Millie Hamner bill adds protections for Colorado sexual assault victims
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill on Friday that would expand on “Vonnie’s Law,” a piece of legislation designed to crack down on Colorado sex offenders.
The bill, proposed by Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, would require any accused sex offender to have a bond hearing before a judge and to be issued a written restraining order before being released from jail. The new legislation builds on Vonnie’s Law, which passed in 2012, and applied these requirements to suspects charged with stalking as well as those charged with domestic violence.
“We really wanted to close that loophole and be consistent in practices,” Hamner said. “This will protect all victims of a sexual offense from being harassed by their attackers.”
Hamner worked closely with Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown and Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, to bring the bill to fruition. The bill was touted as a bipartisan solution, and carried through both the Colorado House and Senate with no significant changes.
“It was so well-written and researched with the support of the district attorney that it went straight through,” Hamner said. She added that Brown approached her with the idea for the expansion, given her background working with the previous district attorney on Vonnie’s Law.
Brown said they began drafting the law in September 2014.
“The idea was something I tried to put on paper so Hamner had a bill to propose,” Brown said. “Part of this is to give victims peace of mind that the person who violated them is being dealt with in a hands-on way.”
Brown explained the required court hearing would enable judges to make a more thoughtful determination, and decide which facts should play a role in setting an appropriate bond. The hearing would also allow the judge to set specific conditions of release, which may involve limiting contact with minors, sobriety monitoring, or the use of location monitoring devices.
He added that the offender would be required to sign a document acknowledging the terms and conditions of the bond. Not only would this ensure that the offender is informed, but it also increases their chances of complying, Brown said.
“That’s an added step for us, if they can’t claim lack of knowledge if they violate bond,” Brown said.
Statewide, 1,704 sex offense felonies were filed in 2014, accounting for 4 percent of all criminal filings. In Summit County alone, 78 sex offenses were filed in the District Court. Brown estimates that in more than half of these cases, offenders were able to bond out.
Sex offense misdemeanors are much less common, and generally less severe. Statewide, 528 sex offense misdemeanors were filed in 2014, 1 percent of total misdemeanors. Ten sex offense misdemeanors were reported in Summit County last year. Brown said that about 90 percent of suspects bonded out in those cases, due to the low posted amount.
Vonnie’s Law was originally passed in the 2012 legislative session after one of Hamner’s constituents, Vonnie Flores, was murdered by a stalker. Flores, a preschool teacher in Leadville, had filed a protection order against her stalker, but he was released immediately on bond.
Hamner proposed the law to increase protections for victims of stalking; this year’s bill would simply expand upon those protections to include victims of sexual assault. The bill went into effect Friday afternoon, immediately after it was signed by Gov. Hickenlooper.
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