‘A Constitutional Train Wreck’

(Thursday, Feb. 23) – Democrats on the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee voted early this morning to defeat a bill that would have made elected officials in vaguely defined “sanctuary jurisdictions” liable for civil damages and even criminal sanctions for any crime committed by any undocumented person within that jurisdiction.

HB17-1134, sponsored by Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, would also have forced local law enforcement officials to detain people without a warrant, violating the Fourth and Tenth Amendments, inviting expensive lawsuits and creating an unfunded mandate.

As a practical matter, the bill would have corrupted law enforcement’s mission of keeping people safe. Ron Sloan, representing the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, testified that the bill would compromise public safety by making community members fearful of attracting law enforcement attention by reporting crimes.

The bill also included language exempting itself from judicial review.

“The courts’ right to review legislation has been a settled question in this country since 1803, and lawmakers’ freedom to vote without fear of reprisal has been enshrined in Anglo-American law for even longer,” said Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, the chairman of the committee. “This reckless bill is so full of unconstitutional provisions that I’m surprised anyone who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution could support it.”

Others speaking in opposition to the bill during the seven-hour hearing included the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties Inc., the state sheriffs’ association, and a slew of education groups, civic organizations and human rights groups.

“This bill violates the Colorado and U.S. constitutions in multiple ways and proposes to direct local law enforcement agencies around our state to do the same,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora. “It’s also clear that HB- 1134 would make our state less safe by driving a wedge between communities and law enforcement officials who are sworn to protect them.  Business and political leaders in my city oppose this needlessly divisive bill and I strongly oppose it as well.”

Professors César García and Christopher Lasch of the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, who also testified against the bill tonight, described it in a recent report as “a constitutional train wreck.”

“If our students submitted this for a course,” they wrote, “we would be ashamed of our work as teachers and alarmed at the author’s disregard for basic principles of our constitutional democracy.”

Nevertheless, Reps. Tim Leonard, R-Evergreen, and Stephen Humphrey, R-Eaton, joined Rep. Williams in supporting HB17-1134. They were outvoted by Reps. Foote and Weissman and Reps. Susan Lontine, D-Denver; Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams County; Edie Hooton, D-Boulder; and Jovan Melton, D-Aurora.

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