A real happy ending — 2nd UPDATE

    The bill took some big strides on Monday.

    First, it made it out of the House Judiciary Committee on vote of 10 to 1 in favor. I testified first, followed by a long list of witnesses ranging from activists to a former inmate who gave birth shackled to legal experts to an OB/GYN and Laraine, the nurse-midwife.

    One of the lawmakers really didn’t understand what was at stake and kept asking how we planned to protect the guards from these dangerous women if they were unshackled. Clearly, this man has never had a baby.

    Another lawmaker called current policy in the state “barbaric.”

    Still another thanked the representative who is sponsoring the bill in the House for bringing the issue forward. He said he felt it was really important and thanked her for doing it. And guess what? She thanked me and credited my research and my persistence for the fact that they were about to vote on the bill. That made me feel wonderful, and I’m sure I was red as a tomato.

    Then they voted, as I said, 10 to 1 to pass the bill.

    I was at my desk at the paper when I heard from Pamela Clifton, who was still at the Capitol, that the bill had already been presented for second reading on the House floor and had passed. So that hurdle was jumped quite easily — and without any nail-biting on my part.

    UPDATE — The bill passed the House on third reading this morning 62 in favor, 2 abstentions and 1 no vote. Talk about bipartisan support! The representative who voted against it was the same one who grilled me yesterday and who voted against it in committee.

    Senate re-adoption — Tuesday, 2:30 PM. The Senate voted with no fuss and no objections to re-adopt the House version of the bill just moments ago. Woohoo!

    Only ONE hurdle remains:

    Governor’s desk — He’d be an idiot to veto it, particularly given the high level of bipartisan support the bill has earned. Once he signs it, Colorado will have a new law and be the eighth state in the United States to ban the shackling of pregnant inmates in labor.

    Here’s what the bill will change:

    No inmate, except for the worst of the worst, can be shackled during labor and delivery. So they’ll be able to use the hot tub and make use of other comforts that other women use.

    No belly belts or ankle shackles on pregnant women ever.

    If pregnant women are shackled, it must be using the least restrictive restraint necessary to ensure public safety.

    A medical person will be present when an inmate is strip searched on return from prison after having a baby.

    There will be a basic, uniform standard for all jurisdictions — state, county, city, juvenile, adult.

    So we really are in the home stretch here, and I’m so glad it’s gone well. I feel good about what we’ve accomplished and the role I’ve been able to play in that. I hope to join with some other women I met through this process to put together a database of resources for people in other states who want to ban shackling.

    What does this have to do with my life as a romance novelist? That’s an easy question to answer.

    Unlawful Contact was my way of working through all the terrible things I’d seen and heard about the treatment of female offenders in prison and jail. The sadness I felt about those things made their way into the story. I put a fantasy ending on that story, in which Reece passes a bill addressing a host of wrongs, shackling during labor among them. But it was just a fantasy.

    Now that HEA will be more reality than fantasy. And all the Megans out there — the women like her here in Colorado — will have one less indignity to face as they try to put their lives together again.

    My part in this is more or less over, so I won’t be driving to Denver again till the bill is signed. I hope to attend the bill signing ceremony and perhaps take my nephew with me so that he can see what that’s like.

    My older son, Alec, graduates from Colorado State University this weekend with a double degree in anthropology and history, so that will keep me busy from Friday on. I am super proud of him. He has worked his way through college, which has meant working almost full time while holding down a full course load. That’s very hard work, and I’m so happy he’s finally come to the end. So is he! (That’s a major understatement!)

    There probably won’t be much time for writing. So I’ll be catching up with Natalie and Zach as I am able.

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