The House on Thursday approved a bill seeking to bolster the pipeline of inmates who participated in the state Department of Corrections’ wildland fire management program to jobs fighting fires after they are released, sending the proposal to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.
Senate Bill 21-012 from Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, would require the state Division of Fire Prevention and Control to develop materials to inform participants of DOC’s State Wildland Inmate Fire Team of post-incarceration job opportunities. The bill would also develop a peer mentor program and ask DFPC to not disqualify an applicant solely on their incarceration history, which Donovan said the division hasn’t previously done.
Roberts in a statement touted the measure as a win-win.
“It creates jobs and protects our communities from increasingly devastating wildfires that impact my district and communities all across the state,” he said.
The bill on Thursday cleared the House on a 60-3 vote, with Republican Reps. Janice Rich of Grand Junction, Rod Pelton of Cheyenne Wells and Matt Soper of Delta voting against it. It passed out of the House Energy and Environment Committee unanimously.
Speaking on the Senate floor last month, Donovan noted the bill had the potential to address Colorado’s recidivism rate. That sits at just under 45% over a three-year period, according to the latest data from DOC.
“One of the critical things to avoid recidivism is employment and community connections, and this bill would try to achieve both of those,” she said.
The sole vote against the measure in the Senate came from Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who also opposed the measure while it was being considered by the chamber’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Sonnenberg in committee raised concerns that because there is not a shortage of wildland firefighters, the bill would “penalize” the private sector by putting firefighters trained outside of prisons out of work.
After clearing both chambers the bill now heads to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.