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New Bill Would Regulate Private Eyes

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(credit: AP)

(credit: AP)

DENVER (AP) — Colorado lawmakers are hearing renewed debate over whether to join 44 other states in requiring private investigators to maintain state licenses.

Democratic Sen. Linda Newell has sponsored a measure that would mandate background checks and skills tests for people doing business as private eyes. This is the second year in a row Newell has raised such a proposal, saying the current system attracts unscrupulous investigators.

To protect consumers, the state requires plumbers, barbers and members of other trades to carry licenses, she told fellow lawmakers in a hearing last week. But “private investigation involves surveillance, investigation into people’s private lives, database searching,” she said.

“If any occupation merits licensing,” Newell asked, “shouldn’t this be one?”

Private detectives on both sides of the debate, meanwhile, vigorously argued their case.

Opponents said state licensure wouldn’t prevent dishonesty and fraud. Instead, they said, it would cause a hassle for private eyes who had done nothing wrong. Most of the state’s private detectives, they said, are retired law enforcement officers taking cases for small amounts of money who would close shop if required to pay license fees and pass a certification test.

“This cost, the rigmarole of going through it,” said Charles Evans, a private investigator from Castle Rock, is going to cause a lot of investigators “to fall out of the workforce.”

Ryan Johnston, a private investigator in Denver, supports regulation. He said it’s too easy to set up a private investigation business and access databases with sensitive information, including Social Security numbers.

“The only thing you need,” said Johnston, president of a surveillance company called Night Moves of Denver, “is a business license and maybe a business card.”

The hearing got emotional when a woman said she had to move out of state to escape harassment from a man who stalked her family under the guise of being a private eye.

Choking back tears, Emily Barry told of threats, assaults and breaking-and-entering in four Colorado counties. “This man claims to be a private investigator. He has business cards and a website,” Barry said.

Private investigators who oppose licensure insisted that lawbreakers in their industry should be prosecuted like any other stalker and said burdening other firms isn’t necessary. “I’m not the enemy here. I run a small business,” said Littleton private investigator Mark Good.

Newell, however, said the inconvenience to ethical operations is necessary.

“It would be fortunate if the state never had to regulate occupations because everyone in a given profession behaved with integrity and professionalism,” Newell said. “Unfortunately, we often write regulation to protect the public from a few bad actors.”

The Democratic committee approved her bill 3-2, and the measure now awaits a decision by the full Senate. It’s not clear whether the bill is likely to become law. Last year’s measure cleared the Senate but died in the House on the closing days of the session.

Another measure, meanwhile, is pending in the House to do away with the current voluntary state licensing system for private eyes that was established in 2011. Colorado currently has only about 86 investigators who pay about $1,000 a year for voluntary licenses.

Because the voluntary license program is losing money, the House bill was proposed to end it regardless of how Newell’s bill fares, said Democratic Rep. Crisanta Duran, sponsor of the measure and chairwoman of the powerful Joint Budget Committee.

“We have to make a decision one way or another this session, because of the fact that we’re losing money,” Duran said.

BY KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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