Herod, Exum, Tipper bills signed into law
(May 28) – Gov. Polis signed several bills led by House Democrats into law today to help reform Colorado’s criminal justice system.
Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, has been a champion for criminal justice reform. Rep. Herod headed up a number of criminal justice reform bills this session, many of which are now law. Today, Gov. Polis signed a handful more.
“I’m proud of the bipartisan work that went into getting these bills to reform our criminal justice system signed into law,” said Rep. Herod.
First up were two bipartisan pieces of legislation which reflect changing attitudes about giving members of our society that have made mistakes in the pasta second chance. These new laws will help felons find stable employment and gain a higher education, by banning the ‘box’ that asks about previous criminal history on initial employment applications and college applications. 1.8 million Coloradans are currently listed in the state’s criminal record database and employment practices that filter out these applicants can make it hard for these individuals to bounce back from their past and find a job or get accepted to college.
“Banning the box will give Coloradans a chance to tell their own story during an interview, rather than letting the ‘box’ do the talking. Employment is the most significant factor in reducing recidivism,” said Rep. Herod. “We are more than our worst mistakes.”
HB19-1025 is sponsored by Rep. Herod and Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora. Colorado now joins 11 other states which ban the box for private employers, including Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Oregon, Washington, California and Vermont.
SB19-270 is sponsored by Rep. Herod and Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta. The law will prohibit questions regarding criminal history on an initial college application. The law would not prohibit questions regarding criminal history on college housing applications. Educational programming reduces recidivism by 40 percent and provides opportunities for employment and positive support that decrease the likelihood of committing future crimes.
Gov. Polis then signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, that creates the Colorado Second Chance Scholarship program to award scholarships to people who have previously been in the custody of the Division of Youth Services (DYS) and are pursuing their higher education.
“If we can get our young people the help they need to get a higher education after they’ve gone through the rehabilitation process, then we can lower the recidivism rate and in return, they will be productive members of society,” said Rep. Tony Exum. “It will cost taxpayers more in the long term than it will to improve the lives of our young people with education and give them a more fulfilling life.”
Rep. Exum has a Division of Youth Services facility in his district. SB19-231 will award scholarships of up to $10,000 each to youth offenders exiting the DYS system to pursue higher education. It will create a five-person advisory board consisting of four people appointed from various state agencies and one person who previously served in a DYS facility to award the scholarships based upon need.
“This is an important investment in our vulnerable youth who are just now getting their lives back on track. This program could be the only opportunity many of these kids will have to get a fresh start,” said Rep. Tipper, D-Lakewood.
Next, Gov. Polis signed a bipartisan bill eliminating felony charges for drug possession. HB19-1263, sponsored Rep. Herod and Rep. Shane Sandridge, R-Colorado Springs, would save the state up to $13.7 million over five years. The new bipartisan law lowers the penalty for drug possession from a level 4 drug felony to a level 1 misdemeanor. Level 4 drug felonies are punishable by 6 to 12 months in prison and level 1 misdemeanors, as defined in this bill, would be punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to 2 years of probation.
“The war on drugs has devastated communities across Colorado,” said Rep. Herod. “It has been especially destructive for communities of color, which are disproportionately impacted by harsh drug laws. Reducing the current felony penalty for possession is a critical step toward fair and sensible drug policy in Colorado. It reflects the position held by most Coloradans that the state should focus more on treatment and less on incarceration.”
The law would not change the punishments for those charged with possession of drugs with intent to distribute.
The Gov. also signed a bipartisan bill that would reinstate the voting rights of individuals on parole. HB19-1266, sponsored by Rep. Herod, clarifies that people who are on parole have completed their “full term of imprisonment” upon release from prison, thereby restoring their right to vote. The bill would restore voting rights to approximately 10,000 Coloradans who are now disenfranchised.
Parolees are denied the ability to vote because current law defines the “full term of imprisonment” to include the period of parole. The Colorado Supreme Court has stated that the state legislature has the authority to redefine the “full term of imprisonment.”
Gov. Polis also signed another bill sponsored by Rep. Herod. SB19-143 allows the Department of Corrections to better manage their population when the vacancy rate falls below 3 percent. It will better align parole board decision-making with the parole release guidelines for people who have been assessed to be less than high risk.
Under the bill, technical parole violations would not be used to send a parolee convicted of certain low level crimes back to prison.
The Gov. then sign a Herod-led bipartisan bill to charge a peace officer with unlawful sexual conduct when they knowingly engage in sexual contact, sexual intrusion or sexual penetration anytime the victim is in custody, regardless of consent. The bill passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 59-5.
Unlawful sexual conduct by a peace officer is a class 4 felony when the offense is committed by sexual contact and is a class 3 felony (a more serious offense) when the offense is committed by sexual intrusion or sexual penetration. A class 4 felony carries a possible sentence of two to six years in the Department of Corrections, and a class 3 felony carries a possible sentence of four to 12 years. An offender convicted of unlawful sexual conduct by a peace officer is required to register as a sex offender. An offender convicted of a class 3 felony due to unlawful sexual conduct by a peace officer is subject to lifetime supervision.
The bills were signed at the Second Chance Center in Aurora.