Civil and digital rights advanced

Bill to limit solitary confinement on prisoners with mental illness gets final passage

SB 64, a bill which ostensibly prohibits the use of solitary confinement or “administrative segregation” on mentally ill prisoners got near unanimous final passage in the House today without any debate. The measure was sponsored in that chamber by Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton.

Advocates of prison reform focused on limiting or eliminating the use of solitary confinement in Colorado’s prisons celebrated the bill’s passage.

“This legislation, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, solidifies and provides critical funding for policies initiated recently by Department of Corrections Director Rick Raemisch that provide adequate out-of-cell treatment for prisoners with serious mental illness, rather than sticking those prisoners in 23-hour-a-day solitary cells,” said Denise Maes of the ACLU of Colorado in a statement after the bill’s passage.

Although advocates like Maes agree that the passage of SB 64 is an important first step to curtailing the use of solitary confinement on prisoners with mental illness, they have also expressed grave concerns that the bill leaves much of the enforcement and definition of policy up to the Department of Corrections instead of writing it into state law. While the CDOC has taken tremendous steps towards providing prisoners with mental illness more treatment and less isolation, those policies could theoretically be changed at the Department’s discretion.

Read an in-depth story of the solitary confinement bill here.

Transit app bill passes, though it was a “heavy lyft”

SB 125, which establishes a regulatory structure for new mobile phone ride-sharing applications from transit network companies like Lyft and UberX, may have been the most surprisingly tricky bill of the session for its sponsors. After more than 100 proposed amendments, many of which were adopted, the bill did get final passage in the House today by a vote of 60-5.

Sponsored in the House by Reps. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, and Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, the bill places companies like Lyft and UberX under the regulation of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Since we last saw the bill in the Senate, taxi companies seem to have gained some ground. The measure now allows for those companies to start their own apps, which would fall under the same regulations. The bill also now requires the companies to mark their cars externally as for hire (Lyft already does this with large, pink mustaches) and to provide some degree of workers’ comp for drivers.

“No one’s cracking open a bottle of champagne because this bill is passing,” noted Pabon, saying that the measure was truly a compromise. He added that lawmakers can fully expect to be dealing with the rapidly changing intersection of technology, transportation and regulation for many years to come. For exhausted lawmakers excited to see SB 125 speeding away, one can only imagine their excitement to tackle such policy conundrums as the self-driving car…

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72-hour hold bill somehow becomes about guns

This weekend the gun-rights group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners sent out an email to its supporters calling out HB 1386 as a gun-grabbing measure hiding under the guise of a mental health bill.

Co-sponsored by Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, the bill changes some definitions in state law, essentially broadening the scope of who can be put on nonconsensual 72-hour medical hold for being a danger to themselves or others. For example, it removes the word “imminent” from the relevant law so that someone need only be a danger to self or others, as opposed to an imminent danger.

Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, came to the well to oppose the bill saying he worried that it infringed on civil liberties and Second Amendment rights — something he cautioned his colleagues against doing after a slew of gun-control motivated recalls contributed to three Democratic senators losing their seats.

“This bill does not address the rights of gun owners in Colorado at all,” said Gardner. He added that he does not feel the bill infringes on civil liberties either.

“The worst deprivation of civil liberties is failing to provide help to someone who needs it and ends up taking their life or the life of a family member,” he said.

Ultimately, despite RMGO blacklisting, the measure passed with a bipartisan vote of 43-22 and now heads to the Senate.

Senate to ask voters if they’d like to update constitutional privacy rights

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Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, either saw the above clip or the joke is just too good not to be made by many. Anyhow, it goes like this, “At least we can be well assured that among all the federal agencies out there, the National Security Agency is really listening to you…”

Co-sponsored by Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, and Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, SCR 2 taps into the current zeitgeist, which is rightly concerned with digital privacy, by asking Colorado voters if they want to update the state Constitution’s language about privacy to include private digital records.

There was some debate on the floor about whether adding protection for people’s private electronic data from unreasonable searches and seizures would really keep the federal agencies out of Coloradans’ emails. Some, like Lundberg, believed it would, or at least that the federal government would have to actively invoke supremacy in order to access records.

In any case, if voters approve it, the amendment will update privacy standards at least as far as state government oversight is concerned. That would insure the privacy of communications like email, or direct Twitter or Facebook messages. It would exclude public postings to your Facebook wall, Twitter, Instagram etc.

The measure needed at least 24 votes in the Senate to get on the ballot, but it got the whole chamber, passing 34-0.

Slate of telecom bills fly through Senate

In an effort to push that much-desired high-speed internet lifestyle out to Colorado’s rural communities, a coalition of lawmakers brought forward five telecomm bills that will deregulate the telecommunications market and pull money once used for landlines into a broadband fund.

You can read our run-down of the individual bills here.

Despite serious concerns from the AARP and consumer advocacy groups that these bills could allow telecom companies to dramatically raise the rates for landline services — which many people residents rely on for both 911 and security services — the bills got near unanimous final approval in the Senate today.