Colorado uses the phrase “illegal alien” in just one law, about public contracts. The phrase soon may go away entirely.

On Wednesday, the Colorado House voted along party lines, 39-24, in favor of a bill that would strip the derogatory term “illegal alien” for immigrants who came to the country illegally from language in a state statute about public contracts for services. The bill now heads to the Senate.

The terminology has been increasingly scrutinized, with immigrants, activists, lawyers, politicians and others choosing to use terms like “undocumented” or “unauthorized” immigrants. And leaders across the country are pushing to get rid of the term “illegal alien” in official documents.

The specific statute directs state agencies not to enter or renew public contracts with a contractor who “knowingly employs or contracts with an illegal alien.” The language would be changed to “a worker without authorization” in all instances where “illegal alien” is currently used.

Denver Democratic Rep. Susan Lontine, one of the bill’s sponsors, introduced the proposal last year, but it didn’t go anywhere because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lontine said the phrase came to her attention when a friend who works for the city of Denver pointed it out. In a House committee meeting last month, she told members that “illegal” is used in connection with criminal acts, but immigration status is a civil matter.

“It becomes OK to treat people we believe are illegal with violence because, after all, they’re criminals,” she said.

The bill makes a small change to Colorado law, but Lontine said “words do matter.”