Bills seek to cut small business regulatory burden

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Regulatory reform has taken hold at the state Capitol, and the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce couldn’t be happier.

The chamber has been working to rid local businesses of what they see as red tape and bureaucracy, and for once the Legislature is listening.

One-quarter of the way through the 2011 session — it ends May 12 — a bill that died in committee last year has seen a resurgence, bolstered by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s promise to ease unnecessary regulation for business owners. This year, the bill passed committee unanimously. Its fate in the Senate, however, is uncertain.

Senate Bill 41, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kopp (R-Jefferson), is designed to reduce paperwork for small businesses, a chore they claim is keeping them from hiring more people.

The bill creates a task force from the Legislative Audit Committee to identify “redundancies, abuse, fraud and cost savings and to specify other efficiency measures.” The task force has 18 months to complete its work, and then the audit committee would recommend which programs or regulations to cut.

“Regulations can have a chilling effect on business,” said Stephannie Finley, president of government affairs and public policy for the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. “If they’re serious about creating jobs, they have to ease up on the regulations. Some are necessary, and in this climate, many are luxuries we can’t afford right now.”

Kopp knew this was the year for his bill when he held a meeting early in the session: So many people came there was standing room only.

“We were surprised at the attention,” said Ernest House, director of government affairs for the chamber. “This is going to be where they can cut the red tape.”

Sometimes small businesses collapse under the weight of all the regulation, Finley said, and sometimes they’re afraid to hire because of the administrative burden that comes with additional employees.

“If they’re serious about job creation, this is where you start,” she said. “Start by easing regulation.”

Finley and her group are tracking several bills of local interest: bills that create new tax-exempt zones and a task force to study transmission lines and that make it easier for small businesses to provide health insurance for their employees.

Transmission lines/green energy

Under current law, adding new transmission lines means getting permission from every municipality and every county where the lines will run. Sometimes a single landowner can halt things by convincing a city to vote no.

Senate Bill 45 seeks to simplify the process by creating a new site commission with three utility regulators, three representatives of local governments and one representative from the public. All would be appointed by the governor. They would have 180 days to act.

“This bill will make it easier to get transmission lines from the site to power people’s houses,” Finley said. “It’s of utmost importance to new green-energy companies. This is a strong business bill; we’re paying close attention.”

However, the bill’s intent has been watered down in committee. Opponents were afraid to allow the governor to appoint the committee members, so a task force has been created to study the issue.

“We’ll see this one back,” said Jessica McMullin, legal aide for the chamber. “But this will be laying the foundation for alternative forms of energy. Most people like the approach to the bill, but there was some concern.”

Other concerns centered around 1041 powers, a Colorado law that grants power to local governments concerning land use. It’s a power local government use to make sure land is used to fit local needs — not necessarily state ones. The task force will also examine whether the proposed bill violates the 1041 statute.

Creative zones

Blighted areas of Colorado Springs could see new life under plans to give tax breaks to cultural and arts businesses.

“This is exciting to me,” Finley said. “I think we could do big things with this locally. The south Academy Boulevard area is perfect for this kind of plan.”

House Bill 1031 creates creative zones, similar to enterprise zones, that will receive tax breaks. The zones allow artists, cultural groups and creative businesses to locate in a particular area and het the tax breaks.

“You know, the state isn’t that good about providing tax incentives, or any money to businesses here,” McMullin said. “But they are pretty good about giving tax breaks to businesses. This will create some of those tax breaks and fix up a blighted area as well.”

The tax breaks will be available for businesses and nonprofit cultural organizations alike, Finley said.

“This could spark business and do it by developing a specific business district,” said House, the government affairs director. “It’s exciting. We’re watching because we want to make sure it’s done right; there’s a lot of potential there.”

Health insurance

Sen. Keith King (R-El Paso) has introduced a bill to let employers reimburse workers for health insurance premiums regardless of whether the company offers group health insurance.

King has been working on this issue, Senate Bill 19, for a couple of years, and the chamber has weighed in on many occasions. Most of its members will be affected by the bill, which covers businesses with 50 or fewer employees. More than 90 percent of the state’s businesses fall in that range.

“We like the flexibility,” Finley said. “It’s up to the employer how they want to use it. They can decide what’s best for the employee and what’s best for the company. Currently, they can’t reimburse them for any part of the cost of health insurance.”

Military

Rep. Marsha Looper (R-El Paso) has two bills designed to help both soldiers and their families in Colorado.

“The military is always a factor for us here, and it’s an economic factor for the state as well,” Finley said. “These bills reflect that — something we can give the military to show they’re valued.”

House Bill 1100 allows soldiers with specific training to forgo state training once they look for civilian employment. For instance, medics at Fort Carson won’t have to go to school to obtain qualifications such as emergency medical technician, although they would still be required to pass the relevant state exams.

“This bill recognizes that the military gives specialized training, and it allows DORA (the Department of Regulatory Affairs) to use that training,” Finley said. “They still have to pass all the necessary certification and requirements.”

Looper’s other bill, House Bill 1027, could be a boon to local day-care providers. The bill extends a pilot program that raises local centers to the same national standards that Army child-care centers provide.

“It’s totally voluntary,” Finley said. “But there’s always a waiting list at Fort Carson, so this lets soldiers know that the centers are being held to the same standards. It’s a slightly higher standard, so it could benefit providers as well.”

In fact, centers that accept military kids can get money from the federal government for doing so, Finley said, just as the school districts do.

Where bills stand

SB 41: Regulatory reform – Passed committee

SB 45: Transmission lines – Assigned to Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee

HB 1031: Creative Zones – Passed House, introduced in Senate

SB 19: Health insurance and small business – Laid over on second reading in Senate

HB 1100: Military professional certification – Sent to Appropriations Committee

HB 1027: Pilot program for day-care centers – Passed House

Status updated as of Wednesday, February 16

The Chamber’s positions

Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce’s position on business bills

Support

SB 19 — Keith King’s bill about small-employer health insurance payments

HB 1005 — Reinstating tax exemptions for agriculture products. The exemption was removed last year to help close budget gaps.

SB 11 — Sen. Mike Kopp’s bill that creates a task force to reduce regulations and red tape

HB 1072 — Bill requires proponents of ballot initiatives to certify they are aware of state laws regarding initiatives

HB 1027 — Department of Defense child-care pilot program

HB 1100 — Military experience license certificate

HB 1220 — Accelerates urban transportation projects for urban development

Oppose

SB 11 — Bill to make all procurement information available to public

HB 1070 — Contractors working for state must pay prevailing wage and provide benefits

HB 1066 — Prohibits government from taking property without due process

SB 129 — Businesses must verify employees’ legal status through E-Verify

Monitor

HB 1025 — Repeal hospital provider fee

HB 1012 — Allow unaffiliated voters to vote in primaries

HB 1115 — Reduces amount a public entity can withhold for construction

projects from 10% to 5% of entire project

HB 1075 — Narrows use of FASTER funds to exclude bike lanes, except when necessary for public safety

HB 1109 — Allows local governments to exempt machinery used in intrastate telephone services from local sales tax

SB 121 — Changes allocations of state severance taxes paid by oil, gas and mining companies