Panel leaves Bradford bill in legislative limbo

State lawmakers left Collbran Republican Rep. Laura Bradford’s plan to toughen child molesters’ prison sentences in limbo Thursday after they failed to either kill the bill or move it along in the legislative process.

The House Judiciary Committee, in a 6-4 vote, declined to pass the House Bill 1144 along to the House Appropriations Committee. The panel then deadlocked on a motion to kill the measure.

Levy said the panel’s conflicting votes leave the bill on the committee’s calendar.

Bradford’s proposal would raise the mandatory minimum sentence for sex offenders who target children 14 years old or younger to 20 years.

House Bill 1144’s curious status — neither dead nor moving through the legislative process — gives Bradford until Feb. 19 to convince her peers to move it to the House Appropriations Committee.

The panel’s vote came after numerous witnesses, including family of sexual assault victims, pleaded with the committee to toughen the state’s prison penalties.

Deborah Clair, a former officer with the Denver Police Department, pleaded with the committee to pass Bradford’s bill into law.

“These sexual predators are everywhere,” Clair said, adding that stronger minimum sentences will protect children.

Bradford said she understood her peers’ misgivings about the bill’s massive price tag, nearly $139.5 million for expanding and staffing state prisons over the next five years, but her proposal is necessary to protect Colorado’s children.

“I don’t want them (sex offenders) in my public library.  … I don’t want them in a park,” Bradford said. “I don’t want them on a street. They don’t belong there.”

Colorado defense attorneys and prosecutors, however, said Bradford’s bill removes the discretion of attorneys to work out case-specific sentences that protect children and prevent sex offenders from re-offending.

Douglas Wilson, Colorado’s top public defender, said Bradford’s bill would group serial child rapists into the same sentencing category as “a 21-year-old touches a 14-year-old’s breast or buttocks consensually.” The legislation, he said, thus takes therapy off the table for less serious offenders.

House Bill 1144 could make a reappearance before the House Judiciary Committee as early as its next meeting, on Monday.


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