Another hot issue has emerged in the legislature late in the session, this one over a Senate bill that would re-evaluate minimum sentences, public defender qualifications, and “good time” sentence reductions for certain offenders.
There’s a lot in this bill (worth a read here), but the over-arching intention seems to be spending reductions–with corrections emerging as one of the biggest budget-eaters at a time when painful cuts are being made everywhere, a lot of what’s in here seems very much worth considering. Which is not to say everybody agrees with everything in this bill–like we said, there’s quite a bit in here that should have a reasonable debate, and there is room for compromise according to proponents.
But Republicans, for their part, are latching onto this bill with objections that border on the hysterical–not to mention that trademark amnesia we’ve been talking about all session. From their statement Friday, fronted by the oh-so-eloquent Sen. Scott Renfroe:
“Based on a wing and a prayer that they might save some money, they want to let countless criminals back on our streets–not to mention in our homes, our businesses, our schools and just about everyplace else that law-abiding Coloradans would have additional reason to fear for their safety,” said the GOP’s Sen. Scott Renfroe, of Greeley.
“Let’s not confuse our priorities in facing our state’s budget challenges,” said Renfoe, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Locking up criminals to keep the rest of us safe is one of the state’s most essential roles. This bill caves in to crime.”
Holy crap, really? That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Almost as bad, in fact, as all that stuff Republicans passed in the 2003 legislative session, when they owned the legislature and the Governor’s office–and had some budget problems if you recall.
So, what did Republicans pass in 2003? Well, they passed Senate Bill 03-318, by lopsided majorities in both houses, that reduced sentences for a range of drug-related crimes. The fiscal note projected a savings of almost $8 million. And let’s see, there’s Senate Bill 03-252, which allowed parole violators to be sent to halfway houses instead of prison–Renfroe would positively freak, wouldn’t he? Passed almost unanimously and now law. Fiscal note anticipated a $27 million savings over 5 years, that’s why.
Then there’s Senate Bill 03-328, which just like today’s bill would have recalculated “good time” sentence reductions. To be fair Governor Bill Owens did veto this one, but not before it passed the Senate by 34-1 and the House by 59-6.
Sounds an awful lot like a Republican majority “confusing priorities” and “caving into crime,” doesn’t it? If you’re asking what the difference is between then and now, other than a far more serious budget crisis that if anything would make this bill even more worthy of consideration…it would probably be that Republicans aren’t in the majority now. So the answer is “no” (with hysterics) where it used to be “yes.” We honestly wish it wasn’t that simple, but it, well, rather obviously is. A theory we’re working on is Republicans got so much of what they wanted in the recent budget compromise that they were hurting for something to complain about–fortunately, scary criminals arrived “in our homes” just in the nick of time.