Colorado lawmakers weigh softened statutory sex-offender language

DENVER– A controversial bill seeking to extend Colorado’s Sex Offender Management Board and rework some of the language guiding the board’s work stoked intense debate at a Judicial Committee hearing Thursday afternoon. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora, HB 1364 would make distinctions between adult sex offenders and juvenile sex offenders and also lift language that describes sex offenders as incurable.

The Sex Offender Management Board hearing
The Sex Offender Management Board hearing

The bill reflects recent concerns spurred for example by youth “sexting” incidents, where teenagers text naked or even pornographic photos of each other to one another or post them on the internet for fun or spite– not an activity most parents would condone, certainly, but also nothing on the scale of the kind of predatory sexual offenses the state’s harsh laws are meant to curb.

The bill suggests creating two categories of offenders, changing current language to refer to “adult sex offenders” and “juveniles who have committed a sexual offense.”

The move to soften language that describes offenders as incurable, however, has turned out to be the most hotly contested aspect of the bill. Detractors say the move would set a dangerous precedent that doesn’t reflect contemporary medical research, which has tended to see sex offenders as chronically afflicted, much like addicts, enduring a sickness to be managed because it can’t be cured.

One of the bill’s supporters, Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, has come under fire here for championing the language change. Levy told the Colorado Independent that removing the language would effect no changes to laws or sentencing but that, in effect, it opens the conversation.

The bill would strike the words “no known cure” from a portion of the bill that suggests treatment. The new version would ask for the state’s Sex Offender Management Board to conduct further research on treatment. Levy said that the Board’s work may well recommend current treatment consistent with the policy of “no known cure” but she felt the bill was an appropriate place to add another theory about sex offenders.

Judicial Committee members consider proposed sex offender language.
Judicial Committee members consider proposed sex offender language.

She said again that removing the language would not change sentencing, reporting mandates or prosecutions.

“Reading the bill do you see anything that would hurt the public?” She asked and then answered her own question. “No.”

The bill charges the board to develop recommendations on treatment by mid December.

Witnesses lined up thick and deep to testify against the change in language, mostly citing public safety.

Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, told the Colorado Independent that the bill would likely get out of committee on a party line vote.

A spokesman for the Denver D.A.’s office said recidivism was a chief characteristic of these criminals. “To date we have filed 68 cold cases and every defendant has had another prior offense of contact,” he told the committee.

The Sex Offender Management Board also recommended 14 to 2 to retain the “no known cure” language.

Spokesman for the state Attorney General’s office Geoff Blue said that removing the language would compromise safety unnecessarily.

Levy said that was inflammatory. She challenged the statement as exaggerated and unsubstantiated. She pointed out again that indeterminate sentencing language was not being removed from the bill.

Levy reportedly has told members here she is willing to offer an amendment that would on some level retain the “no known cure” language.

At 5:15 p.m., witnesses in favor of the bill are still waiting to testify.

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