The Routt County commissioners on Tuesday discussed and passed a resolution supporting referendums C and D. As a former county commissioner, I want to share with you and Routt County residents how important it is that Colorado pass referendums C and D this November.
Counties, unlike towns and cities, are, according to our constitution and statutes, an arm of state government. Routt County is the administrator for programs such as roads and bridges, human services and the CSU Cooperative Extension Service, among others. Routt County is a partner in the funding of these services. Most of Routt County's share of the funding comes from our property taxes. If state funds are cut, Routt County will either have to cut programs or ask its citizens to raise taxes.
Referendums C and D, if approved in November, would put off a state budget crisis in the short term. Colorado will have to cut about $400 million from next year's budget if Referendum C doesn't pass. These cuts would have to come from a small part of the budget that the Legislature controls. These cuts will probably come from higher education, health and human services programs and, possibly, the state's contribution to local road and bridge funding.
Referendum D is part of the package that increases funding for transportation and K-12 and higher-education capital construction and pays the cost of state commitments such as the Firefighters and Police Pension fund.
Referendums C and D do not do away with the tax limitations put in place by the TABOR constitutional amendment. They are only a five-year timeout that will allow the state to catch up with needed funding.
I ask each of you to look through all the campaign rhetoric. Referendums C and D are part of a non-partisan Colorado Economic Recovery Plan. Ask your local elected officials, your friends who are businessmen and parents who have children in college why it is important for Colorado's citizens and Colorado's economy that we pass referendums C and D this November.
Bush had to wait
I just finished reading the Associated Press story bashing President Bush for Hurricane Katrina. Yes, there were mistakes made. However, if the reporter had done her homework, she would have mentioned that Bush could not take any action until asked to do so by the state. That's the law. She also would have found out that the state had been given millions of dollars to upgrade the levees. Instead, the state re-allocated the money to other less important, nonrelated projects. Had it used the money for what it was intended, untold lives could have been saved. If she wants to blame someone, she should have looked at the real problem: The governor and mayor were not prepared. I'm sure when the federal hearing is held, they will be held accountable.
As attorneys who have collectively practiced criminal law in this community for more than 30 years, we disagree with your editorial that recent cases send a message that this community is not committed to prosecuting sex offenses against children. In our experience, local law enforcement industriously investigates allegations of sex offenses against children, the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office vigorously prosecutes these cases, and our local judges impose strict sentences consistent with Colorado's tough sentencing laws regarding sexual offenses.
Our observations of how the criminal justice system in our community handles allegations of sex offenses against children are:
1. Law enforcement has always devoted its most competent officers and detectives to these cases and has never been limited by budgetary considerations in gathering evidence of sex offenses against children.
2. Sex offenses against children are prosecuted by the most experienced and capable prosecutors in the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office. They are not limited by funding resources in prosecuting these cases.
3. No child sexual assault cases have ever been dismissed in this judicial district because of a crowded docket. These types of cases are given top priority in scheduling by our judges. Allegations of sexual offenses are more likely to be set for hearings and for trials and are often extensively litigated before plea bargains are reached. Such resolutions come only after the prosecution and defense have fully investigated and assessed their cases.
4. Allegations of sex offenses against children are among the most difficult and challenging cases for law enforcement and prosecutors. Often, victims and witnesses are reluctant to testify and do not wish to be cross-examined. Sometimes they are too young to testify. In some cases, serious allegations turn out to be false.
Colorado has some of the toughest sentencing laws in the United States for those convicted of sex offenses. Most felony sex offenses are punishable by sentences of up to life in prison. Convicted sex offenders must register and must complete offense-specific treatment that is lengthy, difficult and costly. Many sex offenders are given prison sentences in spite of having little or no prior criminal history. Other offenders rarely receive prison sentences for first-time non-sex offenses.
The criminal justice system would come to a complete halt if all cases went to trial. While we do not know the most recent statistics, it is reasonable to estimate that less than 5 percent of all cases go to trial. Most cases are resolved with agreements. That does not mean that law enforcement doesn't have the resources to investigate crimes, that district attorneys don't have the resources to prosecute or that judges can't manage their dockets. It simply means that justice is fashioned by agreements between the contesting parties who both gain by reaching a guaranteed result. The community gains with guaranteed results as well -- offenders are punished and victims are spared the painful process of prosecuting sex crimes. Experienced prosecutors in the 14th Judicial District reach agreements in sex offense cases only when they believe that it is the best result that could be obtained after reviewing the evidence, consulting with the victim of the offense and after considering the safety of the community.
Your editorial board has misread this community's commitment to investigate and prosecute allegations of sex offenses against children. Our justice system remains one of the best and fairest in the world. We don't, and shouldn't, string up accused sex offenders or punish them collectively rather than individually. Instead, our system is designed to treat accused sex offenders, and all people who are criminally accused, fairly within a system of law that protects their rights and ours.
Ron Smith, Sheryl Uhlmann and William Schurman