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Rep. Douglas Bruce voted against a bill cracking down on landlords Thursday, even though he owns rental property and didn't disclose that fact to other lawmakers. Bruce, a Colorado Springs Republican, said he had no obligation to abstain from voting or to formally disclose that he is a landlord because he did not benefit personally from his vote. "This is not anything special to any property I own," Bruce said. Colorado law bars legislators from voting on issues if they have a direct and immediate financial interest in them, but a lawyer for the Legislature said this week such cases are rarely clear-cut. The attorney, Charles W. Pike, told lawmakers they have to decide for themselves whether they need to disclose a conflict of interest or recuse themselves from voting. Pike said the chances of a conflict of interest are greater if a bill affects only a small number of people. Bruce said he's part of a broad class of landlords so he doesn't have a conflict. Democratic Rep. Alice Madden of Boulder, the House Majority Leader, said Bruce should have recused himself. "This is how me makes his living," Madden said. "It begs the question whether he should have recused himself from voting." She said two other lawmakers did so, citing conflicts of interest. House Bill 1356 passed 37 to 25 and now goes to the Senate. It requires rental units to have such basics as a good roof, hot and cold water and a functioning sewer system. It would make it easier for tenants to get out of leases. It would also limit the ability of tenants and landlords to recover attorney fees if they win an eviction dispute. Bruce introduced an amendment that would have prevented tenants from taking action against landlords under the bill if the tenants have already left the property. The amendment failed. Elena Nunez, program director for the public-interest lobby Colorado Common Cause, said she believes Bruce broke the law. "There's no question he had an immediate financial interest," she said. "Voters need to have confidence in their elected officials and if there is any question, they need to err on the side of disclosure." Bruce has been issued citations accusing him of poor maintenance of rental property in Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo. He spent eight days in jail in 1995 for a contempt-of-court citation in connection with a charge of operating an unsafe building. He has repeatedly made headlines since arriving at the Capitol in January to fill an unexpired term.
In a debate on Monday, he was ordered to leave the podium for calling Mexican immigrant workers "illiterate peasants."Bruce said the remark was not meant to be racial or offensive, but a pointed criticism of the bill. In February, fellow Republicans removed him from the powerful State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee for refusing to co-sponsor a resolution honoring military veterans. Bruce said such measures are a waste of time because they are nonbinding. In January, he became the first Colorado lawmaker censured by the House after he kicked a newspaper photographer for taking his picture during a prayer.
No decision has been made about any kind of reprimand after Colorado Springs Representative Douglas Bruce's controversial comment about migrant workers.