March 27, 2009
HB 09-1276 The Foreclosure Relief Act (Ferrandino – M. Carroll) has passed the house on a vote of 40:22 and passed the senate on a vote of 26:8 and is headed to the Governor. While the bill is not a bailout, it facilitates re-negotiation of loans to keep families in their home where there is some demonstrated ability to pay and where the lender be financially better off with a restructured loan than proceeding with foreclosure.
Colorado had 44,000 new foreclosures filed in 2008 and while there have been some decreases in a few counties, some have gotten worse (El Paso, Douglas). Obviously, foreclosures impact us all — whether we realize it or not.
These families are our neighbors, our friends, co-workers, go to our churches, our schools and the loss of a home is a devastating strain on a family, their children (and even pets who are being abandoned).
But the economics impact us all as well. When even 1 home in our community goes to foreclosure, it depreciates the surrounding property values for all of us in "comps" or "comparable rates" that are factored into everyone's appraisals.
We literally can not afford to assume this is someone else's problem. There are a lot of reasons behind foreclosures which can range from sub-prime lending, predatory lending, job loss health care crisis (50% of bankruptcies), divorce, family problems.
WHAT THE BILL DOES
15 days after a foreclosure notice is filed a homeowner will receive a conspicuous NOTICE on their property about:
- The FREE Colorado Foreclosure Hotline: 1.877.601.HOPE, with a 80 – 85% success rate in preventing foreclosure and keeping people in their homes http://www.coloradoforeclosurehotline.org/; and
- Information about the loan deferrment, loan restructuring options through HB 1276.
A homeowner then has 20 days to contact a HUD certified housing counselor to assess whether they are qualified (a demonstrated ability to pay something reasonable) and whether the financial break-even point could be better satisfied with a re-worked loan for the lender according to FDIC lending guidelines.
If not the foreclosure process continues as scheduled. If so, then the parties are given an additional 90 days time to negotiate and restructure their loan to prevent the foreclosure and keep the family in their home and prevent further losses to the lender.
- Contact Your Lender: It may seem counter-intuitive to approach a creditor when you see signs of trouble but most lenders now understand that it is in their financial self-interest as well to re-structure your loan (if necessary) rather than incur the expense and bad debt of foreclosure on their books.
- There Are Back Channels: Your ordinary customer service number may not be the right phone number. You may need to ask for the loss mitigation department or for a contact in foreclosure prevention. The person who answers may or may not know about the right contact. The Colorado Foreclosure Hotline can help you find the right contact information for your lender. (The wrong number may get you a blank and unhelpful response, unaware of any other programs out there).
- Call EARLY: The earlier you call in the process of realizing you will have trouble making a mortgage payment the higher the chances of a successful workout and the better the odds of minimizing harm to your credit and losses to the lender.
- Do NOT Abandon Your Property: Not only does that disqualify you from the foreclosure assistance of the bill but it makes it virtually impossible that you can restructure your loan.
- Watch for Scams! There are a lot of people and predators out there who would prey on people in desperate circumstances. If you have any questions, you can contact the Division of Housing, the Foreclosure hotline or the Attorney Generals office to help sort through the legit v. not.
- ACORN is another good resource for housing advocacy and has a strong Home Defenders program on foreclosures. Aurora ACORN, 9915 E. Colfax, Aurora, CO 80010 email@example.com 303-366-6703.
- Colorado Foreclosure Hotline – FREE! – 1.877.601.HOPE!
March 17, 2009
On Monday the Colorado Senate voted to join several other states in seeking to ban gender discrimination in insurance rates. (HB09-1224 Rep. Sue Schafer & Sen. Morgan Carroll). The National Women's Law Center recently released a comprehensive study documenting pervasive and significant discrimination against women in insurance rates. The bill will likely be debated by the full Senate on Friday.
Colorado was the 2nd state to recognize women's right to vote in 1893 and leads the nation with the number of women elected to the state legislature (40%), yet many are surprised to learn gender discrimination in insurance rates remains legal in Colorado.
- Women earn $0.78 on the dollar for every $1.00 men earn yet pay 30 – 40% more in individual health insurance plans, despite the fact that maternity coverage is not included in those plans.
- Federal law has prohibited gender discrimination in employer-provided health insurance since the Civil Rights Act 1964 but that does not protect those who must purchase on the individual health market.
- Colorado acted to prohibited race and ethnicity discrimination in ratings, but not gender.
- More than 130,000 women in Colorado between ages 19 – 64 received health insurance through the individual market in 2006 – 2007 and paid more for comparable coverage.
- This price discrimination increases the number of women (and their dependent children) who are uninsured.
Women who can not get insured here get pushed into public programs which we all pay for. It is better public policy to end the discriminatory pricing and get more women covered through private insurance.
While the insurance industry opposes the measure, it has garnered support from:
Colorado Women's Bar Association
Colorado Consumer Health Initiative
National Women's Law Center
Denver Women's Commission
9 to 5, National Association of Working Women- Colorado
Women's Lobby of Colorado
Planned Parenthood of Colorado
National Council of Jewish Women
Bell Policy Center
Insurance Commissioner Marcy Morrison
March 14, 2009
Colorado's current law already requires the taking of DNA samples from all CONVICTED felons, whether violent or not, and allows storage, search and use of that DNA in perpetuity. Current law allows investigators to collect, use and store any or all DNA found at any crime scene, which IS appropriate to help identify perpetrators and solve crimes.
However, SB 09-241 expands that to include all persons arrested on a felony (accused but not convicted) and the ability to take it by "reasonable force" if necessary. Prior to conviction, these people are presumed innocent. This law would sweep in nearly 25,000 innocent people every year into a permanent government controlled DNA data-base, with very little legal protections about its future use. It creates a process where the burden falls on the innocent person, if they wish to extract or expunge their DNA from the government database. In fairness for full disclosure I was the only "no" vote in committee and it passed with bi-partisan support.
WE NEED TO SLOW DOWN AND REALLY THINK ABOUT THIS!
Like most of you, growing up I learned that in the United States of America we are innocent until proven guilty.
This premise is behind why we require probable cause under the 4th Amendment for all Search and Seizure, notice of charges against a citizen, right to counsel, right against self-incrimination or torture to extract confessions, right to confront (cross-examine) witnesses against you and why we require the government to PROVE each and every element of a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury of your peers.
Historically, we did this because of past government abuses on other countries that meant that innocent people lost their rights and lives and led to tyranny. The government's ability to take your freedom or your life is one of the greatest potential powers they hold. Therefore, the presumption of innocence is key.
The proponents of this bill rightly point out that this is a very useful tool for law enforcement and for solving crimes. They are right. It is. They indicate that early capture of more DNA will increase the probability of finding and catching bad guys earlier, and thus, preventing possible future crimes. This too, is true. However, we can serve those aims by our current law of to capture DNA from CONVICTED (rather than accused) felons.
The proponents liken DNA to fingerprints, which is in part true in that it can be a forensic biological tool for identification. However, DNA is more more, with 3 billion markers and contains our most intimate private biological markers for life: past, present and future.
In a nutshell here are the current problems with the measure:
- It moves the line from convicted to accused, doing violence to the notion of innocent until proven guilty.
- It allows the taking of DNA, by force if necessary.
- Thousands of innocent people's DNA under the current law will be swept into the DNA database every year.
- There are little to no parameters about the future use of the DNA.
- The DNA can be kept and searched in perpetuity in the future.
- It does not allow the accused person to also request and seek access to the DNA database for possible exoneration or mitigation.
- The bill as drafted does not prevent "familial searches" of DNA where by mitochondrial DNA your families or relatives DNA (who may have NEVER had any contact with law enforcement) may be identified and searched.
- The bill has no reporting or accountability measures to provide accountability to its intended v. actual use.
The passage of this bill will no doubt be a helpful tool to law enforcement . However, we need to be careful, swabbing all of us at birth to create and store in the government DNA database would probably be the most useful tool of all but it does not make it right, legal or constitutional.
The bill costs us $1.7 million dollars and is headed to Senate Appropriations for consideration.
March 01, 2009
How do I know what bills are pending before the legislature? There is a grid tracking all introduced bills and where they are in the process called a Status Sheet which is updated daily. Go to http://www.leg.state.co.us/ and click on Status.
How do I know when a bill will be heard in hearing or scheduled for a floor vote? There is a calendar for the House and for the Senate which is updated daily during session. Go to http://www.leg.state.co.us/ and click on Calendar.
How can I observe or monitor actual legislative proceedings? You can go to the capitol in person. All are welcome. You can listen to audio broadcast by going to http://www.leg.state.co.us/ and clicking on Audio Broadcast. For proceedings on the House floor you can go to http://www.coloradochannel.net
When is the best time to weigh in on legislation? The earlier the better. If you can weigh in prior to introduction of a bill that has the best window for impact. Otherwise, try to weigh in prior to committee hearing, if possible. If you miss that window you can weigh in at hearing on the floor or as it heads to the 2nd chamber.
What can I do to impact legislation? You can call, email, write or meet with elected officials, draft letters to the editor or op ed pieces, blog or send information to your e-lists or phone trees to mobilize others to contacted elected officials. You can tell groups and other activists you are affiliated to try to grow a coalition to do the same thing. You can ask legislators to vote yes / no and tell them why and you can shape public opinion by getting education, information out to the press, blogs, or both. You can share research or expertise or prepare a fact sheet to on why to support or oppose a bill.
Who do I contact? It is always a good idea to contact your own legislator who represents you and let them know you live in their district. You can find out who your elected officials are by contacting: http://www.votesmart.org/index.htm. You also want to contact the people on the committee prior to a committee vote and the members of the chamber prior to a floor vote. All contact information for legislators can be found at: http://www.leg.state.co.us. Click on Contact Information.
Tips for maximum impact on legislators: Be brief, be polite, include a few reasons, and how to follow up with you for more information.
What if I want to suggest a new bill / law? You only need to find one legislator willing to introduce your idea as a bill and it can be introduced. The legislative session runs January – May. Given our deadlines it is best to approach a lawmaker by the November prior to the legislative session because we have a limit on the # of bills we can carry.
How do I testify? Anyone can testify. Show up at the designated time and hearing room (see calendar) and sign in. There will be a witness sign-in sheet for every bill. When the Chairperson calls your name come forward, introduce yourself, who, if anyone you represent. Then prepare about 3 minutes of your comments on whether you support or oppose the bill and why. At that time the committee may have questions. Wait until the Chair calls on you by name to answer. (This creates a clear audio record of who is speaking). Then proceed to answer. If you cannot make it to testify in person, you can also prepare written comments, submit them to the Chair and ask that they be included in the record.
WE NEED CITIZEN INPUT TO TRULY BE A CITIZEN LEGISLATURE!