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Politics and Government

Colorado effort to limit arrests for low-level criminal offenses dies in statehouse committee

This is the second version of the legislation, which would have limited arrests for low-level offenses, to be rejected this year.

Inside Denver's downtown detention center. Oct. 11, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty, Denverite)
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A measure that would have limited Colorado law enforcement from making arrests for low-level criminal offenses died in a statehouse committee on Monday after it failed to receive enough support from Democrats to move forward. 

It’s the second version of the legislation to be rejected this year. 

Senate Bill 273 sought to reduce jail populations statewide by limiting what offenses law enforcement could arrest someone for, instead requiring police officers and sheriff’s deputies to issue summonses. The bill failed in a 6-5 vote in the House Finance committee, with two Democrats, Rep. Shannon Bird of Westminster and Rep. Matt Gray of Broomfield, joining the four Republicans on the panel in voting “no.”

Gray is a former local prosecutor, and a number of district attorneys opposed the bill. At least seven district attorneys supported the measure.

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The measure would have prohibited law enforcement from arresting a person only for a traffic offense, petty offense, drug petty offense, municipal offense, drug misdemeanor or misdemeanor offense, with some exceptions. 

Those exceptions included crimes causing bodily injury, crimes with an identified victim, illegal possession of a firearm and making a credible threat to a school.

“That’s very disappointing,” said Sen. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat who championed the bill, in reacting to the measure’s failure.

The measure would have also prohibited courts from issuing monetary bond for misdemeanor or municipal offenses, class 4, 5 or 6 felonies or a drug felonies unless a person was considered a risk to flee or threaten the safety of another person, and there was no other way to mitigate that risk.

Bird said she opposed the bill because its prime sponsors weren’t willing to make amendments giving police officers in the field more discretion.

“We are not in a position to legislate for every possible situation,” said Bird, who also wanted the bill to only address misdemeanors offenses, not felonies.

Other criminal justice reform advocates at the Capitol were buzzing about the news on Monday night. “I am stunned about the death of Senate Bill 273,” Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, tweeted.

Senate Bill 273 was a scaled-back version of Senate Bill 62, which would have prohibited arrests for those suspected of low-level felony offenses as well. Lee spiked the original bill after facing heavy opposition from law enforcement groups, introducing Senate Bill 273 as a compromise. 

Democrats pitched the bill as a way to avoid law enforcement confrontations, citing the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year as a prime example. Floyd was arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill.

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