Sex-crime sentence law goes into effect

It took some doing, but the state now has its own version of Jessica’s Law.

Though there was much debate in the Colorado Legislature earlier this year over concerns that the measure, HB1260, wasn’t strict enough, in the end the bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

“When we’re able to protect our communities against sexual predators, that’s a good thing,” said Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, who introduced the bill that created the new law. “It was contentious, but at the end of the day it’s a pretty good law and I think it will help.”

The measure, known as Jessica’s Law, is named after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who in 2007 was sexually abused and brutally killed by a repeat sex offender who lived in her Florida neighborhood. The law took effect Tuesday.

Since then, nearly every state has passed varying forms of it, though most include what Colorado had done — impose some kind of mandatory-minimum prison sentences and have strict electronic monitoring when offenders are released on parole. Some Colorado lawmakers have tried several times over several years to get such a law passed.

Colorado’s law uses a tiered sentencing scheme depending on the severity of the sexual offense. Under it, convicted sex offenders would receive anywhere from 24 to 48 years for a Class 2 felony, 18 to 32 years for a Class 3 conviction, and 10 to 16 years for a Class 4 felony.

Several Republicans argued that the law should be a minimum of 24 years regardless of the felony level.

“The timidity of this bill is embarrassing,” Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said in May when the House approved the measure. “... With a tiny bit of leadership, a tiny bit of prioritization in the billons of dollars that we’re spending (in the state budget) we could do so much more.”

Foote said that doesn’t work under Colorado’s long-standing sentencing guidelines.

“I’m glad we were able to make it work for Colorado,” Foote said. “That was really the big issue, was it going to work in our statutes or not. Obviously, everyone agreed because it was unanimous in both chambers. It was a contentious unanimous vote, but it was still unanimous.”

A legislative fiscal analysis of the new law’s impact on state funding estimates that about 35 people a year will received longer sentences than they would have without the new law.

Currently, it costs about $21,484 a year to incarcerate an inmate for one year. The fiscal analysis said that additional costs won’t be felt by the Department of Corrections for at least 14 years, when the longer sentences will impact prison bed space. At that time, it will cost the state an additional $10.5 million a year to house the felons.

An alternate measure that the Republicans were pushing would have imposed 24-year mandatory sentences in all cases. As a result, it would have cost the state nearly $14 million more a year to house them for that time, according to a fiscal note of that measure, HB1264, which lawmakers nixed.


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