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Wildfire seasons result in proposed legislation

November 14, 2013 Updated: November 14, 2013 at 9:27 pm
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photo - A firefighter fights a blaze in a garage in Black Forest on Table Rock Rd. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)
A firefighter fights a blaze in a garage in Black Forest on Table Rock Rd. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette) 

Lawmakers will consider eight wildfire-related bills during the 2014 legislative session, following on the heels of a horrendous wildfire season that included the Black Forest fire.

The interim Wildfire Matters Review Committee drafted measures that would strengthen regulations for prescribed burns, create a $2,500 tax credit for private property wildfire mitigation efforts, and launch a statewide wildfire resource center.

But the committee didn't introduce some of the more drastic legislation proposed during the five meetings held this summer, including a recommendation for statewide building codes that included fire mitigation standards.

The eight bills that came out of the interim committee work were approved with bipartisan support Thursday by the Legislative Council Committee - a joint meeting of senators and representatives who threw their weight behind the legislation before it was introduced.

Legislation recommended Thursday by the committee is separate from a slew of recommendations that came out of the Wildfire Insurance and Forest Health Task Force in October after that group of government appointees met for nine months.

Lawmakers could still introduce legislation based on those recommendations, which included assigning a risk level to homes in the wildland urban interface and assessing a tax or fee on properties with the highest risk.

The eight bills and two resolutions approved Thursday by the Legislative Council Committee still have a long process to go through and have no advantages over other bills yet to be introduced, but in general here are the recommendations:

- Allow county governments to prohibit or restrict agricultural burning during times of high fire danger and give counties the right to restrict or prohibit fireworks.

- Enable private entities to apply for bond-backed loans from the state for forest health projects.

- Create a tax credit of up to $2,500 for homeowners who undertake wildfire mitigation on their property. A tax credit is a direct refund from the state from taxes paid, rather than a tax deduction, which reduces the amount of income that can be taxed.

- Create a fund to help firefighters buy safety equipment, funded with $3.25 million.

- Provide $10,000 in death benefits to the families of firefighters killed in the line of duty.

- Create the statewide Wildfire Information and Resource Center.

- Change state prescribed burn laws to require stricter rules for who is qualified to supervise a prescribed burn.

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Contact Megan Schrader

719-286-0644

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