Citizens’ group looks to ballot to dump construction law | VailDaily.com

Citizens’ group looks to ballot to dump construction law

Greg Masse/Glenwood Springs Correspondent

Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs, said he is aware of efforts to overturn the law and opposes them.

The Colorado Public Interest Research Group, or CoPIRG, has joined others in pushing an initiative aimed at battling what it calls “a harmful bill Š that strips homeowners of their rights to recover construction defects.”

According to an article in the group’s newsletter, the CoPIRG Outlook, the proposed initiative would allow voters to decide whether to add language to the law affirming property owners’ rights to recover damages caused by shoddy workmanship.

CoPIRG says the bill passed by the Legislature in May:

– Exempts marketing and sales practices of developers, builders and contractors from consumer-protection laws.

– Immunizes builders and contractors against class-action lawsuits.

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– Imposes unreasonably burdensome rules before a suit can move forward.

– Permits the construction industry to hide behind those special rules.

Rippy said his law is necessary to keep contractor liability insurance in check.

“Obviously I don’t agree with it,” he said of the ballot initiative.

Rippy said the law is aimed at limiting huge damage awards in court. He said he’s heard anecdotal evidence that huge monetary awards have prompted insurance companies to raise rates as much as 1,500 percent.

“So with any new unit being built, 20 percent goes into liability insurance. That’s unacceptable because it adds no value,” he said.

Rippy said he thinks that if a ballot initiative is defeated, insurance companies will lower liability insurance for contractors.

“I think there will be easing,” he said.

The initiative was launched by Freda Poundstone, a longtime Capitol Hill lobbyist who has helped to convince voters to pass three constitutional amendments, and by attorney Scott Sullan, a Denver lawyer who represents residential and commercial property owners when they sue contractors and other construction firms.

Sullan is also one of the attorneys representing the Riverview Terraces homeowners’ association in a lawsuit claiming construction defects at that Glenwood Springs development.

CoPIRG state director Rex Wilmouth said the contractor liability law is “just bad for consumers” and that’s why his group opposes it.

“We feel the average consumer should have recourse,” he said.

He said CoPIRG’s opinion is that large developers are the main beneficiaries of the contractor liability law.

“We’ve found that time and time again, the small builder fixes the problem,” Wilmouth said.

The ballot initiative still has some hurdles to clear before it’s placed on the November 2004 ballot.

“They challenged the first version,” he said, referring to the state’s major developers.

Drafters of that first version then created a second one.

“Now it’s being challenged again,” Wilmouth said.

If the measure survives its latest court challenge, Wilmouth said, CoPIRG will try to gather 115,000 signatures to place the question on the statewide ballot.

“Then we’re off and running in the summertime,” Wilmouth said, of his expected campaign.