In the two weeks since the legislative session resumed, the Chamber has weighed in on numerous bills, including sweeping roll-backs to tax relief policies, changes to how the reinsurance program is funded and a paid sick leave mandate.
We were optimistic during the short recess that legislators would be motivated to help businesses during this challenging time. Now, we are concerned that the collective cost impact of several bills will put even more stress and burden on already-struggling employers as legislators rush to pass key legislation before the session ends as early as this Friday.
Making Progress with Important Amendments
The Chamber has been working hard on amendments to numerous bills that were accepted over the last couple of weeks. Our team works closely with our members and lobbyists to understand the impacts of legislation, and even when we’re not successful in defeating bills we oppose, amendments can help lessen the blow of bad legislation. We’ve made significant progress on various pieces of legislation, including:
- Paid Sick Leave – The Chamber has a position of oppose unless amended on Senate Bill 205, which would require all employers provide paid sick leave to their employees starting Jan. 1, 2021. The bill would dictate how much and for what reasons employees would be covered. While the Chamber supports providing paid sick leave to employees, we must ensure that employers who are today providing these types of benefits are recognized as meeting the bill’s requirements. Lawmakers have already accepted several amendments, including the removal of an expanded definition of family member, but we’re still working on ensuring those businesses that currently offer paid leave but under different terms and conditions are exempted from the mandate.
- Unemployment Insurance – The Chamber has a position of oppose unless amended on Senate Bill 207, which would make several changes including doubling the percentage of wages for calculating unemployment deductions to 50% for two calendar years. Amendments have been accepted to strike a troubling definition of independent contractor, but we are continuing to work on amendments in hopes we can delay the surcharge and ensure federal funds are exhausted before we charge businesses more.
- Workers’ Compensation – The Chamber opposes Senate Bill 216, which would establish a presumption that an essential worker with COVID-19 contracted the virus at work. Unlike other presumptions, which are typically limited to a small subset of workers, this presumption is expansive and includes many employees who do not regularly have sustained physical contact with individuals confirmed to have COVID-19. We’ve been successful in getting amendments that would reduce the burden of proof employers need to overcome the presumption to the standard level for workers’ compensation claims but we continue to oppose the bill as it will result in raising costs for Colorado businesses when they can least afford it.
- Whistleblower – The Chamber has a position of oppose unless amended on House Bill 1415. This bill would prohibit employers from discriminating or taking adverse action against a worker who raises concerns about a workplace violation of health and safety rules related to a public health emergency. It would also allow workers to take civil action against the employer. Our concern with this legislation is that it creates a new, expanded definition for worker for the purposes of whistleblower protection and includes independent contractors in certain situations. Different definitions for these common terms in various pieces of legislation cause confusion for employers and employees alike. Many of our specific concerns about this legislation have been addressed through amendments, including requiring the exhaustion of administrative remedies before a worker can file a civil lawsuit. However, issues remain with the expanded inclusion of independent contractors.
Legislators also introduced Senate Bill 215, a bill that would assess a fee on health insurance carriers and hospitals in order to fund the state’s reinsurance program. The reinsurance program’s funding was cut as part of the Joint Budget Committee’s efforts to reduce the state budget by $3.3 billion. The funds that would result from this legislation would not only pay for the program in its current form but also expand services, including:
- Providing state subsidies for individual health coverage plans.
- Providing payments to carriers to “increase affordability” of individual health insurance.
- Covering the administrative costs for implementation.
- Funding consumer enrollment, outreach and education programs for the state’s health insurance exchange.
The Chamber took a position of oppose shortly after its introduction, as the bill simply shifts costs from the individual market to the fully insured market, a market comprised of small and medium-sized businesses. Carriers would be forced to pass on the new fee to employers in the form of premium increases, which businesses cannot afford during this challenging time. Rather than just picking up the state’s share of reinsurance funding, the bill also aims to create additional revenue for a variety of other programs on the backs of the businesses. The Chamber, along with our affiliate the Colorado Competitive Council, submitted comments to bill sponsors, asking them to reconsider advancing this legislation.
HB20-1420 Will Drive Up Cost of Doing Business in Colorado
Lawmakers introduced a sweeping tax bill in an effort to close the budget gap, but the legislation would slow economic recovery for Colorado and hurt employers of every size, including sole proprietors and small businesses. House Bill 1420 would eliminate tax cuts in the CARES Act and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 as well as limit other deductions employers and employees currently have access to.
After being introduced on Monday, the bill was heard Tuesday in House Finance. Sam Bailey, vice president of economic development for the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, a member of the Chamber family, spoke in opposition of the bill at the hearing. “This will delay our economic recovery. It makes absolutely no sense to close a budget gap by slowing the very engine that puts Coloradans to work and in return generates tax revenue,” Bailey said. Read the full testimony. The bill passed on a party line vote of 7-4 and was referred to House Appropriations.
This afternoon, the Chamber sent an action alert to members, urging them to reach out to their legislators to demand they oppose this devastating bill.
These are just a few of the bills we weighed in on over the past couple of weeks. See a full list of the Chamber’s positions on legislation.