Jerry Kopel


Theft Penalties, Landscape Architects


May 24, 2007


By Jerry Kopel


I estimate former Gov. Bill Owens cost the state budget somewhere between one to two million dollars this year because of a 2004 veto that was finally overcome by passage in 2007 of SB 260.


Newspapers did a reasonable job in explaining SB 260. The bill raised felony limits for property theft and passed the House and Senate. The measure was sponsored by all six members of the Joint Budget Committee.


But the papers didn't mention that an almost duplicate bill, HB 1165, had passed the legislature in 2004, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Owens.


That's where the loss of revenue savings occurred, because we didn't change the amount needed for a crime to become a high misdemeanor or a Class 3 and Class 4 felony. Except for the veto, part of the savings would have occurred for property crimes committed from July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2007.


The reasoning for Owens'  2004 veto of HB 1165, a bill carried by two Republicans, Rep. Kevin Lundberg and Sen. Ron Teck, was that while this was a cost savings measure "the amount of money does not compensate for the potential increases in losses suffered by victims of these crimes."


That did not bother former Gov. Bill Owens when he voted as a legislator in 1984 and 1992 for major increases in sums to be added before property theft became a felony. Thieves are punished under both the old and new law. The only difference is the amount of jail time served.


It has now been nine years since the felony theft minimums and maximums have been changed. Under SB 260, property theft is a misdemeanor if less than $1,000 as opposed to less than $500, and a Class 4 felony if less than $20,000 instead of less than $15,000.


The Joint Budget Committee members become involved because they may need to find $800 million for new prisons over the next five years. They expect SB 260 to save $1,624,000 for 2008 and 2009. And as the years creep up, the savings will only increase.


If lack of funds resulted in a shortage of felony prison cells, who would you rather see in them, persons who commit violent crimes or persons who commit property theft?


                                                                 * * *


Is this the year when the never ending story ends?


For thirty years (1977-2007) Colorado has been without a licensing law for landscape architects. This was one of the  earliest laws repealed under the Sunset process.


There were many attempts to regain licensing, all without success until 2006, when HB 1331 by Rep. Tom Plant, D-Boulder, and Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, passed the House and Senate, only to be vetoed by former Gov. Owens.


Owens was following the recommendation of the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) in a report issued Oct. 14, 2005. The landscape architects had applied for a Sunrise review. After much research, DORA on page 30 of the report recommended  "Do not regulate the practice of landscape architects." The same "no" vote was urged by DORA in 1995 and 2002.


"Regulation is justified" stated DORA "only when the unregulated practice of landscape architects clearly harms the public, not when non-regulation makes it difficult for practitioners to get business."


DORA found the applicant failed the burden of proof as to harm.


It is true that in 1977, legislators confused landscape architects with residential landscapers, which let then-Rep. Don Friedman, R-Denver, to quip "the only thing they need to know in laying down grass is which side is up." However, in 1977, there were really too few landscape architects to require licensing.


This year, Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, and Rep. Alice Borodkin, D-Denver, introduced SB 107 to regulate landscape architects. It passed the Senate 23 to 11 and the House 41 to 20.


A large number of person presently practicing are "grandfathered" in and do not need to take an examination if they display minimum competence.


Also, landscape architects who wish to only provide landscape design for single and multi-family residential properties of four or fewer units not including common areas, need not be licensed.


The five member board is dominated by landscape architects, which actually makes sense, since direct contact with consumers as opposed to business interests is not the purpose of the bill.


                                                                        * * *

From the Rocky Mountain News, May 5th, by Lynn Bartels, April Washington, ad Alan Gathright: "The largest incoming class since statehood dazzled veterans with its savvy and smarts..."


Well, the new legislators may be smart, but why do Rocky Mountains News (and yes, Denver Post) reporters keep repeating false information?


Yes. there were 30 new faces in 2007. But in 1965, there were 26 Democratic and 11 Republican fresh faces in the House and five Democratic and two Republican fresh faces in the Senate. And that is without researching any of the other major changes  over the years.


Journalists work hard and deadlines often cut down on how much research can be done. But at least, the reporters should track down the source of the false information, and stop using that source and  that information.


(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House)

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