DENVER — Citing Congress’ failure to pass a new coronavirus economic relief package, Colorado’s Democrat-led Legislature convened on Monday in a special session called by Gov. Jared Polis to pass bills offering sales tax relief and state grants to small businesses, tenants and public school districts affected by the pandemic.
Over the weekend, Democratic lawmakers unveiled bills offering a combined $280 million to help small firms through the winter; sustain child care facilities; deliver rental and mortgage aid for landlords and tenants; and boost food pantry stocks.
The proposals also cover fortifying broadband and internet access for public school teachers and students; helping residents pay utility bills; and a $100 million transfer to by used by the state for mounting COVID-related public health expenses. For example, state-run COVID testing has reached 40,000 per day, according to Democratic Rep. Julie McCluskie.
Lawmakers also are considering legislation to allow restaurants, bars and food trucks to keep state sales tax collections they otherwise would have to remit to the state, at least through February.
Senate President Leroy Garcia told reporters Sunday that congressional inaction compelled state lawmakers to act, even if the amount at their disposal is limited. “Quite frankly, we cannot wait any longer,” he said.
Many states want President Donald Trump and Congress to extend the Dec. 30 deadline for spending virus relief money already allocated under the CARES Act, which was approved in March, and to provide more federal funding to deal with the consequences of the latest surge.
Among the obstacles blocking new relief are Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s demand for state and local government aid and Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s call for a liability shield to protect businesses, schools and nonprofits open during the pandemic from COVID-related lawsuits.
In Denver, lawmakers and staff entering the Colorado capitol are being tested for the coronavirus and public testimony is limited to written comment submitted through the legislature’s website.
Polis, a Democrat, announced Saturday that he and first gentleman Marlon Reis tested positive for the coronavirus but are asymptomatic.
Under lawmakers’ consideration:
–$57 million in small business relief, including $37 million in direct payments, nearly $7 million to the state health department to cover local license fees for restaurants hit by capacity restrictions, and nearly $2 million to cover liquor license fees.
–A temporary state sales tax waiver for restaurants, bars and other food establishments.
–$45 million to support 2,600 child care centers.
–$50 million in housing assistance for landlords and residents to be used through June.
–$20 million in grants to school districts for broadband, Wi-Fi and other means to facilitate remote learning.
The emergency aid would come from higher than anticipated revenues in the current fiscal year state budget. Polis already has ordered that $375 stimulus checks be sent to those who received unemployment benefits from March to October. The money is expected to be sent out in early December.
The pandemic has killed more than 2,500 people in Colorado and infected more than 228,000, straining the state’s emergency hospital capacity.
The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Polis and first gentleman Marlon Reis
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