The Colorado private investigator licensing effort, at least until the law was passed in 2011, was a 34 year effort. According to PI Museum Curator Ben Harroll, Colorado was one of one of the first states to be licensed. He references “Know The Law” The Detective Law Book and Practical Advisor published in 1898 by The Webster Detective Library, Review Publishing Company, Market and Delaware Streets, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Issue No. 3. May, 1899). The Colorado law was repealed in 1977.
The Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado was founded in 1978 to provide guidelines for a licensing statute. Several licensing efforts were brought forth by PPIAC since the license law was repealed in 1977, only to meet with defeat each time. The last effort was in early 2007 with HB07-1083. It was, as all the other efforts before it, a bill calling for mandatory licensing. I was not a Board member of PPIAC at the time. I had recently joined the association a few months before, so I did not testify at the hearing for this bill. However, I did attend the hearing and, like many other investigators, experienced the bitter taste of defeat when HB07-1083 died in the first House committee with a vote of 4-7. However, there were two important lessons that came to light. The first was that PPIAC’s largest obstacle to passing a PI licensing law was itself, as there was no consensus within the association for licensing. The second was that PPIAC needed to do something different. As the saying goes, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”
During a visit to Colorado’s PPIAC Conference a few years ago, then NCISS President Francie Koehler was asked by a group of PPIAC members what needed to be done to finally restore licensing to Colorado. Her response to us was to develop relationships with state legislators. This was a critical piece of advice that would soon propel PPIAC into a year after year involvement in Colorado legislative matters.
PPIAC was thrown into the fire in 2010 when HB10-1012, commonly referred to as the Anti-Surveillance Bill, was introduced by insurance claimants and sponsored by Democratic legislators in a year where Democrats held the majority in both the House as well as the Senate. HB10-1012 was a bill that would have severely restricted the use of surveillance in worker’s compensation claims, and would in effect put many surveillance companies out of business in Colorado. This bill also would have likely set a bad precedence to restrict the use of surveillance for purposes other than worker’s compensation. The bill was being monitored by other states. Colorado investigators were backed into a corner. A strategy had to be quickly developed, and a game plan had to be executed. Failure was not an option.
PPIAC’s Board decided it needed a lobbyist, and an effective one at that. Where would PPIAC find an effective lobbyist? Fortunately, one of PPIAC’s past Presidents located a lobbying group owned by two former Colorado legislators. The group was brought into an association meeting for an interview. This lobbying group was subsequently hired and helped guide PPIAC in communicating with legislators, lobbying outside the House and Senate floors, and attending legislative town halls as constituents. In short, they showed PPIAC how to develop relationships with legislators.
With Democrats having control in both the House and the Senate, the Democratic sponsored bill progressed through the House along party line votes. In one of the Senate committees, PPIAC’s lobbyist identified a Democratic Senator as a potential swing vote and someone that PPIAC should talk to. This Senator, whose ex-husband had been a private investigator, was open and understood the concerns of the investigative profession. She subsequently voted opposite her party and was the lone Democrat who voted no, giving the Republicans the majority vote needed to kill the bill.
With relationships established with legislators from the anti-surveillance bill effort, PPIAC set out to introduce a PI licensing bill in 2011. PPIAC knew it needed to take advantage of the momentum provided by the anti-surveillance bill. Colorado investigators were also facing a growing urgency to restore licensing due to concerns of privacy, limiting access to records, and identity theft. PPIAC could not continue fighting bills such as the anti-surveillance bill without the credibility and vetting which comes from being a licensed state. Some Colorado legislators hinted a PI licensing bill could be in the works. Rather than be at the mercy of a legislator-introduced bill, PPIAC knew it needed to introduce a bill first.
The PPIAC Board first had to know was a consensus from its membership before it went forth with a licensing effort. PPIAC’s membership easily reached a majority consensus to move forward with licensing. A path was then carved out for the bill. Preparation began in the summer of 2010. A Licensing Committee was formed, headed by a past President of PPIAC. The committee’s duties were numerous: create a list of key points which could be used to draft a bill, raise funds for a lobbyist, and seek sponsorship from legislators.
In order to approach this licensing effort differently than other licensing efforts, PPIAC decided to seek bi-partisan sponsorship of the licensing bill. PPIAC’s Licensing Chair approached a Republican legislator who happened to be very well respected in the House of Representatives. When asked if he would be the prime House sponsor, he practically laughed. He stated he was anti-regulation and he could not support the key points presented to him by PPIAC. The key points at the time contained the mandatory wording. He suggested the bill be a voluntary license. With a voluntary license, the Republican legislator would agree to be the prime sponsor. At the suggestion of the Licensing Chair, PPIAC went forward with introducing a voluntary license bill. It was around this time that I became President of PPIAC. I realized PPIAC needed to utilize the “outside the box” approach of a voluntary license. In fact, many Colorado investigators were already voluntarily licensed, choosing to obtain their licenses from Kansas, Utah, Arizona, California, and other states.
With the voluntary wording placed in the bill, Republican law makers viewed the bill, introduced as HB11-1195, as much more palatable. The sponsor of HB1195 in the Senate was none other than the Democrat who had been the swing vote the previous year in the anti-surveillance bill. PPIAC also added a Democrat co-sponsor in the House, for a total of 3 sponsors and the first ever bi-partisan sponsorship for a Colorado PI bill. PPIAC quickly saw the fruits of its labors, and of the long hours the Licensing Committee spent planning in 2010. The bill passed through the first House committee, which the prime sponsor chaired, with a vote of 11-0. Though the Democrats held the majority in the Senate, PPIAC nearly committed a grave error by not including a Republican Senate sponsor. PPIAC found out the Democratic sponsor’s district was a contentious one, and Republicans wanted to kill as many of her bills as they could. During one of the Senate committee hearings, the bill squeaked by with a one vote majority. One of the Democrats was wavering on voting against her party. I wondered if we would experience the “shoe on the other foot” swing that our opponents had experienced with the anti-surveillance bill. However, the Democratic Senator stood by her party. The bill went on to pass through 3 House committees, the House floor vote, 3 Senate committees, the Senate floor vote, and was sent back to the House for consideration of minor amendments adopted out of the Senate.
After all this hard work, Colorado’s governor simply needed to sign the bill to pass into law. PPIAC initially believed this would be a slam dunk as he was a Democrat, and he was establishing a reputation for vetoing very few bills which came to his desk. However, PPIAC’s lobbyist and the Senate sponsor received information indicating he was considering vetoing the bill. The lobbyist, the Senate sponsor, and PPIAC’s Licensing Chair met with the governor’s staff to discuss the bill. Finally, on the last day the governor could sign bill, in the last tense hours of the business day, the governor signed the bill, finally restoring licensing to Colorado after 34 years! The signing of the law was a team effort and demonstrated the strength in numbers as a result of reaching a consensus within the association.
With licensing passed into law in 2011, the PPIAC Licensing Chair introduced a bill in 2012 to bring the Colorado DPPA in line with the Federal DPPA. That bill quickly made its way through the legislature and was passed into law. PPIAC is currently working with the Department of Regulatory Agencies to implement the licensing rules and other details of the program, which is scheduled to begin July 1, 2012.
Through this process, I’ve taken away several important lessons. The first is that sometimes life presents you with challenges that at the time may seem extremely difficult and even insurmountable. I admit I wondered if the Licensing Committee had the time and planning necessary to introduce a licensing bill in time for the 2011 legislative session. However, how was I to know if PPIAC could succeed if it did not try? I also learned that sometimes the answers to life’s problems are right in front of you. It was, after all, the Colorado investigators who were voluntarily licensed in other states gave PPIAC the indication that a voluntary license could be successful in Colorado. I also came to understand why PPIAC’s lobbyist said it’s easier to kill a bill than it is to pass a bill. He also mentioned once you establish relationships with legislators, you have to maintain those relationships and hence the momentum. PPIAC’s legislative efforts provided me the opportunity to take away reminders to some of life’s valuable lessons. As investigators and as human beings, whether we consciously realize it or not, we are lifelong learners. These experiences showed that our association and profession is comprised of individuals that are willing to work hard to make a difference in the future of our profession and our businesses.