A bill to provide diapers to families in need is moving through Colorado’s Senate, but it’s not getting the support you might expect from Republican lawmakers who routinely push legislation that they say is aimed at protecting babies.
In fact, every vote on the legislation thus far has fallen squarely along party lines, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.
The bill, which is sponsored by state Sen. Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood) and state Reps. Kerry Tipper (D-Lakewood) and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (D-Denver), aims to address the rising need for diapers during the pandemic.
Lawmakers were sparked to action by a Denver Post story that documented how desperate families were resorting to unsanitary measures due to financial stress that was exacerbated by the pandemic, including “filling plastic grocery bags with toilet paper and taping them to their babies as makeshift diapers because they are not able to afford essentials.”
According to the National Diaper Bank Network, one in three families struggles to afford clean diapers for their baby, and it estimates that the need for diapers has increased 300% amid the pandemic. Diapers cost around $80 a month per child, and cannot be purchased through public assistance programs like SNAP or WIC.
The legislation, called “Emergency Supplies for Colorado Babies and Families,” would provide $4 million in funding to diaper banks over the next two years, helping them meet the increase in need caused by the COVID-19 financial fallout.
So far, no Republicans want it to pass. The bill has been advanced on a party-line vote in two Senate committees so far, with only Democrats, who hold majorities in both houses of the legislature, voting yes.
In an interview with conservative talk radio host John Waters on KFTM’s “Big Morning Show,” state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), who voted against the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee, called it “the most silliest” bill being proposed this session:
Waters: “Every session there are those bills that you just kind of scratch your head and go, what in the world is this all about? So let’s talk about some of the… I’ll call them ‘dumb bills’ that you have working their way through.”
Sonnenberg: “Let’s start with the one that I think is probably the most silliest … and that bill is the one that gives free diapers to everybody through distribution centers in the state of Colorado. So if you need diapers, there’s a bill going through the process that would give out free diapers to everybody. Then I got to thinking, does that include adult diapers? … maybe I shouldn’t be working so hard against this bill, but when it comes right down to it, they probably ought to ship them all to the Capitol because this place is so full of it anyhow it might be helpful up here.”
“I don’t understand where this money comes from,” Sonnenberg continued of the $4 million proposal. “If you start handing out free stuff, you start getting their votes. That’s probably why I haven’t been a very good politician, is because I’m not a big fan of giving free stuff.”
State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer (R-Weld County), the only woman in the Colorado Republican Senate caucus, voted against the bill in the Senate Health and Human Services committee, citing her concern that families who could afford diapers would go get them for free instead.
“There needs to be an income eligibility criteria here and I just don’t see one,” Kirkmeyer said at the March 3 hearing.
“We want to make sure that we are reducing the barriers to distribution,” said Pettersen, who expressed doubt that people who could afford diapers would show up to wait in line at a diaper bank.
“Putting income processes in place would slow down the ability to run this program and it would be overburdensome,” said Morgan Seibel, Executive Director of WeeCycle, which distributes diapers and other baby gear to low-income families.
State Sen. Jim Smallwood (R-Parker), who also sits on the Health and Human Services Committee, also voted no, expressing his view that the bill’s definition of “family member” is not sufficiently stringent, and that “second cousins twice removed” from families with babies in need would go get free diapers.
Ultimately, every Republican member of the Health and Human Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee voted no.
Those same lawmakers voted against legislation earlier this year to improve access to contraceptives for immigrants and to remove barriers to abortion for low-income survivors of sexual assault.
Now, as the bill is debated in the Colorado Senate today, it’s unclear if it will get a single yes vote from Republicans.
“It’s unfortunate and perplexing that the Senate Republican caucus is politicizing a very real need for so many Colorado families,” said Ashley Brink, Board Chair of Women’s Lobby of Colorado, in a statement to CTR. “This should not be political. But when many Republicans claim to value the lives of pregnant people and children as their reasons for pushing dangerous anti-abortion legislation, and refuse to help low-income parents with this bill, it clearly is political. We believe all of our legislators should be seeking to support parents and families by helping provide the resources they need to take care of their children.”
In an attempt to find some pro-baby Republicans who might support a proposal to give diapers to needy babies, I called every Republican lawmaker who sponsored a bill earlier this year to ban all abortion in Colorado, the Life at Conception Act. State Reps. Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock), Kim Ransom (R-Douglas County), Shane Sandridge (R-Colorado Springs), Kevin Van Winkle (R-Highlands Ranch), and Dave Williams (R-Colorado Springs) did not return my calls.
“If I could do one thing as a legislator it would be to protect our unborn children,” said Neville as lawmakers debated the bill in March.
I also called state Rep. Stephanie Luck (R-Penrose), who earlier this year sponsored a bill to create an abortion registry with detailed information about people who get abortions in Colorado. No response.
The GOP’s opposition to diaper funding comes as the party attempts to rebrand itself in Colorado following a historic streak of election losses.
Party leaders have suggested that part of that rebranding means running different kinds of candidates – namely, women – and focusing on issues that appeal to suburban moms.
In an interview with Colorado Public Radio’s Ryan Warner this week, recently elected Colorado Republican Party leader Kristi Burton Brown, who got her start in politics by sponsoring an initiative to ban all abortion in the state, emphasized the new face of the party and her goal of appealing to women voters.
“We won a historic moment for Republicans in Colorado with the victory of myself, Priscilla [Rahn] and Marilyn [Harris], to lead our Republican party,” Brown said. “It is the first time in Colorado history that an all-woman team has ever been elected to lead either major party. So we are creating history and we’re going to continue to do that as we brand the Republican party in Colorado.”
“It is going to be a Colorado-focused year, Colorado-centric issues and true leadership in Colorado, centered on our jobs, our kids, the American dream,” Brown continued. “What does that look like? And who are our candidates who can best promote the message that the people of Colorado and many suburban moms like me, that’s a big chunk of our unaffiliated voters in Colorado, what they want to hear about and talk about.”
Brown did not return a call seeking to know whether she supports the bill to fund diaper banks and whether she thinks it’s the kind of policy that appeals to the mothers and other suburban women that she hopes to bring into the party.