House panel advances King bill on indecency

It was late in the evening Monday by the time a Colorado House panel got to Rep. Steve King’s bill on masturbation, so the jokes were kept to a minimum.

Despite the obvious wisecracks about that stimulating subject, however, the panel took the issue of public indecency seriously, approving House Bill 1334 unanimously.

King said his bill was designed to draw a clear line between a sex crime and doing something inappropriate in public that isn’t really sexually motivated, which would require offenders to be listed on the state’s sex offender registry for the rest of their lives.

He said the way the law reads now, people could masturbate in public and receive only a slap on the wrist, while someone else could urinate in a backyard and find himself facing a felony charge.

“Public urination, masturbation and streaking are all the same class-one petty offense,” King said. “The problem that presents is if you’re convicted of urinating in public, you are subject to the Colorado sex offender registry. That tends to weaken the effectiveness of the registration.”

The bill would move the state’s existing masturbation statutes from the public indecency section of the law to public exposure.

It also removes laws about showing genitals with the purpose of causing alarm — such as a streaking — from the exposure statutes and moves them to the indecency section. If someone repeats that offense, though, that person still could be charged with a sexual crime.

Public indecency is a petty offense; exposure is a misdemeanor, but serious enough that it could include jail time.

Maureen Cain, legislative liaison for the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, said the state’s sexual registry grows by about 12 percent a year, but many on the list shouldn’t be there.

“This is a better bright line,” said. “Behaviors that do not have a component for sexual arousal should not be a sexual offense.”

Though the House Judicial Committee signed off on King’s bill, the House Appropriations Committee where is now goes may not. The would raise about $5,000 in increased fines, but it is estimated to cost the courts more than $100,000 a year to implement, including the need to hire up to two people.

The Legislature is so cashed-strapped this year that any bill with a cost attached to it, particularly if it increases the number of state workers, is immediately questioned. Few such bills survive.


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