$17.6M Lower North Fork Fire claims bill passes House committee

Legislative session ends after Wednesday

DENVER - Plans to pay $17.6 million to victims of the Lower North Fork Fire passed unanimously from a House committee Tuesday.

Testimony and debate in the committee Tuesday lasted about three hours, nearly two-and-a-half hours longer than it was heard before passing a State Senate committee last week.

The House committee heard testimony from a representative for the Attorney General, victims who previously settled with the state and two who lost family members in the fire.

After hearing the testimony, the bill passed the committee with a vote of 11-0.

The passage sets up a second reading in the House Tuesday night and a third reading for Wednesday, before the end of the legislative session.

The March 2012 fire, which started as a prescribed burn by the State Forest Service, destroyed more than 4,000 acres, 22 homes, and claimed three lives.

Earlier this month, the state claims board announced it was willing to pay victims $11 million -- about $7 million less than an independent panel had recommended. The victims had agreed in court to work with the panel to determine the value of their losses not covered by insurance.

After hearing the offer from the claims board, the victims returned to court and asked the judge to order the independent panel recommendations be forwarded to the state legislature to be approved for payment.

During Tuesday's hearing, David Blake of the Attorney General's office was asked if that office would appeal.

He responded, "I will not say whether we will or we will not."

In order to make it to the governor's desk before the end of this legislative session, the bill must pass through the full House before Thursday.

Rep. Bob Gardner indicated during Tuesday's hearing that he was considering introducing an amendment to make sure this payment does not set a precedent for the future. If that amendment is introduced and approved, the new version of the bill would need to be approved by the State Senate before the end of the session in order to reach the governor.

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