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Wildfire bills passed

Penalties increased for those who start blazes

Josh Nichols

State lawmakers passed eight bills dealing with wildfires during this week’s legislative special session.

One of the new laws, introduced by Sen. Jack Taylor and Rep. Gregg Rippy, increases criminal penalties for people who deliberately set wildfires and triple civil penalties.

“The General Assembly believes there should be heightened penalties during times of drought,” Rippy said. “We’ve had more than 900 fires in Colorado already this year. Even fighting the small ones expands the resources. Nine hundred fires by July 10 is a lot of fires.”

Rippy, who watched the recent Coal Seam Fire come within 20 feet of his front door at his home in Glenwood Springs, said he thinks the stiffer penalties will make people be more careful.

“I don’t know if it would have helped this year but I know it won’t hurt,” he said.

Taylor said he thinks people will think twice now before they start fires.

“It’s really an effort to make people be more cautious,” he said. “It sends the message that if you’re going to go out and do something like that you’re really going to get it.”

Taylor said it was interesting how fast attitudes changed about wildfires from the time regular session ended to the present.

“One of the interesting things about the wildfire legislation is that the bill lost in the wee hours of the regular session,” Taylor said. “Two months later the same bill passes unanimously.”

In addition to Taylor and Rippy’s bill, lawmakers voted to make it illegal to throw lighted objects like cigarettes out of vehicles and gave local governments more control over the sale and use of fireworks.

“All bills were very specific to fire danger and drought,” Rippy said. “I’m pleased we were able to accomplish what we did in four days.”

Another hot topic during the special session was water storage.

One bill introduced would have allowed spending of up to $10 billion on water projects.

The bill, which was defeated, would have asked voters whether to give state officials authority to issue revenue bonds to finance water projects approved by the Legislature.

The bill was killed Wednesday night and Rippy was one of those who voted against it, even though he had initially been a supporter.

“I supported the bill in committee,” he said.

“I thought we needed to start the debate because there’s no question we need storage. One of the thoughts was in this time of drought it would be fresh in people’s

minds.”

Rippy said there were too many lingering questions regarding

the bill.

“There are a number of questions about the bill that would be difficult to sort out in a four-day session,” he said. “It was the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what could happen. I was concerned whether $10 billion was the right number.”

The discussion would continue, he said.

“Maybe $5 billion would have been a more appropriate limit,” he said.

“The problem with $10 billion is you’ll always spend what you have. We need to make sure we do things as cause consciously as we can.”

Before lawmakers adjourned Thursday, they approved a bill to place death penalty decisions in the hands of juries to bring Colorado law in compliance with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The death penalty issue was the reason Gov. Bill Owens called the special session.


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