Democrats’ version of Jessica’s Law clears House with GOP support

Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, is a former prosecutor whose revamped Jessica's Law proposal drew unanimous support from the full House on Tuesday.

Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, is a former prosecutor whose revamped Jessica's Law proposal drew unanimous support from the full House on Tuesday.

DENVER — After watching Democrats reject their ‘Jessica’s Law’ proposals for the past two years, Republicans held their noses and voted in favor of a Democratic version of the same law on Tuesday.

Jessica’s Law, which has been passed in all but six states, is named after a 10-year old girl in Florida who was brutally raped and murdered by a repeat sex offender in 2005 and seeks to establish mandatory minimum sentences for convicted child sex offenders.

Colorado Democrats, after simply rejecting a GOP effort to pass Jessica’s Law last year, came up with their own version this year that strengthens sentencing requirements for child sex offenders based on specific offenses but maintains discretion for prosecutors.

“This is a strong bill and also a smart bill,” said Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, a former deputy district attorney in Boulder County. “We’re creating Jessica’s Law in Colorado in a way that works for Colorado.”

HB14-1260, which cleared the House on a unanimous final vote Tuesday, imposes sentences of 24 years to life for class 2 felony assault on a child under the age of 13, 18 to life for class 3 felony assault on a child, and 10 to life for class 4 felony assault on a child. Under current law, the most severe prison sentence for such offenses is 8 to 24 years.

Jessica’s father and others behind the campaign have expressed their support for Rep. Foote’s effort.

The Jessica’s Law campaign also supported House Bill 1264, the GOP version brought for the second straight year by Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada. That bill would have set the strict 25-year minimum sentence across the board.

Last month, the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee killed Szabo’s bill on the same day it approved Foote’s, which “Democrats renamed Jessica’s Law in a politcal manuever”, the House GOP complained Monday in a press release.

“Last year, Democrats did not see the value of increasing the sentences of child sex offenders. This year they did, but unfortunately with weaker sentences for child predators and the audacity to simply use a political stunt to rename their legislation Jessica’s Law,” said Szabo.

“Sadly, this is election year politics at its worst. If making Colorado a safer place for our children was their intention, Democrats would have offered to work with us on the legislation that I had already introduced this year and last.”

On Tuesday, however, not a single Republican voted against Foote’s bill as it passed out of the full House, not wanting to have to explain a vote against stronger sentences for child sex offenders as they forced Democrats to do last year.

H.B. 1260 now heads to the Senate for consideration.