Success from the session: 4 bill-signings worth a mention | The Bell Policy Center

Success from the session: 4 bill-signings worth a mention

The official end to an extraordinarily productive legislative session came last week, when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the final pieces of legislation that landed on his desk.

We didn't want to let the moment pass without mentioning four bills that received little attention but that will have a big impact on students with dreams of college, working families, retail businesses and their employees and our economy.
We applaud the governor for signing them. Here are short summaries:

Sharing work, saving jobs
Colorado companies and employees can continue to team up to prevent layoffs with the signing of Senate Bill 13-157, which ensures the future of Colorado's Work Share Program.

"Work share" is a voluntary program that companies can use to weather short-term business declines. Employers can reduce the hours of a work force to avoid layoffs. Employees, in turn, can claim unemployment benefits for the reduction in work hours.

"This program is an effective alternative that prevents layoffs and allows employers who choose to use it the option of reducing their employees' hours rather than resorting to layoffs," Rich Jones, the Bell's director of policy and research, said in testimony in favor of the bill.

By reducing layoffs, the program, which was set to end this summer, also eases pressure on the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Paying out pro-rated unemployment insurance benefits has saved $644,000 for the trust fund since the program began in August 2010.

The bill signed by the governor makes changes that conform with federal requirements, which means Colorado will be eligible for federal grants to cover virtually all costs, including promoting enrollment and improving administration of the program.

We thank Sen. Rollie Heath and Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp and Tony Exum for carrying this legislation.

Helping families save for college
More Colorado families will be able to save for college expenses, thanks to the signing of Senate Bill 13-206. The new law makes it possible for families to open 529 savings accounts and fund them when filing Colorado's income tax forms.

Families with existing 529 college savings accounts through CollegeInvest can now deposit their income tax refunds into them, and families without accounts will gain information on how to establish them.

Aside from providing savings for college, research shows that the act of opening and maintaining college savings accounts increases the expectation that students will acquire post-secondary education.

Access to higher education is crucial for Colorado and our economy, as more jobs require at least some post-secondary education. By increasing saving opportunities, more people can get the education they need to land good-paying jobs, ensuring that we have a skilled and educated workforce to meet the demands of the 21st century.

We thank Sens. Evie Hudak and Scott Renfroe and Reps. Brittany Pettersen and Kevin Priola for sponsoring this legislation.

Taking care of Colorado retailers, helping the state budget
With the signing of House Bill 13-1295, Colorado will be able to level the playing field between local retailers and their online competitors.

After action by the U.S. Congress, Colorado will be able to collect state and local taxes from "remote sellers" that do not have a presence in the state, including online retailers. This will benefit businesses small and large, as well as their employees.

These are taxes owed but generally not paid, mostly because retailers are not required to collect them and customers are not aware of them. In 2012, Colorado state and local governments lost almost $173 million in tax revenues, according to a recent University of Tennessee study.

The new law aligns Colorado with requirements in the federal Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, a bipartisan bill pending in the U.S. Congress.

Currently, state and local governments cannot require vendors to collect sales taxes on purchases unless they have a physical presence, or "tax nexus," in the state. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that requiring remote sellers to collect sales taxes would be too complicated and would unduly interfere with interstate commerce. However, it held that the U.S. Congress has the authority to grant states this power.

That authority is contained in the Marketplace Fairness Act. When Congress acts, Colorado will be ready.

We thank the sponsors, Rep. Mark Ferrandino and Sen. Rollie Heath, for their work on this legislation.

Helping workers take care of families
Thanks to House Bill 13-1222, the Family Care Act, more Colorado workers can better care for their health and the health of their families.

The new law broadens the definition of "family" under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to include partners in civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The Family Care Act addresses gaps in coverage that have existed since the FMLA was enacted 20 years ago, strengthens current policy and provides support to more Colorado workers who are balancing the demands of work and family.

Testifying in favor of HB 1222, Kathleen Hallgren of the Bell said, "In modifying the law's definition of "family" to incorporate those unions, this policy will provide an opportunity for more families to address their health needs. The ability to provide care without risking their jobs will spare many individuals and households from massive health care costs and other threats to their economic stability."

We thank Rep. Cherylin Peniston and Sen. Jessie Ulibarri for carrying this legislation.