Fire, water and death debated in special Legislative session |

Fire, water and death debated in special Legislative session

by Jane Stebbins

Some proposed bills relevant to Summit County

? A bill to bolster tourism marketing

? A bill guaranteeing firefighters’ jobs when they return home from fighting fires with FEMA

? Tax check-off to replenish a firefighting fund

? HB 1001: Civil litigants can garner three times the cost of damage from someone who intentionally lights a wildfire

? A bill to sentence fire-starters to 16 years, rather than six, in prison

? A bill making fire ban violations a Class 6 felony; now it is a Class 3 misdemeanor

? SB 7: Prevents insurers from denying coverage to homeowners in fire-prone areas

?A bill to ask voters to OK $10 billion in bonds to build dams

DENVER – Almost $1.5 million designated for state college capital development projects might be diverted to prop up tourism marketing efforts in light of negative publicity Colorado has received because of its wildfires.

That and other decisions will be made this week during a special session called by Gov. Bill Owens to address fire, consider ways to help farmers and ranchers through the drought, how the death penalty should be administered, and other issues. The special session is expected to cost $13,000 to $15,000 a day.

“We want to let people know Colorado is open for business,” said Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, who represents Summit County in the state legislature. “We need to keep people continuing to come to Colorado.”

Tourism officials throughout the state cringed earlier this summer when Gov. Bill Owens toured the Coal Seam fire near Glenwood Spring and commented, “All of Colorado is burning today.’ Daily national coverage of the wildfires in Colorado on the “Today Show” is believed to have further hampered efforts to counter the perception that the entire state was up in flames.

“At the same time, California has more fires raging and destroying greater acreage,” Fitz-Gerald said. “But they’re less sensational because they didn’t have to evacuate homes.”

Each legislator is allowed to submit one bill for consideration during the special session. Fitz-Gerald’s bill, which was approved 7-0 in committee Tuesday, would guarantee firefighters who volunteer with the Federal Emergency Management Agency will have their jobs when they return home.

Another bill legislators will consider this week is a tax check-off to replenish a state fund from which counties draw for fire firefighting needs. That fund is depleted, Fitz-Gerald said.

“When counties go back to recoup what they spent, there’s nothing there,” she said, adding the depleted fund could harm many of the counties in her district, including Summit.

Fire-related bills approved Monday included House Bill 1001, which allows civil litigants to garner three times the cost of damage to property from people who intentionally set wildfires. Firebugs also will face up to 16 years in prison, rather than six, under House Bill 1002. House Bill 1006, which died in committee, but was revived in a special meeting, strengthening the severity of fire ban violations from a Class 3 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony. And Senate Bill 7, which prohibits insurance companies from refusing to cover homes in fire-prone areas, was approved.

Bills that were killed included 1011, which would have required the Colorado Department of Corrections to train 200 prison inmates as firefighters; it was killed because of its estimated $2 million cost. House Bill 1016, which would have required local government to impose legislation to prevent and mitigate wildfire damage, also was killed, as was House Bill 1014, which would have prohibited homeowner associations from passing covenants banning the use of water-saving landscaping.

Legislators agreed water issues – notably funding for additional water storage facilities in the mountains – are too complex an issue to tackle in five days.

However, one bill that would ask voters to approve $10 billion in bonds to develop water storage and delivery systems was assigned to committee Tuesday afternoon. The money, Fitz-Gerald said, would likely be used to build dams, although no particular projects have been discussed.

Another bill would provide funds to shore up dams that can’t hold their maximum capacity because of fractures or other weaknesses. Fitz-Gerald said she wasn’t sure which dams might be affected by that proposal.

The death penalty issue is expected to be among the least contentious issues addressed this week. House Minority Leader Dan Grossman (D-Denver) has proposed a bill that would move the responsibility of a death penalty sentence from a three-judge panel to a jury. In the past, Colorado has asked panels of three judges to make death penalty decisions; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that to as unconstitutional last month, saying juries should make those critical decisions.

Limited time and money aren’t the only things keeping legislators pressured to address issues quickly. It’s stifling hot in the Senate building, Fitz-Gerald said.

“That has really limited discussion,” she said. “It’s very, very hot. But I don’t find discussion as contentious as in the two last special sessions that addressed growth. I think people know they only have a week; you just knuckle down and get the job done.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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