DENVER — Democrats were accused of bowing to the AFL-CIO after killing a bill Wednesday that would have given small businesses warnings instead of fines for first-time violations of new state regulations.
“Democrats heard supportive testimony from numerous small business owners and business associations, but saw opposition from one union and without hesitation voted against my bill,” said state Rep. Libby Szabo (R-Arvada) in a statement. “Never has their allegiance to the unions been more apparent than it was today.”
Szabo’s bill, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2014, was defeated on a 7-4 party-line vote in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
The measure appeared to have support from Democrats when it first went before the committee on Feb. 5. At that hearing, state Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) praised Szabo for reaching out to Democrats and agreeing to compromise on the bill’s language.
“You’ve done very, very hard work of making sure that you did get in the buy-in from many people,” state Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Aurora) told Szabo at last month’s hearing.
A month later, however, that atmosphere of cooperation had vanished, a shift that Republicans blamed on opposition from the Colorado AFL-CIO.
The union was the only organization to oppose the bill at the Feb. 5 hearing, citing the unfairness of giving small businesses a pass on first-time violations but not non-profit groups or labor unions.
“I think what we see with this bill is that this bill establishes a protected class and really raises concerns about equal protection under the law,” said Phil Hayes, lobbyist for the Colorado AFL-CIO. “Small businesses are very important to our economy, we agree … but the idea that you would enable the ability of the government to waive fines for one particular class in our economy is not appropriate.”
The bill would have applied to businesses of 100 or fewer employees that run afoul of regulations approved in the past year not related to health or safety. An estimated 14,000 pages of new state regulations on businesses have been approved in the last two years, said Szabo.
Testifying in favor of the bill at the Feb. 5 hearing were 14 business owners and small-business representatives, including Tony Gagliardi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
“The small employer with five or 10 employees does not have the luxury like many big businesses have and most labor unions have, and that is to (hire) full-time counsel, full-time HR staff, and people whose job is to do nothing but keep track of what’s promulgated by various state agencies,” said Gagliardi.
He also said some businesses were “very reluctant” to testify in favor of the bill “for fear of retribution from the state agencies.”
State Rep. Su Ryden (D-Aurora), the committee chair, agreed at the February hearing to delay a vote so that Szabo could work on crafting a compromise, but the Republican said Wednesday that the union torpedoed her efforts.
“We had a date where the majority of people could come to the room, and it blew up and fell apart because the one opponent decided they didn’t like what was going on,” said Szabo. “And committee, that’s sad.”