Rippy: Vote to be close in Senate on contractor bill |

Rippy: Vote to be close in Senate on contractor bill

A contractor liability bill sponsored by state Rep. Gregg Rippy is headed for its toughest test yet Wednesday, when it is scheduled for debate by the full Senate.”It is very close. It’s within a vote either way,” Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs, said of House Bill 1161’s chances for passage or defeat.Rippy is encouraged by the fact that some who oppose his bill acknowledge the core problem it attempts to solve: the high costs contractors are incurring to obtain liability insurance for construction defects.”There are real problems out there and those real problems deserve fair settlement as far as what the damages are,” said Rippy.Two bill critics who acknowledge as much are Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, who has offered an alternative means of resolving the issue, and Glenwood Springs City Council member Rick Davis, a builder himself, who challenged Rippy in last fall’s state election.”This is an issue that should be addressed,” Salazar wrote to Sen. Andy McElhany, the bill’s Senate sponsor.Salazar’s alternative proposes a cap on triple damages of $250,000. He also proposed giving contractors the right to cure a problem before litigation, and providing an incentive by eliminating the possibility of triple damages if a reasonable effort to resolve matters is made.Salazar called his alternative a fair compromise that reins in skyrocketing insurance costs and “addresses the need for consumer protection and for citizens making the largest financial investment of their lives.”Davis said every industry has operating costs, “and all we ask is that those costs be fair.” If insurance costs are out of line, the problem needs to be looked at, he said.”On the same note, we have to think what’s good for the citizenry as a whole.””We can’t be passing broad-reaching bills that take away consumer rights that are there because of the unscrupulous,” Davis said of Rippy’s bill.Salazar fears Rippy’s measure “would greatly limit the applicability of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act … to any number of industries that could be defined as `construction professionals.'”But Rippy calls Salazar’s solution “much too limited in scope.”In fact, he said, his goal is to try to improve consumer protection. He said all most homeowners want is to solve the problem, which his bill would do.”I think it very much makes the contractor come to the table and say, `OK, I’m going to take care of it.'”At the same time, he said, liability insurance costs need to be controlled so housing prices don’t get out of hand.He said every $100,000 of cost for a Front Range housing unit includes $7,000 to $10,000 to cover a contractor’s liability insurance. That doesn’t account for subcontractors’ insurance costs, which amount to about the same.He said he’s aware of excavators who “can’t get insurance at any price,” despite never having had a claim filed against them.Housing groupstays on sidelinesDespite Rippy’s concerns, the Colorado Affordable Housing Partnership has remained neutral on the bill.”We’re very concerned about the rising costs of insurance, which among other factors certainly impacts the ability of our members to control costs and build housing that’s affordable,” said Mindy Klowden, executive director of the group, a coalition of about 225 groups that build or advocate for affordable housing.But she said the group doesn’t have specific information regarding the bill, and whether it would reduce insurance costs.Rippy and the partnership are united in their opposition to another bill in the state legislature that would prohibit many deed-restricted housing programs, which Rippy believes are crucial to providing affordable housing in Colorado’s resort regions.But one local Democrat questions the level of Rippy’s commitment to homeowners, if HB 1161 is any indication.”Clearly to me it’s an anti-homeowners bill, pro-bad-contractor. I think any good contractor who backs his work would agree,” said Tom Dalessandri, former Garfield County sheriff.The Roaring Fork Valley faces problems such as sliding soils that can affect foundations. Dalessandri believes Rippy’s bill gives homeowners “very little voice in litigating the problem” in cases such as these.”Instead of reducing costs, what it does is broaden profits of the contractor,” said Dalessandri.Davis said the bill could transfer some liability from contractors to municipalities. When a city issues a certificate of occupancy, it could be expected to sign off that the home was built according to plans, and verify that soils reports and structural engineering were accurately done, and that construction was completed without defects.”That is nothing that building departments have ever done,” said Davis.But Rippy said the bill makes clear that building inspectors would not be liable. Besides, he said, governments have immunity from legal action over liability claims.Thursday: The Post Independent takes a closer look at the political battle over the bill.Contact: Dennis Webb, 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.comWhat H.B. 1161 does-Limits the ability for homeowners to be awarded triple damages against homebuilders. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Gregg Rippy, said triple damages could still be awarded in cases of fraud or bad faith.-Creates a resolution process prior to civil litigation. A homeowner would have to give notice of a complaint to the contractor, who would then offer a resolution the homeowner could accept or reject.-Entitles a homeowner to full recovery of economic damages from a defect, including attorney fees, interest, relocation costs, and any economic damages.-Allows up to $250,000 in personal injury compensation related to a defect, a provision added in a Senate amendment.

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