DENVER -- Last year, Democrats got beat up for rejecting a Republican-sponsored proposal known as "Jessica's Law" that would have mandated a 25-year minimum jail sentence for child sex offenders.
This year, Democrats drew up their own "Jessica's Law" proposal, hoping to blunt the political attacks that come from rejecting a seemingly "tough on crime" measure by moving forward with a version of the bill that offers prosecutors and judges more flexibility when it comes to sentencing.
"I wanted to bring Jessica's Law to Colorado in a way that made sense for Colorado," said Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, a former prosecutor who is the sponsor of House Bill 1264.
"We’re not going to cut and paste any provision of any other state’s criminal law without making allowances for our structure and the way things work in Colorado."
The legislation, which drew unanimous support from the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Monday afternoon, will increase sentences for sex offenders who abuse children in line with the severity of the felony offense.
Democrats believe it's better than a broad 25-year mandatory minimum, as was proposed last year by legislation sponsored by Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, who bashed Democrats on Fox News Channel with Bill O'Reilly after they voted down the measure.
"If you create a situation when a judge has to always impose mandatory sentences for too broad a category, you're going to create injustices," said Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, a Democrat who testified in support of Foote's bill Monday.
Democrats scheduled the hearing so that Foote's bill was heard right before of House Bill 1260, the same proposal that Szabo sponsored last year, brought back again.
"If someone commits lewd molestation on a child, they will go to jail for 25 years," Szabo said Monday. "We need to do everything we can to protect our children from these people who are setting out to hurt them."
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, a Republican, was at the Capitol to support Szabo's bill.
"Consider this as a tool for prosecutors in these cases," Brauchler said. "This proposal is really a mallet to use against the worst of the worst offenders. And there are certain people who deserve the mallet, not the scalpel; I'd like to have that tool in my toolbox."
He supports Foote's proposal, but with less enthusiasm.
"It's more of a ballpein hammer," he said. "Not a mallet."
The committee, as expected, rejected Szabo's bill on a party-line vote.
Following the hearing, Republicans weren't appeased by Foote's bill, criticizing Democrats for not passing a stronger version of "Jessica's Law".
"Democrats once again failed to fully understand the threat sexual predators pose to Colorado’s children and defeated legislation that would have created some of the toughest laws against in the nation," said Szabo. "Jessica’s law is about threat mitigation. Statistics show a person capable of molesting a child remains a dangerous threat to every child and needs to be kept out of society for a very long time."