My what a strange time we are in...
Lawmakers mentioned the Bible, lemmings and "great American" Jon Caldara during a battle Thursday over a bill on prison sentencing.
The fierce fight over Senate Bill 286 came as a surprise because the bill no longer called for reducing penalties for certain offenses to reduce prison costs. It was amended to call for a commission studying the state's justice system to review sentencing guidelines and offer recommendations.
Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, who co-sponsored the bill, urged its passage, noting the Corrections Department budget is twice that of higher education.
The measure passed 20-15, with Republicans ripping the proposal.
Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, called the original bill "radical" and said it would have freed people convicted of "horrific" crimes.
"For us to begin to go down the road of letting fundamentally bad people out of prison in order to balance this budget" is wrong, he said. "I'm afraid the study is really going to be a sham process to get to the same end game."
But Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, argued the bill was about "optimizing public safety" and he praised Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, for looking at sentencing reform.
"For us to be like lemmings, to say the only way to get public safety is to have ridiculous sentencing rules, is not the right thing," Romer said.
"We have thoughtful libertarians like Jon Caldara, great American, who fights hard for the true ability to look at government for what it should be."
Republicans looked at one another in shock. Caldara and his think tank have butted heads with Democrats for years.
"This is a landmark day in the Colorado Senate," Penry dryly responded.
Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said the answer is not locking up more people but educating more people.
Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, disagreed.
"All the ABCs and 123s will not teach right from wrong," he said.
The answer, Harvey said, is allowing government to "touch people's souls and strengthen their spiritual being . . . ."
"When we started in this country, we had the ability to teach the Bible in schools and we had the ability to have prayers in schools," he said. "As we started to bastardize the separation of church from state, we started to see the crime rate go up."
That was too much for Sen. Joyce Foster, D-Denver, who is Jewish.
"Being spiritual, being religious, having ethics, I think are all so important to all of us," she said. "But we're going to have to do that in our places of worship, not in our public institutions."