In the News

Sick-leave bill opens floodgates for complex late measures at Colorado Legislature

Source: Denver Business Journal

April 15, 2014, Ed Sealover

There are just 23 days remaining in this session of the Colorado Legislature. So, of course, it seems appropriate that some of the most long-awaited and complicated bills are just now being introduced — with legislative leaders promising there are more to arrive in the coming days.

For example, state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Commerce City, on Tuesday introduced his measure to set up a pooled sick-leave program for Colorado workers.

And then he acknowledged that the first hearing on the complex and controversial measure is likely to be on April 28 — a date that is just 10 days from the May 7 session adjournment, assuring that either he thinks this bill has a short life or believes he can speed it through at a hectic time.

Business groups like the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry immediately said they will offer vigorous opposition to Senate Bill 196, which would create a state-run system into which any worker in the state can pay fees and be able to take partially paid sick leave in the event of pregnancy or illness, even if their companies don’t offer paid sick leave.

While Ulibarri said it will help lower-income people who now must choose between getting paid or taking off to care for a sick child, CACI senior vice president Loren Furman has said it will create an administrative burden for companies and install a de facto mandate that all offer some form of sick leave.

But Ulibarri said he will need time to explain how the complex idea works and to try to figure out how to pay for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to run the program, even as bills with far smaller fiscal burdens are dying because they couldn’t fit into the budget.

And if he can find that funding, he’ll have 10 days to convince fellow legislators of the merits of his idea, which has been implemented in three other states.

“Every single voter I’ve talked to about this thinks it’s a good idea,” Ulibarri said. “The biggest challenge for us will be funding and understanding how this works. We’re so close to the end of the session, I think that will be the biggest barrier.”

Ulibarri is not alone with his complex late bill, though. Two other measures I wrote about as far back as January have been introduced since Friday:

• House Bill 1375, sponsored by House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, which gives counties and special districts more of a say in urban-renewal districts that siphon both city and county tax revenues to pay for infrastructure in redeveloping areas.

DelGrosso said that he wants to give these often-overlooked governments more power when their money is taken and that he doesn’t want to slow or stop the urban-renewal process. But city leaders and economic developers are nervous because they fear the changes could minimize what is one of the most successful incentives they have to bring dilapidated neighborhoods back to life.

• Senate Bill 187, sponsored by Sens. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, and Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, creates a Colorado commission on affordable health care and tasks the commission to focus on evidence-based cost controls and access and quality of care.

Aguilar had said back in December that she was planning to offer up such a plan and that while she didn’t expect the commission specifically would target hospitals, “I think we’ll get there.”

But wait, there’s more. Some bills that have been hanging in the balance haven’t even been introduced yet, with just three weeks to go. Those include:

  • A workers’ compensation reform measure that sponsoring Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, continues to say is coming, even though business officials close to the negotiations over the bill say it’s been watered down so much from its controversial original premise that they may not offer serious opposition to it.
  • A potential bill to increase local control over oil and gas regulations that House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, has alluded to several times this session without specifying whether it will be introduced for sure.
  • A long-awaited bill to reform construction defect law or to offer state incentives for condominium building in order to spur the growth of that housing sector — a bill Ulibarri said last month that he still planned to introduce.

All of this means that a session that has been a slow one for business at times could become a whirlwind of important bills that sponsors are trying to jam through the process between now and May 7.