DENVER —Two Republican lawmakers and two Democrat lawmakers are putting forth one of the first bipartisan bills of the 2019 legislative session, one they hope will give foster kids better access to mobility and opportunity.
The women want to streamline a process that would offer teenagers in the foster care system easier access to driver’s licenses, while reducing the costs for counties.
Weld County Republicans, Rep. Lori Saine (HD 63) and Sen. Vicki Marble (SD 23, which also includes part of Larimer County) along with Arapahoe County Democrats, Rep. Dominique Jackson (HD 42) and Sen. Nancy Todd (SD 28) are the prime sponsors of House Bill 19-1023.
Todd said she was proud to carry the bill in the Senate.
“Foster children currently face unreasonable obstacles when trying to obtain a Colorado driver license,” Todd said. “I am proud to sponsor HB19-1023 because it aims to remove these obstacles, providing foster children the same opportunities as other children in our state.”
Saine said because most foster children don’t go on to college, a driver’s license could give them the opportunity needed to find jobs in lucrative fields that don’t require a university degree.
“It will keep them from falling through the cracks,” Saine said. “There are a lot of jobs out there that pay very well in Colorado. The oil and gas industry, same with the trucking industry, those jobs are $60,000 plus. If these kids don’t have a way to get to a job to build a resume, they are left behind again. We want to give them every opportunity to be as successful as possible.”
Saine said the bill was long overdue. She said she and the other sponsors are making sure it is done right to ease the concerns of counties worried about their liability.
“Even if this is a maze that we need to navigate for these kids, aren’t they worth it?” Saine said. “This a time whose idea has come. I am confident that any problems, or any risk, or any kind of juggling we need to do, we can do that.”
Currently, teenagers in the foster system, who are technically wards of the state, must fight through red tape and bureaucratic hurdles to obtain their driver’s license. Some of those hurdles include a lack of access to basic identity documents, such as birth certificates and social security cards; a requirement that a social worker must physically accompany them to the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) throughout the process; getting the 50 hours of required supervised driving experience by a responsible adult; and getting car insurance.
Federal law requires governments to provide identifying documents. Counties in Colorado manage foster care under the state Department of Human Services, which has said counties must comply with the federal mandate. The bill seeks to streamline that process, and smooth out any complications between county agencies and the DMV.
Saine said her home district of Weld reacted positively to the idea, but she is willing to work with any county concerned about the process.
“There are couple of entities that are hitting the worry bell,” she said. “But I’ve dealt with this before. When you have a bill that hasn’t been done before — and is a fairly new concept — you get some push back. But this is not rolling a boulder up hill. This is something that makes a lot of sense.”
Among other things, the bill makes it easier for foster teenagers at least 16 years old to buy auto insurance. It also allows any licensed driver over 21 to help instruct the foster teen to meet his or her driver training requirement.
Currently, only a foster parent can supervise the driver training.
Saine, who has previously passed bills to improve access to records for adoptees, said this bill flowed right along with the work she’s done in the past, adding mobility and opportunity for those in the foster system is the first step toward their success.
“Most of them don’t have an opportunity to get a driver’s license until they are almost 20 or 21,” Saine said. “We really want to make sure that foster children have a shot at a normal life. Most of us start learning to drive when we are 15 or 16, and often a driver’s license opens the door to your first job. That is something that is a rite of passage.”
Saine said anything the legislature can do to make the process easier and more accessible should be done.
“I think it’s a huge step in the right direction,” Saine said.