GOVERNOR POLIS SIGNS BIPARTISAN BILL CODIFYING THE ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION
Polis follows the lead of Colorado's lawmakers, who signaled overwhelming support for the Access to Justice Commission in a 98-1 vote to codify the Commission and partner on policy.
DENVER, CO (June 2, 2023) — Today Governor Polis held a public signing ceremony for HB23-1280 – a bill codifying the Colorado Access to Justice Commission (Commission). The bill was introduced by two Democrats – Representative Junie Joseph and Senator Dylan Roberts – and two Republicans – Representative Matt Soper and Senator Bob Gardner. It enjoyed near-unanimous bipartisan support in both chambers, passing the House 64-0 and the Senate 34-1. A long list of partner organizations from across the state came out in public support of the bill. Even government entities like the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel signed on in support.
The mission of the Commission is to expand access, quality, and fairness in the justice system for all Coloradans. “Every Coloradan deserves meaningful access to our courts, and today's bill represents progress on this most fundamental goal of our democracy,” says Rep. Joseph, who is also a lawyer. Senator Gardner adds, "When our neighbors and businesses can resolve disputes fairly and efficiently, all Coloradans benefit."
The bill – HB23-1280 – makes the existing Colorado Access to Justice Commission an official Commission of the State and a policy-making partner to the General Assembly. It also directs committees from both chambers and the Governor’s office to annually consider the Commission’s policy recommendations on laws that would improve access and remove barriers for Coloradans.
“At a time of so much partisanship and divide, this level of support is rare and signals a genuine widespread commitment to access to justice for the people of this state,” says Richard Murray, the Commission’s Chair. Colorado Bar Association President Ryann Peyton shares similar sentiments, noting “Since the Commission’s beginning twenty years ago, the CBA has been one of its biggest supporters. Seeing our lawmakers embrace the opportunity to join in support of access to justice makes us proud and excited to see the good work they will produce together in the future.”
In March, the Commission released a Strategic Vision Report, outlining its two-year strategic plan for impact. The plan outlines the Commission’s four priority areas for the near-term future, which include:
Expanding legal services in underserved rural areas
Developing a statewide online legal help portal
Increasing funding for legal aid and the Commission, and
Increasing public awareness about the need for and urgency of efforts to address the justice gap.
The Commission has been in existence since 2003, and transitioned to a nonprofit organization in 2021 after hiring its first-ever staff, Executive Director Elisa Overall. Over the course of the Commission’s history, it has helped establish the widespread availability of court-based assistance for people without lawyers, expanded pro bono opportunities for lawyers to provide free help, and supported increasing funding for legal aid.
“This bill comes at a time when the Commission’s work is more important than ever,” said Overall. “We look forward to partnering with all of those who supported this bill, and the General Assembly, to address the access to justice crisis in the state.”