Bill Ritter vetoes sex offender bill over Joyce Foster's controversial amendment

Bill_Ritter (Small).jpg
Bill Ritter just says no.
Senator Joyce Foster's last minute amendment to House Bill 10-364, which allowed sex offenders to choose among three treatment options, stirred plenty o' controversy, owing largely to her subsequent admission that the action was inspired by her brother-in-law, Julian Newman, who has a sex-offending past.

KHOW's Peter Boyles, in particular, has been hammering on Foster, and while some of his assertions have been questioned, there's no doubting the political damage that's been done.

Of late, rumors have been flying that Governor Bill Ritter would veto the measure because of Foster's amendment -- and that's precisely what he's done.

Ritter's just-released explanation for the veto is extremely long and detailed. But the gist of his objections comes down to his sense that the amendment wasn't examined closely enough during the legislative process: "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."

Read his entire argument below:

GOV. RITTER'S VETO MESSAGE FOR HOUSE BILL 1364

May 21, 2010

Honorable Colorado House of Representatives

67th General Assembly

Second Regular Session

State Capitol

Denver, CO 80203

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am filing with the Secretary of State House Bill 10-1364, "Concerning the sex offender management board, and, in connection therewith, continuing the sex offender management board, and making an appropriation." I vetoed this bill as of 2:39 p.m. today and this letter sets forth my reasons for doing so.

In 1992, the Colorado General Assembly created the Sex Offender Treatment Board in order to develop standards and guidelines for the assessment, evaluation, treatment, and behavioral monitoring of sex offenders. See C.R.S. § 16-11.7-101, et seq. In 1998, the General Assembly changed the name of the board to the Sex Offender Management Board ("SOMB") to more accurately reflect the duties assigned to the SOMB.

Currently, the SOMB consists of community partners from around the state, including the Department of Corrections, the Judicial Department, law enforcement, the public defender's office, private criminal defense attorneys, rural and urban county commissioners, clinical polygraph examiners, the Department of Public Safety, district attorneys, Department of Human Services, licensed mental health professionals with expertise in treating sex offenders, the victim services community, and community corrections. The reason for this approach is that effective supervision of sexual offenders require, a multidisciplinary, team approach. This coordinated system for the management and treatment of sex offenders "contains" the offender and enhances the safety of the community and the protection of victims.

The SOMB operates from Standards and Guidelines ("Standards"), which were first published in January 1996. The Standards have been revised on four occasions over the last fourteen years to address omissions in the original Standards that were identified during implementation and to keep the Standards consistent with the developing literature in the field of sex offender management.

House Bill 10-1364 was introduced because the SOMB is due to sunset on July 1, 2010. See C.R.S. § 16-11.7-103(6)(a). As is the case with each board scheduled for sunset, the Department of Regulatory Agencies ("DORA") prepared a sunset review report. In that forty-eight page report, DORA recommended that the SOMB be continued for five years and that certain policy changes be included in the reauthorization legislation. The changes recommended in the sunset review report, many of which were included in House Bill 10-1364, are important and would improve the operation of the SOMB. Some of the most important changes -- which enjoyed broad consensus among legislators, program administrators, and other stakeholders -- include: (1) requiring the board to review the effectiveness of current treatment methods by monitoring offender success or compliance with treatment; (2) moving the complaints, investigations, and discipline of treatment providers from the SOMB to DORA, which builds objectivity into the complaint process; (3) requiring the SOMB to produce and present an annual report to the General Assembly; and (4) authorizing the SOMB to collect data from approved providers, which is necessary to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of approved providers. These provisions are all included in House Bill 10-1364 and are designed to provide information to our community regarding whether sexual offenders can be adequately and safely monitored in the community. Moreover, these proposed changes in the law were part of the bill as it was debated in the Judiciary Committees of the House and Senate, which held hearings that totaled more than twelve hours and took testimony from a wide array of experts.

Unfortunately, an amendment to this bill was introduced and adopted on second reading in the second chamber of the General Assembly on Friday, May, 7, 2010, after the last of the public hearings on the bill had been concluded. The amendment, as modified in a conference committee report adopted on the last day of the legislative session, provides:

Each offender entering treatment on or after July 1, 2010, shall be given a choice by his or her supervising agency of at least three appropriate approved providers where available, unless the supervising agency documents in writing that, based on the nature of the program offered and the needs of the offender, fewer than three providers can meet the specific treatment needs of the offender and ensure the safety of the public.

See House Bill 10-1364 at p. 12, § 5 (C.R.S. § 16-11.7-105(1)).

Proponents of the amendment argue that the amendment is critical to improving offender-treatment matching, which is a key element to an offender's success in treatment. Proponents further argue that the amendment does not give a sexual offender free reign to choose his or her treatment provider, but instead only allows an offender to choose an appropriate provider from a list of three providers, each of whom have been certified and approved by the SOMB.

Opponents argue that this amendment does not provide adequate safeguards to ensure that an offender knows which treatment provider would be most effective, thereby circumventing an appropriate treatment plan. Opponents further argue that the approach embodied in this amendment fails to recognize that the supervising authority, be it probation or parole officer, often have far greater experience in determining the appropriate treatment provider.

The SOMB Standards are designed to establish a basis for the systematic management and treatment of adult sex offenders. The legislative mandate of the SOMB and the primary goals of the Standards are to improve community safety and protect victims. The language of the amendment discussed above does not, in my view, adequately provide for the systematic treatment of offenders. In fact, allowing offenders to choose from a list of three providers potentially degrades systematic management and treatment, based on specific evaluation tools and accepted practices.

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.

For these reasons, I am vetoing House Bill 10-1364.

Finally, it is important to note that my veto of House Bill 10-1364 will not bring the SOMB to an end on July 1, 2010. Instead, pursuant to C.R.S. § 24-34-104(5), the SOMB will continue to function with full authority through July 1, 2011, giving the General Assembly adequate time during next legislative session to reauthorize the board. I will direct my office, the Colorado Criminal Justice Commission, the Sex Offender Management Board, and the impacted executive agencies to work with the members of the General Assembly to prepare a bill that can be introduced on the first day of the 2011 legislative session. The early introduction of such a bill will permit an adequate opportunity for a thorough debate on all aspects of this critical legislation.

Sincerely,

Bill Ritter, Jr.

Governor

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