Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Bill Ritter did the right thing by vetoing sex offender bill

Governor Bill Ritter will sign a slew of bills this week -- the deadline for action on all legislation coming out of this past session is June 11 -- but he put HB 1364 on a fast track, Vetoing the bill Friday afternoon. He did the right thing.

As the longtime Denver District Attorney, Ritter has handled his share of sex offenders -- and their victims. And he recognized that, above all, those victims deserve to be heard. But the last-second amendment to HB 1364 shut them out of the process.

The proposal to extend the Sex Offender Management Board, which was first established back in 1992, was supposed to be fairly standard housekeeping -- but it still involved months of discussion and open meetings even before the almost thirteen-hour public hearing last month. But then, after the parties involved thought they knew the form the final bill would take, state senator Joyce Foster made her behind-closed-doors amendment, which would offer sex offenders their choice of three therapy programs. She didn't note that her own brother-in-law, a registered sex offender, had issues with the program to which he'd been assigned.

It was the last-second, secretive nature of this amendment -- after a very open process -- that Ritter noted in his well-thought-out veto message:

Furthermore, while this amendment appears to be aimed at striking a balance between public safety and the legitimate interest in increasing the likelihood of success in treatment by improving treatment matching for offenders, this proposal was not included in the sunset review report for the SOMB, nor was it thoroughly vetted during the legislative process, a process that includes an opportunity for lawmakers to hear from experts in the field. On an issue that is this critical to public safety and the overall success of the sex offender treatment program, this failure of adequate vetting and thorough debate constitutes a fatal flaw with the bill.

So Ritter killed it, and he should have. He can continue to do the right thing by charging the same groups that considered the initial bill to revisit the discussion, considering not just Foster's proposal but the motivations behind it. If there are problems with the SOMB, they need to be fixed -- after a thorough airing of the problems.

In public.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun