Democrats frustrated as Gov. Polis vetoes six Colorado bills, almost all from his own party

Colorado's state House on the last day of the legislative session. May 8, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Colorado’s state House on the last day of the legislative session. May 8, 2023.

Gov. Jared Polis is working his way through hundreds of bills that were approved by the state legislature — and he doesn’t like all of them. 

On Friday, Polis vetoed six bills that were passed by the legislature, ensuring that they do not become law. The sponsors of the vetoed measures were mostly Democrats, like Polis is; the party controls the state legislature.

It was another example of the Democrat-versus-Democrat dynamic that has shaped the last few legislative sessions. Sen. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat, was a sponsor of four of the vetoed measures, including proposals on labor rights, youth sports and HVAC systems in schools.

“It runs in conflict to what the voters across the state want, what the community wants, what workers want, what families want. There's no gray area, he opposed the policies. And he did it officially,” Danielson said.

Polis generally argued that the vetoed bills were too broadly worded or would have unintended consequences. 

Here’s what Polis struck down on Friday.

Labor rights measures

HB24-1008, a measure that would have attempted to combat wage theft in the construction industry. The measure would have put more responsibility on general contractors to fight wage theft from their subcontractors. General contractors would have been liable for any wages legally owed to employees by subcontractors.

In a veto letter, Polis said that wage theft is “a deplorable crime,” but said that holding contractors responsible for subcontractors’ actions was the wrong strategy. “Wage theft is wrong, but punishment for any crime should focus on the wrongdoers,” Polis wrote, calling for a new process to look at solutions.

The bill’s sponsors had argued that contractors should be held responsible because they are using subcontractors to evade their responsibilities. “Such accountability will enlist general contractors in the fight against wage theft, incentivize engagement with law-abiding subcontractors who pay their workers correctly, and encourage general contractors to root out bad actors who underbid for contracts knowing they will make up the difference by denying their workers the wages they earned,” the bill stated.

The bill’s prime sponsors were Majority Leader Monica Duran, Rep. Meg Froelich, Sen. Danielson and Sen. Chris Kolker, all Democrats.

HB24-1260 would have given employees more power to ignore their bosses on the topics of religion and politics. 

The measure would have generally guaranteed that employees can refuse to participate in employer-sponsored meetings about “religious or political matters,” without fear of punishment.

“It’s important that employers have freedom of speech and their employees have freedom of choice to attend these meetings,” said Rep. Monica Duran, a Democrat, in an earlier statement about the bill. Supporters specifically said that employers were using these “captive audience meetings” to discourage workers from joining unions.

Polis wrote in a veto letter that he agreed with many of the sponsors’ goals, but he worried that the “definitions of ‘political matters’ and ‘religious matters’ are so broad that they are unworkable and would result in unintended consequences … “

Polis added that “no employee should be forced to attend a meeting that focuses on the negative aspects of union participation,” and that he would have supported a bill focused on that idea.

The bill’s prime sponsors were Duran, Rep. Tim Hernández and Danielson, all Democrats.

Schools and sports

HB24-1307 would have set new requirements on some school’s HVAC systems. Schools seeking federal funding for their heat and air conditioning systems would have had to meet certain specifications related to installation, inspection, maintenance and reporting. The bill also called on the state to help schools plan HVAC projects and apply for grants.

The sponsors said their goal was to strengthen the proposals from Colorado schools as they seek that federal money. In a veto letter, Polis lauded that goal, but said the bill would have created roadblocks, including in rural communities that don’t have contractors that meet the bill’s requirements.

School “districts in rural counties would need to find labor outside of their communities, which can drive up costs and delay projects,” Polis wrote. An alternative option offered by the bill could be “challenging or unrealistic,” he added.

The bill’s sponsors were Rep. Sheila Lieder, Rep. Eliza Hamrick, Sen. Janice Marchman and Danielson, all Democrats.

HB24-1080 would have implemented new requirements on youth sports organizations and local parks districts, ensuring that each staff member is trained in CPR and defibrillator usage, and requiring background checks every three years.

“Ensuring that adults who coach youth sports have been vetted to gauge whether they would potentially harm a child is an important step in keeping kids safe while engaged in youth sports,” the bill had stated.

Polis’ veto letter described the bill as an “unfunded mandate” with “ambiguous language” and that it would have made it difficult for youth sports leagues “to recruit volunteers or operate at all.” Polis noted that he signed another bill, SB24-113, which set requirements that coaches receive training in mandatory reporting and set requirements related to abuse training, background checks, among other changes. Polis said the two bills could conflict, which Danielson denied.

“That's a problem for me as a parent as a Coloradan,” she said of the veto.

The bill’s sponsors were Rep. Jennifer Parenti, Rep. Jenny Willford, Danielson and Marchman, all Democrats.

Solid waste management

SB24-150 would have limited the use of solid waste incinerators, and it would have declared that gas produced by the burning of waste is not a renewable or clean energy source. The bill would have barred tate incentives for combustion units and increased regulation of pyrolysis and gasification processes.

The bill’s sponsors had described combustion units as a community health risk that perpetuate “the extractive, polluting, linear economy by investing in infrastructure that needs to be continuously supplied with cardboard, paper, and plastics that could otherwise be reduced or recycled[.]”

Polis vetoed the measure. He shared concerns about air quality impacts, but defended pyrolysis and gasification as potential routes to produce sustainable aviation fuel.

It “is not appropriate to speculatively disincentivize critical pathways that could be important to Colorado’s efforts on climate action,” Polis wrote in a veto letter. He argued that state and federal regulators would ultimately be responsible for assessing the air quality impact of any project.

The bill’s prime sponsors were Sen. Lisa Cutter, Sen. Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Rep. Froelich, all Democrats.

Insurers and pharmaceuticals

HB24-1010, which would have applied new health care regulations aimed at the practice of “white bagging,” in which insurers require that medications are purchased from specialty mail-order pharmacies. The bill would have limited insurance carriers from setting certain limits on which pharmacies can provide drugs for patients.

Polis wrote in a veto letter that “white bagging arose to help reduce the rising cost of specialty drugs through negotiated pricing,” and said that the bill would have removed “an important way to negotiate lower costs.” White bagging can be a way to reduce the markups imposed by doctors, hospitals and other distributors, its defenders argue.

Supporters of the bill argued that white bagging was inconvenient, since it forced patients to go through specialty pharmacies, and some had raised safety concerns, as Westword reported.

The bill’s sponsors were Rep. Matt Soper and Sen. Perry Will, both Republicans, and Rep. Iman Jodeh and Michaelson Jenet, both Democrats.