Supporters of a Republican-sponsored bill to require condominium owners and builders to submit claims alleging construction problems to arbitration howled with outrage Wednesday after Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran assigned the legislation to the House “kill committee.”
Meanwhile, compromise legislation authored by a bipartisan team of House lawmakers could be waiting in the wings, but the staunchest advocates on both sides of the construction litigation fight say they need to see a bill first before blessing it.
“The pretend hearing that this bill will receive is an insult to Coloradans looking for affordable homes,” said Mike Kopp, president and CEO of the business advocacy group Colorado Concern and a former Senate minority leader. Kopp is also the spokesman for the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance Coalition, a group of business organizations, affordable housing advocates and civic organizations.
“It betrays a shocking indifference to the 40 metro mayors who asked for one simple thing: a fair hearing so reform could be voted on by the full House of Representatives for the first time ever,” he added.
House Democrats have torpedoed similar legislation in recent years, arguing they can’t bargain away the constitutionally guaranteed right to a trial for condo owners, many of whom risk losing their biggest investment.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, a member of a coalition of 40 metro-area mayors who backed Senate Bill 156 when it was introduced, called for the Democratic-controlled House to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
“People who are working hard but struggling to find an affordable place to live need relief now, and they can no longer afford for the legislature to once again fail to take meaningful action on construction defects reform,” Hancock said in a statement. “This bill is a way we can protect a homeowner’s access to the courthouse without getting in the way of hardworking residents’ access to a real house, and it deserves a fair debate and vote of the full state House.”
Hancock’s counterpart in Lakewood, Mayor Adam Paul, had a similar reaction at the news Duran had sent the bill to the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, where legislation often goes to die.
“It is unfortunate when an issue of great concern to over three million residents is denied a fair shot of being heard on the floor of the people’s House,” said Paul in a statement. “The real losers today are average hardworking Coloradans with a dream of buying a home. They are the ones left, yet again, with nothing.”
One of the bill’s sponsors, Assistant House Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial, called Duran’s assignment of Senate Bill 156 “disappointing” and warned that special interests might have again derailed a solution nearly everyone has said is within sight.
“Having a critical piece of the construction litigation reform package sent to the kill committee sends a mixed message regarding the speaker’s willingness to meaningfully discuss affordable, attainable housing for Coloradans — and that’s very disappointing,” Wist said in a statement. “Builders, stakeholders, industry experts and elected officials from both parties agree that Senate Bill 156 is a vital piece to solving this problem, yet once again, special interest groups who profit from a dysfunctional litigation process have hijacked meaningful progress.”
While the legislation hasn’t been deep-sixed yet, backers of the bill were already delivering its eulogy.
Kelly Brough, president and CEO of Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said that the lack of affordable homes in Colorado “ultimately hurts our economy,” and tore into Democratic leadership in the House.
“We had hoped that new leadership would give the opportunity for all representatives to voice their opinion and vote on this bill,” Brough said in a statement. “It’s particularly frustrating that our elected officials were once again not given the opportunity to weigh in on this critical issue. Without meaningful construction defects reform, it is nearly impossible to deliver more affordable housing for our workforce.”
Duran’s move comes just days after a GOP-controlled Senate committee junked a Democratic bill, Senate Bill 157, sponsored by state Sen. Angela Williams, D-Denver, and state Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, aimed at reforming the state’s construction litigation problems from a different angle.
Gov. John Hickenlooper and House and Senate leaders from both parties have called it a top priority this session to pass legislation to encourage companies to restart building condominiums across the state after virtually abandoning the market segment amid complaints of lengthy and expensive class-action lawsuits over construction issues.
Senate Bill 156 — sponsored by state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, Wist and state Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone — passed last week out of the Senate on a 23-12 vote with the support of every Republican and five Democrats, boosting hopes House Democrats might permit a hearing on the bill in a more favorably inclined committee.
The Senate Democrats voting in favor of SB 156 were state Sens. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada.
While Duran’s move could forecast an unhappy fate for Senate Bill 156, a bipartisan group — including Wist, Saine and Assistant House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver — say they are preparing compromise legislation that addresses concerns expressed by both parties.
The legislation, which has yet to be introduced, combines elements in common between Senate Bills 156 and 157 — “Maybe we could call it 156 1/2,” quipped one of the compromise bill’s sponsors earlier this week — such as requiring a majority of condo owners to approve pursuing a complaint, while stripping out provisions marked as deal-breakers by Republicans and Democrats in both chambers.
Kopp cautioned that he hadn’t seen the compromise package yet so couldn’t weigh in on it but reiterated the coalition’s disappointment that Senate Bill 156 appeared to be doomed.
“We are very supportive of the informed consent framework the mayors and the HOA developed in SB 156 because it would protect consumers and invigorate the construction of condos,” Kopp told The Colorado Statesman. “When we see the final version of their bill the HOA and our mayor partners will evaluate it in light of those objectives.”
The spokeswoman for the Community Associations Institute, an organization representing homeowners’ associations across the state, said she’s hopeful lawmakers can reach a solution.
“We remain optimistic that the General Assembly wants to find a solution that both protects homeowners and promotes construction,” Suzanne Leff told The Statesman. “The legislators who have sponsored (construction defects) reform bills already this session have shown an interest in this goal. Their efforts have resulted in different conversations than past sessions. We hope that any additional bill will achieve bipartisan support for the important homeowners protections that CAI expects.”