In its annual post legislative wrap-up Thursday before the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce — for the first time conducted via Zoom — the region’s delegation to Denver said the first part of the 2020 legislative session was fairly normal.
The second part, however, was a different story.
“It was a little bit rough getting going because you could definitely tell it was an election year with members already behaving differently,” said Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta. “I did notice that some members were a bit paranoid based on what titles were on bills regardless of the content. Nerves were pretty heightened.”
And that’s just how it started back in January.
Things got worse after the Legislature returned to the golden dome in mid-May after taking a three-month hiatus because of the public health emergency declaration and shut-down orders from Gov. Jared Polis, the lawmakers said.
Before they returned to complete the session, legislative leaders, all Democrats, said they would focus only on passing a balanced budget — cutting about $3.3 billion because of the economy — and any COVID-19 related bills designed to help people recover.
It didn’t quite go down that way, but it could have been far worse for business, said Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction.
“The first part of the session … there were a lot of bills that flew around that caused a lot of grief amongst business owners,” Scott said. “The second part, maybe that was a fortunate intervention because it killed off a lot of bad things that could have happened, but they just didn’t have the funding available. They did re-create some things and brought them back.”
While the Legislature did approve some business-friendly measures, such as bills to provide emergency grants and low-interest loans to help them stay afloat, it also passed some that businesses don’t particularly like, such as mandating paid sick leave for all workers, whistleblower protections for employees and prohibitions on price gouging, things the chamber opposed.
The second part of the session lasted only three weeks, and the Legislature adjourned for the year more than a month before it could have. As a result, things were “fast and furious” during those final weeks, said Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction.
“In the last three weeks of the session … it was wild and crazy,” Rich said. “I was in appropriations (committee) every single morning, and we were doing all of these bills and then they were going straight to the floor. They were scheduling these committees at the same time, and I couldn’t be in two committees at once.”
Lawmakers did point out some bright spots, not the least of which was the passage of House Bill 1003, which extended the state’s Rural Jump Start Zone Act.
Under that measure, introduced by Rich, Scott and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, the program first started in Mesa County in 2015 opened up special tax credits to more new employers who create jobs in rural parts of the state.
“We were able to get that through in the last few days,” Rich said. “That’s going to be really good for Mesa County and all the rural areas.”
The local lawmakers also hailed the passage of a resolution that referred a measure onto the fall ballot asking voters to repeal the 1982 Gallagher Amendment, something the chamber supports.
Soper said that needs to happen because not only would local governments around the state see huge cuts in their property tax revenues if it doesn’t, but businesses will end up paying far more than they’re expected to now.
“A good example would be the Collbran Health Clinic. It’s a special hospital district,” Soper said. “It’s almost entirely funded by their mill (levy), and they’re looking at a pretty significant cut by the fact that the state has pretty much chased out oil and gas. That means that the large (business) property taxpayers no longer exist.”