Drug-endangered child bills may have been doomed by "optics," political deals, senator says
Earlier this month, Senator Linda Newell, sponsor of two controversial bills intended to clarify the definition of a drug-endangered child, refuted claims that the measures could criminalize any parent who legally smoked marijuana. Nonetheless, the measures failed this week after a tricky political maneuver. They actually passed before a reversal in fortune -- and were nearly revived yesterday prior to perishing for good.
Newell believes the bills were mischaracterized by critics and undermined by politics that pitted kids' safety against the interests of the pot industry.
"Sometimes the optics can hijack a bill," Newell says, "and sometimes people who agree with the policy vote with the politics."
As we've reported, the numerically consecutive nature of the bills, known as SB 14-177 and SB 14-178, was appropriate, given that they were a matched set. The former set out to define the term "drug-endangered child" in the children's code governing actions by state social services, while the latter did likewise in the criminal code that sets parameters for law enforcement.
State Senator Linda Newell.
We've included the complete documents below, but here's the main definition:
"DRUG-ENDANGERED CHILD" MEANS ANY CHILD IN A CASE IN WHICH ANY OF THE FOLLOWING SITUATIONS OCCUR:Critics complained that the phrases pertaining to threats against a child's welfare were so sweeping that they would make it impossible for any parent to engage in legal cannabis use, home grows or the like without violating the laws. Newell argued otherwise, pointing out that the language grew out of recommendations from a state substance-abuse task force and maintaining that the new material actually added more protections for parents than the text of current statutes.
(a) IN THE PRESENCE OF A CHILD, OR ON THE PREMISES WHERE A CHILD IS FOUND OR RESIDES, A CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE...IS MANUFACTURED, DISTRIBUTED, CULTIVATED, PRODUCED, POSSESSED, OR USED, OR ATTEMPTED TO BE MANUFACTURED, DISTRIBUTED, CULTIVATED, PRODUCED, POSSESSED, OR USED, AND WHEN SUCH ACTIVITY THREATENS THE HEALTH OR WELFARE OF THE CHILD; OR
(b) A CHILD'S HEALTH OR WELFARE IS THREATENED BY UNRESTRICTED ACCESS TO EITHER A CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE OR ANY LEGAL SUBSTANCE CAPABLE OF CAUSING... A MENTAL OR PHYSICAL IMPAIRMENT; OR
(c) A CHILD'S HEALTH OR WELFARE IS THREATENED BY THE IMPAIRMENT OF THE PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CARE OF THE CHILD...IF THE IMPAIRMENT IS DUE TO THE USE OF EITHER A CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE...OR ANY LEGAL SUBSTANCE CAPABLE OF CAUSING A MENTAL OR PHYSICAL IMPAIRMENT; OR
(d) A CHILD TESTS POSITIVE AT BIRTH FOR EITHER A SCHEDULE I CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE...OR A SCHEDULE II CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE...UNLESS THE CHILD TESTS POSITIVE FOR A SCHEDULE II CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE AS A RESULT OF THE MOTHER'S LAWFUL INTAKE OF SUCH SUBSTANCE AS PRESCRIBED.
Nonetheless. opposition against the measures remained strong -- so Newell tinkered with the bills in ways intended to soothe concerns. Among the amendments she approved was one stating that all remedies must be exhausted before law enforcement could step in -- and the word "only" was added to a phrase involving the "threat of injury, safety and life of the child." On top of that, Newell says marijuana was specifically listed among legal substances, "to make sure people understood that everything was aligned with Amendment 20 and Amendment 64," the main marijuana measures enshrined in the Colorado constitution.
These tweaks gained the measures more support, and Newell says "the senate passed both of them. But then, at the end, the minority leader [Republican Senator Bill Cadman] called for a roll-call vote -- and at the same time, he also gave a signal to his people on his side of the aisle to lock down and vote with him. And that's what happened -- how you can have a bill pass and then have it taken away."
Continue for more of our interview with Senator Linda Newell about the failure of two drug-endangered child bills.