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There oughtta be a law ... 

El Paso County lawmakers set sights on biting dogs, Soopercards, teachers unions and landlords

click to enlarge Rep. Bill Sinclair, House District 16
  • Rep. Bill Sinclair, House District 16

Cynics might say it's a ploy for votes during an election year.

Whatever the reason, state lawmakers representing El Paso County are introducing a bevy of proposed new laws this month with populist, pro-consumer overtones.

To be sure, there are the usual mundane "housekeeping" bills -- such as updating old statutes -- and controversial mega-budget bills.

But since the 2004 legislative session kicked into gear on Jan. 7, several of the 13 legislators representing El Paso County residents have also introduced, or are about to launch, bills that challenge powerful interests, from landlords to insurance companies.

Such bills have rarely fared well in recent years at the state Capitol, where special-interest lobbyists outnumber the legislators 3-1. Still, this year's crop of proposed laws should at the very least keep the lobbyists busy.

Following is a rundown of some of these bills, and others, that local lawmakers had introduced or were drafting as of press time:

click to enlarge Rep. Mark Cloer, House District 17
  • Rep. Mark Cloer, House District 17

Rep. Bill Sinclair, House District 16

Protecting mobile-home tenants. Sinclair is seeking greater protections for mobile-home tenants against abuses by mobile-home park owners. A main provision would enable tenants in mobile-home parks to sue landlords who violate state regulations, and to recover attorney's fees and court costs if they win. The state's mobile-home laws currently lack enforcement powers, Sinclair says.

Another provision would require that owners who want to sell their mobile-home parks must give their tenants the first right of refusal. Currently, an owner can sell to a party who might decide to evict all the tenants. Sinclair's bill would give tenants a chance to pool their money and buy the park themselves.

Preventing electronic-voting fraud. Sinclair wants the state to set standards to make sure electronic voting equipment used in Colorado is secure. Recent reports have raised concern that such equipment is vulnerable to glitches and fraud.

No DNA match, no child support. If a man paying child support is proven by DNA testing not to be the father of the child in question, he should no longer have to pay, Sinclair says. According to Sinclair, Colorado courts have in some cases refused to let men off the hook despite such DNA evidence. "This is crazy," Sinclair said.

Taking on divorce lawyers. Sinclair says he's planning a bill to rein in what he refers to as a "divorce industry" that is enriching attorneys at the expense of families. He would not yet divulge the content of the bill, saying the lawyers will "hugely organize to overcome it" once they find out.

Open negotiations with teachers' unions. Sinclair wants to require contract negotiations between school districts and teacher's unions to be held in public. Currently, such negotiations usually take place behind closed doors.

click to enlarge Rep. Mike Merrifield, House District 18
  • Rep. Mike Merrifield, House District 18

Rep. Mark Cloer, House District 17

Requiring lower car-insurance rates. Despite auto-insurance reforms passed last year at the urging of big insurers, insurance premiums in Colorado haven't gone down nearly as much as was promised, Cloer says. Now, he wants to require the rates to be lowered at least 25 percent.

"I want to see them make good on the promises," Cloer said of the insurers. "I'm not a happy camper. I think the consumers have been taken advantage of."

Cloer's bill would also prohibit the use of credit scoring in calculating a customer's car-insurance rates. "I don't think there's any substantial evidence that says if you have a poor credit rating, you're a poor driver."

Meth-lab cleanup. Cloer would also require landlords to meet strict standards in cleaning up rental units that have been used for methamphetamine production, which can leave behind toxic chemicals that pose a danger to future tenants.

Tracking drug origins. Another bill by Cloer would require all pharmaceuticals to come with a "pedigree" that documents their origins and the middlemen who have handled the drugs on their way from manufacturer to retailer. "It's a consumer safety issue," said Cloer, noting that in some cases, untraceable middlemen have diluted or tampered with drugs.

Stopping "junk faxes." Following up on the state's no-call list, Cloer wants to set up a no-fax list for consumers.

click to enlarge Rep. Richard Decker, House District 19
  • Rep. Richard Decker, House District 19

Rep. Mike Merrifield, House District 18

Protecting tenants. Inspired by recent media coverage of poor living conditions in many Colorado Springs apartment complexes, Merrifield is proposing a bill to protect tenants' rights. Under the bill, if a tenant notifies a landlord of a problem with a rental unit, and the landlord fails to respond within 15 days, the tenant would be able to break the lease and recover his or her security deposit.

The bill might also include a provision to give tenants a three-day grace period on late rent payments, Merrifield said. (See related story on page 15 for more on this bill.)

One bite, you're out. Even before the recent fatal pit-bull mauling of an Elbert County woman, Merrifield says he was considering dog-bite legislation based on reports of attacks in Colorado Springs. Currently, if a dog bites a person but has never bitten anyone before, the dog's owner isn't responsible for the victim's medical costs. Merrifield would make dog owners responsible on the first occurrence.

No gifts, lobbying salaries for lawmakers. Merrifield wants to ban state legislators from receiving gifts worth more than $25 from lobbyists. His bill would also ban sitting lawmakers from working simultaneously as salaried lobbyists.

Funding tourism promotion. Last year, in an effort to boost state revenues, lawmakers decreased the "vendor's fee," a portion of state sales taxes that merchants are allowed to keep as compensation for collecting the taxes. That reduction is set to expire next year, but Merrifield wants to make it permanent and use the windfall to promote tourism in Colorado.

click to enlarge Keith King, House District 21
  • Keith King, House District 21

Rep. Richard Decker, House District 19

Restricting sales of meth "precursors." Decker wants to regulate the sales of certain cold medicines, such as Sudafed, which can be used to make methamphetamine. Decker's proposal would limit the amount of such medicines that a customer can buy in a single transaction. It would also require buyers to show photo identification and sign for each purchase.

Modifying jury-duty notices. Decker wants jury-duty notices to more explicitly warn potential jurors of the penalty for not showing up when called to serve. "It doesn't actually stiffen the penalty," he said.

Rep. Keith King, House District 21

School financing. As House majority leader, King will be doing some heavy lifting. That includes passing the huge School Financing Act, which sets the state's K-12 education budget. King wants to cap school spending so it can't exceed current minimum requirements. He also says he wants stricter financial accountability for charter schools.

Tracking individual students. King is proposing to "make better use" of statewide standardized tests for K-12 students by enabling teachers to track individual students' performance and progress.

Pushing charters. King wants the state Board of Education to be able to approve charter-school applications that have been turned down by local school boards.

click to enlarge Sen. Ken Chlouber, Senate District 4
  • Sen. Ken Chlouber, Senate District 4

Higher-education vouchers. King is proposing to make public colleges and universities semi-independent "enterprises," which would exempt them from constitutional revenue limits. He also wants to introduce higher-education vouchers, meaning that state funding would go to individual students, rather than to the institutions. Democrats criticize the voucher proposal as a step toward privatizing higher education.

Flexibility for higher education. King also wants to exempt public colleges and universities from certain state regulations, including the state personnel system. Democrats say taking employees out of the state personnel system will take away their job security.

Sen. Ken Chlouber, Senate District 4

Outlawing grocery-store discount cards. Chlouber wants to ban grocery-store discount cards, which enable stores to track their customers' purchases and possibly sell the information. "I think it's an incredible invasion of privacy," Chlouber said. The cards are also discriminatory, because people who don't have them pay higher prices, Chlouber says.

Making gift cards last forever. Chlouber also wants to make sure gift cards from retailers are valid indefinitely. Currently, some cards expire after a few months, and retailers get to keep the money that was spent to buy the card, even if it was never used.

Loosening racing regulations. Chlouber wants to loosen "cumbersome and unnecessary" regulations of the dog- and horse-racing industries. One of his proposals is to administer only random drug tests, instead of testing every single animal, as is currently required.

Training escalator technicians. In response to last year's escalator accident at Denver's Coors Field, which injured dozens of people, Chlouber is proposing that people who maintain escalators be required to undergo specific training.

click to enlarge Sen. Andy McElhany, Senate District 12
  • Sen. Andy McElhany, Senate District 12

Sen. Andy McElhany, Senate District 12

Exempting severance pay. Currently, when employees who leave their employers receive severance packages, the pay counts against their applications for unemployment benefits. McElhany wants the severance pay to be exempt from consideration.

Controlling Pinnacol. McElhany is proposing a bill to increase state oversight of Pinnacol, a quasi-governmental worker's compensation insurance company whose management was criticized in a state audit.

Reps. Dave Schultheis, House District 14; Bill Cadman, House District 15; and Lynn Hefley, House District 20

Cadman did not respond to requests for information by press time, and Schultheis and Hefley routinely refuse to speak with the Independent. Based on other sources, here are some of the bills they are proposing:

Licensing abortion clinics. Schultheis, known for his conservative "family values" proposals, wants strict licensing and regulation of abortion clinics. Abortion-rights advocates say the bill is an attempt to drive abortion providers out of business by saddling them with unnecessary costs. They note that abortion clinics and physicians who perform abortions are already subject to the same licensing and regulation requirements as other healthcare providers.

In-state tuition for military dependents. Hefley wants to expand the ability for dependents of service members to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in Colorado.

No suing McDonald's. In what she calls the "Common-sense Consumption Act," Hefley is seeking to ban lawsuits against restaurants by customers who claim the restaurants' food has made them obese.

Sens. Doug Lamborn, Senate District 9; Ron May, Senate District 10; and Ed Jones, Senate District 12

Lamborn did not return phone messages seeking information as of press time, and May and Jones routinely refuse to speak with the Independent. Among May's bills, however, is a proposal to make it easier to revoke the driver's license of a person who tampers with an "ignition interlock device" -- a device that prevents an intoxicated person from starting a motor vehicle.

Jones, meanwhile, has introduced a bill that would extend the hearing deadline when a consumer appeals the cancellation of an auto-insurance policy to the state insurance commissioner.

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