House Republicans say Colorado system of electing coroners works just fine
Lawmakers Wednesday rejected a proposal to reassess the state’s system of elected county coroners. Under consideration, among other things, was whether coroners should be appointed instead. The House Local Government Committee defeated the proposal on a party-line vote, with Republicans opposing the measure.
House Bill 1108, by freshman Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, would have formed a commission to look at numerous issues pertaining to county coroners. The commission would have been authorized to look at qualifications, training, responsibilities and whether or not coroners should be elected officials-or pathologists assigned to the task by judicial districts.
Fields said that she believes the coroner system warrants review if only to see if there might be a better way to handle inquiries involving a death.
“It’s important from time to time to review standards,” said Fields. “We should be able to ask ourselves if there are other options that would give us an opportunity to do better.”
A group of coroners from around the state came to express their opposition to the bill mainly on the grounds of retaining local control. Colorado Coroners Association President Brenda Beck, who is also the Grand County Coroner, spoke to the committee articulating their position.
“People want to know who’s dealing with their loved one. It’s very personal,” said Bock. “People can come and talk to us personally-they have chosen us.”
Bock said the value of having the position of coroner decided by voters is also one of accountability, especially when a death is suspected of being the result of foul play.
“Being elected puts us on a level playing field with the sheriff,” said Bock. “We speak for the deceased.”
The committee’s vice chair, Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, said she didn’t hear any compelling reasons to reverse the time-honored practice of electing coroners.
“There’s just not enough evidence to show that the system is broken,” said Szabo. “Why take away the right of the people to determine who their coroner will be, especially when the system has served us well for so long?”
Fields said that with 5 percent of deaths ruled as homicides and given the need for families to have an assurance of professionalism, the coroner system merits the scrutiny of at least a review. Current qualifications for coroner are a high school diploma and a clean background check.
“You want the best qualified person to make evaluations when someone dies, and there is an element of suspicion,” said Fields. “There are some evil people and sometimes evil things happen. There is an obligation to find the truth-in the best way possible. “
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