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Lawmaker Calls DA ‘Snake’ In Fight Over Drug Bill

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DENVER (AP) — A Democratic senator trying to reduce penalties for some Colorado drug possession offenses called Denver’s top prosecutor a “villain” and a “snake” Friday, accusing him of spreading misinformation that led to the weakening of his proposal.

Sen. Pat Steadman changed the bill to become a study of new sentencing guidelines for all drug crimes and was particularly critical of Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey for the outcry that surrounded the bill.

Morrissey, also a Democrat, fired back.

“That’s a sign of just how professional Senator Steadman is, that when confronted with the truth he resorts to name-calling,” he said.

Steadman, of Denver, initially sought to reduce possession of small amounts of some illegal drugs from felonies to misdemeanors.

Supporters from both parties said the goal was to have fewer drug addicts serving long prison sentences and to use the savings to provide them treatment.

Morrissey argued the bill would effectively dismantle Denver’s drug court and cut off access to the treatment it provides.

Steadman said that wasn’t true. He said a bill he sponsored in 2010 that reduced some felony drug sentences also allowed funding for treatment programs at county courts. He also said he tried to appease Morrissey’s concerns by amending the bill.

“The bill had become the subject of a lot of misinformation,” Steadman said. “And despite our best efforts to make it work for one particular local jurisdiction where there were unique local complications, people there weren’t particularly cooperative.”

Morrissey testified against the bill to a legislative committee earlier this month, telling lawmakers that the city’s drug court has been effective at reducing crime and providing treatment to offenders.

“I cannot figure out how my drug court is going to survive with this bill,” he said at the time. He said few offenders would be going to the city’s drug court, making it ineffective.

Opponents of the bill also argued it would increase costs at county jails, where more offenders would go instead of prison. They said possessing illicit drugs deserve a heavy punishment.

The amended bill will now be debated by the full Senate. Steadman’s change requires the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to consider developing “a comprehensive drug sentencing scheme for all drug crimes” and issue recommendations to lawmakers by Dec. 15 of this year.

Steadman said that could give lawmakers a chance “to do something even better.”

He said lawmakers now will be able “go back with renewed enthusiasm for creating a whole new sentencing grid for drug offenses.”

By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer (© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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