Let’s be honest – time flies, and we only have 25 days left in the 120-day legislative session. We know you have been hearing a lot from us about the session, and frankly we are thrilled that we have been hearing so much from you about proposed legislation. We want to keep you up-to-date on some of the priority issues we’re all watching closely:
Family and medical leave (FAMLI). A few weeks ago, dozens of our members raised concerns to legislators about Senate Bill 188, which would create a state-run family and medical leave program funded by a $1 billion payroll tax. Bill sponsors ultimately delayed their vote to allow more time for negotiation based on testimony and emails from members of the business community. And, the sheer number of amendments provides insight into how many issues there are with this bill – more than 40 amendments have been drafted. Even with amendments, we remain concerned about how this program would negatively impact all of us as employees. For employers who are Chamber members, you are providing much richer benefits than this proposal for your teams; employees pay very little to have those benefits (because you are covering the cost); and we are all confident the benefit will be there when you employee needs to take that time off. This bill changes all of that. It provides a lower benefit for the vast majority of employees. And, we still haven’t seen an actuarial analysis (you know, the financial review that ensures the money will be there when you need it). So, it’s easy to see why we are saying, for the sake of the 3.1 million employees in the state, no – you have to make sure you get this one right. The Senate Finance Committee will hear the bill again Tuesday. Read more about our concerns in the Denver Business Journal.
Oil and gas legislation. Senate Bill 181, a bill that creates more local control in regulating the oil and gas industry in Colorado, is headed to the governor’s desk for his signature following 34 amendments over the course of the debate at the Capitol. While we still have concerns about this bill and don’t support it, we do want to acknowledge the work of legislators who met with the industry on the potential impacts of this bill and sought input from a broad range of views. This process resulted in some key amendments being adopted prior to the bill’s passage, including ensuring that fines, fees, setback distances and other regulations are reasonable – something we asked for when testifying on the bill last month. Another key amendment changes the current makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and will shift it from a volunteer body to a professional body in 2020, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. However, the amendment that would have prevented overreach by the COGCC and not expanded the power given to the director to indefinitely delay permits was defeated. The greatest challenge we face in discussions about this bill is that we don’t agree with the premise that we can’t produce energy, both fossil fuels and renewables, and protect our environment and our health. We also recognize how important and valuable these jobs are – jobs that are the foundation of the economy in some of our counties like Weld, Mesa and Garfield – and these jobs are improving the health and educational outcomes for every child whose parent has one.
Minimum wage. In 2016, Colorado voters adopted an amendment to our state constitution that sets one minimum wage for the entire state. Yet, House Bill 1210 would repeal a prohibition that prevents towns, cities and counties from setting a minimum wage for their jurisdiction, higher than the state and federal minimum wage. We don’t think that the legislature should overturn the will of Colorado voters. We don’t think there is any policy rationale for a higher minimum wage just across the street in the metro area. We also think it’s short-sighted to only consider wages when we explore how to ensure our workforce is able to thrive in Colorado – it’s why we have committed to working on a broad and shared community initiative that will examine the challenges some may face in accessing the economic opportunities we have and develop strategies that overcome those barriers and allow more Coloradans to see the direct benefits of our economic success. We’ll want our members to be part of that effort, so stay tuned for more to come in the next several months.
We’ll end the update on a positive note: more opportunities for education. Last week, we supported three bills aimed at helping students access more opportunities – through more ways to participate in apprenticeships; making credits for concurrent enrollment transferable across Colorado colleges and universities; and allowing students to receive credit when they show competencies that they may have learned from real-world work experience. We must get every student to and through some level of post-secondary education to maintain the competitive advantage we’ve built with our smart, healthy workforce – and we think these bills can help do just that.
If you didn’t get enough in this update, you can stay close to action: follow the session with us!
Kelly Brough is the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber.