Sentencing reform bill introduced by Rep. Nikkel

If Rep. B.J. Nikkel has her way, any legislation that criminalizes an act or changes how an existing crime is treated would be accompanied by a review of similar crimes to ensure that sentencing is consistent and appropriate.

The bill, designed by the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ), will mandate that bills creating or changing laws on crimes be accompanied by historical and comparison information to similar crimes already on the books.

While not yet introduced, Nikkel, R-Loveland, said the bill asks that a comprehensive analysis of how a new crime or change fits in with existing laws and sentences be conducted by the Colorado Legislative Council and included in the bill’s fiscal note. The recommendation is an effort to fully inform legislators on criminal and sentencing law so that they can ensure changes to the law fit into Colorado’s penal justice system before being enacted.

As envisioned by the CCJJ, the fiscal note would answer a number of questions. These include what the unique elements of a proposed crime are, if the offense can already be charged under current law, whether the penalty is appropriate given the penalty for similar offenses, and the anticipated prevalence of the crime the legislation is intended to address.

“If there is a bill that creates a new crime or changes a penalty of an existing crime the fiscal note will include information that will cut down on any redundancy in statutes or conflicts in statutes,” Nikkel said.

According to Lance Clem, spokesperson for the commission, the recommendations for change came out of the Sentencing Task Force during a Dec. 10 deliberation meeting.

Asked for examples of problems that exist in sentencing laws that could have led to the development of the task force recommendations, Clem said the commission has been focused on a number of issues, but drug offense sentencing has played a large role in their past recommendations.

“Last year the commission supported a number of legislative changes to the state’s drug laws,” Clem said. “In addition to other issues, the commission cited inconsistencies in sentences for possession of certain kinds of drugs.”

Nikkel said that she was carrying the bill because of the non-partisan nature and sound judgment the CCJJ has displayed in the past.

Members of the commission who attended the December session included Sen. John Morse, Rep. Mark Waller, State Public Defender Doug Wilson, and Adams County District Attorney Don Quick.

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