Note: This story has been changed from its original posting to reflect a sunset review clause that was reported to take place in 2030. That portion of the bill was removed in an amendment that changed the reimbursement from a grant program to a direct reimbursement from the state. The sunset changes were not discussed in the hearing.
DENVER — A bill to reimburse the cost of driver’s education to counties for foster kids under their care unanimously cleared the House Transportation and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.
House Bill 20-1071 allows the state to directly reimburse county departments of social services for the cost paid to private driving schools. Prime sponsors in the House are Representatives Monica Duran, D-Jefferson County, and Tony Exum, D-El Paso County, and Senators Kerry Donovan, D-Edwards and El Paso County Republican Dennis Hisey.
It would apply to foster care youths between 15 and 21 in Colorado.
“Some youths stay in the foster care system past the age of 18 and could also have benefits of driver’s education,” Duran said in introducing an amendment that converted the program from a grant program to a direct reimbursement one. “Accepting grants may have TABOR implications on a county that would discourage them from applying.”
It took just 37 minutes for the committee made up of seven Democrats and four Republicans to agree it’s the state’s responsibility to make sure that children in their charge learn how to properly drive a car, a cost that averages about $500 per class.
The bill also relieves counties of any liability for damages that occur while a foster care youth is taking a class, as well as allowing youth who may not have all the paperwork necessary to obtain a driver’s license use an exemption process to obtain the license. The money will come from the Department of Human Services through an appropriation from the General Fund.
El Paso Republican Terry Carver supported the bill and called the direct reimbursement process more efficient, but she was concerned that an amendment that changed the bill from a grant program to a direct reimbursement program would change the fiscal note estimating a total cost of $63,000.
“If this was a grant program, this is how much money is in the grant program, and when it’s gone, it’s gone,” Carver said. “Under the new approach, with 64 counties, we’re really doing an estimate of how many of these foster kids are going to utilize this program and what the cost of the driving instruction cost is going to be at any particular driving school, and then the bill is going to get sent to the state. Are we saying that whatever that aggregate number is the state is going to pay? Maybe its $63,000 maybe it’s $20,000 maybe it’s $200,000.”
Duran noted that there are only about 200 foster youth that are estimated would be eligible for the program but offered to work with Carver as the bill moves through the process to address her concern.
Carver said she was satisfied with Duran’s explanation, calling the limited number of teenagers eligible a “guardrail of sorts,” from causing the cost to skyrocket.
Tori Shuler, the Denver Director for Fostering Great Ideas, testified on behalf of the bill by sharing her own story of what a driver’s license meant to her growing up in foster care.
“Driving is something we generally learn as teenagers, but it’s a skill we use through the rest of our lives,” Shuler said. “Having that foundation through driver’s education is fundamental.”
Shuler grew up in the Colorado foster system and emancipated on her 18th birthday. On the morning of her birthday she took the bus to school as she always did, spending up to two hours a day riding it to and from home, work, and school.
After school that day she immediately got her driver’s license, without having ever had driver’s education.
“I recognize now that caused a considerable safety risk to not only myself, but all those others on the road around me,” Shuler said. “I also recognize that because I took that risk, I had opportunities my siblings did not because I had a driver’s license.”
Shuler added having a car allowed her to hold down several jobs during her senior year in high school, which helped her pay for college.
“Without my car, I would have been on the bus for two-three hours every day,” she said. “Without my car, I would not have been able to do that. And without being able to do that I would have faced homelessness along with other issues that my peers every single day struggle with.”
Rules for the program will be in place by December 1 and any county that receives a reimbursement must submit annual reports to the state, which will be compiled and reported back to the General Assembly.
The bill now heads to the Appropriations Committee.