COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- With only two scheduled days remaining in the 2020 legislative session, state lawmakers are scrambling to push proposed bills through the process -- and that worries the statewide business community.
Around 50 business leaders sat in on an hourlong video conference Wednesday, hosted by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation, to share their concerns about how pending legislation could hurt the business community's efforts to recover from the financial impacts of COVID-19.
"When our state legislature planned this second session, the commitment they made was that it would focus on COVID recovery and passing the state's budget, and would work to help the Colorado economy recover and rebuild," said Dirk Draper, CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber. "We're concerned that they're not living up to that promise in these final days."
Statewide business leaders said that lawmakers are rushing bills through without seeking adequate input from the business community.
"We're asking lawmakers to slow down and talk with business owners and employees about how these bills would affect them," Draper said. "Maybe they should consider coming back in a special session."
Business leaders said that eight bills in particular, if passed, would have serious and far-reaching negative implications on Colorado's economy and on the efforts of businesses -- small, family-owned businesses, in particular.
Five of the bills are in the Colorado Senate and three are in the house. They involve paying sick leave and unemployment insurance for employees, allowing bars and similar establishments to sell liquor for takeout and delivery, providing COVID-related health insurance and workers' compensation for employees, limiting the ability of businesses to raise prices, COVID-related whistleblower protection for employees and raising taxes for education.
Business leaders said passage of any or all of the bills will increase costs significantly and make staying open difficult, if not impossible, at a time when businesses still lack customers and are unable to hire back laid-off employees or add new workers.
"These bills will increase state revenue by 33% but it will cost businesses $1 billion and have a negative economic impact of $4 billion," said Don Childears, CEO of the Colorado Bankers Association. "We've also learned the 100,000 small businesses that borrowed from the federal Payroll Protection Program will have to pay most of the money back because it's a loan, not a grant or stimulus. And they'll have only two years to pay it back. So the debt will crush many of these businesses."
Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, said a recent survey of 176 businesses in that area indicates that 50% have significant losses, 30% have permanently laid-off workers and 20% are in danger of closing permanently.
"We also learned that 92% of them said that their businesses will never return to normal," she said.
One business leader has a harsh assessment of the situation.
"It's not COVID-19 that's hurting us," he said. "It's the governments."
Some business leaders said there's been no indication that lawmakers, or Gov. Jared Polis, will call for a special session of the Legislature to resolve the matter.