Colorado lawmakers kill bill that would have had cops ticket more, arrest less

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Colorado State Representatives Iman Jodeh, left, and Jennifer Bacon, right, chat in the house chambers during Monday’s session on April 19, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Rep. Jennifer Bacon scanned the makeup of the House Finance Committee on Monday evening just before her bill that would change arrest standards and lower Colorado jail populations was to get a vote.

“Once again,” said Bacon, a Black Democrat who said she’s been handcuffed seven times, including while staffing a summer camp, “the decision for this outcome is in hands that don’t look like ours.”

Nine of the 11 members of the committee are white. Moments after she spoke, the panel voted 6-5 against SB21-273.

SB21-273 would have required police to issue tickets instead of arrest people for a wide range of misdemeanors and petty crimes. Law enforcement opposed the bill and said it would hamstring them, citing concerns about lack of discretion to make arrests in misdemeanor cases.

The six “no” votes included four Republicans and Broomfield Democratic Rep. Matt Gray, a former prosecutor; and Westminster Democratic Rep. Shannon Bird, the committee chair and one of the more conservative Democrats at the Statehouse.

No one who opposed the bill explained their decisions prior to the vote. Gray declined to comment after his vote and Bird could not be reached immediately after the vote.

“Again, the lives of many people who are poor, who are people of color, were put in the hands of very privileged people,” Bacon said after the vote.

Bacon said Gray and Bird wanted to amend the bill to provide more discretion for police, or, as Bacon put it: “They wanted police to set the terms of police reform.”

Elisabeth Epps, the founder of Colorado’s largest bail fund, said after the vote that spoken Black Lives Matter solidarity rings hollow when Democrats oppose bills like SB21-273.

“Because what does it mean?” she said. “One wonders what the point is of Democrats if they’re going to vote with Republicans.”

SB21-273 started as SB21-62, a controversial measure that would have allowed for ticketing certain levels of felony crimes. Democrats who run the Capitol believed they’d get a fresh start with a more moderate bill and less heated public debate, but that was not to be the case.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the amount of discretion police would have had to make arrests under SB21-273.

By ALEX BURNESS | | The Denver Post

PUBLISHED: June 7, 2021 at 6:31 p.m. | UPDATED: June 7, 2021 at 11:26 p.m.

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