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If it seems that there are more bills related to law enforcement coming through the Colorado legislature this year, your intuition is correct. There are.

At this moment, some 40 bills have been introduced and are moving through the committee system. More than two dozen of them could impact how law enforcement officers do their jobs and the session isn’t over. Just a few weeks ago Governor Jared Polis signed two bills focused on community protection:  SB21-078 Lost or Stolen Firearms and HB21-1106 Safe Storage of Firearms.

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Colorado State Capitol, Image courtesy of Good Free Photos.

The debate over the gun storage bill, which requires gun owners to use locking devices, or gun safes to secure firearms, got particularly contentious, involving 10 hours of debate, in which threats of violence and rebellion were made. More than 30 Republican-sourced amendments were proposed, all except one defeated. Clearly, Coloradoans have definite, if opposing opinions about guns — and gun safety.

The obvious question is ‘what is driving the legislative increase?’ One obvious answer is the national attention to the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Elijah McClain here in Colorado and massive Black Lives Matter protests last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there is another practical reason. Last year’s pandemic curtailed the legislative sessions and only bills that absolutely had to make it through during General Session got attention.

“We’re picking up a lot of bills that died last year because of COVID,” said Rep. Kerry Tipper (D-Lakewood), who is sponsoring several of those bills. She considers the 2021 measures on law enforcement a turning point, a view she says is shared by those in law enforcement as well as lawmakers.

Here are just a few of the bills working their way through committees toward the finance committee. A tip for readers; bills don’t become law unless funded by the finance committee. Without a budget, a bill becomes meaningless, regardless of how important it may seem to its supporters:

HB 1015   Security Protections for Criminal Justice Personnel — If it became law, it would make private the personal information of corrections workers, public defenders, and other “protected persons”, which now might be revealed during prosecution work.

HB 1057   Disclosure of Information for Asset Recovery — This would make it illegal to provide information on an undocumented person to law enforcement as an attempt to extort the immigrant to do or not do something legal.

SB20- 217  Known as the 2020 session’s police accountability bill — Senate Bill 217, according to Tipper, this might have been part of what brought people to the table to talk. Passed last year, it struck down qualified immunity, a tool that protected officers from being sued over potentially unlawful actions.

“It’s possible that sometimes when we drive policy changes, it forces people to the table who hadn’t felt an urgency,” said Tipper. There’s also the nexus between mental health, substance abuse and the criminal justice system, she added.“What we have been doing hasn’t been working”.

Rep. Colin Larson (R-Littleton), told Colorado Politics on Monday that he sides with those who want better training and outcomes for law enforcement officers. He has his name on two bills that deal with how officers do their jobs.

HB 1122 First responder interactions with the developmentally disabled — Larson says the events of last summer, are leading to a push to deal with these issues and the tone is troubling to him. “It created a dichotomy where there was a villainization of law enforcement and a tendency to identify them as the problem.”

There’s clearly a deficiency, but law enforcement is a partner in fixing that, he adds. “They’re not the enemy.” He added that the institution of law enforcement isn’t fundamentally wrong, but there are problems. “Why are interactions escalating to the point of violence, and what can we do to make better interactions?”

HB 1085 Secure transportation for those in a behavioral crisis — Larson says that there is a connection to law enforcement. A person in a mental health crisis who needs to go to a hospital has just two options: go in a police car or an ambulance. Larsons says neither is efficient, given the cost of either of these modes of transfer and setting up some alternative transport would be humane and more cost efficient.