The Colorado House is moving nearly as fast as the Senate to amend a relief bill for small businesses that Gov. Jared Polis signed just five weeks ago.
Senate Bill 1 modifies the $37 million package in regards to $4 million previously earmarked for minority-owned businesses.
The House Business Affairs and Labor Committee held a brief hearing Thursday before voting 12-1 to send the bill to the House floor for a vote, which is expected by tomorrow.
Facing a lawsuit by limiting the relief funds to race-based criteria, the wording stood to tie up money elsewhere in the package. As a fix, the legislature is adding "disadvantaged" and "disproportionally impacted" businesses to the language. Those businesses could be those with five or fewer employees, where the business or its owner lives an economically distressed area or other factors, in addition to minority-owned businesses.
The legislation also is moving the relief program from the Minority Business Office to its umbrella agency, the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and gives state and local governments until April 1 to distribute the money.
The same legislation in the special session also carved out $7.5 million to arts and cultural organizations, which is unaffected.
"COVID obviously has had a significant decrease in business operations," said Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat co-sponsoring the bipartisan cleanup. "Small businesses of color have suffered unprecedented and disproportionate drop to COVID-19. That's a decline in actual businesses and revenue."
She cited statistics on declines in Black- and brown-owned businesses.
Rep. Shane Sandridge, a Republican from Colorado, co-sponsored the bill.
"Any time I have an opportunity to give businesses some of their money back, I'm going to do it," he told the committee.
He said small businesses have given the state tax revenue for years, and it's more than fair to give some back in crisis.
"This is not a handout," Sandridge said. "We're refunding pennies from the millions they've given us."
Wednesday, the first day of the regular session, the Senate moved the legislation through two committees. and a 34-0 passage on the floor.
Because the bill was amended in the House, however, it will have to return to the Senate to be reconsidered.