Colorado State Capitol Building

DENVER - House Democrats and Senate Republicans are at odds again, this time over whether to renew all or just part of the Office of Consumer Counsel, a state agency that represents the public during hearings for proposed utility rate increases.

Senate Republicans want to continue the Office of Consumer Counsel without its oversight function for the telecom industry. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said that deregulation of the telecom industry last year, coupled with significant technology changes that have ended monopolies in the industry, make regulation unnecessary.

Democrats in the House want the office to be reauthorized to maintain the telecom oversight role. Advocates say oversight is needed over 911 fees on telephone bills and that deregulation included a claw back provision necessitating the office to analyze whether the industry is handling its new freedoms.

Dueling bills were introduced on the issue in the final weeks of the legislative session and both got a first hearing Wednesday.

Senate Bill 271 won approval in the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee with a single "no" vote.

Democrats on the committee attempted to amend the bill to include oversight of the telecommunications industry but that failed at the hands of Republicans who have the committee majority.

"I do believe that we will either see this die in the House or amended in the House," said Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton. "I'm not sure we will see a bill that will make it all the way through."

House Bill 1381, which maintains the telecom oversight role, is headed to the House floor after passing on a party-line vote 7-6 in the Transportation and Energy Committee.

It will likely be amended or killed in the Senate.

There are five working legislative days remaining.