Colorado had been one of a handful of states without mandatory private investigator licensing, and in Colorado that had been the situation since 1977. This changed on June 1, 2015 when mandatory licensing went into effect, after the PI licensing bill passed during the 2014 legislative session. That is the backstory as we sit here today, almost five years into the program.
The entity that has oversight of this program in Colorado is the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) and with this program set to sunset in September of 2020, it brings a review to see if the program is still necessary. This review and recommendation from DORA was made public on October 15, 2019 and they recommended to discontinue the program citing very few incidents of bad actors in the profession. In order to understand how wrong this recommendation is, you have to go back to the legislative session of 2014, when mandatory PI licensing was only a bill being heard by the Colorado legislature. During those sessions the legislature was provided with numerous bad actors who were in the profession or claimed to be PIs. These bad actors, as well as the need for consumer protection was the reason this bill passed and made into the current law.
Up until that time, being an unlicensed state meant any PI with a criminal history who was not able to get licensed in another state or was barred from practicing in a licensed state, could come to Colorado and set up shop with just a business card. Our citizens had no way of vetting the person, and just simply took a leap of faith that the person presenting themselves as a PI was honorable and not a scam artist. Today the consumer simply needs to log onto the web site for DORA and can vet a licensed PI, or in turn find out the person is not legally licensed. This also gives the consumer a place to report a PI who is acting inappropriately. With licensing comes the requirement that the PI has a $10,000 surety bond, which is another protection for the consumer. These assurances are in place for the Colorado consumer and DORA’s own report in October of 2019, states a lack of bad actors. Yet DORA has recommended to end the program??
A new bill has been introduced into the 2020 legislative session to continue the program and during the hearings for this bill, DORA was asked the obvious question. You mean to tell me there were bad actors before licensing was mandatory and now you say there are minimal bad actors, suggesting the program is working, and you want to discontinue the program? The state representative who asked that question, signed on to become a co-sponsor of the bill to continue PI licensing at the end of that meeting.
Colorado has a unique structure in that a program like private investigator licensing can receive no (ZERO) general funds from the state or taxpayer dollars. Therefore, the program has to be self-sustaining through the licensing fees. Since Colorado had not had any licensing for 37 years, it was unknown how many PIs there were working in the state. DORA initially came out with an estimate the first year of 400 and set the fees appropriately so 400 licensees would share the cost of running the program evenly. However, five years into the program there are now over 1000 licensed Colorado private investigators, which reduces the fees significantly for each licensee. In fact, DORA just posted the renewal fees for the licenses of June 1, 2020 at $16. Yes, the cost of a few cups of coffee is what it costs the Colorado licensed private investigator to renew their license.
The current bill that was working its way through the Colorado legislature, before the COVID-19 pandemic, has bipartisan support in both the House of Representatives and the State Senate.
In summary, Colorado had bad actors before mandatory licensing and has minimal bad actors now. Colorado had ZERO consumer protection before mandatory licensing and now the consumer has a very easy way to vet a private investigator, a way to file a complaint, as well as protections against any financial wrong doing by a problematic PI, by going after their bond. There are 2½ times more investigators licensed than anticipated, and every year the fees have gone down because of that growing number of licensees, to $16 for a renewal in 2020. And DORA has recommended to discontinue the program.
Government oversight at its best!!