By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Gov. Bill Ritter on Friday vetoed a bill that included an amendment that would have allowed sex offenders to choose the court-ordered treatment program they wish to attend.
In his veto letter, Ritter cites the amendment by Sen. Joyce Foster, D-Denver, who lied to local media about a personal connection she had with the amendment before it came to light that her brother-in-law attended one of the treatment programs in question.
Foster’s brother-in-law, Julian Newman, is a registered sex offender who attended the very treatment program that Foster cited as the impetus for her amendment to House Bill 1364. The amendment would have allowed sex offenders to choose from three programs selected by their probation or parole officer. The bill itself would have extended the life of the Sex Offender Management Board for another five years.
Foster had taken aim at the Teaching Humane Existence Program (THE), criticizing the program for allegedly threatening clients with prison time for not meeting obligations of the program. Her brother-in-law had attended the program.
In his veto letter, Ritter cited Foster’s controversial amendment as his reasoning for vetoing the legislation.
The language of the amendment “does not, in my view, adequately provide for the systematic treatment of offenders,” wrote Ritter, a Democrat and former district attorney. “In fact, allowing offenders to choose from a list of three providers potentially degrades systematic management and treatment, based on specific evaluation tools and accepted practices.”
The governor also pointed out that the amendment was introduced on the floor without consideration in committee, meaning it received no public comment.
“On an issue that is this critical to public safety and the overall success of the sex offender treatment program, this failure of adequate vetting and thorough debate constitutes a fatal flaw with the bill,” wrote Ritter.
The Sex Offender Management Board will sunset on July 1, 2011, so lawmakers have time next year to reauthorize the board.
Greig Veeder, executive director of THE, had taken aim at the bill both because of the controversy surrounding Foster’s personal connection with her amendment, as well as because he felt the amendment would result in sex offenders choosing the most lenient of treatment programs.
He said Friday that the governor made the right choice to veto the legislation.
“Clearly sex offenders are a real challenge for all of us,” he told the Denver Daily News. “We have to both care for them and carefully manage and treat them because there really is no known cure, which means the challenge does not go away.”
HB 1364 would have also removed language that “no known cure” exists for repeat sex offenders who commit sex abuse. Critics disagree with this.
Proponents, however, say HB 1364 and the Foster amendment is necessary to improve offender-treatment matching. They say the bill would not have given offenders total freedom to choose any program they want, pointing out that decisions would have still been made by probation and parole officers.
Foster did not immediately return several calls by the Denver Daily News on Friday seeking comment.