Colorado Gov. Jared Polis came to Durango on Saturday afternoon to sign a bill and meet with representatives of local government.
The bill, House Bill 1151, allows federally recognized Native American tribes to certify their own foster homes. Previously, only county departments of human or social services or child placement agencies could certify foster homes.
“This bill makes sure that Colorado’s laws are better aligned with some of the federal rights that exist under the Indian Child Welfare Act,” Polis said. “The federally recognized tribes have an authority to certify foster homes, but this bill makes sure that the county department of human services or health can contract with the federally recognized tribes to better place Native children who live outside of their jurisdiction with Native American families. This bill will increase the number of Native American children that are placed with Native American families, and by doing that, it’ll help make sure that the important aspects of Native American heritage and culture can be passed down inter-generationally.”
He said the bill, which he signed at the Sitter Family Hall at Fort Lewis College, brings Colorado law more in line with laws that exist at the federal level.
“While some rights existed federally, they were in practice difficult to enforce if they weren’t between states, if it was strictly within the state of Colorado,” he said. “This bill is similar to what is in place federally for interstate adoptions, but effectively what this bill will do in Colorado is help increase the number of Native children that are also placed with Native American families to help preserve their culture.”
Polis also noted the importance of signing the bill at FLC.
“Fort Lewis, by treaty, serves our Native American communities across the country ... and of course, this bill relates to the successful continuation of tribal culture for foster children,” he said.
The bill was sponsored in the Colorado Legislature by Reps. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango; Marc Catlin, R-Montrose; and Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose.
“I think it’s something that should have been done a long time ago,” McLachlan said. “And it just shows a good working relationship between the state and the tribes.”
Polis also thanked FLC for being the first college in the state to require COVID-19 vaccinations.
Polis planned to meet with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe later in the day.
“We collaborate with them on water, on land, we worked with them very closely on health issues during COVID and helping with the vaccination process, so we’re looking forward to hearing directly form the tribal councils,” he said.
Before the bill-signing, the governor met with La Plata County commissioners and Durango city councilors for a lunch meet and greet at Carver Brewing Co.
“It’s really important for a governor to hear from city councils and commissioners from all across the state to make sure that we’re tackling many of the important statewide issues,” he said. “I really wasn’t surprised to hear from our local elected officials that many issues that La Plata County and Durango struggle with are similar issues to other parts of our state.”
He said affordable housing is one of the foremost issues in Colorado.
“It’s a very common issue across much of our state, and so that is one of the big areas that we focus on with the one-time funds that the state will have will be on really leveraging that investment for more affordable housing,” Polis said.
He also cited transportation and infrastructure as important issues, and said he is working on a bipartisan infrastructure deal that will help fund roads in Southwest Colorado.
“I thought it went very well,” said Mayor Kim Baxter. “I think he really listened to what the city and county had to say and how the state can support us in achieving goals around workforce housing, transportation and other items. ... I think he actually will support us in getting things done.”
La Plata County Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton agreed.
“I’m really glad that he came down here,” she said. “Any time that we can meet with elected officials from the state level, I think it’s very important for us to be there and share from our perspectives. The governor said he hears many of the same things in other areas, but we do have some uniqueness, I think, to Southwest Colorado that we’re trying to work through every way we can think of, especially with workforce housing.”