As you all saw, the legislature reconvened the session on May 26 after an emergency recess due to COVID-19. Late yesterday, the 2020 session formally came to a close. Whew! We were told legislation would be “fast, free and friendly” during the few weeks we were back in session, but that isn’t how we would describe our experience. Legislators rushed through numerous ideas and substantial legislation – some related to COVID-19 and many with no connection to the pandemic at all. Our full report of the session will be featured in our upcoming State of the State event on Monday – you can register here. Here’s a quick preview of how we ended up on a few key issues:
- Senate Bill 216 would have established a presumption that an essential worker with COVID-19 automatically contracted the virus at work. Yes, no consideration of the many places an employee might contract the virus and no legal review or proof required as used in other situations to determine if an employer is liable. After weeks of negotiation and sharing with legislators very specific concerns about the scope of coverage and precedent it set, the bill was postponed indefinitely – a positive outcome for all employers. But it is the only extended session bill we were able to defeat during the final weeks of the session.
- Senate Bill 205 is a mandate that all employers provide 48 hours of sick leave to employees annually. The vast majority of our members provide paid leave to employees and understand the importance of employees staying home when they are sick, so our primary concern with this bill was to ensure that employers are given the flexibility to administer these benefits in a way that’s best for their workplaces. We were successful in getting multiple amendments added to the bill, including limiting the definition of family, changing the standard of evidence to be more consistent with other laws for employers to prove they’re providing paid sick leave, allowing employers to use their own notification systems whether verbal, via email or through time-and-attendance software, and providing a delay in implementation for small businesses. While the amendments we were able to get adopted help, we know some employers will still face challenges aligning with the new standard.
- Senate Bill 207 increases unemployment insurance contributions from employers. We were able to negotiate that definitions for employees be consistent with other laws and reduce the financial impact on employers by delaying the implementation of a surcharge and extending the timeframe in which increases to the taxable wage base will occur.
- Senate Bill 215 initially would have assessed a fee on insurance carriers to fund the state’s reinsurance program and other health care-related expenses. The bill received strong opposition from us, and we, along with carriers, shared concerns that the fee would impact employers and employees in the business community in the form of premium increases. We signed on to a letter, testified and directly lobbied legislators. Legislators heard those concerns and reduced the amount of the fee and limited the authority of the board.
- House Bill 1415 is legislation related to whistleblowers. This was another bill we successfully got amended to require administrative remedies be exhausted before allowing workers to file a civil lawsuit, implement definitions consistent with other laws for employee and employer and set a statute of limitation of two years to file a complaint with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
- Perhaps the bill that most aggressively risked economic recovery was House Bill 1420. It began as a sweeping tax bill introduced just last week. The bill is the poster child of how short-term strategies can actually slow longer-term, more sustainable economic recovery. The goal of the bill was to raise revenue and close the state’s budget gap. Frankly, that’s a challenge many employers in our state are facing – reducing expenditures to keep their organization’s financially viable as revenue has significantly declined. The focus of House Bill 1420 was to eliminate the tax cuts in the CARES Act and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 and limit other deductions employers and employees currently take.
These changes would indeed increase revenue in the short term for the state but would hurt employers of every size, slowing their ability to rehire the 540,000 employees who have lost their jobs since the pandemic hit, reducing confidence in a strong recovery and removing much needed cash for those employers to ride out the economic impacts they are managing. The fastest way to rebuild and stabilize the state’s budget is to get people back to work – this has to be our top priority. Coloradans are taxpayers but only when they have jobs earning them income from which they can pay taxes. Our Chamber members helped ensure the legislature understood your concerns through the nearly 200 emails you sent to legislators, media coverage, testimony and multiple meetings with bill sponsors. And, it worked – legislators dialed back the negative impacts of this legislation significantly.
Relationship-Building During Recess Begins Now
The past three weeks have been a whirlwind of negotiation and teamwork from the business community. We’re grateful to our members who shared compelling stories of how legislation could negatively impact them and their employees. We value the partnership and close working relationship we share with so many business organizations throughout the state. We appreciate being heard at the capitol and the willingness of legislators to amend key bills. While the legislature may technically be in recess, our work isn’t. We are committed to continuing our efforts to strengthen our relationships with policymakers.
Through it all, our goal remains steadfastly clear – help employers keep employees on payroll, because good jobs change lives. For individuals, good jobs provide the pay and benefits that allow families to buy homes, begin building wealth and save for a future. As a result, children’s health and education outcomes improve. On the community level, good jobs build an economy that supports our nonprofit and public sectors, so we have safety nets for our community and investments in our future infrastructure and educational needs. Good jobs are the foundation we had before this pandemic and will be the way we rebound from this time stronger and faster than ever.
Kelly Brough is the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber.