Senate Judiciary Committee Kills Slate of Bills in First Meeting After Coronavirus Recess
Among killed legislation is gay "panic defense" bill

by Julia Cardi

Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting was a scene of legislative carnage as the five-member panel killed bill after bill. Even measures with no required state money got the chop as the legislature has refocused its remaining resources on recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and scraped every corner of the budget for cuts to account for the $3 billion-plus hole blown by the crisis.

Among the bills postponed indefinitely Tuesday morning were measures to make appellate court opinions available online, for adoption of the Uniform Collaborative Law Act and for eliminating gay and transgender “panic” defenses in Colorado. Committee chair Sen. Pete Lee said the limitation on large gatherings has hamstrung the ability to have witness testimony and limited bill discussions.

“It has resulted in us having to dispense and kill a lot of bills that would seem on their merits to be meritorious and have beneficial impacts for people,” he said.

A “panic” defense refers to a defense raised claiming a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation prompted a heat-of-passion act of violence against them. House Bill 1307 would have created the presumption that evidence about a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation is irrelevant to an attacker’s defense. The measure had an ambiguous cost, according to its fiscal note. The document outlined probable workload increases for the judicial department in reviewing motions and on the Department of Corrections because of possible higher-level felony convictions by eliminating a defense, but did not carry a specific state appropriation.

Committee members briefly discussed a possible motion to lay over House Bill 1307 for two weeks, but Sen. Bob Gardner pointed out the Judiciary Committee doesn’t meet in two weeks. He said between laying the bill over and killing it outright, “It’s a distinction without a difference.” Gardner voted against killing the bill.

House Bill 1130 for the online availability of appellate decisions would have required a $97,500 appropriation in fiscal year 2021 to 2022. While Colorado’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court currently publish new opinions online each week, online availability of decisions from decades past is spotty.

House Bill 1291 to adopt the Uniform Collaborative Law Act would not have required a state appropriation. Collaborative law is a form of dispute resolution intended to be less adversarial than going to court. It tends to be used in family law cases, but bill sponsor Rep. Kerry Tipper previously told Law Week the process is suited for situations in which the parties have to keep a relationship.

A motion to move House Bill 1291 to the Committee of the Whole failed. Lee said collaborative law is similar to restorative justice and said he appreciates the idea of the bill, but voted against advancing the measure.

“I appreciate the bill. Unfortunately, I think it’s a good bill at an unfortunate time,” he said.