People wait outside of the state Senate chamber of the Colorado Capitol on June 11, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Newsline)
State lawmakers met for three days in what Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, called a “soft opening” to the 2021 legislative session beginning Jan. 13.
They quickly passed seven bills with time-sensitive components, before adjourning again until Feb. 16.
Below is a review of the first bills passed this year by the General Assembly. Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, was expected to sign all the bills into law.
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House Bill 21-1004: Colorado Uniform Electronic Wills Act
The Colorado Uniform Electronic Wills Act — sponsored by Reps. Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs, and Matt Soper, R-Delta, along with Sens. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs — permanently allows and regulates the use of electronic wills. It passed the House on a vote of 63-0, with two lawmakers excused, and the Senate by a vote of 33-0, with two excused. Polis signed the bill into law Jan. 21.
Most of the text in HB-1004 was developed by the Uniform Law Commission, a national lawyers’ group that drafts legislation to fit with multiple states’ existing statutes. So far, Utah is the only other state to have adopted the Uniform Electronic Wills Act developed by the commission.
“It’s something that’s been going on for quite a few years now, with the idea that, you know, the world is changing,” Snyder said in an interview. “People of younger generations are really are not into paper — they want everything to be … on their phone — but really with the pandemic, it really accelerated the ability to do that.”
Senate Bill 21-2: Extending Limitations On Debt Collection Actions
SB-2 extends limits on debt collection for Coloradans experiencing financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those limitations — which temporarily suspend extraordinary debt collection, and exempt up to $4,000 in a debtor’s bank accounts from levy and sale by debt collectors — were first put in place through a 2020 law but were set to expire Feb. 1. Pending Polis’ signature on SB-2, the protections will be extended until June 1.
The bill’s sponsors included Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, along with Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver. It passed the Senate 34-0, with one lawmaker excused, and the House by a vote of 44-20, with one excused.
“We know that people are facing financial circumstances that they’ve never seen before, and we wanted to make sure that debt collection was done in a fair way that also didn’t completely put people under,” Winter said during a Jan. 13 committee hearing on the bill.
House Bill 21-1003: Legislative Proceedings During Disaster Emergency
State Measurement for Accountable, Responsive, and Transparent Government (SMART) Act hearings — which are required of departments under Colorado government — include presentations on performance plans, updates on regulations and laws, and budget requests. HB-1003 allows legislators to participate remotely in SMART Act hearings, including in the weeks leading up to Feb. 16, while the General Assembly is temporarily adjourned.
A more controversial portion of the bill allows state lawmakers to collect “per diem” payments even if they are participating remotely. Some Republicans were opposed to letting the people participating remotely collect that cash, arguing they shouldn’t need the extra daily payments if they weren’t traveling to the Capitol.
HB-1003 was sponsored by Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams County, and Fenberg. It passed the House by a vote of 41-23, with one lawmaker excused, and the Senate by a vote of 31-2, with two excused.
Senate Bill 21-1: Modify COVID-19 Relief Programs For Small Business
SB-1 moves a $4 million relief program for minority-owned businesses, created during the 2020 special session, outside of the Minority Business Office. It also creates additional ways for businesses to qualify for grants, loans and technical assistance.
Originally, the program was open only to businesses owned by people of color. Now, micro-businesses with fewer than five employees, businesses located in economically distressed areas, and businesses owned by people with low to moderate income are also among those eligible for relief.
Sponsored by Winter and Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, along with Herod and Rep. Shane Sandridge, R-Colorado Springs, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 34-0, with one lawmaker excused. It passed the House 47-16, with two excused.
Senate Bill 21-3: Recreate Occupational Therapy Practice Act
“There was a problem with the effective date because of the timing around the session,” Fenberg said of HB-1230, during a Jan. 11 news conference. Passing SB-3, he said, would allow legislators to “make sure that folks in the occupational therapy sector and their clients have the confidence that … nothing negative is going to happen to their profession or the people that they care for.”
Without SB-3’s fix, state licensing and regulation of occupational therapists would have ended in September. But the bill passed easily — on a vote of 56-8 in the House, with one lawmaker excused, and 34-0 in the Senate, with one excused. Its sponsors included Sens. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and Chris Holbert, R-Parker, plus Reps. David Ortiz, D-Littleton, and Colin Larson, R-Littleton. Polis signed the bill into law on Jan. 21.
House Bill 21-1002: Reductions Certain Taxpayers’ Income Tax Liability
HB-1002 reduces income taxes for certain taxpayers, through what House Speaker Alec Garnett described as a “fix” to House Bill 20-1420, a separate bill passed last year.
Colorado’s income tax laws and regulations conform in large part to the federal government’s. But the CARES Act, federal coronavirus relief legislation passed in March 2020, included significant changes to how people who lost money on their businesses could get tax deductions. If applied at the state level, those changes would have resulted in massive revenue losses for Colorado.
So, state lawmakers passed HB-1420, provisions of which were intended to help the state avoid those losses while still making sure Coloradans weren’t paying more on their income taxes than they had in the past. But the Colorado Department of Revenue interpreted the legislation differently than lawmakers had hoped — leaving certain taxpayers worse off than before. So, HB-1002 includes a new state tax deduction for people who incurred business losses, in order to remedy those negative effects.
Another change made by HB-1002: Under the 2020 law, taxpayers who don’t have a Social Security number would have been able to claim federal and state earned income tax credits starting in tax year 2021. HB-1002 allows them to do so a year earlier with their 2020 taxes.
HB-1002 — sponsored by Reps. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, and Emily Sirota, D-Denver, along with Sens. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Chris Hansen, D-Denver — passed the House 44-20, with one lawmaker excused. It passed by a vote of 33-0, with two excused, in the Senate. Polis signed the bill Jan. 21.
House Bill 21-1001: Remote Participation In Party Committee Meetings
HB-1001 allows the central or executive committees for state political parties to meet remotely through 2021. That includes the ability for committee members to vote on state party rules or bylaws via email, telephone or video call.
Sponsored by Reps. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, along with Fenberg and Holbert in the Senate, HB-1001 passed the House 59-4, with two lawmakers excused. It passed the Senate by a vote of 33-0, with two excused.
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