Bill to end cash bail, limit arrests, for some low-level offenses passes Senate

Politics

DENVER (KDVR) — A bill to end cash bail and limit arrests for some low-level offenses passed the Colorado Senate on Thursday, marking a compromise after language that would have also limited arrests for some felonies was removed.

Senate Bill 273 is now headed to the House. Lawmakers filed the bill after months of contention over Senate Bill 62, which had the same provisions designed to reduce jail populations, but would have also banned arrest for some felonies.

That did not sit well with police or lawmakers. And now that SB-273 has advanced — it’s a bill from the same sponsor but without the provision to ban arrest for Class 4, 5 and 6 felonies — those opposed to the first measure still are not happy about it.

Supporters say one key tweak — removing the felony language — makes all the difference.

“When I heard at the outset that the bills are identical, I was confused, because Senate Bill 62 covered felonies 4, 5 and 6, and they were removed (in the new bill),” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Pete Lee, D-El Paso.

Still, the language calling on officers not to arrest people suspected of some offenses, like traffic and petty drug or misdemeanor offenses, remains. Advocates say this gives them hope it will still reduce incidents like the rough arrest of Karen Garner in Loveland.

“We are hoping, still, is that we reined in a little bit of discretion on the part of police, because we do think they need to be reined in a little bit,” said Denise Maes, of the ACLU of Colorado. “That’s really the hope, and I think it will be the result of this senate bill.”

Though the elements surrounding arrests for felonies was removed, the part of the bill that would eliminate cash bonds for those same levels of felony offenses remains.

“They are selling the bill as though it is just a misdemeanor bill, but it’s really not. We’re telling police you can arrest them, but we’re telling the judge you can’t keep them in jail after the fact,” said Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, an opponent of the bill.

Clayton and other leading opponents argue the measure will allow more dangerous people to roam the streets.

“The only people that are going to benefit from this are repeat and violent offenders who have done this multiple times,” Clayton said. “These are the people judges are putting bails on right now. These are the people the legislature is going to tell judges they can’t put bail on. Any first time, low level, non-violent offenders, judges will generally kick them out on their own recognizance anyway.”

Despite all the changes in this bill, many police groups still are not on board with the new effort. It’s on its way to the House now.

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