A bipartisan group of legislators is backing a bill to give Colorado consumers more protection from unsavory debt collection tactics.
The bill would limit the ability of so-called zombie collectors — those who bundle, buy and sell spreadsheets of debts like commodities — to gain default judgments in Colorado county courts.
The legislation aims to help people like Pilar Chapa. The consumer advocate learned a debt buyer had taken her to court only after her employer notified her that her wages were being garnished for a $706 debt that, with court costs and added fees, came to $1,001.30.
To this day, she said, she is dumbfounded by the court’s default judgment. Nobody served her with a court date notice. She doesn’t know what the original debt was, or whether it was hers. She doesn’t know who the original creditor was. She paid it off anyway, fearing lasting damage to her credit rating.
Debt collectors have become the number one source of consumer complaints to the state attorney general’s office.
If enacted, the bill would, among other things:
- Forbid collectors to pursue consumers in court when more than four years have passed since the last payment
- Require debt sellers to “include all relevant documentation” about each debt and to notify buyers if the debt is disputed.
A hearing on the bill is scheduled for April 3 in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
State senator Jerry Sonnenberg is about as conservative as it gets. His rural eastern plains district covers 11 counties, and is overwhelmingly Republican. Sonnenberg won his Senate seat by more than 71 percent of the vote in 2014.
So it was a bit of a shock last week when Sonnenberg announced that he intended to sponsor a bill that has been the Democrats’ darling: reclassifying the hospital provider fee. That fee is levied on hospitals for every overnight patient stay and for the number of outpatient services provided. The money is then matched with federal dollars and redistributed to hospitals to pay for low-income health care.
For the past two years, Democrats have been pushing for the fee to be reclassified as an enterprise, a government-owned business, to keep the money it brings in from triggering revenue caps under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Once the cap is hit, the state must start refunding money to taxpayers.
Democrats say reclassifying the fee would free up about $350 million per year that could be spent on education, transportation and healthcare. It’s that last piece that Sonnenberg is most interested in. He has 11 hospitals in his rural district, and said last week that two are in danger of closing if the provider fee is not reclassified.
Republicans in the Senate say they respect Sonnenberg’s desire to help rural hospitals but are withholding judgment on the bill until it comes out, which is expected this week.
On Friday morning, Colorado Republican Mike Coffman of Aurora said he supported the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s plan in the U.S. House to repeal and replace Obamacare. But by the afternoon, GOP leadership had pulled the bill saying it didn’t have enough votes to pass.
As the battle of the bill raged throughout the day in Washington, many eyes were on Coffman, Colorado’s fifth-term Republican congressman, who called the GOP’s Trump-Ryancare plan “the best compromise” House Republicans could get before sending it to the Senate.
Coffman’s initial support was an outlier in Colorado, which has seen roughly 400,000 Coloradans covered under the Affordable Care Act.
The Colorado Independent reports, Coffman’s early decision on the quickly hatched replacement plan had him caught between a Republican president he criticized during the campaign, powerful funders who supported him during his campaign, and his own constituents.
The state’s other three Republican congressmen didn’t signal support. Conservatives in Congress, namely the House Freedom Caucus, did not feel the Republican plan, hashed together in a matter of weeks, went far enough to crush Obamacare.