A bevy of new laws approved during this year's session of the Colorado Legislature go into effect Monday, from allowing more dogs in the courtroom to imposing fines on violating hunting and fishing rules.
While the use of court dogs is not uncommon to ease the emotional distress of victims — the Mesa County district court uses a Labrador retriever named Tilly — using them in a courtroom during testimony has become somewhat problematic, at least to some.
Defense attorneys often argue, and judges often agree, that the use of courtroom dogs could cause a jury to have more empathy toward a witness, and greater suspicion of a defendant.
The new law under House Bill 1220 attempts to address that issue, though it still leaves the decision to allow dogs to accompany witnesses during trial up to the presiding judge.
Upon a motion to allow courtroom dogs filed at least 14 days beforehand, the law allows judges to determine if a courtroom dog would reduce a witness' anxiety and allow the court to receive full and accurate testimony.
In Mesa County, Tilly was first used to help alleviate witness anxiety outside the courtroom, such as during interviews with children who are victims in sexual assault cases. Rarely was Tilly allowed inside a courtroom at first, but Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said that's changed a bit.
"Statewide, I expect this to result in them being used more often," Rubinstein said. "Fortunately, because of Tilly being trained well, and being quiet and non-disruptive during the testimony, our judges have been increasingly permitting her use during trial."
Rubinstein also said the new law likely will help create standardizing of jury instructions to not allow the presence of a courtroom dog to sway their deliberations.
Here's some other laws going into effect on Monday:
■ HB1191, partly introduced by Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat whose district includes Delta County, would allow farm stands to operate on land of any size, but restricts what's sold there to goods or other agricultural products that are grown or produced on the land where it is sold. Products grown or produced by other agricultural operations also can be sold there, but only if permitted by a local government. It also allows those local governments to require licensing of a farm stand.
■ HB1034 requires that all faster-moving freight trains have at least two workers as a way to ensure safety, particularly on longer train groups. The new law, however, doesn't apply to slower moving trains, those going 10 mph or less while loading or unloading, or locomotive groups traveling 30 mph or less.
■ HB1026, introduced by Montrose Republican Sen. Don Coram and Rep. Marc Catlin, increases certain fines for violations of rules approved by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which include rules dealing with wildlife, parks and outdoor recreation, snowmobiles and off-highway vehicles. A few years ago, when the Legislature approved higher fees for licenses, some fines were less than those new fees, creating a disincentive to get a license.
■ HB1107 creates a new Employment Support and Job Retention Services Program in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The new program is designed to help low-income people find higher-paying jobs.
■ HB1266 allows individuals who are on parole to register to vote in any election. The new law is expected to increase statewide voter rolls by about 10,000 people a year.