#Coleg notebook: Avoiding Safe2Bully; Rep. Danielson on her first 30 days

When Safe2Tell becomes Safe2Bully: 

Last year, in the wake of the Arapahoe High School shooting, state lawmakers adopted Safe2Tell, a successful anonymous student intel program that started after the Columbine school shooting. In turning Safe2Tell into a state program, they guaranteed its funding and expanded its reach.

Data-2Report-Infographic_December-2014That move received robust bipartisan support and the program itself is considered widely successful, in large part because it provides students complete anonymity in reporting things like threats of violence, suicide risk and bullying.

Recently, however, that anonymity in reporting threats has turned into a way to threaten without consequence. Using “Safe2Tell” as a verb, students have deliberately made false reports in order to tease or even harass other students. As in: “I’m totally gonna Safe2Tell my ex girlfriend and say she has drugs in her backpack. She deserves it for cheating on me.”

Noting that both false reporting of bomb threats and stalking/harassment are felonies, Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, today proposed SB 139. The measure would allow law enforcement to acquire a warrant to access the identity of Safe2Tell reporters in cases of extreme abuse.

“Safe2Tell has saved lives, absolutely, unequivocally,” said Wendy Rubin, the principal of Chatfield High School, who testified in favor of the bill today. “But [at my school] it’s also been used to egregiously harass and bully one student in particular.”

Rubin described a situation in which students at her school used the system to make repeated reports on an unpopular student, saying that he had an arsenal of weapons at home and planned to shoot up the school. Per Safe2Tell procedure, school administrators reached out to the student and law enforcement searched the family’s home. They found nothing, but the reports just kept coming.

“It got to the point where sergeants would stop full lights and sirens from going out to the house because there would be situations where it was the middle of the night and there were 12 cop cars, dogs… This poor student and his family were de facto terrorized by these reports,” said Rubin.

Rubin said the student, who has since graduated, became gradually more withdrawn as the reports continued.

“We actually worried that he would become suicidal or homicidal,” said Rubin. “It was so cruel.”

“We’re providing a small pressure release valve,” said Hill of his Safe2Tell reform bill, which would only allow law enforcement to seek a warrant for reporter identification in cases of repeat abuse of the intel system.

“We cannot accept that high level of abuse of our personal rights and privacy,” Hill said. “Let’s try this for two years and then the whole thing will come back under review.”

Hill’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, got the initial nod from Senate Judiciary today with a vote of 4-1. It now heads to the Senate floor.

Info graphic via Safe2Tell.


The New Girl: Q&A with Rep. Jessie Danielson, D – Wheat Ridge

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I’d love to get a sense of what the first month has been like for you — any surprises? 

Actually, the first month has been really great in that is seems to be very bipartisan. Almost every bill I’ve voted on has been a completely bipartisan effort in either chamber that generated it. I wasn’t exactly surprised by that, but it is better when you’re really working on policy that’s best for the people in the state and it’s not about political gain.

So the Pay Equity Commission has been kind of a partisan flashpoint, for better or worse. Senate Republicans sunsetted the commission and you brought a measure to restore it shortly thereafter. How did you decide to become the face of that issue, that it was a fight you wanted to fight? 

From The Bureau of Labor Statistics.
From The Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So that was one that did end up being pretty partisan, unfortunately, because it should be an issue that’s a priority for everybody. It’s important, I think, to most people across the state that we achieve pay equity. Right about the time I was proposing this bill, there was a report that said we’ve actually lost ground. I felt it was important enough to bring to my chamber to say, “Do you agree that we should fight for equal pay for equal work? If so, here’s a really easy first step towards that. If not, I’m going to keep pushing it because it’s so straightforward.”

On an issue that’s less straightforward, I know you and I were both sitting through the hours and hours of testimony for the Death with Dignity Act … You did end up voting against it. I’d love to hear a little about your thought process. Did you know going in how you’d vote or was it about testimony? What was that day like for you as a lawmaker on that committee? 

To your last question first, it was a really, really hard day. It was about the testimony. I struggled with this bill because of its merits and its problems. The folks who were opposing it typically oppose things for very good reasons. I’m talking about the disability rights community. That’s something I’ve worked on in my past and care very deeply about and so the issues they were brining to me were really valid. I came into that committee hearing to listen to people and I’m really glad I did. I knew there were problems with the bill. The committee hearing testimony was very emotional and both sides were really respectful of each other… What the eleven hours of testimony showed me is that there’s a real need to change the law to allow people to control the end of their life situation when it’s something they see as really miserable and torturous. What the testimony also showed me is that there were a lot of problems with the bill that put a large number of people at risk. So in the end what I decided was kind of what I said at the microphone — that there’s a lot of honor in what the bill sponsors were trying to accomplish for some people, but what the bill actually did was open up a number of doors that put a lot of people at risk, so I just couldn’t support the policy.

Ours would have been the first state to pass such a measure in the legislature. [The other five states with right-to-die measures passed them through popular referendum]. There’s a potential this question could go to the ballot. Do you have any particular feeling about what the best forum is for this conversation? 

I think we just had it. Of course the voters have the right to take things to the ballot, but with such a complicated issue that impacts so many people, I’m really glad the conversation started here. We had a forum where literally 100 people could come and tell us as a committee why they wanted us to vote one way or another. After months of working on the language, the bill still wasn’t accomplishing what it wanted to. It opened up all of these problems: The insurance industry being able to prioritize this over treatment; how do you self-administer if your health has declined to such as state that you can’t feed yourself; and being a patient isn’t even part of the requirement for asking for the prescription. I mean there was so much lacking in the way of safeguards. If you just put a simple question on the ballot now, you can’t have that discussion with the voter. Also, it was clear the language wasn’t ready, so I think that was the right forum… I think everyone in the room acknowledged that it was a really, really difficult decision. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Q: So I’m looking at your prime sponsor bills and, in the context of the conversation we’ve just had, I’m interested in this focus on the beginning and end of life. You have an elder-abuse bill and another for teen pregnancy prevention. What guides you to your bills? 

That’s a really easy question, especially on those two bills. For me the rights of senior citizens are really critical and I want to work on that issue in general for the long term. They’re at risk a lot of times. They’re the most important people; they build our communities and there are ways we’ve fallen down when it comes to taking care of them when they need help. They need help to live independently and to retire the way they deserve to retire. But often they’re also the victims of the kind of abuse I’m addressing in this bill. The bill expands the kind of people who are supposed to be able to identify and report abuse if they see it. It’s a pretty simple concept, but who we’re expanding to is really important — transportation workers, for example, very specialized transportation workers who pick up at-risk elders on a regular basis. Unlike the larger part of the population, or the under-70 part of the population in my bill, seniors depend on transportation a lot. We want to add people who see them on a regular basis and who can see if something is different or alarming in order to give them the tools to do something about it. It really just comes down to being able to retire the way they see fit and live independently. That’s really important to me.

Teen pregnancy and dropout prevention is also really important to me. When young people are given information and options about how they can make healthy decisions, they typically choose to do that. This bill is about preventing pregnancy, but it’s also about not becoming subject to peer pressure and avoiding drug and alcohol abuse. The sexual education is based on abstinence but also on giving practical tools. As you know, not all young people choose abstinence. If they are sexually active, we want them to be healthy and to avoid pregnancy before they get out of high school. If they obtain a high school degree, they’re much more likely to get a good job and become productive members of society instead of being on the system. Typically, when young people are able to put off having children until they get a high school degree, they do still choose to have families. It’s just they’re in a better position to provide for them.

Those are two easy issues I’m really proud to be working on, because we’re helping some of the most important, productive people in our society stay independent towards retirement, and on the front end helping young people get a good start so they can have that too.

Anything coming down the pike that you want to give our readers a sneak preview of?

To be honest, these three bills have kept me pretty busy. But I will say that I have one more measure that helps seniors. This has to do with caregivers. I’m working out the details of that bill but that should be another positive gain to help people protect themselves as they move through their health care provision.

Another one you’ll be interested in is this bill I’m working on that should be introduced pretty soon. It has to do with proper care for sex assault victims on college and university campuses. That’s one I’m also going to be really proud to put forward.

The idea comes from all those stories that are going on about victims on campuses not being given the proper treatment after an assault. This bill is meant to address that. Many schools are already doing a wonderful job, but this would make responses consistent across the state and provide a real protocol for people after an assault, so we can say to any student in the state, “If you come here, we’ll help protect you, and it doesn’t’ matter if you attend school in Sterling or in central Denver.” That’s the idea behind it, and it should be coming pretty soon. I just need to make sure that everybody’s on board with it before we introduce it. The last thing I want to do is put a law on the sex assault community that they’re not OK with.


Note: This interview and its questions have been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Leading photo by Rex Bennett