PAPERS COULDN'T CATCH A CODE 

CONSIDERING ITS SIGNIFICANCE, WHY DID ATTEMPT TO REPEAL CONSUMER PROTECTIONS GO UNNOTICED?

by David Kopel

June 17, 2001

The trend these days in newspapers is to provide readers with information that is personally useful. Both the major dailies completely ignored an important story that will affect consumers all over Colorado.

Like almost every other state, Colorado has adopted a model law called the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which regulates much of Colorado's commerce. This year, Colorado's business interests worked hard at the state legislature to get the legislature to follow the lead of three dozen other states - and repeal consumer protections that have been on the books in Colorado since 1965.

But the attempt to repeal consumer protections failed. Thanks in large part to Democratic Sen. Bill Thiebaut of Pueblo, Colorado's new laws actually strengthened protections for consumers. Starting on July 1, it's illegal for the "repo man" to break into your garage - or even to unlock your gate - in order to repossess a car (or other property) for which you're late making the payments. And if the repo man breaks the law, you can sue him, and if you win, he has to pay your attorney fees. Colorado is the first state in the country to specifically outlaw certain types of conduct by repo men.

Whether you're a borrower or a lender, there was a lot at stake in this session of the legislature, and important changes are coming when the new laws take effect on July 1. By legislative standards, the action was pretty dramatic: Thiebaut killed two bills which would have repealed consumer protections, then pushed his own bill through. But the Rocky Mountain News didn't print a single word about the changes in the Uniform Commercial Code. The Denver Post offered a short article previewing the efforts to amend the UCC - but offering no substance about specific changes - on Jan. 7, and then dropped the issue for good.

Why did the papers fail to print even a paragraph about the UCC action? Well, the UCC bill was 240 pages long. But that's no real reason, since reporters don't always read the full text of the bills they're reporting on. (Indeed, only a few legislators bother to read the full bills they're voting on.) Reporters can ask sources - such as legislators or lobbyists on each side of the issue - to summarize and explain the key points. Thiebaut even called a press conference while the bills were in play - but nobody in the press bothered to show up.

And even if the statehouse reporters couldn't spare a couple hours to address the UCC controversy, a business section reporter could have been assigned to write something about one of the most important changes in business law which the legislature has enacted in recent years.

By the way, I should point out that my father, retired state Rep. Jerry Kopel, worked closely with Thiebaut on the UCC bill. So I'm probably biased in favor of Thiebaut's position - but regardless of the bill's merits, the bill's importance was undeniable, and the bill deserved news coverage.

Early this year, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb imposed broad new restrictions on Denver music clubs that serve alcohol. Webb imposed a new rule which prevented such clubs from admitting people under 21, even if the young people were segregated into a separate section of the club. City Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth is working to undo the Webb restriction, which she believes is harmful to small business. The Post reported on June 6 that "The conflict started when the city decided to close a loophole that allowed youths at shows that serve alcohol if a wall separated the two sides."

The "loophole" language makes it seem as if Webb were merely taking care of a technicality, rather than creating new restrictions.

And by the way, Wellington Webb is a very important guy, but he's not "the city," even though he's the head of the city's government. Even the entire government of Denver isn't "the city." I wish the papers would just call the city government "the city government."

The Post's Michael Booth, looking at summer gasoline prices (June 6), wrote, "And of course, much of the blame for Americans frittering away more of their income on gasoline must go to drivers. They're buying bigger cars and driving them farther . . ."

Why is spending money on gas "frittering away" one's income? Compared to spending the money on newspapers or Avalanche souvenirs? Usually, spending money on gasoline helps people get someplace they want to go, and most destinations (like work, or grocery shopping) aren't frivolous. Bigger cars are safer, so spending money to keep one's family safe hardly seems like "frittering." And if you take you family in its big safe car to Mount Rushmore instead of Pike's Peak, I bet your kids won't accuse you of "frittering" your money on gasoline.

 

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