2021 Leg Session, Featured, Governor Polis, Loveland, Original Report, Sherrie Peif

Northern Colorado Senator wants small biz protection in emergencies; bill would define ‘essential’

Update: The bill discussed in this article has since been introduced into the legislature as Senate Bill 21-005.

LOVELAND — A Northern Colorado Senator is lining up a series of bills he hopes will even the playing field for businesses impacted by emergency declarations, protect against COVID-19 lawsuit abuse and secure future elections from possible voter fraud.

Sen. Rob Woodward, R-Loveland, is hoping the second time is a charm when it comes to getting bipartisan support on a bill to protect small businesses in Colorado against future emergency declarations that end up favoring large corporations.

Rob Woodward

Although the bill has not been introduced or assigned to committee yet, Woodward is hopeful a bill defining “essential” and “non essential” businesses will gain bipartisan support this time around. Even then, Governor Polis will need to give approval to a bill designed to take away some of his own power to pick and choose which businesses are deemed “essential” in the case of an emergency.

“The painful reality we saw last April with the governor’s declaration is it empowered him and local health officials to pick winners and losers,” Woodward said. “Specifically, he frequently chose to allow big box national commercial chains to stay open.”

The main purpose of the bill would allow specialty mom and pop businesses to remain open alongside larger businesses such as Walmart and Target. For example, big box giants that sell hardware, make up, televisions etc, should not be allowed to remain open while niche businesses that specialize in one of those products are forced to close, Woodward said.

“Similar were liquor stores,” Woodward said, “They were still able to sell things like cigarettes. But the smoke shop next door was forced to close down.”

The bill is clear that the smaller businesses would still need to comply with all the same safety mandates in place but would be allowed to remain open.

Woodward said the bill should get assigned to committee as soon as the legislature reconvenes after taking a pause to the session schedule under the guise of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Woodward introduced a similar bill during the special session late last year, but it was killed along party lines in committee, with those opposed saying it was outside the scope of the Governor’s call for the session, he said.

He’s hopeful he can gather the needed votes among majority Democrats because it is modeled very closely to a bill that passed overwhelming bipartisan support in Ohio last year, but he said nothing about his Democrat colleagues surprises him anymore.

“When many of my bills get killed, I have lots of Democrats walk up to me and say it was a good idea and they supported it, but they just killed it,” he said. “I don’t know what to believe. Standing up to the governor to take away some of his power — I have not really seen that kind of courage from that side of the aisle.”

Two more bills Complete Colorado will follow as they are presented by Woodward include one that will make it harder for businesses, schools and churches to be held liable for illness and death caused by COVID-19.

“The bipartisan bill limits lawsuits and forces a plaintiff to prove negligence,” Woodward said. “I expect it to be fought tooth and nail by the trial lawyers.”

The other bill would close a loophole in election law that Woodward said was exposed during a legislative audit hearing in December. Woodward said the Larimer County Clerk and Recorder as well as others brought to light the ability to “witness” the signature on a mail-in ballot by anyone — including fictional characters.

“You could sign it Micky Mouse and put it in the mail and our county clerks are required to count it, no questions asked,” said Woodward.

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