Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta

State Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, offers his support to SB21-073 abolishing the statute of limitations on civil sexual assault cases during hearings last year. (Courtesy/The Colorado Channel)

State Rep. Matt Soper recently discussed sexual assault legislation that he sponsored or supported that went into effect on Jan. 1. Among these bills were two Colorado Senate bills and one House bill dealing with victims and perpetrators of sexual assault.

Senate Bill 73 abolished the civil statue of limitations for rape and sexual assault in Colorado and became the law on Jan. 1. Soper said he wanted to clarify a recent statement in an article in the Grand Junction Sentinel. He said SB 73 bill applies to all ages, not just for minors, as stated in the paper.

In addition to SB 73, Soper said Senate Bill 88 creates a brand new civil cause of action to allow victims of rape, sexual assault or molestation who were engaged in a youth-related activity with an entity that covered up the crime.

Victims can now sue organizations for any cover up related to the crime. SB 73 went into effect Jan. 1, and initiates a critical three-year window.

“So, any claim from Jan. 1, 1960 until Dec. 21, 2021 will be actionable for the next three years. The purpose of this is basically to clear the deck as it were as far as all of the outstanding actions that might be available for victims,” Soper said.

The three-year window allows organizations like the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, school districts and others to know how many lawsuits are going to come forward. Soper said the intent is not to bankrupt organizations, but give them ample time to “see who has a claim.”

Soper noted that bills 88 and 73 work together because on Jan. 1, if the statute of limitations has not expired for rape or sexual assault then it won’t expire.

“You’ll be given an unlimited time to bring a lawsuit because what we really don’t want is perpetrators to think all they have to do is out last the six year statute of limitations and then they’re in the blue,” he said.

With the abolishing of the statue of limitations on rape and sexual assault on the criminal side, Soper said it was important to bring parity between the criminal and civil sides of the law for victims.

The third bill in the package was House Bill 1143, concerning rape kits. Soper said the bill, which went into effect last June, makes it possible for victims to access help from a victim’s advocate. In addition, the bill dictates that before the evidence in the rape kit is destroyed, the victims must be notified concerning their rights related to the kit.

“That’s really important because what had happened in Colorado is that if no criminal case had been brought … the guys in the evidence locker would just throw away the rape kits,” Soper said, “And then you would have a victim who would want to make a civil case but would be unable to do so because the evidence had been thrown away.”

Soper said three bills together are a major shift in Colorado law, making the state “the best state for victims to seek justice.”

The lawmaker from Delta said he’s going to be a part of another related bill this session that will deal with the complex issue of consent.

“Right now in Colorado law, consent is really the key element to whether it was consensual sexual activity or whether it was rape. And there have been some challenges to the way the definition has been and there’s still a little bit of work to be done to see that it’s fine-tuned,” Soper said, adding that work is taking place with various district attorneys and the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault to ‘tweak the details.’”

Soper also said he received positive feedback from a November town hall on crime.

“Folks definitely were shocked by the fentanyl element and how powerful fentanyl is, how a little bit could kill a person and how that amount of fentanyl would be misdemeanor and they just thought that was incredible,” Soper said.

Colorado’s General Attorney Phil Weiser recently announced that his office will be seeking tougher penalties for fentanyl possession. Soper said he is pleased to see changes already being planned for the dangerous drug.

There were 875 drug overdoses involving fentanyl statewide in 2021. There were 19 drug related deaths in Delta County last year and a total of 1,838 drug overdoses in Colorado last year.

Soper said he also heard feedback that many participants were surprised to learn that a number of the law enforcement reforms mentioned in the meeting were not seen by District Attorney Seth Ryan, Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor or Delta Chief of Police Luke Fedler as the main reason for the lack of people choosing to go into law enforcement.

“Those have certainly made it more challenging for them, but they were able to live with the regulations and some of the feedback I heard was that they were actually surprised to hear that,” Soper said, adding that people from Mesa County requested a similar meeting in their area.

Looking ahead, Soper has filed and announced that he will be seeking re-election for a third term in House District 54. He said he will be opposed by fellow Republican Nina Anderson from Grand Junction in the June primary.

“Through redistricting, she was moved into House District 54 by five houses,” Soper said, adding that she announced in October that she would be challenging him for the HD 54 seat.

Soper said his major concern with Anderson is that she lacks experience with rural Colorado issues, adding that her career and network is primarily in the Grand Junction area.

“Grand Junction is very much an urban/ suburban type district. House District 54 is completely the opposite. Fruita is the biggest town in the district with 14,000. Delta is second biggest with just a little over 9,000 and then it’s just a collection of independent communities. We actually have more cattle than people. Believe it or not we have more fruit trees by many times,” he said.

Soper said his concern is that it takes a different mindset to understand the issues of a rural district versus an urban district.

“And you don’t just flip a switch and say, “well I am going to go from an urban legislative district mindset to being a rural legislator.” There’s only a few of us very rural legislators left,” he said placing much of the blame on redistricting.

“The voice of true rural Colorado has definitely been diluted and as the districts get bigger and bigger it just means that the representation from the really small towns becomes fewer and fewer,” he said.

Lisa Young is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent.

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