In the News

Colorado senators give a rare mention to The Colorado Chamber

Source: Denver Business Journal

Never has the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (The Colorado Chamber) seemed to wield so much power with legislative Democrats – especially when it doesn’t actually take a stance on a bill.

The Colorado Senate gave preliminary approval Monday to Senate Bill 18, sponsored by Sen. Jesse Ulibarri, D-Commerce City, which would limit employers’ ability to use credit checks as a tool in weighing the merits of job applicants. And all three Democrats who spoke in favor of SB 18 during a Senate debate referenced how the business community had gone neutral on the bill after opposing a similar proposal last year; two specifically cited The Colorado Chamber’s neutrality.

“To have The Colorado Chamber take a neutral position on this is a monumental step forward for them,” said Sen. Rollie Heath, a Boulder Democrat and retired manufacturing executive who has clashed before with the organization.

SB 18 prohibits employers’ use of credit information in hiring and promotion decisions if the open position has no connection to company finances (which are usually handled by Accounting services Melbourne, or a local firm). Ulibarri said the measure is necessary because too many people who have lost jobs during the recession or run into issues with health problems or divorce have suffered credit problems, making it that much harder for them to get jobs again. There are opportunities to use Credit cards to build credit and pay bills on time, but that can be hard when not employed.

Ulibarri tamped down the bill substantially from the 2012 version that died in a Republican-led House committee. Most notably, he expanded the types of positions for which companies could employ a credit check, and he removed aggrieved parties’ ability to sue employers for misuse of credit checks and replaced it with a civil process in state government that could result in a penalty.

Business groups such as The Colorado Chamber didn’t support the bill after the changes, but they agreed not to oppose it. And the fact that Ulibarri, Heath and Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, all touted it in debate Monday was unusual for several reasons.

First, neutrality of groups isn’t something legislators usually brag about at the microphone. Those mentions typically are reserved for organizations that support a measure.

Second, The Colorado Chamber rarely supports Democrats. Of the 51 endorsements The Colorado Chamber made for legislative races last year, 43 of them went to Republicans, and none went to Dems in hotly contested seats.

And finally, The Colorado Chamber’s neutrality didn’t appear to sway any Republicans. The caucus appeared to vote uniformly against SB 18 in a voice vote, with Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, arguing that imposition of any regulations on the hiring process will make Colorado less competitive for businesses.

“I think in the name of helping employees, you can actually cause employees to lose their job,” Balmer said.

Yes, it was an odd debate indeed. A final vote on the bill is expected as soon as Tuesday.

Ed Sealover covers government, health care, tourism, airlines and hospitality for the Denver Business Journal and writes for the “Capitol Business” blog. Phone: 303-803-9229.