(The Center Square) - A bipartisan bill introduced in the Colorado Senate would make all automobile thefts felonies and eliminate penalties based on the value of a stolen vehicle.
Senate Bill 23-097, sponsored by Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, and Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, was introduced on Monday. The duo held a press conference at the capitol and were joined by members of law enforcement, civic leaders and district attorneys in praising the legislation for its support of crime victims.
"Right now, the severity of the penalty for stealing a car depends on the value of the stolen vehicle," Zenzinger said. "This simply doesn't make sense. It shouldn't matter if a stolen car is a brand new BMW worth more than most folks make in a year, or a 20-year-old Prius, like mine, worth $700. A car is a car and the crime of stealing one should be treated the same. That's why a key provision of our bill is to make most motor vehicle thefts in Colorado a felony, regardless of the stolen cars value."
Colorado leads the nation in auto theft, Colorado Senate Republicans noted in a news release. Approximately 41,225 vehicles were stole in Colorado last year, a 10 percent increase from 2021, Denver 7 reported.
"Last year, close to $1 billion worth of vehicles were stolen from Colorado residents," Gardner said. "That's a huge number. But it doesn't begin to describe the hardship and burden of auto theft, particularly on those families that are economically challenged. That vehicle might be their single means of transportation to take their children to school, to medical appointments and to go to work."
Current law states vehicle theft is a class 3 felony if it's worth more than $100,000; class 4 if more than $20,000, but less than $100,000; class 5 if $20,000 or more; class 6 if $2,000 or more, but less than $20,000; and a class 1 misdemeanor if the value is less than $2,000.
Prison sentences for class 3 to 5 felonies range from one to 12 years and penalties range from $1,000 to $750,000, according to the 2020 Colorado Crime Classification Guide.
"I support this legislation because we must unwind and disentangle the wealth of the victim from the criminal liability of the offender," said Alexis King, district attorney for the First Judicial District in Gilpin and Jefferson counties.
King also said addressing staffing levels of law enforcement agencies and harm of the opioid epidemic will curtail auto thefts.
"Addiction is the driver of crime and we have yet to effectively address the impact of opioids in our communities, in our justice system and as a society," King said. "My point is we have more work to do, but I'm proud to be standing here with these leaders."