What can be said about the recently ended session of the Colorado General Assembly other than “what the heck was that?” In point of fact, with the “pandemic pause” the session was really two separate sessions and many of us in the business community across the state were just thankful it did not go the full 120 days. It was anything but a business-friendly session and the final three weeks featured major bills with major consequences for businesses and little to no stakeholder involvement. The Grand Junction Area Chamber along with other business organizations across the state tried to no avail to convince lawmakers that with our businesses and our economy in a fragile state this was no time to increase fees and mandates. The best we were able to achieve were amendments that made some of the legislation “less bad”.
First to the bright spots:
- Rural Jump Start (HB20-1003) was reauthorized for five more years with some modifications that will make it even easier to use the tax benefits allowed within the program to recruit new companies and incentivize existing companies to innovate and create new product lines. Mesa County has been a leader in using the program.
- A new Small Business Recovery Loan Program is being created (HB20-1413) that will supply millions of dollars of needed capital and operating assistance to our struggling main street business through funding provided by the private sector and the state
- SB20-216, a bill that would have presumed a worker who contracts COVID did so on the job was defeated. The consequences of this bill would have added at a minimum over $1 billion dollars to workers compensation premiums
- SCR20-001, a resolution that refers the Gallagher Amendment to the November ballot. The amendment which ironically was called the tax fairness amendment when it was added in the 1980s has shifted the property tax burden to commercial properties, which now pay four times as much tax as residential properties with the same valuation.
Now to the “not as bad as they could have been but still bad”:
- SB20-205 requires that all employers provide paid sick leave to their employees starting Jan. 1, 2021, accruing one hour for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 48 hours. However, the bill was amended late to allow a phase in period for small employers with 15 or less employees and clarifies that paid time off by employers that meet or exceed the mandate and allows for the same purposes is sufficient to fulfill the mandate.
- SB20-207 makes changes to unemployment insurance by reducing cuts in benefits if an individual receives some income and expanding reasons an individual may qualify for unemployment insurance. It also originally created a new definition for who was considered an independent contractor for the purpose of unemployment insurance which was later stripped from the bill.
- HB20-1420 would have eliminated various tax credits for businesses dealing them another blow at a time of economic crisis. Fortunately, after much outcry from our Chamber and others, the bill was dramatically scaled back.
And the just plain BAD:
- SB20-215 creates an enterprise to assess a fee on health insurance carriers and hospitals in order to fund the state’s reinsurance program. In addition to paying for the reinsurance program, the funds would be used for expanded services and programs not included in the initial reinsurance program. That fee will be passed on to small businesses through increased premium costs for group plans.
- No action on a business liability protection measure. While many business groups including our Chamber called on the Legislature to offer some protection to businesses from civil action related to the pandemic, the Senate leadership would not grant late bill status to the measure and allow it to be introduced.
Early indications are that many of the legislative priorities not acted upon due to the shortened session such as the public option for health care and changes to the state’s modified approach to labor relations will be back quickly when the new session convenes early next year. Now, more than ever, the Chamber takes its mission to be the voice of business very seriously. We will continue to work hard to ensure our member’s views are heard loud and clear at the Capitol-it’s the only way that good policy can be made and that job creators can recover and build a strong economy for the future.