Jerry Kopel


When one team has 61 players and the other team has 39 players, you assume the 61-player team decides what the final score will be. But that hasn't been true regarding HB 1243 by Rep. Paul Schauer (R) and Sen. Bill Schroeder (R) which more than DOUBLES the interest rates consumers will pay for credit in Colorado to 45 percent.

This is a story of missed opportunities by Democrats to kill an anti-consumer bill in both the House and Senate.

Credit lobbyists foisted a retail credit study from Washington State on legislators, deliberately ignoring a report from the Colorado Consumer Credit Code office showing a large number of states where interest rates increased (as high as 112 percent in South Carolina and 200 percent in Utah) after bills similar to HB 1243 passed.

The 45 percent limit in Colorado is the state criminal usury statute enacted as a way to stop organized crime loan sharking. But under HB 1243, a number of additional charges by money-lenders will not be affected by the 45 percent ceiling. And the bill isn't about "credit cards" as some proponents have contended. It's about ALL consumer interest rates.

The lobbyists allege money lenders won't lend to the poor unless they can charge the poor more. That's logical. Those who can least afford the highest rates are the ones who will pay it. Be ready for Colorado bankruptcy filings to soar to new heights.

Three commissioners of the Consumer Credit Code, John Moye, representing business, Felicia Muftic, representing consumers, and Attorney General Gale Norton, cast the first vote. It was two to one, with Norton and Moye voting "yes".

The second vote was on third reading in the House Feb. 20th. The bill passed 37 to 28. On first blush, one would assume a solid 24 Democratic vote of "no" and a few Republican dissidents. That assumption would be wrong. Ten Republicans voted "no". The bill was two votes short of passing. But six Democrats voted "yes": Jim Dyer, Jeannie Reeser, Stephanie Takis, Penfield Tate, Mark Udall, and Suzanne Williams.

The third vote was in Senate Business Affairs, where it passed out of committee on a five to four vote. A straight party line vote? Five Republicans vs. four Democrats? Wrong. Sen. Ken Chlouber (R) voted "no". Sen. Stan Matsunaka (D) voted "yes".

The fourth vote came on a recorded vote on second reading in the Senate. It passed 20 to 14. Twenty Republicans vs. 14 Democrats? Nope. Republicans Ken Arnold, Tom Blickensderfer, Chlouber and Charles Duke voted "no". The bill was two votes short of passing. But Democrats Matsunaka, Terry Phillips, Peggy Reeves, and Frank Weddig voted "yes". Sen. Gloria Tanner (D) was excused and not present.

The fifth vote came on third reading in the Senate and the bill passed 18 to 16 with Sen. Tilman Bishop (R) excused. Bishop had voted "yes" on second reading. Sen. Tanner voted "no". The only vote changed from second reading was by Sen. Jeff Wells, who now voted "no". There were only 14 Republican "yes" votes. The four Democratic "yes" votes (Matsunaka, Phillips, Reeves, and Weddig) were needed for passage and thus responsible for the final Senate outcome.

HB 1243 was amended in the Senate to provide a repealer on the doubling of interest rates in five years. That means the House will have another vote on the measure. What was NOT amended in the Senate was a conflict between the effective date and when the interest rates go into effect.

Increased interest rates can begin July l, but if a valid referendum petition is filed within ninety days after final adjournment of the General Assembly, then the interest rates take effect following the vote in November. Huh?

If there is a referendum, how are you going to get the extra interest being charged during that ninety-day period back to the consumers? It won't happen. This is TRULY a case of money lenders eating your interest and still having it afterwards, regardless of any referendum outcome.

* * *

Sen. Matsunaka's SB 63 did pass the Senate, the first time in 28 years that a warranty of habitability measure had passed that body. All 15 Democrats plus Republican Sens. Tilman Bishop of Grand Junction, Sally Hopper of Golden, and Dottie Wham of Denver voted for it to achieve the magic number of 18.

Matsunaka apparently asked Rep. Debbie Allen who was carrying the anti-tenant HB 1138 to carry his bill, which was then promptly killed in the House Business Affairs Committee.

Meanwhile, back in the Senate, their Business Affairs Committee did amend HB 1138, at the request of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Assn., to allow tenants to bring tort actions against landlords for injuries received because of failures by landlords to provide safe housing.

In early April, while the state senate debated the merits of HB 1138, carried in the Senate by Sen. Elsie Lacy, R-Arapahoe, Mike McPhee of the Denver Post reported "nearly two dozen tenants of a run-down apartment building were forced to evacuate after water from the roof came streaming down through the ceiling light fixtures."

Gist of the Post story was that there have been a series of leaks, lack of hot water, a broken window, lack of screens, and "the laundry room hasn't been cleaned in three years. There's trash all over." The story stated the manager had "posted three notices above the mailboxes in the building's entrance demanding that tenants pay their rent..."

Under HB 1138 as amended in the Senate on second reading, if the landlord failed to fix what is normal in a rented apartment (a roof that doesn't leak, hot water, screens to protect against insects, trash removal, etc.) the tenant would have had the right to leave, which one tenant told the Post reporter isn't much of a "right": "Most of us who live here don't have enough money to move to another place." But the bill did retain the right to sue for injuries as requested by the Trial Lawyers Assn.

Perhaps our state senators read the Post article before voting on third reading. The bill died on third reading by a vote of 17 to 16 with Sen. Bishop excused and Sen. Mike Coffman (who is a property manager) abstaining from voting under Senate Rule 17(c) which provides for abstaining on any bill in which the senator has a personal or private interest.

Seven Republican senators voting against the bill were: Arnold, Blickensderfer, Congrove, Duke, Mutzebaugh, Schroeder, and Tebedo.

Nine Democratic senators also voted "no": Feeley, Hernandez, Linkhart, Matsunaka, Pascoe, Phillips, Reeves, Rupert, and Thiebaut.

Sen. Feeley having voted on the prevailing side (the "no" vote) moved for reconsideration of HB 1138 in order to drive a stake through its heart. This time Sen. Blickensderfer and Mutzebaugh voted to reconsider. That would have provided 19 votes. But Sen. Bob Martinez voted "no". (Down to 18.) And while all these vote changes were going on, Sen. Lacy, the bill's sponsor voted "no". Perhaps the dumbest vote of the 1997 session.

Did Sen. Lacy vote "no" to gain further reconsideration? Senate Rule 18 states: "No further motion to reconsider shall be in order unless by unanimous consent", which means any one who voted "no" could have stopped further reconsideration.

* * *

Another anti-consumer bill that didn't make it in 1997 was HB 1332 by Rep. Phil Pankey, who, thanks to term limits, will not be in the Colorado House after 1998. His bill would have eliminated the statewide toll-free phone network poison control services. Pankey's Senate sponsor was Sen. Jim Congrove.

According to the fiscal note prepared for HB 1332, it would have reduced general fund expenditures by $1.1 million, but "30,774 persons would seek emergency services if poison control services are eliminated, representing a cost of approximately $10.3 million to private insurers, private pay clients, Medicaid and the Colorado Indigent Care Program."

The Rocky Mountain Poison Control Center phone services began in 1975 with funds provided through the Emergency Medical Services Division of the Health Dept. In 1982, the legislature decided not to fund the phone lines after 1983 unless a specific law was passed establishing it as a state-supported program.

A Rocky Mountain News story in late 1982 by Pamela Avery reflected the fears of the health community if a law wasn't passed. Quoting Nursing Administrator Joan Wilkinson: "Loss of the phone line will mean loss of lives. If people have to pay, they will delay calling. If they have a child who ate something and they have to pay, they'll wait to see if the child becomes ill. It's completely what we don't want to happen."

So in 1983, then-Rep. Peter Minahan (R) and Sen. Jeff Wells (R) sponsored HB 1063 "Concerning Emergency Medical Services and providing for a poison information center to disseminate information on a statewide basis in connection therewith". It passed the House 62 to 0 and the Senate 34 to 0.

There were 27 Senate co-sponsors. Those still there are Sens. Bishop (R), Ray Powers (R) and Jim Rizzuto (D) and Sen. Bob Martinez (D) who was then a House member. There were 24 House co-sponsors including myself.

The only remaining co-sponsor still serving in the House? Rep. Pankey.

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