Colorado House gives first approval to criminalizing cyberbullying

A bill that would make cyberbullying a crime in Colorado passed the state House of Representatives on Friday.

The measure was named for Kiana Arellano, a Highlands Ranch teen who tried to kill herself over bullying on social media harassment. Before trying to hang herself, she was a bright and energetic cheerleader. Now she is a paraplegic unable to speak.

“Her smile says it all,” said her mother, Kristy Arellano, after the bill passed on preliminary voice vote Friday. If the measure passes a roll call vote next week, it would move to the state Senate.

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Personal Tragedy Drives Support for House Bill 1085

Representative Rhonda Fields is sponsoring a bill which will help to prosecute perpetrators of sexual assault on developmentally disabled individuals. The bill (House Bill 1085) has passed Third Reading in the House and is now being introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The statistics are dramatic. They reveal that 80% of the developmentally disabled population is victimized by sexual assault. Of these, only 1% are prosecuted.

Catherine Strode, Coordinator of the Health Care Advocacy Program, asked Representative Fields how her bill will affect the well-being of this population and what drove her to sponsor the bill. Below is an excerpt from an interview with Representative Fields.

How does HB 1085 affect the well-being of this particular population?

“It will give equal access to our justice system. Right now a developmentally disabled person who’s been sexually assaulted often doesn’t know to call 9ll. Most of the time these people are taken care of by someone else – a guardian, and so when they do tell someone that they have been harmed, typically it’s not going to be to the police right away. It’s just not in their mindset to do that. They’re going to tell someone else about that crime. And right now – when they tell someone, that information, that statement is not permissible in a court of law. So basically, what 1085 will do, it will allow the opportunity for those statements they made in a safe environment, to someone they trust, to be considered. Then the judge still has to determine if it has reliability and merit. So it’s not automatic. It still has to go through a variety of different channels. But prior to this bill there wasn’t any access for those statements to be entered into a courtroom setting. And so because of that, that gives validation to this community that if you are harmed, there’s an opportunity now that the statements that you share with someone else may be considered.”

I’ve listened to your arguments on the floor and you are quite passionate. I wanted to know what it is about this issue that stirs your own personal passions?

“My son was murdered and I was his only voice and presence in the courtroom. He was silent because he was dead. And he was murdered because he was going to be a witness in a trial. So I had to bring voice to his testimony because he was no longer with us. And so that reminded me of this population. This same population doesn’t have a voice, they don’t have an advocate. And so I was glad to be their advocate, so they could have greater access to justice because when someone does something wrong, they should be held accountable for it. And if these people are revictimized over and over again because they don’t have a voice – then something needs to be done to correct that injustice.”

Murphy: Colorado legislator nurses old grudge against justice – The Denver Post

In 2001, the teen son of now-state Rep. B.J. Nikkel pointed his car at a Larimer County sheriff’s deputy and drove, tossing the deputy across the hood before he drove toward a second deputy, who opened fire to stop the car.

At the time, Nikkel complained to the Loveland Reporter-Heraldnewspaper that prosecutors coerced a plea from her 16-year-old son in juvenile court by threatening to file adult charges against him in the case, though there is no evidence prosecutors made any such threat.

This matters because today Nikkel is acting on that long-held grudge against district attorneys, and we could all pay the price.

Nikkel is the motivating force behind getting Republicans to support a bill that would require judges to approve prosecutors’ decisions when even the most-violent juvenile teens are charged as adults.

Though nearly every prosecutor and police officer in the state opposes this change to a “direct file” law that currently works well, the House passed the bill Monday with a substantial 45-20 margin. Nikkel, of Loveland, managed to persuade 16 fellow Republicans to vote yes, taking a position that could reduce the punishment for teens who commit serious crimes. Now, it is in the hands of the Senate.

“I approach all legislation that I sponsor and vote on with the heart of a mother, and I do so unapologetically,” Nikkel said in a statement issued through the Republican House office this morning. “This isn’t about my child as much as it is about all Colorado youth.”

The Weld County district attorney’s office was appointed as special prosecutor in the case of Nikkel’s son. The teen eventually utilized a device called an Alford plea to resolve a juvenile count of second-degree assault. It meant he did not contest the charge but wasn’t admitting guilt either. The DA left punishment up to the judge, who sentenced the boy to probation.

No one I spoke with who was at the Weld DA’s office at the time can recall any, even preliminary, discussion of using the direct-file statute to charge Nikkel’s son as an adult. The first person it seems who ever mentioned the possibility was Nikkel.

“They have to know that they can’t misuse the system and they are not above the law,” Nikkel said at the time of the deputies her son challenged that night. She also alleged that Weld prosecutors threatened to charge her son as an adult to get him to take a plea deal.
Coloradans want their legislators to work part time and to bring their life experiences to the Capitol with them. Nikkel certainly has, even explaining her son’s history to her co-sponsor on the bill, Denver Democrat Beth McCann, as her reason for pushing the issue.

McCann, a thoroughly rational legislator with no interest in making our community less safe, also draws on her life experience to support the bill. As a prosecutor in Denver prior to 1993, when DAs got the authority to direct-file adult cases against juveniles, McCann said she regularly participated in “transfer hearings” where judges decided whether a juvenile should be tried as an adult.

“To me, it was part of the process,” McCann said. “I didn’t think it tied the hands of the prosecutors.”

Another legislator has brought her life experience to the bill too.
Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, were shot and killed in 2005. Marshall-Fields was killed because he was going to be a witness against a local drug dealer and small-time gangster. The killer and accomplices were eventually caught, and two are on death row.
Marshall-Fields’ mother, Rhonda Fields, is now a Democratic state representative from Aurora. She brings her son’s assassination to work with her every day.

“I think it does impact my thinking,” she said. “The DAs in my son’s case understood the issues involved. They know what they are doing. I just don’t see any evidence that they abuse this system the way it is.”
She voted “no.”

Read more: Murphy: Colorado legislator nurses old grudge against justice – The Denver Post

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Murphy: Colorado legislator nurses old grudge against justice – The Denver Post.

Overcoming the Politics that Divide Us

Around this time last year I went from someone who never even thought about running for office to someone who was in the throes of an election. I went on to win House District 42 in Aurora, where I raised my children and have lived for many years. It’s an honor to represent this community and though my first legislative session was full of challenges, it was also filled with triumphs.

First, House Democrats fought hard and succeeded in preventing the cuts to K-12 education by $178 million. We restored the vital Start Smart free breakfast program for low-income school kids. We also extended a successful foreclosure prevention program; streamlined the teacher licensure process; created a platform to reach out to and empower small businesses and startups; and established a child-only health-insurance plan, among the other legislation that create jobs, increase government transparency and help Coloradans.

One bill that I passed this year will help tackle our growing obesity problem by giving our children a chance to move around and exercise during the school day. House Bill 11- 1069 will direct each Colorado school district to adopt a policy that incorporates a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity daily. I believe that daily exercise can also improve mood and focus and teach our children healthy habits.

I worked with fellow Aurora Representative on a bill that extends the Military Family Relief Fund tax check off program. This successful program helps make up loss in income and helps to defray increased expenses for food, housing, utilities, medical services and other costs for qualifying families of active-duty Reserve and National Guard members. In 2009, the relief fund received $187,799 in contributions, the highest amount of the 14 check-off programs in Colorado.

Additionally, I sponsored legislation authorizes the Public Utilities Commission to adopt rules creating an exemption from tiered electricity rate plans based on a customer’s medical condition; making schools safer in the event of an emergency by authorizing schools and local emergency agencies to share information; adding legal remedies to the consumer credit laws; increasing bail bond conditions if a person is arrested for a 3 DUI; and changing who serves as the presiding officer of the CU Hospital authority.

My first term has taught me to overcome the politics that divide us by recognizing our common dreams and destiny for liberty, justice and fairness. Not just for the powerful and rich… but for all! It is an honor to serve you. Though the session is over, I remain your Representative year round. I encourage you to stay in contact with me about issues that are of concern to you and your family. Email me at or stop by one of my regular town halls or coffee get-togethers.

Legislative Update End of 2011 Session


120th Day Legislative Update – Nine Bills Passed

House Bill 11-1069 Physical Activity Expectation In Schools (Fields & Massey)

The bill directs each school district board of education and the state charter school institute to adopt a policy that incorporates a minimum number of minutes of physical activity each month, or each day if the school meets less than 5 days per week, into each elementary school student’s schedule. The state board of education is encouraged to include in the school performance report information concerning each school district’s and each public school’s incorporation of physical activity into the school day.

Status: Signed by the Governor, April 20, 2011

House Bill 11-1164 CU Hospital Authority Board Director (Priola, Fields & Boyd)

The bill changes who serves as the presiding officer of the board of directors of the university of Colorado hospital authority from the chancellor of the University of Colorado Health Sciences center to a university of Colorado hospital authority director designated by the president of the University of Colorado.

Status: Signed by the Governor On April 20, 2011

Senate Bill 11-087 Medical Exemption Tiered Rate Plan (Fields & Boyd)

The bill authorizes the public utilities commission to adopt rules creating an exemption from tiered electricity rate plans based on a customer’s medical condition.

Status: Signed by the Governor on March 30, 2011

Senate Bill 11-173 Interoperable Communications in Schools (King S., Fields & Gardner B.)

The bill makes schools safer in the event of an emergency. It authorizes schools and all local emergency agencies to share information, and to assure that all emergency communications devices and protocols are compatible.

Status: Signed by Governor on June 10, 2011

House Bill 11-1194 Develop Criteria Dementia Caregiver Certificate (Fields & Boyd)

Contingent upon the receipt of sufficient gifts, grants, and donations, the Colorado Alzheimer’s coordinating council will develop a proposal for a statewide Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care training certification program.

Status: Introduced, Defeated in the Health and Environment Committee

House Bill 11-1189 Bail Bond Conditions for 3rd DUI (Fields & King, K)

If a person is arrested for driving under the influence or driving while ability impaired and has been convicted of either offense at least twice previously, the bill requires the court to impose conditions on the person’s bail bond.

Status: Signed by the Governor on April 8, 2011

House Bill 11-1221 Legal Remedies For Consumer Credit Laws (Fields & Spence)

The bill adds legal remedies to the consumer credit laws that are enforced by the administrator of the “Uniform Consumer Credit Code.”

Status: Signed by the Governor, April 20, 2011

Senate Bill 11-187 Sunset Review Mental Heath Professions (Fields & Summers, Newell)

The bill continues the regulation on mental health professionals for psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, addiction counselors, social workers and court family investigators. Created an oversight board, registry and made technical changes to mental health practice act statues.

Status: Signed by Governor on June 2, 2011

House Bill 11-1108 County Coroner Review Commission (Fields, Ryden & Carroll)

This bill creates a commission to look at the recommendations for qualification for state Coroner. Currently no medical background is required and counties hold elections on a partisan basis to elect corners instead of appointing individuals who are best-qualified for the job. This bill would examine whether coroner qualifications, elections and duties should be revised.

Status: Introduced, Defeated in the House Committee Local Government 6:5 party line vote.

House Bill 11-1037 Military Family Checkoff Extension (Ryden & Fields)

The bill extends the period for which state income tax return forms shall include a line allowing individual taxpayers to make a voluntary contribution to the military family relief fund.

Status: Signed by the Governor on March 1, 2011

Senate Bill 11- 272 Adult Stem Cure Fund Tax Check off Extension (Fields & Summers, Boyd) This bill continues the voluntary contribution designation benefiting the adult stem cells cure fund that appears on the State’s individual income tax return form for research at CU Anschutz Medical Center.

Status: Signed by Governor on June 2, 2011