DENVER – An attempt to add a U.S. citizenship requirement to become a peace officer in Colorado was killed Wedneday by Democrats.
Senate Bill 120, which would have prohibited non-citizens from becoming peace officers and required current officers to obtain citizenship within the next five years, died on a 6-3 party line vote during a hearing before the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
The bill also was opposed by representatives of law enforcement agencies.
Mike Phibbs, representing the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, said the bill would limit law enforcement’s ability to interface with the communities they serve by being representative of them, a need that has grown in recent years.
“The more diverse we can be the better we can serve our communities, and I think particularly with the focus on bias policing issues over the last several years, chiefs are more and more aware of that and we are trying to remedy that as quick as we can,” Phibbs said.
There are a some non citizen law enforcement officers in the state, but precise numbers were not available. There are none in Durango, officials said.
Republicans who supported SB 120 have consistently stood by concerns that statute allows for non citizens to use power to strip citizens of their rights and, in extreme cases, their lives.
“Is this the kind of power that should be exercised by a non citizen? I would say not,” said Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs and House sponsor of the bill. “We fought a revolution to guarantee that only Americans govern Americans, that only Americans tax Americans and that only Americans enforce American law upon their fellow American citizens.”
Democrats expressed concerns over the message the bill sends, considering the national debate on immigration, and sided with law enforcement representatives.
In other action Wednesday, 13 bills received third reading, three a second reading and 23 had committee hearings.Among the bills passed on third reads were House Bill 1174, which would provide rural counties, defined as those with a population of fewer than 50,000, an exception from law that restricts their ability to build broadband infrastructure unless they have contracted with a telecommunications company. Also passed was HB 1122, which simplifies the process transgender individuals are required to go through to change their birth certificates to reflect their transition.In committee work, a bill was considered that takes a step towards relieving the teacher shortage in rural communities by removing restrictions on the number of hours retired PERA employees can work.HB 1176, which would allow rural school districts to declare emergency shortages of qualified personnel and bring back retired employees for up to six years, enjoys bipartisan support, including Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and passed the House Finance Committee on an 11-1 vote.
McLachlan said the recourse offered by the bill should be seen as a last-ditch effort for when districts have “gone through every other avenue to find a teacher and haven’t been able to.”
HB 1176 heads to the House Appropriations Committee, where it is expected to pass.