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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirApril 25, 20172min27
Sadly, too many of the 18- to 21-year-old inmates in the state’s Division of Youth Corrections already are hardened and violent criminals. Whatever their prospects for rehabilitation, they are at the very least a bad influence on younger offenders incarcerated in the system and often enough pose an imminent danger to them. Senate Bill 289, […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirApril 11, 20172min42
The grim reality is that domestic violence is a driver in Colorado’s homicide rate. Tracking that violence to better understand it could lay groundwork for law enforcement and the rest of society to respond more effectively. It could even prevent more deaths. That’s the premise of a bipartisan measure that unanimously passed the Senate this week, […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirApril 10, 20176min54
An oft-criticized feature of Colorado’s campaign-finance law that has been manipulated for years to sling mud and take cheap shots at candidates and political groups is on the verge of reform. The Colorado Senate’s State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee voted unanimously today to send House Bill 1155 to the full Senate for consideration after no one showed up to testify […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirApril 5, 20172min61
Prescription drugs that aren’t the real deal — fake substitutes that have been adulterated, mislabeled, misbranded or otherwise tainted so some bootlegger can make a quick buck — can seriously harm patients. Maybe even worse. And while they’re illegal under federal law, Colorado’s statute on the subject has some gaps. Legislation to plug those holes got a thumbs-up […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 21, 20173min540

Colorado tort reformers are cheering the progress of legislation to rein in a “lawsuit tax” they say drives excessive and costly litigation. Senate Bills 181, sponsored by Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and 191, sponsored by Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, would tweak what the Colorado Civil Justice League calls, “obscure laws that drive up the cost of a lawsuit beyond the actual cost of damages.” Though the laws in question go unnoticed by much of society, the League contends the ripple effects undermine the overall economy.

The unheralded measures passed the state Senate last week.

As we’ve reported here before, SB 181 takes on what are sometimes called “phantom damages.” The League explains:

Let’s say someone injured in an auto accident receives an initial bill for $140,000 for medical costs. The injured party’s insurance company settles the bill for a negotiated amount of $40,000. But when the injured party sues the at-fault driver for other damages — like pain and suffering or physical impairment — he will begin by claiming the full $140,000 in damages for medical costs. That’s because current law says that juries cannot be told that those bills were actually settled for $40,000.

The difference between the two amounts equals the phantom damages, i.e., an amount never actually paid out for expenses incurred by the plaintiff — yet included in the amount submitted to the jury as the basis of the plaintiff’s claims for pain and suffering.

SB 181 would change that, instead requiring juries to be informed of both amounts when deciding what reimbursement to award.

And 191 would rein in the interest rates that are assessed on damages awards; critics say current law encourages plaintiffs and personal injury lawyers to drag out disputes to reap the rewards of statutorily, yet arbitrarily, set interest rates that inflate the final payout.



Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 14, 20179min670

Not long ago, libertarian-leaning Reason magazine ran an expose of Colorado’s convoluted campaign-finance law and how it invites abuse by those who manipulate it to clobber — and silence — their political foes. We blogged on the article at the time, noting its focus on controversial Colorado political operative Matt Arnold and his business, Campaign Integrity Watchdog, as Exhibit A.

The article characterized Arnold essentially as a serial complainant who files pretextual and vindictive actions over minor clerical errors found in the campaign disclosures of candidates and other entities covered by the campaign-finance law. The actions are often filed at the last possible moment. That runs up the meter on the fines — not to mention legal fees — that the targets must fork over. The law has no screening process for such complaints, Reason points out; it’s come one, come all. And all must be turned over, indiscriminately, to the Office of Administrative Courts to sort out.

The lax law not only can be used to intimidate opponents but also plays into an old game among hired-gun political consultants and other operatives: Pick the inevitable nits in opponents’ campaign filings, get the expected court ruling on a technical violation — and then broadcast it to the world in the next election via those obnoxious mailers that fill your recycling bin. Of course, by the time a two-bit campaign-law infraction — maybe an omitted name of a $25 donor’s employer — makes it into your mailbox, it has morphed into: “What is Rep. __________ hiding?” and, “Sen. _______, BUSTED for breaking campaign laws!!!”

Arnold, the article noted:

…is responsible for more campaign finance complaints in Colorado than anyone else. Out of the more than 340 complaints that have been filed since Amendment 27 passed 14 years ago, more than 50 were filed by him or his Campaign Integrity Watchdog group. As Arnold once explained, the campaign finance system is a tool for waging “political guerrilla legal warfare (a.k.a. Lawfare)” against one’s opponents.

…the sheer pettiness of so many complaints reveals that, in fact, the law invites intimidation and reprisals against those who try to exercise their First Amendment rights.

So, why not put a stop it it? How about giving campaigns a chance to fix truly innocent errors in their filings, without penalties, if the real point of the law is to encourage disclosure to the public — not to let political hacks play “gotcha”? It turns out that very reform is in the works.

House Bill 1155 as amended and approved in a House committee last week would tweak Amendment 27, enacted by voters in 2002, in a way that probably should have been in the law all along. It would allow candidates and other political entities a 15-day grace period to fix any error after being notified of a complaint. No penalty would be assessed so long as the entity demonstrated to the satisfaction of an administrative law judge that a good-faith effort had been made to comply with disclosure requirements in the first place or that substantial compliance had occurred.

“It’s encouraging candidates to go ahead and fix those issues,” Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert told the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee as she testified in support of the bill. At the same time it would curb “gamesmanship, political posturing” and other motivations for mischief, she said.

As she told us after the hearing: “It’s supposed to be about disclosure.”

The legislation has the endorsement not only of Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams but of left-leaning Colorado Ethics Watch’s Senior Counsel Peg Perl, as well, who also testified in support. The bill’s sponsors — Rep. Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction in the House and Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs in the Senate — are both Republicans. Just like Arnold.

Of course, Arnold was the only person who showed up to testify against the reform bill at last week’s hearing. After all, he was the one person in the room who arguably has a stake in maintaining the status quo. By all indications, filing complaints under the current law’s wide-open and permissive structure is his LLC’s primary function. And he went after the bill in his characteristic and familiar style: assailing it as “unconstitutional” (nonsense, says the Secretary of State’s Office), and lashing out at its sponsors — a violation of committee rules — as he was repeatedly gaveled down by the committee chair.

The committee approved the bill 6-2 despite his testimony. (Or perhaps because of it; an example of decorum, it was not.)

We reached out to Arnold via email for some insights into how he runs Campaign Integrity Watchdog. We were rebuffed. Arnold responded by email with an accusation that this humble blogger — who has written about him before — has a “conflict of interest” in a case “currently being prosecuted by Campaign Integrity Watchdog.” It thus, “would be inappropriate for CIW to provide a response.” (Disclosure: I have no idea what he is talking about.)

A couple of footnotes.

Of interest: The two “no” votes both came from two of the three Republicans on the committee, Reps. Tim Leonard of Evergreen and Stephen Humphrey of Severance.

Just plain odd: The third Republican on State Affairs, Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs, invoked House rule 21C and was excused from voting. It’s a fairly unusual move intended for a lawmaker to sit out of a vote in which he or she may have a personal financial stake and thus a conflict of interest.

Williams’s personal stake? He tried to explain it to fellow committee members but left them, and us, befuddled. So we followed up with him afterward to get a clarification. He texted this response, citing the rule:

21(c) “A member who has an immediate personal or financial interest . . .”

I’m a declared candidate for 2018

This is a clear conflict of interest.

So, because as a candidate he must file campaign disclosures, he has a conflict? Wouldn’t that mean every House member who is seeking re-election should not, by his reasoning, vote on any campaign-finance legislation?

A rather novel legal theory, to say the least. Williams is a freshman and is not an attorney. Would be interesting to get a legal opinion. Perhaps some House member would care to consult the Office of Legislative Legal Services?



Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 2, 20174min480

Those who contend that litigation is out of control across society point to a “lawsuit tax” as one of the culprits. You won’t find a lawsuit tax per se in the state revenue code, of course, but the tort-reforming Colorado Civil Justice League says there are laws on the books that amount to pretty much the same thing. They are “obscure laws that drive up the cost of a lawsuit beyond the actual cost of damages,” as the League puts it in a press release this week.

The League is supporting a couple of bills now pending in the legislature to address the issue.

Senate Bill 181 takes on what are sometimes called “phantom damages.” The press release explains:

Let’s say someone injured in an auto accident receives an initial bill for $140,000 for medical costs. The injured party’s insurance company settles the bill for a negotiated amount of $40,000. But when the injured party sues the at-fault driver for other damages — like pain and suffering or physical impairment — he will begin by claiming the full $140,000 in damages for medical costs. That’s because current law says that juries cannot be told that those bills were actually settled for $40,000.

The difference between the two amounts equals the phantom damages, i.e., an amount never actually paid out for expenses incurred by the plaintiff — yet included in the amount submitted to the jury as the basis of the plaintiff’s claims for pain and suffering.

SB 181 would change that, instead requiring juries to be informed of both amounts when deciding what reimbursement to award.

Senate Bill 191, meanwhile, would rein in the interest rates that are assessed on damages awards; critics say current law encourages plaintiffs and personal injury lawyers to drag out disputes to reap the rewards of statutorily, yet arbitrarily, set interest rates that inflate the final payout.

The plaintiffs’ bar, of course, begs to differ. Particularly when it comes to the issue of phantom damages, the counterpoint from trial lawyers against changing the law is that defendants should have to own up to their negligence. Plaintiffs shouldn’t be shortchanged for their pain and suffering just because their health insurers were successful in bargaining down their bills for medical care.

The League, however, contends:

SBs 181 and 191 preserve the right of an injured party to be fully and properly compensated for their injuries, while sparing Colorado drivers and homeowners the burden of paying for phantom damages and ridiculous interest rates.

Tort reform long has been a cause associated with the GOP, and these bills are no exception. SB 181’s sponsors are Sen. Bob Gardner and Rep. Yeulin Willett. SB 191’s sponsors are Sen. Jack Tate, Willett and Rep. Cole Wist. All are Republicans.



Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirFebruary 24, 20172min420

Going green can be pricey when installing solar panels on a home or business. And even though big-box, all-inclusive solar-system providers like SolarCity have developed innovative leasing options to incentivize customers, a host of local- and state-government fees on the installations don’t help matters. There are state, county and municipal fees for building permits, application reviews and plan reviews for solar systems.

Current law limits those fees, but the limits are set to expire next year. State Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs and Andy Kerr of Lakewood — who as members of the lower chamber in 2011 helped pass some of the original limits — now propose to extend them. Their Senate Bill 179, approved Thursday by the Senate Finance Committee, would extend to 2025 all existing laws that limit the amount of permit, plan review, or other fees that counties, municipalities, or the state may charge for installing solar energy devices or systems.

Said the Republican Gardner in a press statement released by the Senate GOP:

“I am always cautious about government subsidizing programs or technologies, however, in this instance, government is penalizing Coloradans and small businesses,” said Gardner. “That cannot continue. Removing fees and penalties for consumers, allowing the free market to flourish, and encouraging a truly all-of-the-above energy policy, is an example of the good economic stewardship with which the taxpayers have charged us as elected officials.”

SB 179 now moves to the Appropriations Committee.