In what already feels like the longest year ever, the seemingly interminable 2020 legislative session finally gaveled to a close on Monday night. After making it more than half-way through a regular (if ambitious) session with major leadership priorities dominating the agenda, it abruptly came a halt in mid-March as the Legislature temporarily adjourned just before Governor Polis’ stay-at-home orders came down.
The recess lasted over two months. The Legislature returned for a roughly one-month pandemic session to deal with must-pass legislation like the FY2020-21 state budget, the school finance act and other mission critical bills. The legislative leadership quickly dispatched most of the roughly 350 bills that remained on the calendar from March, saying only those that were “fast, friendly and free” could move forward.
That mantra, however, quickly fell by the wayside upon introduction of a large legislative package to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The Governor and Legislature divvied up the $1.6 billion in federal CARES Act relief on important COVID-related expenses. But that package also included a number of bills aimed at the business community. Those bills either created new liabilities for, imposed new mandates on, or shifted government costs onto businesses – many of which have seen revenues fall even more than has the government.
For example, the Legislature created new mandates that employers offer paid sick leave to their employees (SB20-205) and provide employees access to a state-governed retirement plan (SB20-200). It created new liabilities for employers for whistleblower retaliation (HB20-1415) and price gouging during a declared emergency (HB20-1414). However, the most worrisome new business liability – creating a presumption that work comp should cover COVID-19 health care costs of many employees in the state – did not make it across the finish line (SB20-216). Lastly, the Legislature transferred some of its own revenue shortfalls to businesses through new taxes, such as a new tax on employer-sponsored health care plans to subsidize the individual market re-insurance program (SB20-215). The Legislature also proposed $350 million in new taxes for businesses by repealing or adjusting a number of tax credits and deductions. After a veto threat from the Governor and a general uprising by business groups, that bill was ultimately pared back to about $95 million, mostly in the next year, related to rejecting short term tax benefits provided by Congress in the CARES Act (HB20-1420).
Knowing that most of the bills in the COVID response legislative package had strong political will behind them to pass, it fell to the JCBL and other business lobbying groups to make the bills less costly and easier to administer so that businesses could at least live with them. And through dozens of amendments to these bills, we can say that we at least achieved that aim.
It is important to note that the pandemic forced the Legislature to abandon a number of bills opposed by the business community – and many we supported, too. Examples include the paid family and medical leave insurance program that has been controversial for years, as well as two bills that would have negative impact on Colorado’s already excessive construction defect litigation crisis.
The Jefferson County Business Lobby advocates as the unified voice of 3,000 Jefferson County businesses for public policies that strengthen our business climate. The JCBL is a partnership comprised of the Arvada, Evergreen, Golden, West Metro, Westminster and Wheat Ridge Chambers of Commerce, the Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation, the Applewood and Wheat Ridge Business Associations and the Alameda Connects BID.