13 December 2010

Inexpensive Colorado Laws Worth Changing

December is the time of year when legislators serving in the incoming General Assembly session submit their bills for consideration from January to May for drafting and fiscal evaluation by the legislative council's office in Colorado. With a billion dollar projected shortfall in the seven billion dollar state general fund budget, there isn't much room for new spending programs, but that doesn't mean that there is nothing worthwhile that Colorado legislators can propose. I offer a few proposals:

Criminal Justice

* Repeal Colorado's criminal libel law.
* Decriminalize zero sum gambling (i.e. where all money bet goes to someone in the game), such as typical office pools and poker nights.
* Repeal Colorado's felony murder law, limiting accomplice liability for murder to proven conspiracies to murder.
* Cap sentences for juveniles currently serving life without parole sentences to eligibility for parole after forty years sentences of the type that are the maximum allowed under current law.
* Reduce maximum sentences for neonatal homicide by mothers in the throes of childbirth from the current first degree murder sentence.
* Allow parolees to register to vote and vote as a way of reducing electoral compliance costs and encouraging rehabilitation of paroled felons by involving them in the commmunity democratic process.
* Authorize day-fine (equal to an individual's average day's labor value) in lieu of incarceration for misdemeanor and minor felony convictions.
* Limit sanctions for procedural defaults (e.g. missed court deadlines) in criminal cases to sanctions imposed on counsel only, not on the client, in cases where a criminal defendant is represented by counsel.
* Establish a right to pre-plea bargain access to a public defender as required by the U.S. Constitution.

Domestic Relations

* Provide clearly guidelines regarding when maintenance should be awarded in divorce actions and in what amount. Currently, this is left almost entirely to a judge's discretion.
* Clarify the law concerning when emancipation of a minor takes place and modifies a child support award of record.
* Clarify the circumstances under which a transfer of property for less than full consideration in anticipation of a divorce constitutes a fraudulent transfer that can be disregarded by the courts. Existing law is clear in the non-marital context, but the inchoate character of marital property rights leaves this unclear in divorce cases.
* Clarify when actions that reduce the size of the marital estate (such as destruction of marital property), or a personal injury that one spouse causes another spouse to suffer may be considered either in a domestic relations action or in parallel litigation.
* Clarify when parents of disabled adult children have a legal duty to support them.
* Establish a limited duty to provide financial support to a non-marital co-parent who is unable to provide for himself or herself.
* Allow non-lawyers to be certified after appropriate educational standards and background checks to represent parents in matters restricted to child support and parental rights and responsibilities.

Public Finance and Education

* Narrow the agricultural use property tax exemption in a manner consistent with protecting genuine agricultural uses and the state constitution while not affording benefit to abuses of the exemption.
* Impose minimum academic standards and need standards for public financial assistance with higher education in order to concentrate state higher education funding where it is most needed.
* Financial remedial classes at the higher education level from the P-12 budget.
* Discontinue public financial assistance to students attending private colleges.
* Disallow state education aid for students attending private schools with locally funded vouchers by clarifying the definition of student for state education aid purposes.
* Make locked out employees eligible for unemployment benefits.
* Reform Pinnacol governance.


* Establish statewide judgment liens filed with the Secretary of State as opposed to the current practice that requires judgment liens to be filed in each separate county where a debtor has assets.
* Prohbit natural gas utility shutoffs for non-payment during the winter months for occupied residential properties.
* Allow clawbacks of payments made to corporate executives of insolvent companies outside bankruptcy to at least the same extent that they are allowed under the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005.
* Allow foreclosure defendants to challenge the debtor's standing to enforce a deed of trust as an owner of the debt in a Rule 120 summary proceeding.
* Require recording of transfers of deed of trust and mortgage obligations.
* Establish a right to surrender collateral to a morgage creditor and obtain full credit for the fair market value of the property without constituting a default and to reduce the payments due under the remaining note, if any, proportionate to the amount still owing.
* Establish a duty enforceable via contempt to turn over non-exempt assets owed to judgment creditors where the contract so provides that the duty exists.
* Permit attorneys' fees awards for fees incurred by parties to contract in litigation involved in establishing that a contractual provision which is invalid as a matter of law is indeed invalid.
* Prohibit attorneys' fees clauses that award fees to a prevailing creditor, but not to a prevailing debtor.
* Reinstate personal liability for unpaid wages under the Wage Claims Act.
* Prohibit collection actions against insured patients of medical providers who are part of an insurer's preferred provider list, when the insurance claims are still pending or a medical provider has not complied fully with the provider's obligations to process a claim.
* Limit the liability of an uninsured patient for unpaid medical bills to the average amount received by the provider from insured patients for the services rendered plus any amount that would be chargeable as interest or fees in a consumer credit transaction.
* Require private arbitration firms to disclose statistical information about the cases they handle and the results of those cases as California does.
* Require parties evicting someone to put the personal property removed from the premises in storage for at least one month and finance the cost with foreclosure fees which can be assessed against the tenant with other costs of litigation, in order to reduce the collateral damage of foreclosures and reduce distress to neighborhoods.

Torts, Trade Practices, Property and Civil Procedure

* Legislatively repeal the "hot news" doctrine under state law, to the extent that it exists.
* Repeal the civil theft statute, which inappropriately proves a barrier to settlement by raising the stakes of civil litigation in marginal cases and defeats relative equity among creditors when there are multiple creditors.
* Allow the right to receive wrongful death claims to be controlled via a non-probate beneficiary designation or valid will, as well as by a designate beneficiary agreement.
* Create a presumptive right to give testimony and participate in non-merits court hearings by telephone unless good cause exists for a different rule.
* End criminal and tort liability for trade secret violations that consist only of pricing information.
* Legalize residential graywater systems.
* Establish a "right to garden" notwithstanding local zoning laws where the gardening is organic or does not involve pesticides or fertilizers prohibited at the local, state or federal level.
* Require local laws setting minimum square footage requirements for housing to have a compelling governmental purpose.
* Establish safe harbors from premises liability or forefeiture liability for landlords of medical marijuana providers.
* Clarify that medical marijuana use is lawful activity for the purpose of the "smoker's rights" wrongful termination law in Colorado.
* Create a presumptive right of the public to observe professional discipline hearings.

Elections and Politics

* Redefine "major political party" to include only political parties that have two or more partisan elected officials in office.
* Establish a statutory de minimus exception to campaign finance reporting rules where compliance costs are disproportionate to the amount involved on the grounds that the existing law has been found unconstitutional for this reason.
* Cap campaign finance violation fines at the greater of the amount collected and not reported, or the amount spent and not reported, when required by law, and clarify when personal liability for campaign finance violations exists.
* Expand the subpeona power of administrative law judges in campaign finance cases.
* Reduce state law regulation of intraparty processes of political parties.
* Require the Governor to approve amicus briefs filed in the name of the State of Colorado.
* Limit the authority of homeowner's associations to regulate political advocacy through campaign signs by HOA members.


* End the distinction between 3.2 beers and other beers under state liquor laws, and allow all licensees allowed to sell either kind of beer to sell both kinds of beers.
* Put an issue to replace county coroners with a state medical examiner appointed by the Governor through the civil service system on the ballot.

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