By Ali McNally, STATE BILL COLORADO
DENVER—One of two restorative justice bills passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Jan. 26, referred with amendments to the full Senate.
SB11-013, sponsored by Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, adds and defines “restorative mediation” under the mediation provision of the Colorado Dispute Resolution Act. Under the bill, courts may use it as an alternative sentencing option. Currently, mediation is defined under the act as “an intervention in dispute negotiations by a trained neutral third party with the purpose of assisting the parties to reach their own solution.”
“I believe including these definitions will help provide a framework for this work and help institutionalize these practices that will help judges who want to refer, help in personal injury cases, reduce potential litigation and certainly reduce costs,” Newell said at the hearing.
Restorative mediation is a new approach to sentencing that allows scheduled dialogue between victims and offenders with their respective families and friends.
Although the bill won’t cost the state, it is unknown as to how much it will reduce costs. According to its fiscal note: “A potential savings may be realized by the state to the extent that this option leads to more cases diverted from prolonged legal attention by the courts, the Department of Law, or other state officials. However, because mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution already exist, the savings are expected to be minimal.”
A similar bill sponsored by Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, who co-sponsored SB11-013, will go Feb. 6 to the House Judiciary Committee. The House bill makes restorative justice options a mandatory pre-sentencing consideration for juveniles.
Supporters of the Senate bill said restorative mediation helps bring closure to victims of tragic accidents. After losing her son in a drunk-driving accident, Sandy Ebersole testified before the judiciary committee that restorative mediation allowed her and her family to forgive the driver and move on from the accident.
“We were able to look at him and ask him, ‘What was going on? Do you see our pain?’” she said. “We forgave him and he’s kept a promise to do well in the prison, where he is, and we hope he will come out a better member of society.”
Opponents of the bill say adding the provision implies favoritism of restorative mediation over other forms of mediation. Mediators say that because restorative mediation is a new form of alternative dispute resolution, there should be more public education before passing such a bill.
“We feel as an organization that the timing is just not here,” said Fonda Hamilton, president of the Mediation Association of Colorado (formerly the Colorado Council of Mediators & Mediation Organizations). “More education is warranted before it becomes part of a law.”