Sponsor of bill protecting commercial rafting in Colorado thinks legislation is faltering
DENVER – Colo. Rep. Kathleen Curry, whose district includes Aspen, believes her bill to clarify and expand the rights of commercial raft companies is in danger of failing in the state Senate.
“I think the opponents are gaining ground in the Senate,” said Curry, a Gunnison lawmaker who left the Democratic party this winter and is now unaffiliated.
There are 17 lobbyists working to defeat the bill, according to Curry’s count earlier this week. “That’s one for almost every ‘no’ voted needed,” she said. Eighteen votes would kill the bill in the 35-member state Senate. The measure passed the House 40-25 in February.
The bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Debate is expected to start in mid-March. Curry said there is really nothing she can do but let the debate play out. She has lobbied for it as best she can.
“At this point I’m like a worried mother hen or something,” she said.
Curry believes the controversy is unnecessary. She intended to simply clarify existing law, but the bill has sparked a debate over private property rights. She wants people – senators and anyone interested – to simply read the wording. She feels they won’t feel threatened.
Current law allows boaters to float through private property without fear of committing trespass as long as they don’t touch the river banks or bed. Curry sponsored the Commercial Rafting Viability Act this session. It allows incidental contact and emergency portage by commercial outfitters in situations where there is a low bridge, debris or other safety hazards.
Proponents such as the Colorado River Outfitters Association hail the bill as a common sense measure. Foes, including ranch and farm associations, contend it will allow rafting companies too much access or interference with private property. The bill doesn’t expand the rights of private floaters.
Curry said she believes foes are making a strategic mistake if they kill the bill. They know what they are getting with her bill, she said. Commercial outfitters will likely force a ballot initiative if the bill fails, she said, and foes cannot be certain if it will expand the power of floaters beyond what Curry is seeking.
In other words, the foes might give up more if the issue goes to a statewide vote.
“They may win the battle on this one but they’re going to lose the war,” Curry said.
She believes Colorado voters would approve a ballot question in support of commercial rafting.
Ben Davis, spokesman for the Colorado River Outfitters Association, said the organization will let the vote on the bill play out before it determines its next move. A ballot initiative is possible.
“It’s certainly an option we’re keeping in mind,” Davis said. If the association goes that direction, it would attempt to get a question on the November ballot this year, he said.
The vital step in the process is collecting enough signatures of qualified voters by August to get on the November ballot.
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