Jerry Kopel

A tough fight in the 2003 legislature. I honestly can't say who was more displeased with the outcome: Collection agencies, the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) or the Office of Attorney General, (AG). Here is what finally happened:

DORA's Sunset report recommended moving control over collection agencies from the Attorney General's consumer office to DORA. Sen. Ken Kester (R) and Rep. Pam Rhodes (R) made the DORA report into SB 155. But there was, and is, a problem.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Uniform Consumer Credit Code, and the Deferred Deposit Loan Act in Colorado all deal with consumers and their creditors. The AG presently has jurisdiction over these laws. Another law, the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, gives the AG and district attorneys jurisdiction over violations by sellers against consumers, as well as letting consumers bring civil actions. There's a strong connection between these laws.

By moving the Collection Practices Act to DORA, SB 155 would have allowed DORA to determine which collection agency violations should be prosecuted by the AG and what other discipline DORA should levy against collection agencies. (Under Colorado law the collection agency board has advisory powers only.)

The Senate Business Committee passed the bill after rejecting DORA's recommendation to move control to DORA. The rejection was a 4-3 vote (three Democrats plus one Republican, Chairman Rep. Andrew McElhany). The Senate passed the bill setting a new Sunset repeal date and leaving the AG's office in charge 34 to 0.

In House Technology committee, an amendment by Rep. Tim Fritz (R) gave authority over collectors to DORA. SB 155 was sent to Appropriations Committee which restored the AG's office as supervisor of the collectors and asked the Technology amendment be killed. The bill sat on the House calendar until it died by lack of action.

Time to celebrate? Don't count on your dinner until the dog drags the dead duck from the pond.

HB 1219 (by Rep. Dale Hall and Sen. Steve Johnson) also regulated collection agencies. It passed the legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Bill Owens. "Purpose" of the bill? To make Colorado's 1985 version of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act conform to the federal statute on the subject. That federal act allows states to expand on consumer rights BEYOND the federal act. Colorado did expand. There have been a series of amendments since 1985, but HB 1219's enactment took away most of the extra protections.

Here's a major change: To stop a collector from continuing to phone the (alleged) debtor either at home or at work, the debtor has to notify the collection agency in writing. If debtor continues to answer the phone with "Stop calling me" it won't work.

Under the prior law, collector had to notify debtor that such demand ("stop calling me") must be in collector's first written demand. That notice of how to stop the calls has been repealed. If debtor wants to know what to do to stop the calls, he or she has to ask the administrator of the collection agency. But the revised law doesn't include the administrator's address as did the prior law, or even the fact there is an administrator.

Instead all the collector has to do is state in its written notice:

"For information about the Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, see ."

Well, that's great if debtor has a computer hooked up to a phone line. If not, hopefully debtor will look up the phone number of the administrator under "Attorney General" in the front pages of the phone book, except how will he or she know the proper place to look for help is in the attorney general's office?

Now a collector can keep calling and a debtor won't be made aware of how to stop the calling or how to file a complaint. Of course, debtor can "get a lawyer", but who are we kidding here about consumer information?

There are other anti-consumer revisions in HB 1219. If you want to know what they are, call 303-866-5304 or e-mail the collection agency administrator.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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