The House gave final approval April 1 to the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill, which aims to help prevent gun violence and suicide and protect families and first responders.
Sponsored by Rep. Tom Sullivan (D-Centennial) and Majority Leader Alec Garnett (D-Denver), HB19-1177 has been in the works for over a year and includes input from law enforcement, the mental health community, advocates for gun violence prevention and elected officials on both sides of the aisle.
“Today, the House and the legislature stood up and did the right thing,” Sullivan said in a news release issued by Colorado House Democrats. “One of the reasons I ran for office was so I could tell all of you about my son Alex, who lit up rooms and was beloved, and so I could tell all of you about other victims and families of gun violence. This bill will give law enforcement and families the tools that they need to stop tragedies from constantly happening and save lives.”
Sullivan’s son, Alex, was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting on his 27th birthday. Sullivan wears Alex’s jacket every day and wore it during the course of the debate in the House.
“Colorado took a big step forward today. Today, we rejected the status quo and finally put forward meaningful change that can truly save a life,” Garnett said in the release. “I am grateful for the support of Rep. Sullivan, who championed this carefully crafted bill and all those who stood shoulder to shoulder with us every step of the way. This bill is supported by the majority of Coloradans because it will help save the lives of law enforcement and members of our communities.”
HB19-1177 will “give law enforcement another tool to help keep our communities safe,” the release stated. Through the bill, family members or law enforcement can petition a judge for an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) for someone who is exhibiting violent or dangerous behavior or is at significant risk of causing personal injury to themselves or others. If approved, a temporary order would be placed for up to two weeks and the court would hold a hearing to determine whether there are sufficient grounds for an ERPO.
During the hearing, respondents will be provided with legal counsel at no cost to ensure due process rights are protected, the release stated. If the judge determines, by a clear and convincing evidence standard, that the respondent poses a significant risk of causing personal injury to themselves or others, the protection order may be approved for up to 364 days. The respondent can also request to have the order terminated at any point during that time period.
The bill, which was also introduced during the 2018 legislative session and passed the House with bipartisan support, is named in honor of Douglas County Deputy Sheriff Zackari Parrish III, who was killed in the line of duty New Year’s Eve in 2017 by an individual in the middle of a mental health crisis.
Law enforcement officials, including Deputy Parrish’s Sheriff, Tony Spurlock, and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, testified at a Feb. 21 House hearing on the bill. Pelle’s son Jeff is a Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy who was also seriously injured responding to the same call with Deputy Parrish.
Attorney General Phil Weiser submitted a letter in support of the legislation. Former U.S. Attorney John Walsh explained to the committee during the hearing how the language in the bill is legal under the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, according to the release. Hours of testimony during House and Senate committee hearings in support of the bill included survivors and their families as well as gun owners and members of law enforcement.
Fourteen states have enacted bipartisan ERPO laws (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington). At least 29 other states and Washington, D.C. have considered ERPO laws. A U.S. Senate committee held a hearing on an ERPO bill this March.
Colorado lost over 1,100 people to suicide in 2017, according to the news release. Studies show that access to a gun in a home triples the risk of death by suicide. Indiana’s firearm suicide rate decreased by nearly eight percent in the ten years after the state’s ERPO legislation was enacted.
The House concurred with Senate amendments to the bill and it was approved on a final vote of 38-25.
The bill now goes to Governor Jared Polis for his signature.