DENVER - A bill that would make repeat drunk driving convictions a felony won approval in a Senate committee Monday, but with two days remaining before lawmakers adjourn for the year, the timeline is tight.

House Bill 1036 would make driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol a felony if it's the third such conviction in five years or fourth conviction in 15 years.

It's one of a slew of bills that legislators are rushing through in these final days, trying to complete before sine die - the closing of the legislative session - on Wednesday no later than midnight.

Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, said there will be support for the bill in the next committee it's heard in - Senate Appropriations - and on the Senate floor. The bill was changed slightly in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday so it also must go back to the House for concurrence before reaching the governor.

King said he's pushed for Colorado to toughen its sentencing for repeat drunk driving offenders since 2007, when two students from Colorado Mesa University were killed by a drunk driver on Interstate 70 who had previous drunk driving run-ins with law enforcement.

"There is no excuse, quite frankly, for the state of Colorado not to have a felony DUI law," King said. Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, is a co-sponsor of the bill and Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, introduced it in the House.

But Denise Maes, public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, was among several who testified against the bill.

"There are few states without felony DUI laws but this is not necessarily an indication of good public policy," Maes told lawmakers Monday. "Drunk driving has not diminished, there have not been significantly fewer car accidents related to drunk driving . this is not going to get you where you want to go."

Maes said the bill warehouses individuals suffering from alcoholism rather than getting them proper treatment.

Johnston amended the bill Monday to include a provision requiring all other treatment and justice options be expended before someone is charged with a felony for drunk driving. Maes still wouldn't support the bill.

Other bills are flirting with the possibility of dying on the calendar.

The first bill introduced in the House - House Bill 1001 - has been delayed for a week in the Senate and Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk, said she doesn't have the votes to pass it. But she is hopeful amendments she will offer tomorrow will win the support of her colleagues.

HB 1001 would have repaid taxpayers who lost their homes in a natural disaster for the entire year's property taxes. Current law only gives taxpayers a break on the property taxes by prorating them from the day a house was destroyed.

Nicholson said some of the Senators were opposed to retroactively forgiving someone's property taxes.

She said she will amend the bill Tuesday so that it no-longer retroactively forgives property taxes but instead promises counties the state will reimburse them for lost revenue due to prorated tax reductions in the event of natural disasters. Also, she said the law would now extend the ability to prorate taxes to business personal property taxes, which before would have had to pay the full year, regardless of when the property was damaged or destroyed.

"If we could have helped out for the full-year we would have," Nicholson said.

As initially written, the bill would have meant an estimated $1.6 million in tax-breaks coming to property owners in El Paso County, mostly for the Black Forest fire.

She said if it passes the Senate, the bill must head back to the House for the changes to be considered.

Also fire-related is a last-minute bill introduced by Senate Republican Leader Bill Cadman and Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk, that would set aside $17.6 million for those who lost property or loved ones in the Lower North Fork fire. That fire was started when a controlled burn went out-of-control. The state is in the middle of settlements with families impacted by the fire and while $11.1 million has been set aside, Senate Bill 223 would make the recommended settlement whole, by increasing that by $6.5 million.

The bill won approval on the Senate floor Monday but must be heard in House committee and on the House floor for second and third reading.


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