The Colorado House Finance sank legislation to reduce the number of offenses that require the accused to post cash bonds to get out of jail.
Two Democratic committee members — chair Shannon Bird of Westminster and Matt Gray of Broomfield — voted with Republicans. Supporters said Senate Bill 273 would break the disparity that keeps people behind bars because of poverty, not necessarily guilt.
Opponents said it put the rights of the accused ahead of the rights and safety of the victims.
Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, said those who can pay bond get out for the same crime, which sometimes makes poor people wind up the victim of the system, sometimes paying with their lives for misdemeanors.
“I know the way this system shakes out is not the same for everybody,” she said. “And once again we find ourselves in the place where we need help from people to change this reality for us, but once again the decision for this outcome aren’t in hands that look like ours.”
The legislation was sponsored by three other Democrats: Rep. Adrienne Benavidez of Adams County with Sens. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City.
The bill passed the Senate 19-16 on May 27.
“This country, not only here in Colorado, we’re right now undergoing a racial reckoning,” Benavidez said.
She said a lot of bad things too often happen to people when they are stopped or detained for low-level crimes, which she described as a criminalization of poverty, sometimes treating the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.
“This is so important to stopping this injustice,” Benavidez said of the legislation. “This bill could save a life and could save our cities and counties the cost of putting these people in jail when they are not a threat.”
Westminster Deputy Police Chief Todd Reeves opposed the bill based on practicalities of keeping agitated people behind jail until they or others are safe.
He said the same people who would be turned loose under the bill are some of the same kinds of people that detox facilities call police for help in controlling.
“Those people would get a ticket and be released in the same agitated state they were in when they were failing to cooperate with detox,” he said.
The well-intentioned bill would create problems on the street, he said.
“I can give you hundreds of examples of the practicalities that this bill is really going to make difficult for law enforcement,” Reeves told the Finance Committee.
He warned that if some offenders know they won’t be taken to jail, their behavior will escalate.
Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet, vice chair of the Metro Mayors Caucus, said she and her counterparts are against the bill out of an abundance of concern about public safety, as well.
“The most important responsibility we have in local government is to keep people safe and take care of prevent victims of crime,” she said. “We are significantly concerned about the increases in crime we’ve seen over the last year, and as proposed SB 273 provides greater consideration for those who violate the law than those who are victimized by their acts. It undermines the victim’s rights to equal protection.”
Denise Maes, the public policy director for the ACLU of Colorado, said opponents are misrepresenting the kinds of crimes for which a person can avoid going to jail by opponents.
“I think one of the main reasons the chiefs oppose this bill is it does change the status quo,” Maes told the committee. “And what you’ve heard today from a lot of different witnesses is the status quo isn’t working.”
Elisabeth Epps cofounded and directs the Colorado Freedom Fund, which pays cash bail for those who can’t afford to get out. She said she was trying to work herself out of a job by doing away with cash bail.
“The neighbors we pay bond for are not more risky,” she told the committee. “They are not more dangerous. They are not more criminal. They are more poor.”