bill including the Colorado Alzheimer’s Association, the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, University of Colorado’s Multidisciplinary Center on Aging, CHCA, the Colorado Commission on Aging, and the AARP of Colorado.
During her testimony, Jeanette Hensley, representing the Colorado Center for Aging, explained how the bill would address issues arising from the current version of the Older Coloradans Act.
“This bill will facilitate and encourage joint planning and development of policy among state and local governments to encourage innovation, efficiency, and a means to maximize resources by reducing duplication of services or contradicting policies between state agencies, local service providers, county administrators, and the area agencies on aging,” said Hensley.
The committee voted 10 to 1 to advance the bill out of committee and to the House floor. Only Rep. Ron Hanks (R – Custer County) voted against it. The full House is scheduled to take up discussion of the bill on Wednesday, Feb. 9.