Hello, paid family leave; goodbye, plastic grocery bags. New year brings new laws and policies

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A plastic shopping bag is surrounded by a circle of liquid somewhere in Athmar Park. Dec. 3, 2019.

A new year always brings a host of new laws into effect for the state — some are intriguing and several are consequential. Here are a few that you should know about.

Say goodbye to single-use plastic shopping bags

Colorado’s phase-out of plastic bags at the grocery and other stores is now complete.

After a year of charging 10 cents per disposable plastic bag, restaurants, and retail stores are now banned from handing them out at all (unless a customer can show proof they qualify for government food aid). They can still offer paper bags.

The law, known as the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, also bans restaurants from using expanded polystyrene (think ‘Styrofoam’) containers for takeout food.

Jan. 1 doesn’t mark the end of the rollout for the act. Starting July 1, local governments will be allowed to enact even stricter bans on plastics.

Family-leave benefits available to all workers

With the start of the new year, Colorado workers will be able to have some of their lost pay reimbursed when they take leave to care for themselves, a new child, or loved one.

Colorado voters approved the family leave program in 2020 and the state started collecting fees for it out of workers’ paychecks last year. Now the effort is coming fully online, with people able to apply for wage reimbursement.

Starting Jan. 1, eligible employees can have some of their lost income covered for up to twelve weeks of leave. Qualifying reasons include care of a new baby or after the adoption of a child, medical care for the worker or their close family, addressing the impacts of domestic violence, and military service of a family member.

The state has two upcoming virtual townhalls to explain the benefit, on Jan. 10 and Feb. 1.

Statewide minimum wage rising to $14.42 an hour

Colorado’s minimum wage changes each year based on inflation. For 2024, minimum wage workers in most places will be in for a $0.77 raise, from $13.65 an hour to $14.42. Tipped workers will make $11.40.

That will make Colorado’s minimum wage the seventh highest in the country.

State law allows local governments to set minimum wage in their boundaries above that of the state. So far, three municipalities have done so. Denver has set by far the highest minimum wage in the state; with the start of 2024, it’s risen to $18.29 for regular workers and $15.27 for tipped employees. Next door, the tiny town of Edgewater has set its wage at $15.02 ($12 even for tipped workers). And in unincorporated parts of Boulder County, the minimum wage for the new year is $15.69, $12.67 for those who get tips.

New protections for renters with pets 

Colorado law is getting friendlier for tenants and their furry, scaly, or feathered friends.

The new law limits pet deposits to no more than $300 and requires that they be refundable. Monthly pet rent is now capped at $35 a month or 1.5 percent of the rent, whichever is greater.

During an eviction, if the tenants aren’t around to take their pets, the law now says animals can’t just be put outside like other property. Instead, they must be surrendered to local animal control and the landlord has to post information about where the former tenant can reclaim them. Landlords also can’t claim pets as part of a lien for unpaid rent or damaged property.

The new law also prevents insurance companies from charging higher premiums based on the breed of a dog living in a house or apartment.

Need an Epipen? That should only cost you $60

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File
FILE - In this July 8, 2016, file photo, a pharmacist holds a package of EpiPens epinephrine auto-injector, a Mylan product, in Sacramento, Calif.

A new price cap for epinephrine auto-injectors takes effect in 2024. From now on, insurers are allowed to charge no more than $60 in out-of-pocket costs for a two-pack of the life-saving medication.

Colorado is among the first states to cap the costs of epinephrine auto-injectors, along with Illinois and Rhode Island

The new law also sets up a state program allowing eligible uninsured people to buy $60 auto-injectors directly from pharmacies. Manufacturers then have to reimburse the pharmacy for any loss they took on the sale or replace their stock of auto-injectors for free. That provision prompted Teva Pharmacies, a maker of generic epinephrine, to sue to block the program. This past week, a judge declined to put the new affordability program on hold while the case goes forward.

Informed consent now required for intimate exams while sedated

There has been growing concern nationally about medical students performing pelvic and prostate exams on anesthetized patients as part of their training, patients who have not consented to the procedure.

This year Colorado joins a growing list of states that require patients to give informed consent before any intimate examination under sedation (there is an exception for emergency situations). The new law also requires that any such exams be related to the procedure the patient is there for, and not simply be performed for training.

Bigger fines for trucks that speed down steep grades

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A truck passes avalanche warning signs on Loveland Pass, Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.

Starting in the new year, the Colorado Department of Transportation will have the power to designate ‘steep downhill grade zones’ on highways that slant more than 5 percent for some distance.

Commercial truck drivers caught speeding in those zones can be hit with doubled fines and extra surcharges. Some of the money collected from those increased penalties will be used to try to make the roads safer from runaway truck incidents.

Tenants now have the right to remote eviction hearings

Counties must now ensure that parties in an eviction case have the option of appearing remotely during any of their court proceedings. And judges cannot enter a default judgment against someone just because their technology gives out during the process.

Advocates say that having to file documents and attend in-person court dates can be a major barrier for tenants trying to keep their housing and that remote options will help people from being ruled against simply on procedural grounds.

Farmers and ranchers gain the right to repair their equipment

Colorado has been at the forefront in recent years of the effort to give consumers the right to repair the high-tech machines they own, instead of having to rely on the manufacturer or their certified technicians.

The process started with a law giving wheelchair users more power to modify and repair their powered chairs. This year, that right expands to include owners of agricultural equipment. Under a law taking effect Jan. 1, the makers of tractors, combines and other farm machines will have to provide owners and independent repair shops with parts and manuals when they ask for them.