Senate OKs bill doubling speeding fines in wildlife zones

DENVER — A measure to double fines against motorists in wildlife zones, which had been turned into a study and then changed back into its original version, has cleared the Colorado Senate.

House Bill 1238 has had somewhat of a bumpy ride through the Legislature, starting out as a measure to force motorists to slow down in areas where wildlife crosses the state’s highways.

Because some Republican senators objected to doubling fines on those motorists who don’t slow down, it was turned into a study, and then only on Colorado Highway 82 near Aspen.

That roadway was chosen because it’s in the House and Senate districts of the bill’s sponsors: Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, and Rep. Kathleen Curry, a Democrat-turned-unaffiliated legislator from Gunnison.

Schwartz objected to that change and managed to get it altered back into its original form, fighting off an effort Monday to turn it into a study again.

“We have waited too long to address this problem of slaughtering animals and killing people on our roadways as a result of not having adequate protection,” Schwartz said.

Under the bill, fines would be doubled in areas the Colorado Department of Transportation designates as dangerous wildlife crossing areas, which would be limited to no more than 100 miles around the entire state.

Republicans, however, said doubling fines isn’t necessary. All the department has to do is lower speed limits in those areas.

The GOP legislators who were joined by two Democrats, including Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, said the idea is similar to the doubled fines motorists can get for speeding through construction zones.

“The difference … is that wildlife don’t conveniently stay in marked crosswalks. They don’t conveniently go to where the signs are that say, ‘This is where wildlife are crossing,’ ” said Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield. “Hitting a wild animal is a tragic thing, it’s a hazardous thing. But there are lots of day-to-day risks on the road that we can’t always chase with more and more severe penalties.”

Though Schwartz was able to fight off the effort to turn the measure back into a study, she did accept an amendment offered by Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, to exempt interstates from the higher fines.

The bill heads back to the House for a final vote, which is to happen by Wednesday when the Legislature is required by law to end the 2010 session.


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