#Coleg Notebook: Senate supports ‘sticky’ syringe-surrender program

Resolving a sticky situation 

Bills dealing with drug use and looking to lessen harmful impacts are winning solid bipartisan support this session. Last month, the Senate gave staunch support to a bill from Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, making it much easier for people to access Naloxone, a life-saving opioid overdose-reversal drug.

Tuesday, the Senate advanced another harm-reduction bill from Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. SB 116 grants immunity to people who voluntarily surrender needles when dealing with authorities.

“This bill is to create an incentive for people who are in possession of dirty syringes to turn them over to police,” said Steadman. “That’s so that the police officer doesn’t get stuck with a syringe and potentially exposed to infectious diseases such as hepatitis C or HIV … We’ve now enlarged the bill so that it provides the same incentives for the syringes to be handed over to any first-responder.”

Steadman noted that 12 Denver police officers have been stuck with dirty syringes in the last two years.

The measure passed unanimously out of the Judiciary Committee.

“This is an important step in terms of bringing the community and law enforcement together instead of contributing to what is growing to be an increasingly adversarial relationship,” said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.

The measure got final approval from the Senate on Wednesday and now heads to the House.


Putting survivors back in the driver’s seat

The Senate gave initial approval to Minority Leader Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Denver’s SB 128 on Tuesday. The bill separates a post-sexual assault medical examination from a criminal report of assault. It also allows survivors to remain anonymous and have forensic evidence collected and kept on file in case they want to proceed with criminal allegations in the future.

“This bill allows a survivor to do a medical-only exam without triggering mandatory reporting until and unless she or he is ready,” said Carroll. “This is about putting the victim back in the driver’s seat to decide if, when or how to proceed [in the case of sexual assault.]”

The measure got final approval in the Senate on Wednesday and now heads to the House.


A just ending in the curious case of the county commissioner 

A few weeks ago we reported on a strange little bill, HB 1074, which would have made county commissioners (and only county commissioners) exempt from campaign finance laws that prohibit governmental entities from using public money to support or oppose ballot initiatives.

The bill arose out of the strange case of the Elbert County Commissioner who, along with a majority of his board, voted to use some $15,000 in public funds to support a ballot initiative.

Under current law, all campaign finance complaints must be brought by either citizens or outside organizations which selectively name the parties, thus limiting who the judge can charge. In this case, the citizen who brought the complaint only mentioned one commissioner, not the others who voted the same way. As a result, when the verdict came through guilty, one person was fined for several people’s mistake.

Initially, HB 1074 would have “solved” this problem by granting all county commissioners personal immunity from such charges. That approach ran afoul of what voters intended when they passed campaign finance regulations and it also extended an unfair benefit to commissioners and not to other officials such as school board or city council members.

On Tuesday Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, saw unanimous approval for HB 1074 in the Senate local affairs committee after amending the bill considerably. Instead of making county commissioners universally immune, the bill now states that, if a citizen brings a complaint against a board, they must name everyone on the board responsible for the offending action.

“Personally I think it’s a just bill, people need to realize that when you make a vote on whatever board there’s responsibilities that go along with that,” said Crowder. “If there’s something dishonest, I think people need to be held accountable. That’s how we have fair and transparent government.”

Ethics Watch Colorado, the nonprofit campaign finance watchdog group that pointed out the problems with the first version of the bill, complimented the sponsors for working with them on the amendment. The watchdogs also asked that the same legislation be extended to all areas of government, not just to county commissioners. That wasn’t possible to do within HB 1074 due to title constraints, but we’ll keep an eye out for followup legislation.

HB 1074 now heads to the Senate floor.

Top image by Brad Dozier.