GOP: Dems spiked Rippy bill that would have cut danger of wildfires
A Republican bill that died on the last day of the legislative session may have helped prevent forest fires like those now raging around the state, Gov. Bill Owens and others are arguing.
House Bill 1470, sponsored by Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, and Rep. Gregg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs, would have tripled civil penalties for setting fires to woods or prairie during a drought emergency.
The state’s intense fires are now sparking political debate over why and how the fire bill was killed.
Owens and Taylor have both said that slow action by Democrats such as Senate Majority leader Bill Thiebaut, D-Pueblo, was the reason the bill did not pass.
But Democrats said there was nothing unusual about House Bill 1470; that the bill, like many others, died because the Legislature ran out of time.
“The governor was profoundly disappointed that this legislation was killed by Sen. Thiebaut at the last minute,” said Sean Duffy, Owens’ deputy chief of staff for communications. “The governor believes strongly that this bill would have been a very, very helpful tool to have on the books.”
Duffy said the idea for the bill came up during an April meeting of the governor’s Water Availability Task Force, which makes recommendations for dealing with dangers of drought, such as the heightened risk of wildfires.
One of the group’s recommendations was to increase penalties for starting wildfires, and Taylor and Rippy introduced Bill 1470 to make the change.
“As we got near the end of the session and we realized that things were getting drier and drier, we decided to do this,” Taylor said.
Under current laws, only actual damages can be recovered.
The bill passed the House on May 7, and passed on second reading in the Senate later that day, but never had a third reading.
Duffy and Taylor said they thought there were plenty of opportunities to pass the bill. Taylor said that during the last day of the session he tried to persuade Thiebaut to consider several bills including the fire bill. But he said Thiebaut put them off until the end.
Thiebaut has responded to charges that he killed the fire bill by saying that Republicans used up time earlier in the day to pass a school voucher bill. He was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.
Taylor said he might try to bring the bill up again next session. But he said he is disappointed that the rule won’t be in place for this summer.
“The only reason that the bill was brought forth was the obvious pending danger of wildfire,” Taylor said. “Now we’re there, and we don’t have this legislation to help people understand that they need to be a little more aware of what they’re doing when they’re out in the woods, or even in their backyards.”
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