Colorado Translator (and State Representative) Wants Insurers To Translate Policies

Colorado Insurance Translation

House Bill 23-1004, a proposed bill mandating that Colorado insurance providers translate policy documents into the same languages in which they advertise, is the latest in a string of language-based consumer protection bills introduced or recommended to support people with limited English proficiency (LEP) living in the US.

Representative Elizabeth Velasco introduced the bill, Language Access in Insurance Documents, to the Colorado House of Representatives on January 9, 2023; a fellow Democrat, Senator Julie Gonzales, co-sponsored the bill.

Velasco’s first piece of legislation was inspired by her experience as a professional translator and as the owner of a small language service provider (LSP). She described the bill as “broadening the umbrella” of language access legally ensured in courts and schools. 

HB 23-1004 would apply to insurers who issue commercial or personal automobile, homeowners’, or renters’ insurance policies. 

Section 1 of the bill broaches the quality of the translation. An insurer must certify that their policies have been translated by a certified translator or, if a certified translator is unavailable for a particular language, by a professional translator. The bill’s text clarifies that the term “certified translator” refers to someone certified by the American Translators Association (ATA).

Certified translations in hand, an insurer must make available policy applications and related documents and forms in the same language(s) used in their advertisements for a given policy, allowing applicants to select documents in their preferred language. 

Should an insurer fail to comply, an insurance policy issued without the certified translation will be rewritten to include any omitted coverage. The insured will not pay any premiums for additional, retroactive coverage resulting from the rewrite. 

The first committee hearing for HB 23-1004 is scheduled for January 25, 2023, and the bill’s authors proposed that, if passed, the bill take effect on January 1, 2024.

Language access legislation addressing other industries in different states has had mixed success.

New Jersey’s Bill S2459, proposed in March 2022, would expand state language access services to cover 15 languages. AB 3254, signed into law in September 2020, expanded California’s translation requirements for consumer contracts for business negotiations in languages other than English.

And a 2019 report by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs recommended legislation requiring debt collectors to provide language access services to consumers with limited English proficiency (LEP).

At the national level, in December 2022 President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that incorporated the TRANSLATE Act, addressing the translation of communication materials at major US airports. The Improving Language Access in Mortgage Servicing Act of 2021, meanwhile, died in Congress without receiving a vote.