DENVER – A bill that would allow immunity from civil and criminal charges for individuals who forcibly enter a vehicle to provide emergency aid to animals and humans passed unanimously Thursday in the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee.
While House Bill 1179 would put protections in place, it’s not an invitation to destroy property, said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone and bill sponsor.
“This is not just a permissive bill for people to just break windows and steal dogs. There are steps you have to take to be immune from civil and criminal liability,” Saine said.
The steps are laid out in the bill:
Ascertain that the person or animal in the vehicle is in danger. Check the doors to see if they are locked.Make a “reasonable effort” to find the owner of the vehicle.Contact emergency services, and if they are not able to respond promptly, use no more force than necessary to access the vehicle.Then, the person is expected to remain at the vehicle unless emergency medical treatment is needed, in which case they must leave a note with their contact information and provide law enforcement with the same while en route to a hospital or clinic.Saine said she was surprised there was not a law that offers such protection, and attributes it partially to Coloradans not realizing how severe conditions can be in closed-up vehicles.
“I don’t think most people understand that. They think they do, until they actually see how the thermometer climbs,” she said.
Troy Salazar, emergency services coordinator for Pueblo Community College, said the temperature in vehicles parked in the sun can reach as high as 40 degree above the outside temperature.
“What may feel semi-comfortable to you outside is much hotter on the inside,” Salazar said. The increase extremes are particularly dangerous to the old and young, who are more susceptible to environmental exposure, whether it is extreme heat or cold.
Salazar said he supports the intent of the bill as long as it is understood that it should only apply in true emergencies.
He added that it would be an extension to the good Samaritan laws that “basically covers someone who is trying to help another individual and they are doing it in an appropriate manner.”
In June 2016, the issue arose in Durango when Shelby Perovich broke a window in a 1996 Chevy pickup truck while trying to unlock a door when she heard a puppy whining. An assessment of the damages to the truck was estimated at more than $1,800 due to the part being out of production.
The trespassing case was dropped by the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Perovich might not have been protected under HB 1179, as Kia Willden, owner of the truck, said she had been away from the vehicle for six minutes when the window was broken.