House Committee Kills Union Preference Bill


A House committee killed the “Hire Coloradans First Act” yesterday on a party line vote, with lawmakers citing rising construction costs and onerous health care and pension mandates imposed by the bill as deal killers. Five House Republicans on the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted against the legislation, while four Democrats on the committee voted to move the bill out of committee.

The union preferences bill, sponsored by Sen. Evie Hudak (D-SD19) and Sen. Bob Bacon (D-SD14), would have provided a five percent bidding preference to state contractors that met certain criteria. To qualify for the full bidding preferences created in the legislation, firms would have had to provide retirement and health care benefits required by ObamaCare, provide apprenticeship programs approved by the U.S. Dept. of Labor (many of which require union membership), and certify that at least 90 percent of their employees are Colorado residents.

When Media Trackers called Rep. Larry Liston (R-HD16), a Republican member of the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee, he said the bill could have created an adverse situation for Colorado by fueling what he called a “trade war with neighboring states.” While proponents of the bill touted similar legislation in California, Rep. Liston noted that California has 13 percent unemployment and is on the verge of bancruptcy. Instead of replicating a model in California that is not work, Rep. Liston suggested Colorado follow the free market, low-tax model of states like Texas, Utah, and Nebraska. “The free market can figure this out better than a mandate from the state,” Rep. Liston said.

Rep. Don Coram (R-HD58), the vide-chair of the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee, noted that Colorado law already requires 80 percent local hires for public works contracts. “Increasing costs and regulations for a 10 percent increase in the residency requirement made little sense in the long run,” he said. Rep. Coram went on to note that the state doesn’t look far enough down the road to recognize the detrimental impacts of these “feel-good bills”.

Rep. Liston and Coram both cited the health care mandate as particularly troubling. This requirement would have forced some Colorado firms currently competing for public works projects to either change their current system of benefits, a costly change for smaller, non-union firms, or miss out on the opportunity to win contracts when competing with firms that would have received the full five percent preference.  Media Trackers previously asked Sen. Hudak and Sen. Bacon whether the ObamaCare compliance preference would have been available to firms or unions that received federal waivers from the program, but the lawmakers were unable to provide details about the effects of the legislative provision.

The union preference bill was part of a larger jobs package put together by Colorado Democrats. The companion “Buy American” bill, which would give a one percent preference to firms that purchase materials produced domestically, also failed to move through the House today.  A tie vote of 4-4 prevented the legislation from continuing to move through the House.

Follow Aaron Gardner on Twitter: @aaron_rs

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