Sixteen months after the most destructive wildfire in state history, Gov. Jared Polis signed nearly a dozen bills into law aimed at fire recovery and prevention.
The governor held one of the bill-signing ceremonies at one of the homes being rebuilt after the Marshall Fire.
He lamented all the obstacles to rebuilding homeowners have faced.
“What a lot of people don’t always realize is how long it takes,” he said. “Here we are a year and five months, essentially, since the horrific fire and life has not returned to normal.”
Polis says the new laws will help both current and future fire victims. They include first-of-its-kind legislation aimed at addressing under-insurance. It requires insurers to offer homeowners additional coverage for things like inflation and building code upgrades, and requires the Colorado Division of Insurance to release an annual report that gives estimates of what it would cost to rebuild a home based on where it’s located.
Only 8% of Marshall Fire victims had enough insurance to replace their homes.
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Democratic State Sen. Dylan Roberts, one of the bill’s sponsors, says it’s about fairness for Coloradans: “This is the least, I think, that we can do for them, that if they’ve done the responsible thing in getting insurance for their home, that they know what the cover is going to be.”
Another bill creates a state managed insurer of last resort, which would provide basic coverage for those who can’t get insurance anywhere else.
Democratic State Rep. Judy Amabile’s district includes Boulder and is one of the bill’s sponsors. She says she already knows of homeowners whose insurance companies have canceled their policies. She says the bill is meant to strike a balance between helping them without driving up rates for everyone else and driving insurance companies out of state.
“We don’t want to disrupt the market that is going to provide competition, that’s going to help drive prices down,” Amabile said.
Amabile and Democratic State Rep. Kyle Brown, whose district includes Louisville, also passed a bill helping renters. It requires landlords follow best practices for remediation of smoke damage after a wildfire.
“Folks quickly found out that there were no objective criteria, no health and safety standards for returning back home,” said Brown.
Among the bills fire survivors cheered most is a measure that exempts sales and use taxes on fire rebuilds and repairs.
“This is adding insult to injury in many ways,” said Polis. “No one is choosing to rebuild. It shouldn’t be a taxable event.”
The state is also investing tens of millions of dollars in a new FIREHAWK helicopter, mitigation workforce and evacuation modeling, as well as creating a board to develop statewide fire resistant building codes and a grant program to help homeowners with fire hardening.
Polis said the state learns from every disaster and the new laws are a start.
The state, he says, needs to continue to up its vigilance: “As more people live in the wildland urban interface, with climate change and the hotter climate and greater fire risk, we really need to up our game and we are.”