Another session of the Colorado General Assembly has concluded in the standard way: with both a bang and a whimper. Laws were made, tears were shed, and minds were frayed, all as life outside the building continued per usual. The legislative session, which consists of a mad dash through the General Assembly’s constitutional requirements in the constitutionally limited timespan of 120 business days, is over.

There were some wins. Between January and May, the legislature took strides towards addressing the state’s ongoing housing crisis, relieving some of the crunch on Front Range transit systems, and reinstating certain environmental protections which were stripped from the Clean Water Act by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

There were also some losses. The legislature once again failed to pass an assault weapons ban (the merit of which at the state level is, admittedly, dubious), reform the state’s rickety old transparency laws, or meaningfully strengthen labor protections in Colorado.

But wins and losses in the legislature – and for the people who live under its decisions – are not necessarily equivalent to bills passing or failing. It is, for instance, a win for everyone when a bad bill dies an ignominious death, never to bear the force of law. Most years, as the session comes to a close, I find myself trolling the legislature’s website for killed bills, always curious to identify the year’s worst attempt at making a law. This year, of the nearly 800 bills introduced during the legislative session, hundreds failed to become law. Some failed for procedural reasons, some failed because the sponsors could not whip the votes in time, and some failed because they were – for lack of a more genteel term – absolutely ludicrous. This year, three bills in that last category jumped out at me as contenders for the Worst Bill of the Year; three bills whose failure we should celebrate, and whose conception we can only marvel at. 

All three bills have things in common. Each was introduced by a member of the Republican caucus in the Colorado House of Representatives. Each would dramatically reshape an important aspect of life in Colorado (universally for the worse). And each is such a bad idea that none of them survived a single committee hearing. 

The first contender for Worst Bill of the Year came from Ken DeGraaf. A Republican legislator from Colorado Springs, DeGraaf is best known for his hardcore social conservatism, his penchant for inflammatory comments, and his bizarre views. Just this year, he has accused the Democratic legislative majority of supporting slavery, claimed that his colleagues are pedophiles, and opposed the existence of Black History Month. In the midst of accruing those unflattering headlines, DeGraaf also managed to sponsor, draft, and introduce several pieces of legislation, but passed none of them.

In fairness to DeGraaf, most of his bills this year were contenders for Worst Bill of the Year – like the one where he moved for the deregulation of all carbon dioxide emissions, or the one intended to make the Colorado Secretary of State redesign one (1) page on the department’s website  – but one outshone the others in sheer baffling ridiculousness: putting voting on the blockchain.

“What does that even mean?” you might be asking yourself. And it’s a good question. In brief, think of it as a marriage between crypto bros and election deniers; the kind of idea which would have occurred to Bored Ape Yacht Club members at the January 6 insurrection. I don’t know if Ken DeGraaf is a crypto bro, but he is the other thing: not only does DeGraaf still firmly believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump by wide scale voter fraud (it was not), he’s still casting doubt on the results of every election he doesn’t like, down to the county level

As for blockchain, it is the supposedly innovative technology underlying the ownership and exchange of cryptocurrencies. A few years back, every company under the sun was attempting to boost shareholder value by promising disruptive new applications for the technology – presumably before realizing that this mystical blockchain technology is effectively just a spreadsheet. In the early days of crypto, there was a widespread but mistaken belief that the blockchain makes cryptocurrency transactions anonymous. It does not. It is simply a distributed ledger of cryptocurrency transactions in which past entries cannot be edited, creating an indelible record of exchange. It’s a spreadsheet, but mildly fancy.

And that – somehow – is what Ken DeGraaf wanted to do to our election system. His bill, HB-1279, sought to attach a blockchain tracking element (an alphanumeric figure specific to each voter) to Colorado ballots, and then upload everybody’s votes into a public database so that people can check and “confirm” that their vote was registered correctly. He’s certain that this would not compromise the privacy of the ballot box, but seems to hinge that argument on the same misunderstanding of the blockchain which led people to believe cryptocurrency is anonymous. Oh, and nobody’s vote would be counted until the voter confirmed the accuracy of their vote in the public online database.

In other words, Ken DeGraaf introduced a bill to create a system which would (1) likely reveal how everyone voted, and (2) almost certainly disenfranchise millions of voters who don’t realize that Ken DeGraaf turned voting into a two-step process; a staggeringly bad idea.

And, sure enough, that’s what the experts who testified to the committee said. They pointed out inconvenient realities, such as the fact that teams from both MIT and Harvard have studied the idea and issued grave warnings that it could compromise America’s voting systems. They testified that, not only is there not a pressing need for this, but that other experts believe such a system would introduce massive new security risks to the ballot box. As a 2021 paper in the Journal of Cybersecurity put it, “Blockchain-based voting would greatly increase the risk of undetectable, nation-scale election failures…and may even increase disenfranchisement.”

At 5:17PM on February 26, the bill was laid to rest by a 6-3 committee vote. The only votes in favor came from DeGraaf himself, and fellow Republicans Richard Holtorf and Brandi Bradley. If you think you have heard the last of this idea, though, think again: DeGraaf ran a near-identical bill last year, and we can safely assume he will try again next year.

The second contender for Worst Bill of the Year came from Assistant Minority Leader Ty Winter – and, while every bit as unhinged as DeGraaf’s blockchain voting bill, it deals with significantly darker subject matter. In fact, it is an idea so reckless, combined with a subject matter so dark, that it has left me entirely uncertain how to even describe the aim of the bill in a believable way. 

HB-1088, sponsored by Winter, was intended to modify the child fatality prevention system, which has existed in Colorado since 1989 to investigate fatalities of children between the ages of 0 and 17 years, collect data, and craft strategies to prevent these tragic, untimely deaths. These are not criminal investigations; they are the backbone of a system which gives us, as a society, the information necessary to keep our children safe. Given that context, it would be reasonable to assume that Winter’s bill was intended to strengthen that system. But, if it were, it wouldn’t be on this list.

Instead, Winter’s bill had one goal: to carve out exemptions from the child fatality prevention system (CFPS). The bill, as written, would repeal various requirements of 1989’s Child Fatality Prevention Act – including the requirement to “review the cause and manner of a child fatality, as determined by the local coroner, pathologist, or medical examiner.” In other words, the law requires that the deaths of children between 0 and 17 years of age be investigated, and Winter wanted to repeal that requirement. 

And it doesn’t stop there: not only did Winter want to carve out exemptions from the child fatality prevention system, he wanted to change how the people working in that system are chosen. As it currently stands, review teams are assembled by public health and law enforcement agencies, who pick experts and assign them to the task. Under Winter’s bill – the one in which fewer child fatalities would be reviewed in the first place – those review teams would become political appointees of county commissioners, immediately and unavoidably politicizing the process. Winter’s bill also sought to exempt all juvenile traffic fatalities from review, which experts testified account for roughly 20% of deaths of children 17 or under in Colorado. Tragically, the bill’s lone proponent – the only person who testified in favor of the bill, and who brought the idea to Winter in the first place – lost a child in just such a car wreck. Their family’s experience is truly, deeply tragic, and I wish them nothing but healing and peace, but they will not get justice from a bill which seeks to incapacitate the very system which could spare other families such bitter bereavement. And that is what Winter’s bill would have done.

As a brief aside, I believe that Winter’s intentions with this bill were good. He was being responsive to the wishes of a grieving constituent. But good intentions are not the same as good ideas, and they do not ensure good outcomes. In this case, good intentions led to one of the worst bills of the year.

When the dubious bill reached its first and only committee hearing in early February, the opponents who showed up to testify against the bill were not political cranks, they were representatives of public health agencies from around the state, including Arapahoe County Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). Mandy Bakulski of CDPHE testified that “child death reviews play a critical role in helping improve child health and safety, and prevent death and injuries in the future.” Rebecca Rapport Verdejo, a child fatality prevention system coordinator for Arapahoe County, testified to existing lifesaving innovations which have been implemented as a direct result of CFPS death reviews – like the graduated drivers licensing system, which led to a nearly 50% reduction in traffic fatalities for 16- and 17-year-old drivers.

In other words, everyone who knows anything about this system thought Winter’s desire to carve-out exemptions from it was beyond the pale, that it would actively put children at risk. And those experts were so persuasive, it turns out, that the bill met its fate in bipartisan fashion. When the votes were cast, 11 of the committee’s 13 members – including half of its Republican members – voted to kill the bill. There will be no investigation into its death.

Unfortunately, DeGraaf and Winter are runners-up in this Worst Bill of the Year contest – and it was not a close race. Both blockchain voting and the intentional compromising of the child fatality prevention system lost by a mile to the only true contender for 2024’s Worst Bill of the Year: HB-1224, Rep. Scott Bottoms’ “personhood” bill.

“Personhood” laws are an attempt to classify unborn fetuses as living human beings just like you or I. And the reason personhood proponents want to see fetuses classified as such is so that people who seek abortions can be charged with murder. It is an issue with a long and unsuccessful history in Colorado, and was pushed by many of the state’s leading Republicans, like now-former Sen. Cory Gardner, until 2014, when the latest personhood ballot initiative lost a statewide vote by about 30 points. The issue – one of the most extreme anti-choice positions available – quickly dried up after that defeat. Then Scott Bottoms was elected to office, determined to bring it back.

Bottoms, a pastor and state Representative from Colorado Springs, is perhaps the only member of the House Republican caucus to generate more unflattering headlines than DeGraaf. He has been gaveled down for Islamophobia, transphobia, and homophobia. He suspects Democrats might be literal demons, and has convinced himself in the face of all evidence that the State of Colorado plans to lower the age of consent to 12

He also believes that people who seek abortions are murderers who should be tried, convicted, and sent to jail for life. This year, he introduced a bill to that effect; a bill which was, without question, the Worst Bill of the Year.

In the March committee hearing for Bottoms’ personhood bill, he made its intent and its effects perfectly clear. When Rep. Jenny Willford (D-Northglenn) asked Bottoms the simplest, most important question about the bill – “Are you seeking to hold people who have abortions accountable and treat them as murderers through this bill?” – Bottoms did not hem and haw. “Murder is murder, and people who choose to murder little babies should be held accountable, legally.” Yes, Bottoms told them, the intent of the bill was to charge people with murder if they seek abortion care. 

When asked about the only two exceptions anti-choice Republicans occasionally accept, rape and a threat to the life of the mother, Bottoms held his ground. “Someone who has been raped and goes to seek an abortion is still choosing to murder a baby,” he told the committee.

He did not stop there. Bottoms, a self-proclaimed supporter of “some kinds” of in vitro fertilization, acknowledged that his bill could also effectively ban IVF. “I think there is a chance that [discarding an embryo] would be considered a homicide under this bill,” he told them, showing no objection to that possibility.

Unlike the other bills on this list, Bottoms’ personhood bill was not a little-noticed fringe issue. Dozens of conservatives showed up at the Capitol to testify in favor of the bill, to urge the committee to advance the idea that those who seek abortions should be charged with murder. It was a frightening look not only at Bottoms’ own authoritarian vision for the future, but at how many people share that vision. 

Despite their willingness to show up at the Capitol and testify, though, supporters of extreme anti-choice measures like personhood remain firmly in the minority in Colorado – something Rep. Kyle Brown (D-Louisville) pointed out to Bottoms during the hearing, noting that large majorities of Coloradans have voted against this measure time after time. Bottoms, unmoved, responded by comparing Colorado citizens to Germans during the Holocaust.

“When people let majority rule on these kinds of things, I think it’s dangerous,” he told the committee. “We’re letting a majority say that we can take a group of humans and kill them. In my opinion, that is the same thing that happened in Germany in World War II. There were more people who wanted to kill the Jews than people who would stand up against it.”

But Bottoms’ profound misunderstanding of the history of the Holocaust – which was not, in fact, a policy voted on or approved by a majority of German citizens, as he seems to think – did not sway the committee’s majority. After four hours of testimony, the bill died on a party-line vote, with only Bottoms, DeGraaf, and Bradley voting in favor of it.

No legislative session is perfect. There has never in history been a legislature which convened, checked every box on everyone’s legislative wishlist, and then adjourned. It just doesn’t work like that. Not only are there massive systemic impediments to achieving meaningful progress on important issues, making laws is actually pretty hard. It’s even harder when legislators have to consider 800 of those bills in 120 days. As I wrote last year, Colorado’s legislative system is not necessarily designed to work.

And yet, sometimes, it does. 

Progress is not a straight road. It does not consist entirely of achievement, of scoring points. Sometimes it’s about defense, about stopping things from worsening. And while stopping things from getting worse is not nearly as satisfying as making things better, it’s an important part of keeping our society livable. There is a lot of positive action which I struggle to imagine the Colorado General Assembly ever taking, but, as this session showed, the creaking old institution still knows an awful bill when it sees one, and (mostly) knows what to do with them. And while there is plenty of room for frustration with our elected officials’ unwillingness to deliver the progress their voters elected them for, there is also a great deal of room for relief and gratitude that the majorities are not made of the kinds of people who would jail women for healthcare choices. Or the kinds of people who take “small government” ideology to such an extent that they are willing to turn their backs on childhood fatalities. Or even the kind of people who want to use our ballot box, our sacred franchise, as a petri dish for reckless crypto-bro experimentation.

And that’s why I look at bad bills: to remind myself that there are things worse than “not good enough.” There are elected officials in this state eager to implement visions of a Colorado most of us would not recognize – and the only thing stopping them is the majority. This is not to say that we should not push for progress, that we should not demand “good enough.” Progress and complacency are irreconcilable enemies. It is to say that we should count our victories where we find them, no matter how small they are. Killing these bills was a victory. We should note it, we should celebrate it, we should use it to fuel us. And when the next legislative session starts, we should once again aim higher, we should once again ask for better, and we should keep counting our victories where we find them.