Government & Politics  June 18, 2010

Legislature offers olive branch to state business

DENVER – The Colorado General Assembly, on the last day of the contentious 2010 session, tried to mend fences with businesses with House Joint Resolution 35. It praised the business community’s contribution to the state’s prosperity and noted that every bill affects business in some way.

The olive branch was sorely needed. Relations had been strained early on by a package of measures that rescinded $130 million in business tax exemptions on everything from paper napkins and downloaded software to soda pop and agricultural inputs to help close a $1.3 billion budget revenue shortfall.

Now that Gov. Bill Ritter has signed more than 400 bills into law, including 10 of the “dirty dozen,” the outcome doesn’t look like the unmitigated disaster for business predicted back in February. With the election looming in November, however, be prepared for differing interpretations.

New Energy Economy

Especially important for Northern Colorado, a number of energy-related bills cover both conventional and renewable sources. One of the first – House Bill 1001 – raises the amount of electricity utilities are required to generate from renewable sources by 2020 to 30 percent from the previous 20 percent goal. HB 1365 may have pitted coal miners against natural gas producers in the name of improving air quality, but other measures were designed to increase jobs in the renewable energy industry; promote development of geothermal, biomass, hydro and other clean energy sources; allow neighborhoods to generate their own off-grid solar power; and support continued smart-grid deployments.

Employment

SB 28 allows workers to receive unemployment benefits for pay lost while on furlough, so companies can cut everyone’s hours rather than completely lay off some employees.

HB 1417 creates a permanent Pay Equity Commission to study ways to encourage companies to increase pay equity between women and men. The gender gap is still about 77 cents on the dollar nationally, 64 cents in Colorado. HB 1008 eliminates another gender inequity. It bars health insurers from charging women higher premiums than men for individual coverage based solely on gender.

Payday lending

HB 1351 eliminates payday loans – those short-term advances that carry annual interest rates of up to 400 percent. Under the law, which goes into effect Aug. 1, loans must have a minimum term of six months – rather than two to three weeks – and a maximum 45 percent interest rate. Although early payment penalties are banned, other fees could still push charges to more than 100 percent of the original amount borrowed. Current loans will still be governed under the old law until next year.

Higher education

Backed by all the state’s public universities, Senate Bill 3 grants them more flexibility in setting tuition rates. The University of Colorado at Boulder and University of Northern Colorado have both announced 9 percent increases for the 2010-11 school year; Colorado State University’s Board of Governors is set to vote on the matter later this month.

Teacher tenure

Embraced by both sides of the aisle as well as the business community, SB 191 changes how the state evaluates elementary and high school teachers. It links their job security more closely to the performance of their students. Backers say it sends the message that Colorado is serious about delivering an educated workforce to employers.

Recovery audits

Thanks to HB 1176, sponsored by Weld County Rep. Glenn Vaad, all state department budgets will be scrutinized by an independent auditor charged with uncovering unnecessary spending. The audits will be paid for by awarding the auditors a percentage of the waste recovered.

Medical marijuana 

SB 109 and HB 1284 increase state oversight of the medical marijuana industry, setting license fees and ownership eligibility for dispensaries. Doctors must conduct a physical exam of any patient they prescribe marijuana to and are prohibited from having a financial relationship with a dispensary. Dispensaries are required to grow 70 percent of the products they sell and growers to sell 70 percent of their product through one dispensary. Municipalities have the authority to ban dispensaries, and the issue was on the Greeley City Council agenda for June 15, after the Business Report went to press. Greeley had banned all dispensaries within the city limits last fall, but could allow caregivers with five or fewer patients to comply with new state regulations.

What didn’t happen

Business also dodged a couple of bullets. Enterprise zones had been on the chopping block, but the final version of SB 162 slightly increases the minimum population needed for an area to be designated while requiring businesses to certify that they moved to an enterprise zone before receiving tax benefits.

One measure that did not pass that ensures a continued adversarial relationship between the legislature and business was Senate Concurrent Resolution 1. It would have asked voters to allow the Long-term Fiscal Sustainability Committee to offer constitutional amendments covering more than one subject; for example, changes to both Amendment 23 and the Gallagher Amendment could be considered together.

SCR 1 failed by two votes, when Senate Republicans refused to back any measure that could undermine the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

When the legislature reconvenes in January, the first order of business will be to further cut the budget by an estimated $1 billion.

DENVER – The Colorado General Assembly, on the last day of the contentious 2010 session, tried to mend fences with businesses with House Joint Resolution 35. It praised the business community’s contribution to the state’s prosperity and noted that every bill affects business in some way.

The olive branch was sorely needed. Relations had been strained early on by a package of measures that rescinded $130 million in business tax exemptions on everything from paper napkins and downloaded software to soda pop and agricultural inputs to help close a $1.3 billion budget revenue shortfall.

Now that Gov. Bill…

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