House and Senate Democrats unveiled their first piece of legislation for 2012 on Wednesday, reflecting a continued commitment to a legislative agenda focused on jobs and the economy.
Senate Bill 1 — usually considered one of the Senate majority’s top legislative priorities — would direct state agencies to give preference to Colorado companies bidding on state government contracts. It would apply to state service and construction contracts exceeding $1 million, and would take effect on July 1, 2012. Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, is the Senate sponsor of the bill which will officially be introduced in January.
A percentage of preference — in which bids would be evaluated by state agencies based on a lower percentage of the full bid amount — would be awarded to Colorado contractors based on the number of Colorado employees assigned to each job; the amount of health care and retirement benefits offered by the contractor; and whether apprentice training programs are offered. The idea is to give Colorado contractors a lower bid advantage when competing for state contracts against non-resident bidders. If the Colorado contractor is awarded a contract based on the evaluated preference, then they will still get their full bid amount.
Service contractors would see 3 percent preferences if they certify that at least 90 percent of their employees working on the contract are Colorado residents. They would receive another 2 percent preference if they certify that they offer health care and retirement benefits to all employees hired under the government contract.
Construction contractors would also see a 3 percent preference if they certify the same 90 percent workforce. They would see a 1 percent preference if they certify that they offer health care and retirement benefits to all employees working on the contract. And an additional 1 percent preference would be offered to construction contractors who certify that employees have access to an apprentice training program that is approved by the U.S. Department of Labor.
“The focus of the 2012 legislative session is singular: To get Colorado’s economy back on track,” explained Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, at a statehouse news conference on Wednesday.
In the past, Democrats have seen resistance from Republicans over providing a preference to union contractors. House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, acknowledged that union issues could once again become a topic of debate, but he said because Republicans now control the House, a “higher level of scrutiny” is offered.
“Every time the Democrats talk about job creation there’s the fine print that they don’t talk about, which is the union payback that’s involved,” McNulty told The Colorado Statesman. “We saw it when they were in power, and they were successful in moving many of those paybacks through because there was nobody to stop them.”
Reps. Su Ryden, D-Aurora and Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, are House sponsors of SB 1. Ryden said she is hopeful that Democrats will be able to break through gridlock related to union issues.
“I anticipate that we’re going to be doing everything we can to work together across the aisle and to be cooperative to create jobs for Colorado,” she said. “I can’t anticipate what someone may or may not do, I just know that we’re going in with a very positive attitude.”
Republicans, who control the House by only one seat, could block SB 1 in the House if concerns are raised over such controversial issues as union support. Democrats currently control the Senate, so there is less chance that the bill will face major gridlock.
But contention could come from state agencies that have argued in the past that such bills drive up costs by forcing agencies into higher bids. During the last legislative session, at least two bills introduced by Democrats aimed to provide preference to Colorado-based contractors and vendors were killed in committee after Republicans raised concerns.
House Bill 1233, introduced by Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, would have created a 5 percent preference for Colorado-based construction contractors. The bill would have required state agencies to award a construction contract to a Colorado-based bidder using a workforce of at least 80 percent Colorado residents, so long as the bid did not exceed a low non-resident bidder by more than 5 percent. A fiscal analysis earlier this year estimated an increased construction cost to the state of $7 million. A fiscal analysis has yet to be conducted for SB 1.
Another bill introduced by Democrats last session offered preference to Colorado vendors. House Bill 1129, introduced by Reps. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, and Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, would have changed state procurement policies to give preference in the event of a tie to Colorado-based bidders using local workers.
Shaffer, an announced candidate in Congressional District 4 against incumbent Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, is not a sponsor of SB 1, but he offered his support for the bill on Wednesday, pointing out that Democrats have “incorporated lessons learned.”
“At the very core, this is about hiring Colorado workers, and we think that is a strong selling point for any piece of legislation,” said Shaffer, who has repeatedly stated that job creation and the economy are his congressional campaign’s focal points.
Contractor Estevan M. Trujillo, co-owner of Denver-based Raymond’s Painting and Decorating, said he hopes to hire additional workers for any state contracts he wins as a result of the preference.
“We could keep the employees that we have busy, but hopefully more so than that, expand and grow our business,” said Trujillo. “That’s what we’re here for.”