Jerry Kopel


"In November most people in our state voted for candidates who promised smaller government, candidates who articulated Colorado's values. The work we do this session must show the voters they made the right choices on election day."

Speaker Chuck Berry's address to the Colorado House on opening day

Unfortunately, some majority party members of the Colorado House Business Affairs committee may have been out of the room when the speaker made those remarks.

On Jan. 16th, three of them helped pass HB 1062 by Rep. Steve Tool (R) and Sen. Elsie Lacy (R) which, according to the state fiscal note, will require licensing by the state of 15,000 "mechanical tradesman" and 1,000 "mechanical contractors" and add 20 1/2 full time employees to the state payroll in fiscal 1998-99.

The "tradesman" are heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technicians (HVACR), most of whom are ALREADY licensed at the county and municipal level. What the fiscal note did not mention was that adding 16,000 new licensees at the state level in one bill is more than all the licensees that have been added by legislation to state government from 1990 through 1996.

In 1995, the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies reviewed the licensing application for HVACR and issued a report stating it wasn't needed.

Among the reasons given:

  • There is already regulation at the local level. "The municipality or county is responsible for the safe and adequate installation or repair of heaters, air conditioners, coolers and other devices worked on by HVACR."

  • Larger municipalities presently require licensing of contractors who must pass a written exam and pay a fee. This includes Denver, Aurora, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Littleton and Longmont. Smaller entities often use approval by large municipalities as a basis for entry.

  • The claim by proponents that statewide regulation was needed to protect consumers is spurious. "Discussions with...district attorney consumer protection offices...indicate this is not a prevalent issue."

The DORA report determined the large majority of improper and dangerous installations of heaters and furnaces came at the hands of the homeowner. The report also found that scam artists who tell homeowners "there is a gas leak" and sell them a new furnace are vigorously pursued by the District Attorneys under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.

The HVACR bill was introduced in the legislature in 1996 and died in House Appropriations. Colorado's Sunrise law allows for a second introduction after the first failure, without going through a new Sunrise application process.

The 1997 fiscal note for HB 1062's HVACR costs in 1998-99 are $883,971, not counting health, life insurance, inflationary and indirect costs. In 1990, the Douglas Bruce constitutional amendment limited the amount of possible increase in state government. So even though costs of the new licensing program could be paid from nearly $1 million added to the revenue base from licensing fees, the state's ability to fund OTHER programs is reduced by nearly $1 million spent on the HVACR program.

There was a motion to kill HB 1062 in Business Affairs. It lost 5 to 8. Voting to kill were five Republicans, Reps. Ron May, Andy McElhany, Brad Young, Jack Taylor, and Paul Schauer. Voting not to kill the bill were three other Republicans, Reps. Gayle Berry, Larry Schwarz, and Tambor Williams, plus the five Democrat members, Reps. Jim Dyer, Jeannie Reeser, Stephanie Takis, Penfield Tate, and Suzanne Williams.

The bill was sent to House Appropriations on a 10-3 vote, the three "no" votes coming from Young, Taylor, and Schauer.

HB 1062 was amended in committee. Recognizing that this was going to have a major impact, the effective date was changed to July l, 1999. If the amendment holds, this will guarantee a $1 million yearly cost when the program begins, due to inflation.

Are there alternatives to state-wide licensing and a $1 million or more annual slice of the spending limit? The legislature could pass a bill setting state-wide standards for performing HVACR work, with liability by performers to consumers for sub-standard work. The bill could enlist cities and counties in a plan for reciprocal agreements that could reduce or avoid duplicate costs to HVACR licensees.


HVACR isn't the only new occupational licensing measure destined to drain revenue from Colorado's spending cap. Another is HB 1121 by Rep. Mike Salaz (R) "regulating the sport of boxing". In the original fiscal note, cost for the 1997/98 fiscal year would be $346,935 and 6 1/2 full time employees added to Colorado's payroll.

The original boxing bill was prompted by the federal "Boxing Safety Act of 1996" discussed in the Colorado Statesman Jan.10th. Congress required each state to either regulate boxing with standards set in the federal statute or have a neighboring state's boxing commission (which has those standards) perform the task.

House State Affairs Committee made several major changes to HB 1121 before sending it to Appropriations. Boxing regulation was supposed to be in the Dept. of Revenue. An amendment moved it to the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA).

Anyone who hasn't been asleep the past sixty years knows organized crime has and continues to have an "interest" in boxing. Revenue is an ideal choice because staff inspectors there presently deal with casino gambling, the state lottery, and most recently, the Racing Commission. Racing was transferred to Revenue from DORA because Revenue could better deal with crime in the racing "sport".

Revenue people have some concept of what to look for in "fixed" entertainment, including boxing. DORA, on the other hand, is an ideal agency to uncover malpractice in the health industry. Moving boxing from Revenue to DORA is supposed to make it easier to "contract out" boxing tasks that would otherwise be done by state employees.

Another State Affairs amendment prohibits the boxing director from taking any action to prohibit martial arts or ultimate warrior matches. As to martial arts, that exemption conflicts with the definition of "kickboxing" which IS to be regulated under the bill. As to "ultimate warrior", an exemption deflates what "professional boxing safety" was supposed to be about.

The bill doesn't define "ultimate warrior" but I suspect "ultimate warriors" participate in "ultimate fighting", which matches in Denver's Mammoth Gardens in December, 1995, drew headlines of outrage from various politicians.

There was Gov. Romer: "I believe there is too much violence in our society, and I do not believe that we should condone events which glorify it." Mayor Webb: "This isn't Denver's kind of entertainment...I don't believe we should accept something that somebody else doesn't want." Rep. Nolbert Chavez: "My constituents elected me to do something about violence. This type of event desensitizes people to violence."

Will Romer veto a bill allowing "ultimate fighting"? Will Denver's lobbyist be urging a "no" vote? Stay tuned.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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