DENVER - Colorado will ring in several new laws on Wednesday that will bring insurance benefits to same-sex couples, harsher penalties for some drunk drivers and restrictions on the debt collection practices of homeowners associations.
Most of the 441 laws passed during the 2013 legislative session took effect 90 days after the legislature adjourned in May, but 16 bills take effect, at least in part, on Jan. 1.
Although same-sex couples began getting civil unions in May - a legal status that granted them many of the same rights as marriage - the guarantee of medical benefits for dependents didn't begin until the New Year.
The delay was to create an easier transition for employers who began enrolling families united through civil unions during the benefit enrollment period for 2014.
Some employers had provided same-sex couples with the option of enrolling as a family for health insurance, but many did not.
Specifically Senate Bill 11, which was signed into law in March 2013, requires employers to provide dependent coverage for life insurance, health insurance, and other benefits offered.
Persistent Drunk Drivers
The threshold for being classified as a persistent drunk driver was lowered in 2013. Starting Wednesday, drivers who have a .15 blood alcohol content will be charged as persistent drunk drivers, a charge that carries heftier penalties than if a driver exceeds the legal limit of .08 blood alcohol content.
The threshold for persistent drunk driving had been set at .17 blood alcohol content.
"I know that doesn't seem like a real substantial change, but the data shows that there are a significant number of people in that area that we need to deal with," said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, who authored House Bill 1240. "Anyone who is that impaired we really need to focus intently on them and make sure they are not out on the roads driving again without the ignition lock and the therapy to actually make changes to their behaviors."
Persistent drunk drivers must undergo drug and alcohol rehabilitation and have a locking system installed on their vehicle that only allows the ignition to start when the driver has successfully passed a blood alcohol test by breathing into a device.
The new law also reduces the time that a persistent drunk driver must have a suspended license to a month before they can ask it to be reinstated and get a locking ignition system installed.
"The data showed us that people who lose their licenses continue to drive so that really isn't an effective method for reducing the number of people who are on the roads driving drunk," Young said. "They are likely to drink and drive again."
Instead Young said the new law focuses on getting them treatment and locking their cars to prevent drunk driving.
"It's not perfect," Young said. "The technology just isn't there yet, but it's a step."
Also taking effect Wednesday are new restrictions on how homeowner associations collect unpaid debts.
Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, said the law was part of a package of HOA bills aimed at protecting consumers and House Bill 1225 is the last piece of the puzzle.
Williams said the law requires HOAs to adopt specific policies regarding how they will collect unpaid debts.
"An HOA cannot use a collection agency or take legal action unless the association has adopted some kind of written policy governing the collection of an assessment," Williams said. "You've got to notify someone first."
After an HOA has notified someone of a past due bill, it is required under the new law to establish a policy for some kind of payment system.
Williams said she was appalled by the stories she heard of HOAs filing liens against homeowners almost immediately, without notification or an effort to work through the past-due bills.
Williams said she doesn't have plans to introduce any HOA bills next session, but wants to let the new laws take effect and have an impact first.
Other new laws:
- HB1058: outlines a process for courts determining the amount to award a spouse during a divorce for "spousal maintenance."
- HB1062: requires public insurance adjusters to be licensed in Colorado the same way as licensed insurance producers.
- HB1101: allows bingo and raffle establishments to offer progressive jackpots that carry over from day to day until the jackpot is awarded.
- HB1167: requires the secretary of state to collect demographic information about business owners, such as gender, race, disability status, or veteran status and to make the information publicly available.
- HB1209: changes the state's child support laws to revise the amounts that must be paid in certain circumstances.
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