My Thoughts on an Alternative to HB1386 in Colorado (Open Letter)

Aubrey Ellen Shomo
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Below is an open letter I sent to the Colorado State House of Representatives, specifically the House Committee on Health, Insurance, & Environment. It references HB1386, the successor bill to HB1253.

HB1253 attempted to carry out an attack on the Jury Trial itself, for persons subjected to involuntary treatment by the State of Colorado. That right has been available in Colorado since before we were a State. The bill was said by its sponsor, Rep. McCann, to result from a task force put together to consider changes in the law. We have since learned that that statement by Rep. McCann was a lie, and, in fact, she personally placed the attack on the Jury Trial into the bill. That bill was killed on the house floor after we notified Rep. McCann’s constituents of her actions.

HB1386 was then introduced, sponsored by Reps. Kraft-Tharp and Gardner, who attempted to pass the remaining provisions of HB1253 that did not attack the jury trial. Its worst feature was to remove the word ‘imminent’ from the emergency procedure. That was also slipped into the bill by Reps. McCann and Kraft-Tharp, and not recommended by the Civil Commitment Statute Review Task Force.

The revocation of the right to trial by Jury by Beth McCann is nothing short of a bigoted assault on the civil rights of one million Coloradans, as per the National Institutes of Mental Health, one in four american adults has a diagnoseable mental illness in a given year. It is self explanatory how that would be a very bad thing. I have told Rep. McCann that it should be political suicide — and it should. In an attempt to get out of it, she once again lied to the press and the public, trying to pin it on the task force she created. However, we have leaked the proof it was from her, personally.

The removal of the requirement a danger to self or others be imminent from the emergency procedure is a similar civil rights attack. It makes it easier to put people in handcuffs, lock them up, and subject them to coercive treatment.

The emergency procedure is already not subject to court review. It is already rife with abuses. Making it easier to lock people up without review will only make the oppression experienced by those
of us with mental illness far worse.

These attacks on our civil liberties cannot be allowed.

HB1386 passed the House of Representatives, in Colorado, on Monday morning, April 28th. It is now to be considered by the Senate.


April 23, 2014

Dear Members of the House:

I have sent you various pieces of information on HB1386 and its predecessor, HB1253. I hope that has not been a burden.

I oppose HB1386 and request it be voted down. That, though, is not enough and I know it. So, here, I propose an alternative plan to HB1386.

Here it is. I respectfully request:

1) That you take no further action in support of the recommendations of such a poorly constructed and poorly thought out task force that it could ignore Coloradans who have been mistreated by the State while simultaneously attacking the Jury trial.

2) That Rep. McCann state, on the record, as a member of the Democratic leadership, that your party will not make further attacks on the jury trial or otherwise on the civil rights of my people.

3) That you create a new task force that has at the minimum majority representation by those who will be directly affected by the new laws — those subject to State deprivation of liberty — and you make use of that new, untainted, task force’s recommendations instead.

4) That you repeal the definitions added to the law in HB1296-2013 scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2014 in section 2 of that bill, on the grounds that the definitions were to await the findings of the task force, and you have the need to put together a task force untainted by an attack on the jury trial and with meaningful representation of my people. If you are unwilling to repeal them, delay them another year so that a task force that’s heard of civil liberties may convene.

5) That you create a task force consisting solely of persons who have been treated by State Mental Health services, to investigate reports of systemic abuses, and that that task force’s report be utilized by the new civil commitment task force.

6) That you immediately pass legislation restoring the traditionally available right to counsel for mental patients, because you need both a lawyer and a jury in court — one or the other is useless. Likewise, jury trials should be extended to both mental health and substance use commitments. All occasions where the State holds a person longer than is possible by the police, without charge, which is 72 hours, should be subject to the right to counsel and the jury trial. This legislation should not be connected to the task force recommendations, which should be thrown out.

I sent this list to Rep. McCann, and I met with her today. She brought with her a member of the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition who shared my concerns about the removal of the word ‘imminent’ from existing law and likewise felt that was a problem, I believe expecting that person would have a different opinion than the one she shared. I also know that the Legal Center for Persons with Disabilities and Older People had an issue with the representations regarding the genesis of the removal of the word ‘imminent’ and the aborted attempt to revoke the jury trial.

There is broad based opposition to the removal of the word ‘imminent’ even among supporters of the bill, generally, and I have undertaken efforts to ensure the general public is aware of that fact.

However, again, I and many others object to the whole affair and the way persons directly affected were not involved in the process meaningfully.

Therefore, I respectfully request your ‘no’ vote on HB1386. Regardless of your vote, in the name of civil rights, you _must_ oppose the removal of the word ‘imminent’ from the emergency procedure.

Sincerely Thanks,
Aubrey Shomo

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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