Looking Back at the 2019 Legislative Session

The 2019 Colorado legislative session officially adjourned on Friday after a final week of all-night committee meetings, hearings and floor readings. It marked the close of a particularly challenging 120-day legislative session for the business community. At the end of the session, we found ourselves struggling to reconcile the fact that while we were successful in changing some particularly concerning bills, we were also exhausted and discouraged by what it took to get those changes.

We actually share many goals that our legislators wanted to achieve this session. We, too, want to:

  1. Reduce health care costs
  2. Fund critical priorities like education and transportation
  3. Ensure Colorado’s environment is protected and we continue to reduce our emissions
  4. Deliver the best quality of life for Colorado’s workforce.

What we learned was that despite these shared goals, we greatly differed in our approach regarding how we achieve them. And even though we so clearly shared a desired outcome, we had to fight hard for our perspective and solutions to be heard.

At the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, we recognize that opposing views are important and should be respected. We believe that listening to others helps mitigate the risk of unintended consequences and ensure we’re developing the best public policy solutions.  We fundamentally believe that all three sectors – private, public and nonprofit – must be successful for Colorado to thrive.

But this session forcefully reminded us those values are not shared by some legislators. We found ourselves fighting to share our perspective on bills that could have devasted our employees and their employers. And we felt pitted against our partners in other sectors and even saw efforts create division between employers and their employees and between sectors.

We didn’t take the bait and neither did our partners; because of it, we did experience some success. Senate Bill 188, the FAMLI leave bill, which initially would have created a $1 – $2 billion employee leave program administered by the state and funded by a payroll tax, was amended into a study. This came after weeks of feedback from Colorado’s employers and employees that highlighted serious concerns about the financial solvency of such a large, new government program. Governor Polis heard those concerns and echoed them to legislators, who ultimately took steps to further amend the bill into a study. We’re grateful for the Governor’s leadership, legislative leadership and our Chamber members, who all voiced substantive concerns with the program. The study will provide the time and data to assess what segments of Colorado’s workforce aren’t receiving these types of benefits and how best to deliver them.

FAMLI wasn’t the only place we experienced success. We were able to amend bills that would have negatively impacted the business community such as bills on equal pay, consumer protection, penalties for failure to pay wages and on criminal history inquiries in a job application. We worked hard with legislators to ensure the business community was represented and employee and employer needs were met. And, we were able to help kill two bills of grave concern on the calendar – one that would have changed our Labor Peace Act and another to authorize rent control, which research shows wouldn’t positively impact the very people it aims to help.

But there were other bills that passed that we remain critically concerned about. House Bill 1261, which sets goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, did pass in the final moments of the session. We were opposed to this bill and will be requesting a veto from Governor Polis. To be clear, as we said earlier, the Chamber isn’t opposed to the notion of setting goals, but we are opposed to arbitrary goals that aren’t substantiated with research, and we strongly oppose the delegation of the very tough trade-off choices that must be made as part of this bill to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission – an appointed, not elected, body – that doesn’t have the accountability to voters that the legislature does. All Coloradans will be impacted by policies aimed at addressing climate change, so we had hoped for amendments that would ensure Coloradans voices would be considered in developing the strategies by which these ambitious goals will be achieved.

Though the number of overall bills was slightly lower than recent sessions, this session had a higher risk of passage of harmful legislation and a greater degree and volume of amendments being sought than in recent years. That means many of these ideas had not been vetted and lacked the intellectual discipline Coloradans deserve when multi-billion-dollar ideas are being considered.

Our commitment remains as strong as ever to developing the trust necessary to ensure our member’s views are heard at the capitol for one reason – it’s the only way good policy can be made.

Kelly Brough is the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber.