Colorado governor vetoes bill that banned conflicts of interest on sex offender management board

DENVER — Governor John Hickenlooper on Monday vetoed legislation that would have banned members of the state’s Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB) from profiting from the policies they help to set. 

In a letter to Colorado legislators, Gov. Hickenlooper said his administration supports proper handling of conflicts but vetoed House Bill 18-1427 “because it is redundant and overbroad.”

The legislation, passed unanimously in the House and by a 27-8 vote in the Senate, would have prevented members of the SOMB from entering into contracts with the state to treat sex offenders. 

The bill’s sponsors cited reporting by Contact7 Investigates which showed SOMB member Jeff Jenks owns a private business which holds a contract to conduct offender polygraph testing with the Colorado Department of Corrections. The Contact7 investigation also found Jenks’ business consistently collects the largest share of public money for sex offender polygraph testing. 

In his letter to lawmakers, Gov. Hickenlooper said legislation passed earlier in the 2018 session that requires training for all boards and commissions on how to identify and manage conflict of interest essentially makes HB 18-1427 redundant. 

Hickenlooper also wrote that if the bill’s “unnecessarily broad” language is applied to other boards and commissions it could remove experts from serving on those groups, preventing farmers from sitting on the Agriculture Commission, doctors from sitting on the Colorado Medical Board, and dentists from sitting on the Dental Board. 

Several victims’ rights groups had called on the governor to veto the legislation. The Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance said in a statement Monday it applauds Hickenlooper’s decision. 

“Sexual offenses are some of the most serious crimes committed and the treatment of individuals who commit sexual offenses is complex, requiring treatment providers to have knowledge and expertise in the area of sexual offenses. Thus, the need to have subject matter experts serving on the SOMB,” said Nancy Lewis, Executive Director for the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance. “House Bill 1427 would erode the statutory mandate given to the SOMB and will lead to less effective treatment and management of sex offenders, many of whom are living in our communities.”

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver), criticized the veto: 

“I am very disappointed that the governor has chosen to veto this bill. Democrats and Republicans agreed, no one should be able to profit from their service to a board with the state of Colorado. 

The governor has chosen to side with those who stand to profit millions of dollars by setting the very standards that govern their professions. All at the expense of the taxpayer. This is reckless and an erosion of the public trust. I will continue to work on this issue and ensure the SOMB is working in the best interest of the state of Colorado, not their own pocket books.”

In his veto letter, Hickenlooper noted that the Legislative Audit Committee will be requested to audit the SOMB to evaluate potential conflicts of interest. 

The governor also said he is directing the SOMB to review its own rules and policies pertaining to conflicts of interest.

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