On Feb. 12, 32 representatives from Bent and Crowley counties went to Denver to testify before the State Senate Judiciary Committee on House Bill 1019, specifically Section 4 that proposes a study of “how to end the practice of using private prisons in the State of Colorado.”
State Rep. Leslie Herod and Sen. Julie Gonzales co-sponsored this bill that also includes a section limiting the ability of private prisons to accept out-of-state prisoners and several sections modifying protocol to safeguard prison workers.
The goal of those representatives that included teachers, school administrators, county commissioners and other concerned citizens was to have Section 4 stricken from the legislation.
As many probably saw the newsreel from Channel 9 News in Denver, the Bent/Crowley representatives arrived at 1:30 p.m. for the hearing, but the bill didn’t reach the committee floor until 5:30 p.m.. At that time, Gonzales gave an overview of the bill and welcomed and thanked our reps for making the trip and being patient. Gonzales, whose family is from Huerfano County, felt the effects of the shutdown of the prison there years ago.
After Gonzales’ testimony, representatives approached in waves of four. The first group represented the Las Animas School District/Las Anima City Council and included Elsie Goines, Lana Gardner, David Armstrong and Steven Salazar Jr. Goines lamented the combination of the effect of losing the property tax of Core Civic, possibly 50 students, and other property tax paying families and the proposed mill-levy requirements that are also working their way through legislation. Goines expressed her fear of all of this hitting at once and the school district’s budget taking a serious hit.
Gardner said she knows firsthand the struggles of our community, which includes a 36% poverty rate (three times the state average of 12%), the repetition needed to teach a child in poverty, repetition that our districts work hard to meet and exceed, and her love for each of her students that would be affected.
Armstrong followed by explaining that after the loss of Fort Lyon in 2001, the City of Las Animas has been trying to regain an identity. "Finally, 20 years later, it has, and Core Civic (the program at Fort Lyon) is a major part of it.” He concluded that a closure or takeover would set the city back 20 years.
Salazar came to the table as the son of a Core Civic employee, student body president of Las Animas High School, and youth advisor to City Council. Salazar explained how much the prison means to his family and the prospects of its possible closure.
A vast array of topics were discussed by many representatives on Wednesday, including what happens in a workplace when there are rumors of closure and the safety therein; the logic of how many beds are needed in prisons now vs. how many are actually available; the cost of running a private vs. state facility; and the sheer number of jobs that would be lost, which would be the equivalent to hundreds of thousands in the Denver Metro area.
After 2½ of testimony, the committee proposed a 15-minute recess to address amendments. That recess turned into an hour and a half. During that time, commissioners, senators and state representatives were working feverishly to amend HB 1019. And they made many amendments to all sections of the proposed bill.
Section 4 now reads: The bill directs the department to study the impact on ending the use of private prisons. The department will solicit input from local communities and other interested parties or issue experts, including but not limited to public safety experts, victim's advocates, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and community reentry providers. The department shall consult with county commissioners of the counties in which private prisons are located.
There is a list of what the study must include. The major changes came in the wording of “…study the impact on ending the use of private prisons…” and the inclusion of local communities and county commissioners in the advisory panel in the study. The entirety of the bill with all amendments can be read at https://www.leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb20-1019.
While this isn’t the elimination of Section 4 that the Bent/Crowley representatives wanted, the change in language is more favorable for Bent County. Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, Tweeted that he still opposes the bill, saying it is still an attack on rural Colorado.