Colorado’s COVID-19 Special Session Ends (Mostly) in Compromise

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck

The Colorado General Assembly’s 2020 Extraordinary Session focused on coronavirus-related economic stimulus concluded yesterday and, of the 33 bills introduced, only 10 survived the three-day lawmaking period. Notably, many of the bills that were postponed indefinitely were Republican-sponsored legislation designed to curtail the executive branch’s authority during a declared disaster emergency or give businesses greater latitude to ignore public health orders. However, the legislation that ultimately advanced was largely bipartisan in nature and focused on expanding broadband access for students, small business and child care sector relief, and housing assistance, among other issues. Total appropriations for the stimulus package amounted to approximately $280 million.

The most debated measure was easily Senate Bill 20B-001 (COVID-19 Relief Small And Minority Businesses Arts Organizations). The bill, which focused primarily on stimulus payments to small businesses, had bipartisan sponsorship in both the House and Senate. While lawmakers acknowledged that the payments contemplated by the bill were modest at best (for example, the maximum payment a business can receive is $7,000), most saw the bill as a necessary stopgap until additional federal stimulus dollars arrive. However, many Republicans took issue with a provision requiring counties and municipalities to demonstrate good-faith compliance with public health orders in order for small businesses in their respective jurisdictions to be eligible. That provision, which many conservative lawmakers viewed as unnecessarily punishing otherwise “innocent” small businesses, was eventually amended to allow a business in a noncomplying jurisdiction to be looped into a complying jurisdiction for purposes of receiving a stimulus payment.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the special session also tested the Colorado General Assembly’s remote participation processes for both legislators and the public. Several lawmakers in both chambers cast floor votes via remote platforms and, similarly, the public was encouraged to testify virtually or submit written testimony in lieu of participating in the Capitol building. The session also survived an early COVID-19 exposure scare on Monday when a House staffer allegedly arrived for work while contagious with the virus.

Please find a summary of the 10 bills (as well as links to the full bill language) that will advance to the governor’s desk for signature below.

HB20B-1001: Grants To Improve Internet Access In P-12 Education

  • The bill creates a $20 million grant program within the Colorado Department of Education from which local education providers can apply for funds to expand broadband access for their students. The department must prioritize local education providers with a high percentage of students eligible for free/reduced meals or those local education providers with a high percentage of students without access to broadband. The department must distribute the funds by Feb. 1, 2021.

HB20B-1002: Emergency Relief Programs For Child Care Sector

  • The bill creates two grant programs within the Colorado Department of Human Services. The first is a $35 million child care sustainability grant program for existing, licensed providers to continue operations. Grants must be awarded by Feb. 28, 2021, and will range from $500 to $35,000 depending on a provider’s child care capacity. The second is a $9 million emerging and expanding child care grant program geared toward increasing the overall number of child care providers in the state. The grant award process must begin by Jan. 31, 2021.

HB20B-1003: Food Pantry Assistance Grant Program

  • The bill extends the spending authority for the food pantry assistance grant program in the Colorado Department of Human Services from Dec. 30, 2020, to Feb. 28, 2021. It also appropriates an additional $5 million in award money and removes the $35,000 cap on grant awards.

HB20B-1004: Qualified Retailer Retain Sales Tax For Assistance

  • The bill permits qualifying retailers (including restaurants, bars, food trucks, and vintners) to retain up to $2,000 per month in state sales tax between November 2020 and February 2021.

HB20B-1005: Local Authority To Impose Food Delivery Fee Restrictions

  • The bill positively clarifies the authority of statutory municipalities and counties to enact caps on the fees third-party food delivery services may charge to retail food establishments. The fee caps may only be imposed during a declared public health disaster emergency and in jurisdictions where capacity for indoor dining is below 50%.

HB20B-1006: Insurance Premium Tax Payments And Credits

  • The bill adjusts how calendar quarter estimates of the tax on insurance premiums are calculated. Under current law, insurance companies are required to make quarterly estimated payments of at least one-fourth of either the total tax paid during the preceding calendar year or 80% of the actual quarterly tax for the current calendar year, whichever is greater. The bill changes it to the lesser of the two payments. It also allows a company that has overpaid on its estimated premium tax liability to either apply the overpayment to future estimated payments or claim a refund; however, a company may not claim a refund for any overpayment that is due to claiming a nonrefundable tax credit.

SB20B-001: COVID-19 Relief Small And Minority Businesses Arts Organizations

  • The bill provides direct relief funding to eligible industries and entities, including $4 million to minority-owned businesses, $7.5 million to arts and cultural organizations, and finally, $37 million to small businesses. The former two relief funds will be administered by the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, whereas the small business relief fund will be dually administered by the Department of Local Affairs and local governments. To be eligible for small business relief funding (of which the maximum award is $7,000), a business must have annual receipts of less than $2.5 million, experienced 20% revenue loss as a result of public health restrictions since March 26, 2020, and be headquartered as well as doing business in Colorado. Additionally, the business must be located within an eligible county or municipality (with limited exceptions), which is defined as a jurisdiction demonstrating good faith compliance with public health orders.

SB20B-002: Housing And Direct COVID Emergency Assistance

  • The bill appropriates $44.5 million for the Housing Development Grant Fund to assist both tenants experiencing housing instability as well as landlords struggling to collect rent. It also creates the Emergency Direct Assistance Grant Program, which received a $5 million appropriation, within the Department of Local Affairs to assist those individuals ineligible for other types of housing assistance. The bill also transfers $1 million to the Eviction Legal Defense Fund, whereupon the State Court Administrator will transfer the funds to qualifying organizations to assist indigent defendants with civil housing matters.

SB20B-003: Money For Energy Utility Bill Payment Assistance

  • The bill transfers $5 million to the Colorado Energy Office’s Energy Outreach Colorado Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund. The money will be used to assist individuals who are at risk of falling behind on their utility bills and will be paid directly to energy providers.

SB20B-004: Transfer To Make Money Available For COVID-19 Emergency

  • The bill transfers $100 million from the General Fund to the Controlled Maintenance Trust Fund. It also authorizes the governor to access these funds to pay for unanticipated COVID-19 public health and emergency response activities.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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