Grassroots Radio Colorado, BJ Nikkel, 6/30/2011

Station: KLZ 560 AM

Show: Grassroots Radio

Guest: BJ Nikkel


Date: 6/30/2011

Time: 1:22

Topics: Nikkel, bullying, juvenile justice

Click Here for Audio

Worley: I told you about a text message I received from our House Majority Whip Representative BJ Nikkel. She is also on the line and I would like to welcome BJ Nikkel to the program.  I am going to open this up with you Rep. Nikkel. What on earth is going on out there?

Nikkel: Hi Ken. Hi Sarah. And thanks for inviting me on Ken. This is an issue that I am very passionate about actually and have been working on since going to the legislature. Juvenile justice issues are important because I fell that Colorado has to stop getting tough and start getting smart about school discipline. By reducing the use of suspensions and expulsions and these school-based arrests and police tickets so that we can build a more supportive learning environment. So that all kids can stay in school and learn from their mistakes and fulfill their potential. And not have records that haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Worley: Rep. Nikkel, what can you say to Sarah? What advice do you have? You have a bill coming down in the House next year correct?

Nikkel: Yea and we are working on one. We actually looked at running this bill last year. We are working on trying to get rid of the zero tolerance policies that really came about from legislation run back in the late 90’s. When there were some tough cases that came about and people felt like they had to get “tough on crime.” But sometimes what happens at the legislature is we over-legislate. So its time now that people are recognizing that we overshot it and we need to kind of back up and balance things out. I don’t know if I have any great advice for Sarah but to hang in there and do exactly what you are doing by being an involved parent and getting involved with the defense of your child. That is exactly what you are doing and my heart goes out to you and I really empathize. From a legislative standpoint, what we are trying to do is change the laws in the state to stop this egregiousness. The over-criminalization of our youth and that is exactly what it is. I am doing several things. Trying to work on bills to that affect a better outcome for our kids. This fall, in the middle of October I’m working on doing an event on over-criminalization. Probably with a focus on youth but we might focus on some adult stuff too. I will be doing that with the Independence Institute.  Heritage Foundation is involved. This is not a Republican event. The ACLU is probably going to be involved. Various organizations that you would not normally think would normally work together. This is not a partisan issue. Republicans have gotten on board with some of this. I know you know Rep. Marsha Looper, she feels similarly about these types of issues too. We are trying to work with it as we can from a legislative standpoint. This bill that I texted you about. The task force that we are working on this summer hasn’t convened yet…  we will take testimony from the public and begin writing a bill to try and deal with and balance out some of these zero tolerance policies which have referred about 10,000 of our Colorado youth…

Worley: Rep. Nikkel, I was going to ask you about that.  Is that 10,000 in Colorado per year?

Nikkel: Yea, 10,000 in Colorado.

Worley: Per year since 2000?

Nikkel: Yea, for the last 10 years nearly 100,000 students from across the state have been referred to law enforcement from their schools.

Worley: That’s unreal.

Nikkel: And a majority of those referrals have been for minor offenses that reflect normal behavior that kids exhibit. And they don’t necessarily threaten school safety either. There are a few that do, of course, so for that the laws were made. And I am not certainly placing blame on schools. The teachers are reacting to policies set by state law.  So they are afraid in some cases not to refer. So that is why we are going to take a good look at all of this over the next few months and then try to rewrite the law that actually makes some sense…

Worley: I really want to thank you for working on this because obviously this has gotten way out of hand.

Nikkel: It has and that is why we have to really step back because sometimes laws are written in haste and to deal with some of the laws written back in the mid 90’s. We have to take a look at rewriting things and not be afraid to go back and rewrite things that make more sense.  Sometimes we just don’t get it right the first time and things change over a decade or two also. So that’s the goal. And like I said, it’s not a partisan issue. Republicans have been a little bit afraid in the past to come out and work on some of these juvenile justice and adult justice issues. But as you know Ken, we are facing tough economic times and our state budget has suffered as a result of going a little too far, I think, with some of the over-criminalization issues that put people in prison that maybe we could use restorative justice. And maybe we could use other methods, other things that are available that are tools rather than imprison people and give them records. Especially the youth, it really hurts them so much to have a record as they move forward in their lives.

Worley: I just think that this is just crazy. I have been sitting here listening to Sarah and Jason talk about this in a complete and total state of disbelief.

Nikkel: When you hear some of the stories. And the reason that we decided to do this bill that created the task force. That was SB 133 that created this task force and its called Fair Discipline in Public Schools. And we are doing it because of the egregiousness. And what we see it is not getting any better. So we do have to do something. It’s a very important issue for us.