DUI treatment: Bill attempting to separate treatment from probation supervision fails

A bill that would bar Colorado private probation companies from also providing chemical dependency treatment to an individual client has failed for the second year in a row. The question at the center of our cover story, "Blow Back," was whether providing both services was a conflict of interest.

Lawmakers didn't think so. State senators recently voted to kill the bill. "This appears to be an attempt to legislate those businesses out of business," Senator Steve King said of companies that do both.

That same sentiment is what led to the bill's demise last session, as well. Lawmakers saw the bill, which was supported by treatment providers who provide counseling only, as a way to silence the competition -- namely a private probation company called Rocky Mountain Offender Management Systems, which provides probation monitoring for DUI offenders and had begun providing low-cost court-ordered treatment to them, too.

Since then, Rocky Mountain Offender Management Systems has split its private probation services and its treatment services into two companies. The latter is called 1st Alliance Treatment Services and is licensed to operate thirteen locations across the state.

Treatment providers have several concerns about the relationship between RMOMS and 1st Alliance. Some said they felt 1st Alliance counseling clients would be less likely to admit their substance-use mistakes for fear that their counselor would tell their RMOMS probation case manager. Talking about one's struggles is an important part of the counseling, providers believe. "Clients say, 'I'm not going to talk about my personal life or open up when I might get put in jail,'" Tammy Lovejoy-Teixeira, a counselor and owner of Horizon Counseling and Education Center in Lakewood, told us last summer.

This year's bill, SB 239, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee but hit a snag on the Senate floor. Senator Kevin Lundberg was among the bill's most vocal critics. He argued that the conflict of interest doesn't exist, and that eliminating companies like 1st Alliance would force people to attend higher-cost treatment in the wake of getting a DUI.

"Any perceived conflict of interest is far overwhelmed by the reality that those who are involved in this -- dare I say it -- vertical integration of services are getting a better deal," Lundberg said. "I believe that this bill is designed as a benefit to certain counseling services, but not a benefit for [the people] for whom those services are provided."

In the end, a majority of senators agreed and the bill was defeated.

More from our Follow That Story archives: "Marijuana bill compromise could let current businesses sabotage new ones, activist fears."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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