Journey almost done for King bill on firefighting air fleet

DENVER — Sen. Steve King realized a milestone last week when the Colorado Senate approved his measure to begin the creation of an aerial firefighting fleet in the state.

On Friday, the Senate gave unanimous approval of a bill that would allow the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control to implement recommendations of a recent report that details how the state will deal with fighting future wildfires.

That report, which was required in a bill the Grand Junction Republican got through the Legislature last year, calls for the state, among other things, to acquire or contract for firefighting aircraft.

Although the report questioned the reliability of the large, more well-known aerial tankers, it did recommend that the state could immediately use, and even purchase, its own “multi-use” aircraft, which primarily would be used to locate fires that have just sparked.

The division’s recommendation under the report calls for focusing on that aspect, saying it is the most effective use of an aerial fleet.

The report, however, also calls for the lease, and possible ultimate purchase, of smaller firefighting aircraft, such as helicopters because they can target slurry more effectively.

At least for now, the Legislature has also earmarked about $20 million to start the new fleet.

The measure heads to the House, where is it expected to pass easily.

In other action, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a measure to appropriate nearly $900,000 to the Colorado Public Defender’s Office to hire nearly a dozen new attorneys to counsel juveniles who appear before the courts.

Supporters of the bill say the additional money is needed because nearly half of all juveniles who appear before a judge do so without legal counsel.

“In Colorado we are making it a priority to protect juveniles by making sure that they are represented,” said Kim Dvorchack, executive director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition. “Without an attorney present, kids and their parents may agree to a plea deal they don’t understand and suffer long-term consequences.”

In other matters, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill to do away with a six-year exemption on damaged vehicles that can have their titles labeled as salvage.

Proponents of the measure, HB1299, say the exemption has allowed Colorado to become a dumping ground for older, damaged vehicles, and the bill will end that practice.


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