We must Protect Kids with Disabilities and HB23-1042 provides Safeguards

HB 23- 1042, Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17, 2023. The bill passed the House and the Senate and is off to the Governor’s office for signature. Below is the prepared testimony of our Government Affairs Director Bri Buentello.

My name is Bri Buentello, and I’m the government affairs director for Stand for Children, Colorado. Stand advances educational equity and racial justice through meaningful partnerships with families, educators, schools, and policymakers.  

We strongly support HB23-1042. 

But today, I’m here to talk to you about what it’s like to be Noel’s mama.  

You see, I have one child; a boy named Noel. He’s a kind, vivacious kid who’s twelve years old and already wearing size 7 men’s shoes.  

And I still remember when I realized that there was something different about him, more than ten years ago. 

As a baby, he made fine eye contact and gurgled often, but eventually fell silent and stopped looking at me. As he grew into a toddler, he began intentionally hitting his head when he was frustrated and silently dancing when he was ecstatic.  

He was soon diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as having Intellectual/Developmental disabilities.  

Becoming a mama changes everything, but becoming a mama to a child with disabilities changes it all over again. 

My whole world shifted as the thought occurred to me – what could go wrong, raising a little boy who might not ever speak? Even more distressingly, what happens when he stops being that sweet toddler, who’s afraid of sirens, loved toy trains, and trying to catch fireflies at Grandma’s cabin? 

It wasn’t so very long ago, back in our hometown of Pueblo, that there was another young man with intellectual disabilities named Joseph Arridy. He was also a sweet, naive boy that loved toy trains. 

And he was killed by the state of Colorado, at the age of 23, on a criminal conviction that was largely based on a false confession extracted by the then Pueblo County Sheriff.  

You see, the Sheriff had a witness who stated a tall man with dark features was seen fleeing the scene; he decided that Arridy fit that bill, and so Arridy became the sole person of interest in a murder investigation. 

Arridy understood so little of the gravity of the situation that he falsely confessed, thinking he could just leave afterwards. He was convicted and subsequently sentenced to death; he even requested ice cream for his last meal. 

The sad fact is that Joseph Arridy is far from the last person with disabilities to be unjustly thrown in prison or even killed by the Centennial state. Recently, the murder of Elijah McClain, another young man with autism, filled me with a profound existential anxiety; I could so easily see my own boy dancing on the side of the road and then panicking under physical restraint of a poorly trained police officer. 

Over the years, I’ve learned to live with anxiety as my boy grows up to be a man. But last year, it was estimated that 1 in 36 children were diagnosed with autism; my kid is far from the only kid in Colorado or even Pueblo, with autism. And our knowledge and understanding of this disability has changed. 

It’s about time our laws do too.  

HB23-1042 also provides some modest legal safeguards for these kids, and training for law enforcement officers for a understanding of these disabilities, as well as best practices engaging this emerging population as these kids grow into adults.  

Stand for Children, and myself as Noel’s mama, would like to thank Senator Gonzales for her fearless leadership for kids, and urge the committee to vote yes on HB-1042, unamended. Thank you.

Learn more about HB23-1042 and why we are supporting it.

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