People who break into locked vehicles to rescue children, dogs or cats in danger of death or serious injury would be given immunity from civil or criminal liability for that forced entry, under a bill introduced Tuesday by Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone.
Saine's House Bill 17-1179 would require the person forcibly entering the locked vehicle to have a "good-faith belief" that the at-risk person or pet inside is in imminent danger of death or serious injury from extreme heat or extreme cold.
Saine said her bill is intended "to protect Good Samaritans" who follow a number of steps before breaking the vehicle's window or prying open its door as a last resort to protect children and pets "who can't rescue themselves."
The person must first determine that the vehicle is locked and that forcible entry is necessary. He or she then would have to make "a reasonable effort" to locate the vehicle's owner or operator.
The next step would be to contact a local law enforcement agency, fire department animal control or a 911 operator before forcibly entering the car or truck. If the person believes he or she cannot wait any longer for emergency first responders to show up, no more force could be used to enter the vehicle than what the rescuer "believes is reasonably necessary."
If those and other steps set forth in Saine's bill are followed, her proposed state law would give the rescuer immunity from civil lawsuits for damages to the vehicle or from such otherwise-possible criminal charges as criminal mischief, criminal trespass or the criminal tampering with property.
Saine said that while she knew of no specific incidents in her southwest Weld County House district, and while "I wouldn't say it's super epidemic," other states have adopted such laws and "a lot of constituents" have asked her to sponsor such a measure for Colorado.
"I want to stress that forcibly entering someone's vehicle must be a last resort," said Saine, who said she'd consulted with law enforcement authorities such as county sheriffs while drafting her measure to "make sure we're not encouraging vigilantism."
She said, "This bill is about giving the public steps to help save lives in those circumstances of last resort."
Saine's bill would also provide civil and criminal liability to people who take the required steps before breaking into a vehicle to rescue an at-risk elderly person inside it, or a disabled adult.
It would not create immunity, however, for people who forcibly enter a vehicle to rescue any kind of animal pet other than a dog or cat. Nor would it apply to breaking into a car or truck to free "livestock" — defined in the bill as including cattle, horses, burros, sheep, poultry, swine, llamas or goats.
A bipartisan set of state lawmakers has signed on to co-sponsor Saine's measure, which has been referred to the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee for a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing.
House co-sponsors include Reps. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, and Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont. If the bill clears House committee and floor-vote tests, its primary Senate sponsor would be Fort Collins-area Republican Vicki Marble and one of its Senate co-sponsors would be Sen. Tim Neville, R-Jefferson County.