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Hickenlooper Says Bill To Pay Wildfire Victims Creates ‘False Hope’

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Lower North Fork Fire (credit: CBS)

Lower North Fork Fire (credit: CBS)

GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES

DENVER (CBS4) – Using taxpayer money to compensate victims of the Lower North Fork Fire is a step closer to happening.

The full state House on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow victims to potentially receive more money from the state than the current law allows. Gov. John Hickenlooper says it just creates false hope for victims.

Republicans, who are behind the bill, accuse Hickenlooper of trying to duck responsibility. The rift between the executive and legislative branches has victims caught in the middle.

It’s hard to believe it could get any worse for the people of the Lower North Fork Valley. The state destroyed their homes in a controlled burn that started the fire.

“What seems like logical, easy thing to do; we are governed by a set of laws,” Hickenlooper said.

The laws absolve the state of any liability.

“If the government can burn your house down and walk away and say, ‘We’re sorry, but that’s just the way it is;’ we don’t live in the kind of free and democratic society I want to live in,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs.

Gardner is behind the bill that would set up a commission to take claims from fire victims.

The attorney general’s office says the bill “presents a significant risk of violating the Constitution,” because it gives “special privilege to a specific class of individuals.”

The governor has accused Republicans of grandstanding.

“They went out and made their proclamation in public with a lot of TV and press and said how great they are,” Hickenlooper said.

“I think the governor is taking the attorney general’s concern and turning it into almost a shield against doing anything,” Gardner said. “I’m disappointed in that.”

Hickenlooper says he doesn’t want to give false hope.

“My sense is that if the state is negligent there should be some responsibility,” he said.

Gardner says Legislative Legal Services, essentially the lawyers for the legislature, have said the bill is defensible and the constitutionality issue isn’t black and white.

The Democratically-controlled Senate has assigned the bill to the State Affairs Committee, which at the Capitol is referred to as the “Kill Committee.”

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