Wildfire victims in Colorado may soon get more immediate and substantial help from insurance companies under legislative changes approved by the Colorado legislature on Wednesday.
If signed into law, House Bill 1111 would increase the amount lost property insurance providers must cover up front and extend the time victims have to rebuild their homes. The proposed changes would only apply to future declared fires, which would not help victims of recent wildfires.
Lawmakers are tackling a slew of wildfire laws months after Coloradans suffered the most destructive wildfire in state history in December, the Marshall Fire, which destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Boulder County. Legislation has been in the works since before the Marshall Fire, inspired by the East Troublesome Fire, which burned 193,812 acres in Grand County in October 2020 and is the second largest wildfire in history. of State.
“There is no doubt that there will be others. That’s the sad reality,” said Senate Speaker Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, who sponsored the bill. “It’s something that unfortunately isn’t going to bring much relief to those who have already been through these horrific disasters. But it’s something many of us have learned from these disasters that we can apply to correct politics and make it a better situation for those in the future.
Under the bill, insurers would be required to cover at least 65% of the value of lost property in advance. Current law requires that only 30% be covered without victims creating an inventory of their lost property, a process victims say is unnecessarily difficult and traumatic.
During public comment sessions on the bill, dozens of wildfire victims said they were forced to document every item in their home – including age, condition, cost of each item, where it was purchased and proof of purchase – only to be offered a fraction of what the items were worth after months or years of bargaining.
“In 2020, there were four major wildfires in my district,” said Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, who also sponsored the bill. “The following year…we started hearing these stories of people who were in temporary accommodation and they were still trying, a year later, to take inventory of their personal contents.”
The bill would also require insurance companies to give wildfire victims 36 months to rebuild their homes, instead of the current 12 months. Victims could also rebuild in a different location or buy a new house instead.
Grand County Builders Association consultant Bob Hughes called the current 12-month delay “virtually impossible” due to shortages of housing, contractors and building materials in communities affected by the wildfires. Hughes said none of the 366 homes destroyed in Grand County have been rebuilt in 12 months.
The state Senate passed the bill in a 29-5 vote on Wednesday, following the House’s 54-9 approval in March. All 14 lawmakers who opposed the bill are Republicans, with some saying the bill would raise insurance rates or fail to properly address issues facing wildfire victims.
The bill will now go back to the House to approve the changes made by the Senate, and then to Governor Jared Polis for final consideration.