Tapia can’t forget what it’s like to go unpaid

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That’s the lesson Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, is taking to heart as he works to pass Senate Bill 95 through the Legislature.

Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, testifies before the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on SB 95.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

The bill, which would require construction companies and subcontractors to be paid for their services within 30 days of completing a job, has been killed twice in the House — first in 2007, and again in 2008.

This year, says Tapia, he hopes the measure will get a running start in the Senate before going to the House, where Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, is the co-sponsor.

On Monday, SB 95 got off to slow start, passing the Senate’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a 3-2 party-line vote before heading to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sens. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood and Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, voted in favor of the bill, while Sens. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, and Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, opposed it.

Tapia, who owned and operated an engineering firm for 28 years, said SB 95 would require government and commercial entities to pay their tabs in full within 30 days of invoice on any construction job of more than $100,000.

The former contractor believes his measure would help keep jobs in the state and stimulate the economy. A provision in the bill would allow extensions of up to 75 days, if various conditions are met.

“The issue that I am carrying here today is very familiar to me and is the reason I decided to carry the bill,” said Tapia, who noted that the construction industry employs nearly 9 percent of Colorado’s workforce.

“These (construction companies) will come here and they tell you that they have $100,000, $200,000 of receivables out there. And that is their living,” he continued. “That is what they build their business on. And when they can’t collect it, it is such an empty feeling to know you have done the work, you paid your employees and taxes, but you can’t collect your (bills). This is about jobs. It’s about employment. It’s about keeping our industry viable.”

In its current form, the measure faces yet another struggle.

Schultheis expressed concern over implementing state control over a private company’s ability to write contracts that best fit its operations and business model, but said he would support such regulation of government entities.

“I just have a real reluctance, a real reluctance to get involved in the contracting side of (private) business,” he said. “It feels like we’re imposing restrictions on everyone because of a few bad apples. There is compelling testimony on both sides.

“But I would really like to see the (public entities) part of this bill go through first, and see how that works for the next five years. And see if there are any issues that need to be worked out before we implement it on the private sector.”

Some of the Democrats who voted to pass the bill to the Appropriations Committee also expressed unease.

“I came in with some of the same concerns as Senator Schultheis had with right-to-contract issues and whether it’s appropriate for us to be putting contracting issues into statute,” Boyd said before voting to approve it. “I will vote with you today. I will move the bill to the committee on the appropriations. But you might think about who is being excluded and whether or not that is appropriate.”

Organizations testifying against the bill included the Colorado Water Congress, Qwest Communications and the Colorado Municipal League.

Weitz Construction and a handful of small construction contracting firms testified in its favor.

Jason@coloradostatesman.com