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GRAND JUNCTION – Colorado Chamber President and CEO Loren Furman today delivered the keynote address at the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon, where she discussed the 2022 legislative session and the state’s business climate with Diane Schwenke, president of the Grand Junction Chamber.
“One of my priorities is to get around the different regions of Colorado and talk to employers in all four corners of the state,” Furman said. “The Grand Junction Chamber has been a member of ours since 1992, and Diane has been an incredible champion for businesses out here in Grand Junction. I have always believed that when chambers come together from all over the state, that is the strongest voice that we can have for business.”
The Grand Junction Chamber has been a strong partner of the Colorado Chamber’s for 30 years. The two organizations frequently collaborate on policy coalitions, grassroots campaigns for legislation, facilitating testimony at the General Assembly, and more.
Furman and Schwenke discussed their thoughts on where businesses stand after the legislative session. While leadership from both parties had similar messages and displayed some restraint, the cumulative policy impact of the last few years continues to be felt by the Colorado business community. And while legislators expressed a willingness to work with businesses to fix problematic bills, many still passed and were signed into law.
“At the end of the day, businesses came out in a worse situation than we were in January,” Schwenke said.
Furman also pointed to a trend of more policymaking happening at the administrative level rather than the legislative level.
“I think that’s a trend that has just gotten larger,” Schwenke agreed. “We as a chamber have adopted a guideline that says we fully believe in the separation of powers in government. We’re even seeing it to a certain extent at the national level.”
Furman discussed one of the Colorado Chamber’s top priorities this session – fighting for unemployment relief for businesses statewide. She led negotiations with legislators at the capitol to strike a $600 million deal to replenish the state’s bankrupt Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Without relief, employers were facing substantial premium increases beginning this year.
“We had to convince members of the majority party to support this proposal,” Furman said, while giving credit to Gov. Jared Polis for the work he did to get his party on board. “It took months, which is why this ended up being one of the last bills that was filed. There was not support initially to backfill the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.”
One of the most problematic bills this legislative session was HB 1244, which would have had sweeping impacts on companies with manufacturing or industrial operations in Colorado – affecting not only manufacturers, but also agricultural companies, energy companies and more. The Colorado Chamber led a statewide coalition against the proposal, which included the Grand Junction Chamber. Together, the coalition made more than 1,300 contacts with legislators in opposition to the bill. While the legislation ultimately passed on the second-to-last day of session, it was heavily improved with approximately 65 amendments to the bill.
“That was a very difficult one to work on,” Furman said.
Another major proposal that the Colorado and Grand Junction Chambers strongly engaged on together was the Employee Trip Reduction Program (ETRP), a failed regulatory effort from last year that resurfaced as a legislative effort. The bill, rebranded as the “Clean Commute” plan, again failed this year due to its mandate-based approach to reducing employee commutes.
“Legislators are looking out the window from downtown Denver and often don’t realize what the rest of the state is experiencing,” Schwenke said. “I understand that the Denver Metro area and the Front Range has an air quality problem, but we don’t. And yet we are subject to the exact same rules that get promulgated. You cannot make a one-size-fits-all rule, particularly when it comes to environmental compliance.”
Schwenke and Furman wrapped up with an overview of the political environment both statewide and in Mesa County. The Colorado Chamber engaged in primary elections for the first time this year, identifying pro-business candidates in both sides early to have a more meaningful impact on policymaking.
“We strongly believe in balance. We have to have balance,” Furman said.
The Colorado Chamber’s political action committee will be interviewing dozens of candidates in the general election in July to make endorsements ahead of the November election. For Mesa County, the Grand Junction chamber will be hosting a candidate forum and issuing its own endorsements in September.
The Colorado Chamber of Commerce champions free enterprise, a healthy business environment and economic prosperity for all Coloradans. It is the only business association that works to improve the business climate for all sizes of business from a statewide, multi-industry perspective. What the Colorado Chamber accomplishes is good for all businesses, and that’s good for the state’s economy. It was created in 1965 based on the merger with the Colorado Manufacturers’ Association.