House Calls

Consumers should raise the roof over this legislative session.

Koelbel didn't share that detail. "The bottom line is the unintended consequences of these egregious fees," he told lawmakers. "It gets down to the individual consumer. We're builders; we're in business to make a profit.... We pass on all of these costs to homeowners."

Hey, the buck has to stop somewhere.

Some of those bucks have landed in the campaign coffers of Representative Gregg Rippy, HB 1161's chief sponsor and president of a family construction firm. Like many lawmakers, Rippy has benefited from developers' contributions; unlike many lawmakers, he stands to benefit from this legislation, too.

"I think it's an excellent bill," says Rippy. "I do think it's a 'right to remedy' bill. It requires that a contractor either perform the repairs or make an offer in good faith, and for a homeowner to consider that offer in good faith. It allows for resolution short of going through a full-blown trial."

Very short. As it stands, Rippy's bill would not allow for the recovery of non-economic damages -- pain and suffering, say, after your house blows up because of faulty furnace installation. A judge, rather than a jury, would determine if a contractor acted fraudulently or in bad faith. And it would change the level of evidence needed to prove bad faith -- before those treble damages that haven't been awarded in four years kick in -- from "clear and convincing" to "beyond a reasonable doubt."

House Minority Leader Jennifer Veiga has no doubt what's going on here. "This is a bad deal for consumers," she says. "For the last six years, we've addressed concerns raised by homebuilders and have been fair, without jeopardizing the rights of consumers...but this really curtails an individual's right to go out and try to seek damages."

And not just on major construction projects, but minor ones, too. "The Consumer Protection Act gives kind of a hammer to hold people accountable," she says. "Now we no longer have the tool." Nor will municipalities or other government entities that have contracted with builders on construction projects.

The Republicans have taken a "bulldozer approach" in pushing through not just this legislation, but measures advocating automobile and health-insurance reforms, Veiga says. "From one debate to the next, people just have to be aware that their rights are being restricted here on a regular basis, and they're not getting much in return."

The common thread running through those debates is the high cost of insurance -- but no one's talking about the fact that insurance companies have taken a hit not because of the rare golf ball or McDonald's hot-coffee verdict, but because of bad investments in the stock market. And there have been no guarantees that insurance costs will go down if these measures are passed. In fact, in a newsletter to its members, the Colorado Association of Home Builders conceded that "it has been impossible to extract a definitive commitment from the insurance industry that they will come back into the market at a reasonable price if we pass our legislation."

For two decades, the legislature has passed bills responding to assorted insurance crises. Have any resulted in lower premiums?

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