Jerry Kopel

Ever hunt high and low for a missing earring, or that article you cut out of the paper and is nowhere to be found? Well, some bills that become law are just like that, in front of your eyes but still below the radar screen. Here are two of them.

HB 1334 is one of those and Governor Bill Owens will likely sign it. If so, you may need to keep better records in your check book, and also hope the substitute mailman on your route delivers YOUR mail to YOUR home.

This message is only for readers who occasionally write short checks. It might have only been for $25, but the practical decision by a high volume business is to turn the check over to a collection agency. That agency may be handling hundreds of other short checks. At that point your $25 short check will cost you no less than $45.

The collection agency sends out a notice to your "most recent address known to the sender". At present, that notice may be given to you personally but it's normally done by certified mail, return receipt requested and postage prepaid. You have 15 days to respond. Usually certified mail does reach you and your total cost may still not be more than $45.

But if the 15 day period passes without payment, the collection agency can then file a court action against you on that $25 short check. If the collection agency is successful, you are now liable for $100, plus court costs, plus reasonable attorney fees, plus $20 collection costs.

Well, you didn't respond, so that's your fault. But what if you are at the address on that short check but you never got the mailed notice because it was sent by regular mail? It does happen. There is someone who lives in the next block north of me with the same last two numbers of a four-digit house number. For many years that family and our family have had to exchange mail delivered to the wrong address. It's a good thing we are on friendly terms.

Under HB 1334, that notice of a short check no longer has to go by certified mail, return receipt requested. It can be mailed to you by regular mail as long as the collection agent signs and keeps a sworn affidavit that the notice was mailed to you. That's a step down in protection for you as a check writer and a real overhead savings for the collection agency. So, beware!

* * *

Did you know that prior to April 12th, an indigent veteran who entered military service AFTER Desert Storm was not entitled to veterans burial benefits provided by state law?

That's because this ancient law, which began in 1887, continued to insert additional wars to a list that begins with the "Civil War, Colorado Indian Wars" and other wars we are familiar with up to Desert Storm.

And in the same statute, only two of the 41 member organizations of the United Veterans Committee were allowed to have custody and care of the graves for indigent veterans: The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. The other two organizations on the list no longer exist: The Grand Army of the Republic and the United Spanish War Veterans.

This year, the legislature passed and Gov. Owens signed SB 100 by Sen. Bill Thiebaut (D-Pueblo) and Rep. Abel Tapia (D-Pueblo) which modernized the ancient text.

Now, indigent veterans include any "who served in any branch of the armed forces...during any period of any declared or undeclared war or other armed hostilities against an armed foreign enemy, or who served on active duty in any branch of the armed services in any campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge is authorized."

For custody and care of graves, the new law includes "all military veteran service organizations." Each county will decide how much to contribute to the burial as well as providing the setting of headstones. The earlier law had a ceiling of $50.

Colorado will now be able to buy burial spaces of at least eight free internments or more in each purchase, which should save the state money. Colorado has 400,000 veterans. If only one percent is indigent, that's 4,000 burials in which the state and counties will assist.

(Jerry Kopel is a veteran and served 22 years in the Colorado legislature.)

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