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South Jeffco legislator offers 'halftime' report

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By AJ Vicens

Spring is in the air, and as students enjoy spring break and baseball lovers await opening day, legislators at the state Capitol are at roughly the halfway mark in the 2008 session.

South Jeffco Republican Mike Kopp — the state senator representing District 22 — took some time last week to catch up the Courier on legislation he’s been involved with.

Senate Bill 134

Kopp is carrying a bill that would mandate that forfeited bail bonds from any person found to be in this country illegally be split 50-50 between the corrections expansion reserve fund and a newly created county jail assistance fund.

All forfeited bail funds for those in the country illegally now go to the state department of corrections, and Kopp wants county jails to get some funds because they bear the brunt of housing illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

The bill would also raise the minimum amount required for bail for a person arrested for the distribution of schedule 1 and schedule 2 narcotics — cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, etc. — at $50,000. The bill would also mandate that the minimum bail be adjusted for inflation every 10 years.

“This is to address the meth problem in Jefferson County and our state,” Kopp said last week. “It zeroes in on meth trafficking.” He said many crimes are connected to use of hard drugs, specifically methamphetamines.

“It’s zeroing in on a crime that has nasty consequences for our state,” Kopp said.

Jeffco Sheriff Ted Mink backs the bill.

“If it does pass, I don’t know how much it would generate, but over time it would help us and the county in looking toward expanding our facility,” Mink said.

The Jefferson County Jail’s inmate population ranks in the top five in the state, and Mink says that if the population levels keep rising at the current rate — 4 to 5 percent annually — the jail will have to be expanded by 2012. The proposed expansion would come in phases, with a total cost of about $70 million in today’s dollars, Mink said, so any additional money from the state would help.

“Since we are the ones that have to hold them, we should get some of that money back to help our future capital needs,” Mink said.

Mink also supports raising bond amounts for people arrested for distribution of schedule 1 and 2 narcotics.

“When we talked to Mike, we talked about a lot of the drug trafficking, mortgage fraud and ID theft (that) you can directly link to methamphetamines,” Mink said, referring to a conversation he and Jeffco DA Scott Storey had with Kopp as the legislation was planned. “It’s a repeated theme over and over and over again about meth being the nexus for a lot of different crimes.”

Senate Bill 199

The bill — scheduled for a vote this week — would require that 10th-grade students who fail to score at least partially proficient on the reading, writing or math sections of the CSAP test be given a diagnostic test by the school they attend, and that the school also give that student a remedial curriculum to address the shortcomings. The school would be required to perform the diagnostic test before and after the remedial curriculum.

CSAP — the Colorado Student Assessment Program — is part of Colorado’s answer to the Federal No Child Left Behind requirements that measure schools for performance.

The bill would also require state colleges and universities to give 10th-grade students who perform very well on the reading, writing or math sections of CSAP a tuition credit or waiver. The state Board of Education would have to establish what qualifies as “excellent” and “outstanding,” according to Senate Bill 199.

The diagnostic requirements and the tuition credits are transferable to any assessment program the state ends up using, Kopp said, estimating that CSAPs may be around only another two or three years considering all the scrutiny the assessment model is under from other legislators.

“This bill gives students the incentive to do well on the CSAPs,” Kopp said.

And as for underperforming students, it will address a lack of action on the state’s part.

“Right now we have a state policy of shrugging our shoulders,” Kopp said, adding that the intent of this bill is to “improve the utility of the CSAP for students.”

Kopp said that after testimony in the Senate Education Committee, he’s had some “pushback” from the Colorado Association of School Boards and some of the state’s colleges and universities.

John Karakoulakis, director of legislative affairs for the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said the organization hasn’t officially taken a position on the bill, as it likely will be amended.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said she too is waiting for the amendments but supports the overall intent of the bill.

“The intent of the bill is something we do support,” Urschel said, “to find a way to look at high school students who need remediation verified through testing and apply that remediation so in fact they can become effective learners.”

Kevin Lee of the University of Colorado said the overall impression at CU is that it’s waiting for the amendments.

Kopp said he’s going to amend the legislation to make it clear that that “credits” for higher-performing students are not credits for classes, merely credit for tuition. He’s also going to make that part of the legislation optional for colleges and universities that may fear losing revenues. Kopp does see it as a way for colleges and universities to recruit the best and the brightest in the state, and identify them while they’re in the 10th grade.

Kopp is working to address the concerns of CASB, which he thinks could have to do with the funding for the diagnostic test. Kopp is unsure of the cost.

House Bill 1351

Kopp is the Senate co-sponsor of this bill, which would establish rules and guidelines for the preservation of DNA evidence collected during investigation of a crime. It would also establish a schedule for how long the DNA would have to be stored, based on the crime and the outcome of the criminal proceeding.

If a criminal were convicted of a class 1 felony — murder or rape, for example — the DNA would have to be stored for the life of the defendant. But in some less extreme cases when a defendant pleads guilty, the DNA would have to be stored only for a year.

House Bill 1351 is still in committee in the House.

Senate Bill 205 — sponsored by Sen. Ken Gordon — would require a retrial for any person convicted in a crime where DNA evidence was lost or destroyed.

Kopp said his bill is kind of “pitted against” Senate Bill 205 and that Gordon’s bill “could have the effect of granting dismissals and new trials for convicted felons serving time.”

What if those “felons” are serving time based on faulty investigation or unreliable witnesses, and destroyed or lost DNA evidence would exonerate them?

“There are remedies in the system right now,” Kopp said. The governor already has pardon power, a judge can grant a new trial if presented with compelling evidence, and the jury system — in which just one juror out of 12 can keep a person out of jail if they are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt — are all the remedies that are needed, Kopp said.

Kopp added that Gov. Bill Ritter’s office asked him to carry the bill, and he expects it will pass. Evan Dreyer, spokesman for the governor, could not be reached for comment.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.