DENVER – Today, the Colorado business community heard firsthand from leaders of the Colorado General Assembly on their plans, priorities and predictions for the year. The 2022 Business Legislative Preview presented by Fidelity Investments provides a unique platform for both parties to discuss directly with the business community what lies ahead for the legislative session. The event is often considered the unofficial launch to the legislative session, which kicks off Wednesday.
Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO J. J. Ament was joined by Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg (D-Boulder), House Speaker Alec Garnett (D-Denver), Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert (R-Douglas County) and House Minority Leader Hugh McKean (R-Loveland). Ed Sealover, Denver Business Journal reporter, moderated the conversation. Mark Spiecker, Denver Metro Chamber board chair, and Jenny Engle, senior director, government relations and public affairs for Fidelity Investments, also spoke.
“We know that Colorado is strong and resilient. We came together for solutions as the pandemic rocked our businesses and communities, and that’s why we’re poised to rebound more quickly than other states. Though we are not without our challenges,” Ament told the audience of about 300 business and legislative leaders at the Denver Art Museum’s new Sturm Grand Pavilion.
Ament cited Colorado’s rank for employment growth among the states falling from sixth in 2019 to 17th in 2020, according to Toward a More Competitive Colorado, the annual competitiveness report from the Chamber’s Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. Colorado also dropped from the 11th friendliest state for business to 29th in just one cycle of CNBC’s Top States for Business Rating.
Lawmakers said their focus this legislative session is on three issues: making Colorado more affordable, increasing public safety and improving our education system.
“If we come out of this legislative session and cannot say we’ve made things better for the families of this state and made things better to be durable over time, then we have failed,” Rep. McKean said.
One of the key challenges for lawmakers will be finding solutions to pay off the $1 billion loan from the federal government to make the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund solvent again. Solutions have ranged from allocating $600 million from this year’s budget to making a one-time $2 billion payment from a range of sources, including federal funding. Without support from lawmakers, employers would alone bear the burden to repay that debt, which is a direct tax on employment and works against efforts to create more jobs.
“I like (the legislature) solving the problem, not putting it on the backs of employers,” Sen. Holbert said.
Transportation will once again be an issue during the 2022 Legislative Session, even following the passage of Senate Bill 260 last year, which created $5.4 billion in new funding for transportation infrastructure. This year, legislators are considering introducing a bill that would be similar to the Employee Traffic Reduction Program that the Air Quality Control Commission considered this past summer. The original program would have required employers to hire staff to monitor, track and regulate which of their employees could drive their own car to work on which day.
Sen. Fenberg said lawmakers are focused on incentives for employers and their employees to take other forms of transportation to work.
“Transportation is one of the leading, if not the biggest, cause of our emissions problems,” Sen. Fenberg said. “We want people to have choices rather than always driving.”
Legislation originally introduced last year through Senate Bill 176 that would have redefined workplace harassment was also a topic for the panel. The Chamber had significant concerns that the untested and subjective new legal standards established in the bill would have resulted in a wave of increased litigation and costs for companies. Rep. Garnett said he’s optimistic that both sides of the debate can find common ground.
“Everyone in the business community believes that people shouldn’t have to worry about harassment in the workplace,” Rep. Garnett said. “I don’t think both sides are as far apart as has been portrayed up to this point.”
Lawmakers also discussed a bill that would allow public sector employees to unionize and possibly jeopardize the state’s carefully crafted Labor Peace Act. While Sen. Holbert and Rep. McKean voiced concerns about the possible legislation, Rep. Garnett vowed that no repeal of the Labor Peace Act would take place while he is speaker of the House.
Ament closed with a simple ask of the legislature as we head into the session Wednesday.
“Let’s work together to create opportunity for Coloradans. Let’s support entrepreneurs and innovation. Let’s continue the work of bringing good jobs to our communities, helping businesses thrive and keeping people employed, and returning to our workforce those who’ve left,” Ament said. “We stand ready to be partners in those efforts with you – and commit to being candid when some good intentions meet the economic realities of today’s semi-post pandemic economy.”
Follow the 2022 Legislative Session with the Chamber. Visit denverchamber.org/policy/current-state-legislation.
About the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce
For 154 years, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce has been a leading voice for Colorado’s business community. With a membership that spans the state, the Chamber is an effective advocate for small and large businesses. The Chamber’s family of organizations includes the Metro Denver EDC, the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation, the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, the Colorado Competitive Council, B:CIVIC, Prosper Colorado and the Denver Opportunity Youth Initiative. For more information, go to denverchamber.org.
About the Colorado Competitive Council (C3): The Colorado Competitive Council (C3), a part of the Denver Metro Chamber family of organizations, provides direct lobbying and advocacy at the Colorado State Capitol and supports like-minded organizations that are dedicated to the mission of enhancing Colorado’s economy. For more information, go to coloradocompetes.org.