State will seek independent review of Colorado sex offender management board after veto

DENVER -- A day after Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed legislation aimed at eliminating perceived conflicts of interest on the state’s Sex Offender Management Board, the state announced it will seek an independent review of the board and its operations. 

Gov. Hickenlooper vetoed House Bill 18-1427 on Monday, calling the legislation “redundant and overbroad” and citing concerns that such a law could remove needed experts from state boards and commissions.

The Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB) sets the standards for supervision and treatment of convicted sex offenders in Colorado. HB18-1427 would have prevented members of that board from profiting from the policies they help to set, including banning members from entering into contracts for sex offender treatment with the state. 

The bill’s sponsors cited reporting by Contact7 Investigates which showed one board member, polygraph examiner Jeff Jenks, consistently collected the largest share of public money spent on sex offender polygraph tests while he sat as chair of the board’s polygraph committee that set testing standards for offenders. 

Gov. Hickenlooper said at a news conference Tuesday it is clear there are important issues around conflicts of interest that need to be addressed, but he thought the bill was the wrong way to do it. 

“We heard the point loud and clear,” Hickenlooper said. “I guarantee you they will be going through not just the sex offender board, but every board, to make sure everyone understands what a conflict of interest is.”

Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, who is one of the bill’s sponsors, said she had no warning a veto was coming.

“Not only do we have bipartisan support on this measure, so it will come back, we also had support from the district attorneys who prosecute sex offenders. And we also have support from the ACLU on the other side of things. It's very rare that we all can come together and agree on one bill. We did on this one. And a veto was out of line,” Herod told Denver7 Tuesday. "We should've been given a chance to have a conversation."

State orders independent review 

The Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS), which oversees the SOMB, issued a statement Tuesday regarding the veto.

The department said it agrees “conflicts of interest should play no role in the decisions being made by governing bodies” and it “[takes] very seriously the concerns raised by sex offender advocates and the sponsors of HB 18-1427.” 

In its statement, CDPS said it will “immediately undertake a thorough review of the SOMB’s rules and policies” regarding conflicts of interest.

CDPS also said it would seek an independent review of the SOMB’s policies, procedures and conduct from a third-party evaluator to present to legislators in 2019.

“The SOMB is effective because of the vast wealth of knowledge and perspective provided by the 25 experts who give their time to serve on the board. So we take very seriously the need to preserve their ability to provide expertise while also honoring our commitment to fair, transparent, conflict-free governance. We are always open to opportunities to further enhance the Board’s ability to effectively promote public safety in a manner that inspires confidence and trust from all stakeholders,” CDPS executive director Stan Hilkey said in the statement.

Victim advocates applaud veto

Advocates for victims testified against HB18-1427 and one of the state’s top victims rights organizations applauded Gov. Hickenlooper’s decision to veto the bill. 

Sterling Harris, chief deputy director of the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, told Denver7 Tuesday her organization is pleased with Hickenlooper’s decision. 

“This bill was overly broad. It had the potential to strip the expertise that makes the board effective completely from the SOMB. It had the potential to kick off all the treatment providers from the board, the polygrapher spot from the board, the sex assault victim advocate from the board, because those are people who could be construed as having some kind of monetary conflict of interest,” Harris said. 

Harris said her organization believes the legislation was “rushed through” at the end of the legislative session, and the process did not allow all stakeholders to discuss the potential impacts of the bill in front of the legislators who voted to pass the legislation.  

“We’re talking about convicted sex offenders. These are very different than other types of criminals,” Harris said. “At the end of the day, we worried that if all the expertise on this board were taken away – like if you had people who were maybe all retired, who maybe had been very active in the field at one time but maybe had lost touch with some of the best practices – ultimately that would lead to erosion of the board’s effectiveness, erosion of the standards that are crucial for monitoring.”

Herod, the bill’s sponsor, said her efforts to raise concerns about the SOMB will not stop with the veto of HB18-1427.

“That does not mean this is over. We are moving forward to submit a request for an audit of the entire SOMB … to see exactly where all of the issues lie. The conflict of interest piece was just one small piece. Right now we've got the [fox] guarding the henhouse and it has to stop,” Herod said. 

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