Legislative Update: February 12, 2003

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Legislative Update: February 12, 2003

Self Defense, Prisons, Minor Parties, CCW, God

by Ari Armstrong

Smith Keeps Burden of Proof on Defense
Matt Smith called me a few days ago to make sure I updated an article titled, "Smith Guts Self-Defense Bill." Strangely, Smith seemed proud of the newly amended bill and seemed to think his constituents would also be pleased. But bill 1148, as amended, now requires defendants to prove their innocence in cases of self-defense. The bill was amended on the House floor to read:

The court shall instruct the jury that it may consider the evidence of self-defense in determining whether the defendant acted recklessly, with extreme indifference, or in a criminally negligent manner. However, the self-defense law instruction shall not be an affirmative defense instruction and the prosecuting attorney shall not have the burden of disproving self-defense.

But this maintains the main problems described in the original article. The way it's supposed to work is that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. The prosecutor should have to prove that a purported case of self defense is in fact murder or unjustified homicide. Smith keeps the burden on the defendant. It would seem Smith is guilty of legislating "with extreme indifference" toward his constituents' rights.

Proponents hope to restore 1148 to its original intent in the Senate.

No Debt-Funded Prisons
The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition sent out the following alert February 6. Bill 1256 is scheduled to be heard February 12. To join the CCJRC alert list, send an e-mail to update@ccjrc.org.

House Bill 1256 (Spradley/Anderson) seeks to build a 756-bed control unit prison (named CSP II, located next to the current Colorado State Penitentiary) through the issuance of certificates of participation (COPs). In an effort to attract bi-partisan support, the bill also allows COP-funded building at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center at Fitzsimons. These two projects are dramatically different and should NOT be in the same bill.

* COPs are long term debt and violate the spirit of the Colorado constitution's requirement that long term debt be approved by the voters (for more information on this topic, see http://www.independenceinstitute.org/Publications/Op-Eds/Taxfiscal/prisondebt121802.htm).

* A new control unit prison is not needed! Colorado keeps dramatically more of its prisoners (7.5%) in control unit prisons than the national average (3.3%).

* Confinement in CSP can lead to serious mental illness and exacerbates psychological problems in the 12% of CSP inmates who were mentally ill when they entered the facility. This is cruel and unusual punishment.

* The CSP II proposal is too expensive -- it would cost $80 million to build, plus $22.8 million in debt service (interest on the COPs), and around $38.1 million a year to operate. Colorado can't afford this at a time when colleges may be closed and Medicaid is in jeopardy. The legislature should reform drug laws and promote alternatives to incarceration such as substance abuse treatment, mental health care, and community corrections.

Minor Party Bill
The committee vote for 1142 is now scheduled for January 13. Shawn Elke Glazer, a Libertarian candidate in 2000, took notes during the February 6 committee hearing. Bill Crane, the bill's sponsor, said "the playing field should be level." So he wants to make it HARDER for minor parties to run candidates? I think what he meant to say is, "I want to level the Libertarian Party and scrape it off the playing field."

The bill was amended to eliminate the caucus requirement, a change the Secretary of State wanted. However, as amended it would create a four-day window for filing candidates -- despite the enormous paperwork load -- and eliminate nomination by vacancy committee. The Adams County Clerk pointed out the bill would impose new, unfunded costs on counties (though it's unclear to me what impact the amended bill would have).

[In the photograph, Bo Shaffer and Norm Olsen of the LP chat at the state capitol. Other LPers who went to the hearing include Shawn Elke Glazer, Ralph Shnelvar, Jerry Van Sickle, Frank Atwood, John Berntson, David Aitken, and BetteRose Ryan.]

[February 13 Update: Ralph Shnelvar reports the bill passed a committee vote this afternoon.]

Concealed Carry
Chlouber's concealed carry bill finally made it out of committee in the Senate, and, to appease Governor Owens, Lamborn agreed to water down his alternative bill by creating criminal-safety zones in schools (Denver Post, February 11, Julia Martinez).

[February 13 Update: Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners reports, "It would be more accurate to say that Lamborn created a modified criminal safezone in his bill, requiring prosecutions to show 'criminal intent' of those who carry, with a permit, in schools. This would still allow permit holders to carry in schools. It may come to pass that the full K-12 is amended onto his bill, but it hasn't been yet."]

In God We Trust
Well, I certainly don't trust the legislature to do the right thing. On February 6 a House committee voted to require all political buildings and classrooms to display the motto, "In God We Trust."

I almost felt sorry for the people who planned to speak, dressed up, with their notecards carefully written up -- as if testimony at the capitol actually affects the votes. (Once in a while it does, and it's a good way to educate the press and other activists.)

Debbie Stafford, the bill's sponsor, said Congress made "In God We Trust" an official motto for the nation in 1956. She said measures similar to her bill in other states have not been legally overturned. She claimed the signs would present in a secular way the role of religion in the nation's history and also evoke pride in America's symbols. She also said her bill would not, as feared, apply to buildings like sheds and outhouses. (This is the point where I burst out laughing.)

Frank Weddig, on the other hand, read a letter from a Christian minister who said the bill would promote monotheism despite Colorado's "diversity of religions." The "authentically faithful" don't need legislative support, the letter said. I would add that the authentically patriotic will be similarly unaffected by the posting of signs.

So as Colorado citizens are murdered because of the violence of drug prohibition and the restrictions on the right of self-defense, as economic prosperity is sucked down the throat of the bloated state, the committee chose to argue about whether or not to display some damned sign.

What I'm having trouble figuring out is which rung of Hell is reserved for legislators who waste tax money on stupid bills. Is it Rung 1, Panders? Rung 6, Hypocrites? Rung 7, Thieves? Or is it Rung 9, "Sowers of Discord"?

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