The Colorado legislature passed and sent to Gov. Jared Polis more than 450 bills during the session that ended May 3.
It will take weeks for Polis and his staff to review and decide whether to sign all of those bills, many of which were passed in the last few days of the session.
Scores of those Polis has already signed or will be reviewing will impact Colorado businesses.
Some much-talked-about bills did not pass, or passed in very different forms than their original proposals.
The Business Journal asked two local legislators and three groups representing businesses to review what they thought were the most significant bills affecting businesses. Here’s what they said.
SALES AND USE TAXES
Colorado’s new rules on collection of sales and use taxes were a recurring theme throughout the session, said Rep. Marc Snyder, D-Dist. 18.
Following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the door to new revenue sources for states, municipalities and other taxing jurisdictions, the Colorado Department of Revenue announced a new policy that would require retailers who sell products in Colorado to begin collecting and remitting sales taxes as of March 31.
The department later postponed implementation of the rules after businesses said they were too complex and burdensome to implement quickly, and the department postponed compliance through May 31.
“Colorado has 721 separate taxing districts, including schools, library and fire districts,” Snyder said.
The legislature made two efforts to address the issue, said Snyder, who serves on the House Finance Committee and Business Affairs and Labor Committee.
“We authorized a study from the Department of Revenue to come up with a one-click stop,” he said. “So if you’re a retailer who’s located here in the Springs and you want to sell in Aspen, we want to have a system where that retailer can just click on the address and it will give you all of the relevant amount of tax that you need to charge for that product. But we’re not there yet.”
Senate Bill 6 requires the Department of Revenue and Office of Information Technology to come up with a simplified system.
“In the interim, we have cobbled together a bridge program that will get us to that point,” Snyder said.
House Bill 1240 provides that businesses that do less than $100,000 worth of commerce in the state will remain under the old system temporarily, he said.
“Larger concerns — whether they’re in-state or out-of-state — will be operating under the new system,” Snyder said. “They’ll have to find out where they’re shipping the product and what the tax is there. They can go to the Department of Revenue’s website, but it is still cumbersome, and we are very aware that it is not very business-conducive, but we’re hoping to get to a better place.”
These were “significant steps forward to supporting small businesses” in complying with the regulations, said Hunter Railey, Colorado director of The Small Business Majority, an organization that lobbies on behalf of small-business owners.
He added, however, that “we still have a long way to go to bring sales taxes into the modern era.”
OTHER MAJOR BILLS
FAMLI and Secure Savings bills: Paid family leave was another much-talked-about topic during the session.
“There were real problems with the original bill,” which would have assessed money on employers and employees to build an insurance fund, Snyder said. “It would have been a billion-dollar enterprise after a couple of years.”
The bill also expanded the definition of family to include “anyone you have a close relationship with” and allowed 12 weeks off with pay, plus an extension in some cases, he said.
“That was real tough for businesses,” Snyder said. “If somebody’s going to take 12 weeks off, come back and have their job waiting for them, what’s the business supposed to do? There were just too many unknowns and open-ended questions.”
Ultimately the bill was struck and rewritten. As passed, SB 188 requires the Department of Labor and Employment to create a task force to study implementation of a paid family and medical leave program for the state, including costs.
Rachel Beck, vice president for government affairs at the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, noted that appointments to the task force will be made by July 1.
“Our work now is making sure the work of the task force is thorough and fair,” Beck said. “We want to make sure we have really qualified people with expertise participating in this study.”
Senate Bill 173 authorizes a detailed feasibility study of creating a state retirement savings plan to promote greater retirement savings for private-sector employees.
“Roughly half of the people in the state don’t have retirement accounts,” Railey said. “This would give those folks access to a retirement account and make small businesses more competitive, giving them a cheap or free way to offer retirement plans.”
Beck said the chamber “has had some concerns about how the program has been suggested in the past. We’re pleased to see the study will happen first.”
Equal Pay for Equal Work: Senate Bill 85 provides guidelines for assuring women are paid equally with men for the same work.
Among other things, the bill requires employers to announce advancement opportunities, job openings and pay ranges and prohibits them from seeking the wage history of a prospective employee and relying on a previous wage to determine pay rate.
It provides some exceptions to the prohibition against a wage differential based on sex, including seniority, a merit system, education or experience, and a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality.
“A lot of our members are grateful for these guidelines,” said Debra Brown, executive director of Good Business Colorado, an organization whose 150 members are triple-bottom-line businesses. “It will provide us with a road map to make sure we’re not unintentionally exacerbating the pay gap.”
Snyder said he had concerns about the initially introduced version of the bill, which “had a six-year lookback and did an end run around processes that we already had in place and went straight to court. … If you have intentional wage discrimination based on gender, we actually do a pretty good job.”
Wage discrimination cases will go through the state Civil Rights Division first, and the legislature addressed many of the provisions that were concerning to employers, Snyder said.
“We think it was improved, but it remains to be seen how it will play out in real life,” Beck said. “Will it improve pay for women? I hope so. Will it have adverse effects? I hope not, but it is another administrative burden on businesses.”
Local minimum wage: House Bill 1210 allows local jurisdictions to establish a minimum wage.
Snyder said while he usually is in favor of local control, he did not support this bill.
“It’s really about Denver,” Snyder said. “It’s so bustling right now and has a lot of fast-food and service jobs that pay minimum wage that’s not a living wage.”
Snyder said he thought the change was not needed in the majority of the state.
Colorado already has a minimum wage of $11.10 per hour, which will increase to $12 in January 2020.
“If we want to address the minimum wage, let’s address the schedule we set two years back,” Snyder said.
Beck said the minimum wage bill is likely to have unintended consequences and raises questions including how businesses on different sides of a jurisdictional boundary would compete; how franchises and chains that would have to pay employees where they were physically doing business would cope; and how delivery drivers who cross boundaries would be affected.
“It could be a potential nightmare,” she said.
Oil and gas: Senate Bill 181 allows cities and counties to regulate oil and gas development to minimize adverse impacts on public safety, health, noise and the environment.
The law enables localities to enact regulations and impose fines for leaks, spills and emissions. It also allows an oil and gas operator to request a technical review of a local government’s determination on its application to operate.
“We’re concerned about the effects on the state’s economy, but it’s not an industry that’s here in the Pikes Peak region,” Beck said.
Polis signed the bill into law last month, and its opponents have already started ballot proposals to repeal it. After a recall effort was launched against Rep. Rochelle Galindo, D-Greeley, who voted for the bill, Galindo resigned for unspecified reasons.
Senate Bill 196, the Colorado Quality Apprentice Training Act, “basically requires the state when bidding contracts to adhere to … federal rules that require payment to apprentices, the inclusion of apprentices on jobs, and training of apprentices,” said Sen. Pete Lee, D-Dist. 11.
The bill also requires laborers on state contracts to be paid at the prevailing wage rate.
“What this will do is create a whole cadre of new skilled workers” and help to close the skilled labor gap, said Lee, a sponsor of the bill.
Lee said adoption of the federal rules was proposed by a contractor and that details were hammered out by representatives of the Associated General Contractors and Colorado Contractors Association.
Lee said the legislature passed a number of bills to finance education; “ultimately those are business bills because we need to have an educated workforce in Colorado.”
The legislature passed $174 million to implement full-day kindergarten in the 2019-20 school year. Legislators also gave school districts an additional $100 million, rural school districts $20 million more, and an extra $22 million to address needs of students with disabilities.
In the criminal justice area, in which Lee has long been involved, House Bill 1275 makes it easier for people to seal criminal records under certain conditions.
“We heard from people that were offense-free for years and years and still were prevented from getting housing and employment,” Lee said. “I read that if a person goes offense-free for seven years, they are no more likely to commit another offense than you or me.”
“We did lot of things with the idea of providing opportunities for people in Colorado,” Lee said. “That’s what underlies our work.”