Colorado Gov. Jared Polis stopped in Grand Junction on Monday to sign several bills into law, all of which will impact Mesa County and its residents.
Stopping at the Mesa County Central Services building, the first bill he signed, HB20-1014, Misuse of Human Reproductive Material, was in direct response to a lawsuit that originated in Mesa County.
That lawsuit, a civil case against longtime Grand Junction fertility doctor Paul Jones and Women’s Healthcare of Western Colorado, has been followed by a number of media outlets across the state since it was initially filed October 28, 2019.
It alleges that Jones used his own sperm to impregnate his patients at the fertility clinic without their consent.
Polis admitted he had little understanding and awareness of this type of behavior until reading about it in The Daily Sentinel and praised Republican Rep. Janice Rich and other Colorado lawmakers in taking on this issue and helping to craft the language in the bill that became law on Monday.
He hoped the bill would help provide closure to the victims.
It establishes new civil and criminal penalties for outrageous and inappropriate behavior committed by health care providers in the course of assisted reproduction and states that such behavior could result in a Class 6 felony. It also authorizes compensatory damages or liquidated damages of $50,000 in civil action.
Rich, among the speakers at the signing Monday, said she became aware of the problem after individuals involved in the Mesa County lawsuit reached out to Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, a prime sponsor on the bill, who then forwarded the information to her.
“I started doing research on other states, and we received a lot of testimony by people involved,” Rich said. “It was a long and difficult process.”
The bill creates a new crime and civil cause of action if a health care provider in the course of assisted production uses DNA from a person without the written consent of the patient. Conviction of an offense under the new crime is unprofessional conduct under the licensing to practice medicine.
“It was very emotional for me as this hit a bit closer to home because of the situation we have here in Mesa County,” Rich said. “I’m so glad other families won’t go through this.”
She said listening to the victims and families involved in these lawsuits proved to be a very “tearful experience.”
The suit, first reported by KUSA in Denver, claims Jones is the father of several children in the community after performing artificial insemination procedures on their mothers at some time between 1975 and 1990.
As many as six families joined the lawsuit, asking for relief due to medical negligence, lack of informed consent fraud, negligent misrepresentation, among other reasons. Each felt they were deceived by their former doctor.
In previous conversations with The Daily Sentinel, Patrick Fitz-Gerald, attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said criminal charges were not pursued because he did not believe the alleged conduct fit in the Colorado statute for criminal behavior at the time.
HB20-1014 will not be retroactive.
In total, Polis signed eight bills into law on Monday, stopping in Idaho Springs, Silverthorne and finally Grand Junction to put pen to paper.
BROADBAND ACCESS BILL
HB20-1137, Broadband Grant Certification of Underserved Area Requirement, was among the bills that will have a large impact on Meas County.
Sponsored by Reps. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, and Matt Soper, R-Delta, along with Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, the bill will help small communities by getting them the resources to develop and establish broadband technology, according to a spokesperson with the Colorado House Democrats.
Under the new law, broadband grant applicants can submit a proposal to the broadband deployment broad to get certified as operating in an underserved area.
The board will then be required to give preference to areas that receive that underserved designation.
Polis said the bill speaks to a huge problem in rural Colorado.
“For rural economies to succeed, interconnectivity is so important,” he explained. “It’s not just about watching Netflix or Amazon, it’s about a lot more than that. It’s about telecommuting and giving rural businesses the connectivity they need to succeed in a rural economy. It’s about a lifeline for first responders.”
McCluskie said broadband access was an issue important to residents across the Western Slope.
“I’m so proud this bill got past the finish line,” she said. “The pandemic has highlighted for many of us the importance of broadband access for kids.”
Soper called it an issue near and dear to his heart.
“I was up in Collbran and one of the things that they highlighted for me is if we are going to have telehealth then we also need to have more rural broadband,” he explained. “When kids started work from home, they could see bandwidth immediately drop because they were all working online at the same time.”
He said the bill gives local governments much more of a voice to say an area is underserviced.
KIOSK PROGRAM EXPANDED
One of the reasons Polis made the trek to Grand Junction was to be in front of the kiosk machine at the Mesa County Central Services building when he signed SB20-035 into law as its success served as a springboard for the rest of the the state.
“The DMV is utilizing technology that can save people time, money and keeps people safer to engage in transactions,” Polis said. “The success of the pilot program in Mesa County showed it could work and grow across Colorado.”
The bill, Kiosk Program Provider Vehicle and Identity Services, will expand and make permanent the pilot program, making certain transactions and renewal possible at the kiosk machine.
Currently, kiosks can issue driver’s licenses, register motor vehicles or issue certificates of title.
The bill expands the functions of the kiosks to include telephone or internet services and also eliminates the $3 service fee and adds data security and accessibility requirements, a spokesperson with the Colorado House Democrats said.
Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, one of the prime sponsors for the bill, said these kiosk machines will start popping up in more places as lawmakers continue to look to make some of these processes easier and more accessible.
“235,000 transactions took place on these machines in 2019,” he said.
HB20-1318, Standards for Recording Plats, was also signed by Polis.
The bill allows county clerk and recorders to receive and preserve original plats for recording in an electronic format. The bill also specifies the conditions for properly submitting plats in both electronic and original formats.