DENVER—The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony and voted unanimously to support HB 1352, sponsored by Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, and Senator Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield. The legislation is based on recommendations approved by the Colorado Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice.
Included in the legislation is the reduction in sentences for drug use and possession, reduction of penalties for some marijuana offenses and the creation of a new crime with enhanced sentencing for drug distribution by an adult to a minor.
Testifying on behalf of the bill were Tom Raynes, deputy attorney general; Maureen Cain, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, Mark Randall; Colorado District Attorneys Council; and Paul Thompson, assistant director of Peer 1 and an ex-drug offender.
The legislation has widespread bi-partisan support, and has been endorsed by more than 50 community organizations including the Colorado Association of Police Chiefs, Colorado Sheriff’s Association, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Drug Endangered Children, Prison Fellowship and the Independence Institute.
Rep. Waller introduced the bill to the Committee, explaining that HB1352 “reduces some of the drug felonies for possession-only drug offenses, and takes the savings and applies it towards treatment. The fiscal savings projected over next five years is in the neighborhood of $50 million. But that is not all this bill is about. This legislation will make our communities safer and gives us the best bang for our public safety dollars.”
Tom Raynes and Maureen Cain presented joint testimony in support the legislation, reviewing the changes in sentencing law based upon the recommendations of the CCJJ Drug Policy Task Force, of which both are members.
“We can do something better with drug addicts that doesn’t jeopardize public safety, reduces recidivism and saves money,” Raynes said. “It is in many ways a paradigm shift … the way to deal with these offenses is with ongoing meaningful evaluations and ongoing treatment.”
Personal testimony came from Paul Thompson, an ex-drug offender who has worked for Peer 1, a drug and alcohol treatment program for 21 years and is currently the program’s assistant director.
“I was addicted to heroin for 16 years,” Thompson told the panel. “All of my crimes were drug related. I never had the opportunity for treatment; never knew about treatment. But now I work in the treatment realm. I go to the prisons and work with the people who were ‘me.’ For someone like myself, this is like watching man land on the moon. Watching district attorneys and public defenders working together to help an addict — it’s an incredible thing.”
HB 1352 is based on recommendations approved by the Colorado Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice (CCJJ), created by the legislature to develop strategies to reduce recidivism, promote public safety and protect the rights of victims. The a 26-member commission includes representatives from every spectrum of the criminal justice system, including the Attorney General, legislators, sheriffs, police chiefs, district attorneys, public defenders, parole board, judges, treatment providers, and victim advocates.
Judiciary Committee Chair Claire Levy commended the efforts of the commission and the bill sponsors.
“To get a bill of this magnitude in front of us with bipartisan sponsorship, with the support of the Attorney General and criminal defense bar, shows that remarkable work has happened,” she said. “This is historic.”
HB 1352 is co-sponsored by every member of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee before being heard by the full House.