New year, new laws for Coloradans in 2021

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point during a news conference about the increase in COVID-19 cases and how parents need to enroll their children in school during the pandemic Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER (KDVR) — Following a pandemic and a general election, Colorado will see a spate of new laws and regulations kick in in the new year from legislation, ballot initiatives and executive orders from the governor’s office.

The new laws, some driven by the coronavirus pandemic, run the gamut from taxes to wolves, but have common elements. The plurality expand worker and resident entitlements and taxes, while a minority promote conservative ideas such as citizenship laws and check on state government expansion.

Employment laws

A cluster of bills and ballots put new demands on Colorado’s employers to provide benefits for their workers.

The Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program, which was Proposition 118 on the November ballot, requires Colorado employers to give employees 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. This applies to parents of new children, those with serious medical conditions or who are caring for family members with serious medical conditions. Companies will begin making contributions on Jan. 1, 2023.

A similar bill, SB 20-205, requires employers to provide 48 hours of sick leave. A coronavirus bill, it can be used for illness or caring for those with an illness, as well as cover time watching children whose schools have been closed.

SB19-085, concerns employee salaries and promotion opportunities. Employers may no longer ask for salary history and must attach salary ranges to job postings rather than negotiate new hires’ salaries without a range, as is the current practice. Employers must now also post all promotion opportunities internally before filling positions.

Unemployment and healthcare

Another coronavirus bill, SB20-207 loosens unemployment eligibility. Workers whose children’s schools are shut down, who have compromised immune systems or whose employers are not following safety protocols are all now eligible for unemployment.

Similarly, HB20-1236 allows Coloradans to ask on their annual tax returns if they are eligible for subsidized healthcare.

Other coronavirus relief measures concern citizens instead of the state.

Tenants and landlords

Gov. Jared Polis also signed several executive orders, mostly having to do with coronavirus relief measures. These include a suspension of regulatory deadlines to allow the state to spend CARES Act funding, extending the state’s disaster declaration and requiring furloughs of certain state employees.

Among these executive orders, Polis halted late fees for residential and commercial tenants, another coronavirus relief measure. Yet another bill makes it illegal for landlords to ask about an applicant’s U.S. citizenship.

Industry laws

Other laws concern the tobacco and marijuana industries

The Cigarette, Tobacco and Nicotine Product Tax, a ballot initiative, will raise $294 million more a year by taxing e-cigarettes like tobacco cigarettes, as well as raising tax rates on tobacco products across the baord.

Three new marijuana laws will kick in.

Only HB19-1234, which legalizes recreational marijuana delivery pending local approval, is consumer focused. The others are industry-specific.

HB20-1080 removes the long-standing requirement that marijuana employees meet in-state residency requirements, one of the original features of recreational marijuana legalization in 2012. HB20-1424 aims to increase the diversity of marijuana industry ownership with a “social equity program” in the Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Taxes and politics

Ballots concerning elections and taxes illustrate a red/blue division in Colorado politics.

On the one hand, the National Popular Vote ballot initiative signs Colorado to an interstate compact that, if ratified by enough, will strip the Electoral College from the election process – a longstanding progressive goal.

On the other, Coloradans also voted in the Citizenship Qualification of Elector ballot initiative, which requires voters in any election whatsoever to prove their U.S. citizenship – a longstanding conservative goal. Similarly, voters approved the Prop 117 Voter Approval Requirement for Creation of Certain Fee-Based Enterprises ballot initiative, which requires a public vote to approve fee-based state programs knowns as enterprises.

Other laws draw this distinction between pro-tax and anti-tax attitudes sharply. The State Income Tax Reduction ballot initiative reduced the state income tax from 4.63% to 4.55%. The Repeal Property Tax Assessment Rates ballot, however, threw out the so-called Gallagher Amendment, which had kept property taxes relatively low in Colorado since 1986.

Still other new laws were specific to narrow interests.

The Local Approval of Gaming Limits in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek allows Colorado’s few gaming communities to vote on raising their own table limits – an angle outside gaming conglomerates have wanted for years.

Likewise, the Grey Wolves Restoration Act, which will reintroduce gray wolves into Colorado’s mountains, was passed by a narrow majority of urban Coloradans to the anger of rural residents.

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