Fighting against discrimination

Greg Romberg
Posted 2/17/21

As part of the original staff of the Colorado Office of Policy, Research & Regulatory Reform in 1981, my two colleagues and I were responsible to identify and eliminate duplicative, burdensome …

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Fighting against discrimination

Posted

As part of the original staff of the Colorado Office of Policy, Research & Regulatory Reform in 1981, my two colleagues and I were responsible to identify and eliminate duplicative, burdensome and unnecessary government regulation. One of our first projects was to review all of the forms used by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.

As we began the task to review thousands of pages of forms for a variety of government agencies, one disturbing trend was how many forms required people to provide the race, sex, creed and other demographic information of applicants. If laws and regulations said that people who met requirements were eligible to receive licenses and pursue activities based upon those specific requirements, we believed those questions were inappropriate and could be used to discriminate against people based upon their race, religion or sex.

Our boss at the time was Wellington Webb, who as a former legislator, a former appointee of President Jimmy Carter and the only Black member of Gov. Richard Lamm’s cabinet was arguably the most influential African American in Colorado. When we presented our findings to him, he immediately agreed and, shortly thereafter, the inappropriate questions were removed from all of those forms. Subsequent reviews of the forms of other regulatory agencies throughout state government led to removal of requirements for Coloradans to provide their race, religion or sex as a condition to meet regulatory requirements.

As part of the conversation about how we make sure that access to COVID-19 vaccinations is made available to everyone, regardless of race, it has taken me back to the review of all those application forms. Forty years later, fighting against discrimination is still a necessary and important public policy. And yet, how we do so is fundamentally different in these two cases. We were right to prohibit regulatory agencies from asking about people’s race, religion or sex as a condition to receive regulatory approval to practice their professions and pursue their careers.

But with demonstrated, statistical proof that the virus has disproportionately impacted racial minorities, it’s incumbent on us to ensure that specific efforts are taken to make sure that those communities have access to and participate in receiving vaccinations at rates that are at least the same as for the population at large. That vital public policy goal will require us to keep track of the racial composition of people who are vaccinated.

These two very different activities have the same goal that government provide services to all without discrimination based upon race, creed, or sex. These two diverse examples show that how we achieve that fundamental responsibility will be different in different circumstances.

Greg Romberg

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