Colorado business leaders pan public health option, worker protections bills

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Colorado business leaders on Monday panned a pair of Democratic-backed bills in the Legislature they say will harm the state’s small businesses.

The National Federation of Independent Business-Colorado hosted a news conference Monday along with local chambers of commerce, small business owners, and Republican House Minority Leader Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, to discuss Senate Bill 176 and House Bill 1232.

SB 176, known as the Protecting Opportunities And Workers Act (POWR) Act, seeks to expand protections for workers and would allow claims to be taken directly to a county or district court. The bill also would expand protections to contractors, interns and volunteers.

HB 1232, known as the Standardized Health Benefit Plan Colorado Option, would require the state insurance commissioner to establish a standardized health insurance plan that providers could offer. It would also establish the Colorado Option Authority to offer a public option if health insurance providers don’t meet the state’s goals for rate reductions.

Both pieces of legislation, if passed, would be costly for small businesses that are trying to recover from the pandemic-induced recession, their critics argue.

“What we’re seeing is a tremendous number of hurdles placed in the way of business at a time when really we would like to see the state recovering from the last year,” McKean said.

On SB 176, Senate Democrats have said in statements about the bill that workers “have faced workplace harassment and discrimination without proper protections, leaving bad actors unchecked, providing no incentive for employers to address bad behavior, and allowing abuse to endure without real repercussions.”

“The POWR Act establishes caregivers as a protected status and ensures that employers don’t discriminate against those caring for children or loved ones – a crucial provision if we are going to fully recover from this pandemic both socially and economically,” the said.

Rachel Beck, vice president of government affairs for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, said there are already conduits available for workers to take action against unfair workplace treatment.

“We already have processes in place in both state and federal laws to protect people from harassment and discrimination,” Beck said. “That includes the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which is affordable for parties involved that are in mediation and it’s successful at resolving disputes more often than not.”

Beck added she would like to see the bill killed.

Roger Hays, president and CEO of Premier Employer Services, Inc., a professional employment organization that offers human resources consulting to small businesses, said SB 176 could be “onerous” for small businesses.

“When you expand the definition of harassment to become so broad that somebody can file a lawsuit over hurt feelings, that gets to be a little bit onerous,” he said. “That’s my biggest fear.”

Tony Gagliardi, NFIB-Colorado’s state director, doubted that the bill could be fixed.

“It goes so far and it’s so intrusive,” he said.

Gagliardi also doubted the public option bill could be salvaged.

HB 1232 “places full control of Colorado’s health care insurance market in the hands of the insurance commissioner, a nonelected bureaucrat with unchecked power to manipulate Colorado’s health insurance market for both individuals and small businesses,” he said.

Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, one of the bill sponsors, said when the legislation was announced, that it will “provide cheaper care for all Coloradans,” while not being a mandate in its first phase.

As a “stopgap measure,” the legislation directs the authority to offer the Colorado Health Insurance Option “if all carriers fail to meet the premium rate reduction goals,” according to the bill’s fiscal note.

“The bill as we’ve seen it is not an option,” McKean said, arguing it tells doctors, hospitals and insurance carriers “you do what we say or you leave the state.”





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