One of 2 competing bills advances on sexual assault against children

Will the real Jessica’s Law please stand up.

Earlier this week, a House committee debated two bills that were called “Jessica’s Law,” a measure first approved in Florida in 2005 in response to the brutal rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl by a known sexual offender.

Since then, all but seven states have passed so-called Jessica laws, but it’s become somewhat of a political football in states such as Colorado that haven’t, particularly by conservative talk-show host Bill O’Reilly.

The two bills that were introduced into the Legislature this session include HB1260, introduced by Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, and HB1264, sponsored by Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada.

Foote’s bill passed the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee unanimously, while Szabo’s bill died on a party-line vote in the same committee, with all seven Democrats on the 11-member panel voting to kill it.

“It looks as though that you’ve taken the Florida (law) and lifted it almost word for word,” Foote told Szabo not long after his bill passed and just before hers died. “You’ve created an unclassified felony where there is none in our current sexual assault statutes. This bill would create a 25-year mandatory minimum regardless of level of felony committed, which is unprecedented in our sex assault statutes. It’s overbroad in its consequences, and it’s ... subject to an array of constitutional challenges.”

Foote said his bill, by comparison, establishes a variety of sentencing ranges depending on the class of felony someone is charged with, saving the strictest — 24 years to life — for the most serious sexual crimes.

But Szabo, who appeared on O’Reilly’s Fox News show a year ago soon after a similar measure she introduced died, said her bill is “The Real Jessica’s Law,” and more properly honors the little girl who died in Florida nearly a decade ago.

“Jessica’s Law is a specific law that pays tribute to a beautiful young girl who was brutally raped and killed by a repeat sex offender,” Szabo told the committee. “(The bill) would send a strong decree and implement a law that would give honor where honor is due.”

Democrats, however, said their job is to protect children with changes to the law that fit with Colorado’s existing sex offender statutes, which already call for long jail sentences, lifetime registration on the state’s sexual offender registry and, when needed, 24-hour monitoring with Global Positioning System tracking of released offenders.

A report by the Colorado Commission on Criminal Justice last fall on Jessica’s laws enacted in other states showed that few are identical to Florida’s original version, adding that some don’t even have its two major provisions: mandatory minimum sentences for violent sex offenders and more stringent monitoring of them once they are released from prison.

Foote and other members of the committee said one can’t “cut and paste” other states’ laws into Colorado’s statutes and expect them to hold up.

The bill that did survive heads to the House Appropriations Committee for more debate.


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