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Coloradans weary of their state’s status as No. 1 for auto theft got a little good news this week: The number of vehicles stolen in the state’s largest city actually dropped during the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock touted the development at a news conference with other officials Tuesday and cited several initiatives by City Hall he said helped reduce car theft and other property crimes. Good to hear.

It’s a ray of hope amid a bleak bigger picture in which the state continues to reel from an epic crime wave. That includes the rampant theft of what for most people is their principal means of transportation to work, school and more.

A much-needed, bipartisan bill that could do a lot to rein in auto theft in Colorado is scheduled for a long-overdue hearing Thursday at the State Capitol in the House Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 23-097 would fix some of the damage done by lawmakers through soft-on-crime legislation enacted in prior years. It passed the state Senate unanimously well over a month ago — but for reasons undisclosed by the Democratic majority, has been languishing in the House without a hearing until Thursday.

Meanwhile, the toll of auto theft on our state has been rising — and it reminds us our state’s lawmakers bear a lot of the blame.

A report released Wednesday by Colorado’s Common Sense Institute found the motor-vehicle theft rate in Colorado has skyrocketed 233% since 2014.

That was the year the Legislature adopted a sliding scale that reduced penalties for stealing lower-valued vehicles. A significant proportion of that astounding increase in the rate of auto thefts has occurred since 2021, when lawmakers further watered down a range of criminal penalties — and made it a mere misdemeanor to steal any vehicle valued under $2,000.

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It was part of the reckless, criminal-coddling “justice reform” agenda advanced by lawmakers from the ruling Democrats’ political fringe.

The 46,568 vehicles reported stolen across Colorado last year were valued at an estimated $530 million, the Common Sense report found. The surge in auto theft since 2014 has caused wide-ranging ripple effects, according to the report:

  • The rising theft rate since 2014 is accountable for $277 million in increased motor vehicle insurance premiums.
  • That amounts to $239 per household per year or $19.93 per month.
  • Personal income dropped $101 million; the state’s gross domestic product fell $158 million, and 0.11% was added to the state’s inflation rate as a result.

In other words, Colorado’s soaring auto theft has been costing all of us, even those whose cars haven’t been stolen. Enough already. It is way past time to take action, and we can start by passing SB 23-097 into law.

It would eliminate the state criminal code’s sliding scale tying the value of a vehicle to the penalty. Vehicle thefts would be a felony. 

The bill emerged from the Senate with broad backing, including from law enforcement and Colorado’s local governments. It’s a safe bet Gov. Jared Polis would sign it; he called on the Legislature in his State of the State speech in January to “get tough on auto-theft sentencing.”

It could take years to undo the damage done to Colorado by the misbegotten justice reform movement, and we can’t recover the costs calculated in the Common Sense report. But our lawmakers at least could restore real justice, and SB 23-097 is a step in that direction.