It was a very 2020 moment. While touting legislation passed by the Colorado General Assembly during its just-completed special session dedicated to COVID-19 relief, Governor Jared Polis described the procedure he'll go through to avoid infecting the documents (he tested positive for the novel coronavirus over Thanksgiving weekend and is currently in quarantine).
"It will be interesting how we're going to sign these bills," Polis said. "As you know, I have COVID-19, so they will be delivered to me, I'll take them out of the envelope, sign them, put them back in the envelope, spray it with Lysol and, wearing gloves, give them back to a state trooper."
This side note was appropriate, given the widespread impact of the disease on all aspects of life in Colorado since the first case was confirmed in March — and Polis has a lot of signing to do. The legislature passed eight new measures that will deliver millions in aid, grants, tax relief and more to struggling individuals and small businesses around the state.
Along with Polis, four Democratic heavy hitters — Senate President Leroy Garcia, outgoing Speaker KC Becker, Speaker-designate Alec Barnett and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg — participated in the December 2 press conference marking the end of the session. All of them went out of their way to praise Republican colleagues, since each bill had enjoyed varying degrees of GOP support.
"A lot of people are struggling to put food on the table and pay rent, and business owners aren't certain what the next few months will bring," Polis said, especially in the absence of a new federal aid package. "I'm proud as governor that the men and women of our legislature have risen to the occasion and taken critical bipartisan steps to help small businesses and individuals in the very challenging winter months as we await the vaccine and the end of the pandemic."
Polis pointed out that 400,000 Coloradans experiencing tough times are already receiving $375 in direct stimulus aid from the state — and while he acknowledged that this modest amount won't change lives, he expressed hope that the funds will help folks make ends meet until hoped-for but still extremely uncertain congressional action.
After more words of praise from Garcia and Becker, Polis invited questions. The first noted that for all the talk of bipartisanship, no Republicans were on hand — an observation Polis deftly deflected by saying that if the Colorado GOP officials wanted to have a press conference of their own, he'd be happy to participate if invited.
Several of the subsequent inquiries dealt with a draft proposal that would create a so-called five-star program for businesses such as restaurants, allowing them to continue on-site operations in Level Red areas should their counties choose to participate. Polis expressed optimism that a form of the proposal will win approval and give eateries a way to stay open that's safe for employees and customers alike.
On a related subject, Polis addressed, with maximum vagueness, the prospect of restaurants that have openly defied current public-health orders being excluded from receiving state aid. "Every Coloradan has the responsibility to follow the law," he said. "There are laws I disagree with and laws I agree with, but we don't distinguish. We honor the law. People can try to change the laws through the democratic process, but we also have a responsibility to follow the law."
Fenberg was much more explicit in contending that scofflaw restaurants shouldn't be rewarded. "This money should go to those most in need, and those with the most severe capacity restrictions should be prioritized," he said. "If you're a business operating in a county where you don't have to follow the law, and you can be at full capacity, or more capacity, you actually don't have as much of a need as those following the law, because they're doing the right thing and have fewer customers."
Fenberg stressed that "we want to make sure the money goes to businesses that are following the rules and have taken a financial hit because of this. People are expected to follow the law, and if folks want to have law and order and yet at the same time are flaunting publicly and bragging about how they're not following the public-health orders, I think there's a disconnect there. This is to make sure the counties are following the rules and have an ability to help businesses that are suffering, and not simply about disagreeing with the governor and the Democrats. It's about taking actions that potentially put people's lives at risk."
After these blunt remarks, Polis quickly wrapped up the conversation, presumably to await delivery of the bills — and to track down some Lysol.
Here's a breakdown of the aforementioned legislation, as described by the governor's office:
SB20B-001, sponsored by senators Faith Winter and Kevin Priola, will send $57 million in direct aid, grants and annual fee waivers to struggling small businesses — prioritizing those operating in counties experiencing severe capacity restrictions. It will also create grant programs and allocate funds specifically for art and cultural organizations as well as minority-owned businesses.
SB20B-002, sponsored by senators Julie Gonzales and Chris Holbert, provides $60 million for emergency housing assistance to individuals and households who are in financial need because of COVID-19. Of that funding, $1 million will specifically support the Eviction Legal Assistance Fund, which will help Coloradans stay in their homes this winter. Finally, the bill puts in place a provision that seeks to ensure tens of thousands of unemployed Coloradans can continue to have access to the federally funded State Extended Benefits Program through December 26.
SB20B-003, sponsored by senators Rhonda Fields and Larry Crowder, appropriates $5 million to the Energy Outreach Colorado Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund in order to provide financial relief to Coloradans who are struggling to pay their utility bills — a dangerous outcome in the winter months.
SB20B-004, sponsored by Senator Dominick Moreno, allocates an additional $100 million to ensure the state can continue to protect public health while waiting for further federal stimulus and reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
HB20B-1001, sponsored by representatives Mary Young and Matt Soper, will dedicate $20 million toward increasing our state’s broadband capacity — connecting more students to their teachers so that they can learn safely in the months ahead. Internet access is absolutely essential for students during this difficult time. But many families who are struggling with financial stability simply can’t afford to cover the cost, while numerous school districts lack the infrastructure to educate their students remotely.
HB20B-1002, sponsored by representatives Cathy Kipp and Lois Landgraf, will distribute $45 million to enable existing child-care providers to keep their doors open, and new providers to open and meet the needs of working parents, especially in child-care deserts. Colorado’s economic recovery depends on its workforce having access to stable child care, but due to temporary closures and the increased costs of health and safety precautions for child care providers, many are on the brink of financial collapse. These grant programs are estimated to support 2,600 child-care facilities, preserving child care for over 100,000 children and creating capacity for tens of thousands more. Moreover, research shows that for every dollar spent on early childhood programs, $2.25 is contributed to our state’s economy.
HB20B-1003, sponsored by representatives Lisa Cutter and Rod Bockenfeld, will devote $5 million to replenishing essential community services that increase access to food for Colorado families facing food insecurity. One in 3 Coloradans are struggling with hunger as more and more families are being forced to choose between paying their bills and putting food on the table. Food banks, food pantries and their partners need additional assistance to meet the rising demands, especially as the December expiration for federal hunger relief looms.
HB20B-1004, sponsored by representatives Alex Valdez and Kevin Van Winkle, will allow restaurants, bars and food trucks to retain state sales tax they collect from November 2020 through February 2021. This will provide bars and restaurants up to $2,000 per location and limited to five locations for up to $10,000 in tax relief each month to help them make ends meet.
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