DENVER – The Colorado Attorney General’s office issued a firm warning to lawmakers Tuesday, saying a Republican bill to compensate victims of a deadly wildfire could violate constitutional provision aimed at preventing favoritism.
Assistant Solicitor General Frederick R. Yarger said what lawmakers are considering “cannot possibly be applied to any other class of individuals,” putting the legislation at “significant risk” of violating state law.
That law banning special legislation is “intended to curb favoritism” from lawmakers and block unnecessary laws for limited circumstances.
Yarger’s letter comes on the day the House gave initial OK to the bill. It would create a commission to hold hearings on the events surrounding the Lower North Fork Fire last month and recommend payments to victims.
The wildfire in the foothills southwest of Denver killed three people and damaged two dozen houses, causing at least $11 million in property damage. Republican Rep. Bob Gardner, a bill sponsor, said the commission’s recommendations could be higher or lower than that.
Republicans say legislators need to establish a process to compensate victims because the fire grew out of a state prescribed burn. Colorado has a $600,000 cap on damage claims against the state.
State officials say the provision under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act is intended to prevent an unlimited number of claims that would have to be paid by taxpayers.
The bill faces one more vote in the House before going to the Senate.
“This bill is about doing what’s right for the victims of this terrible tragedy,” Republican Rep. Cheri Gerou, a sponsor of the bill, said in statement. Gerou represents the district in which happened. “Without this legislation, there’s no chance that these victims will be compensated by the state for their extraordinary losses.”
Yarger said in the letter the state Supreme Court enforced the law against special legislation in 1961, striking legislation enacted to allow the town of Glendale to be annexed into Denver.
In another case, Yarger said, the state Supreme Court invalidated a law establishing death penalty sentencing procedures that would apply to only two defendants.