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Businesses Could Weigh In On Colorado Bills

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Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – It’s a perennial gripe about Colorado lawmakers: They regulate businesses without realizing how much red tape they’re creating.

That could change under a bipartisan proposal to give industries a chance to weigh in on legislation before it’s approved.

What’s unclear is whether the so-called “business fiscal impact statements” submitted by a Democratic House member and Republican Senate member would really make a difference. The statements would simply consist of comment from businesses, something they’re free to submit already.

Legislative bodies from California to Massachusetts have adopted business impact statements. In Colorado, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, a restaurant-owner-turned-politician, has called for them. He has said many times that cutting red tape is a top priority for reviving the economy.

“Just as we require a fiscal note for every new bill that estimates the costs to state government, we could also include an estimation of the cost to businesses of additional regulations,” Hickenlooper told lawmakers last month in his first State of the State address.

The GOP quickly embraced the proposal, and sponsors say Senate Bill 116 could achieve Hickenlooper’s goal.

“I applauded the governor’s proposal to pay more attention to the cost of government regulation to jobs,” said Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield.

The House sponsor, Democratic Rep. Andy Kerr, is a middle-school teacher who said that no one gets more frustrated than educators when lawmakers pass well-intentioned regulations that don’t work.

“Every time the Legislature got into session it seemed they passed legislation about education. I would look at those and think, ‘Have any of these people talked to someone in education?'” Kerr said.

Under the bill, Colorado businesses would have a five-day period, designated by the Legislature, to submit comments about how a bill might affect them. Those comments could be summarized and attached to legislation for lawmakers to consider.

Unlike many states with business impact requirements, Colorado’s legislative staffers would not draw conclusions about how bills might affect industry. They would simply pass on the comments — something businesses are free to submit to individual lawmakers now.

Ken Poole of the Virginia-based Council for Community and Economic Research, an industry group for economic development planners, said that the Mitchell-Kerr legislation would simply set up a public comment period.

“I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but if it’s just a public comment period, that’s much different from doing a fiscal impact assessment,” Poole said.

Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown said the governor hasn’t decided whether to support the proposal by Mitchell and Kerr. He didn’t elaborate on whether the business-comment requirement would suffice.

On Friday, though, the governor told reporters he’s still looking for ideas to streamline regulation.

“How do we define the difference between appropriate regulation and red tape?” Hickenlooper said.

The state’s largest chamber of commerce, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, hasn’t formally taken a position on the Mitchell-Kerr legislation, either. But Loren Furman, the chamber’s head of legislative affairs, said her group likes what they’ve heard about it.

“It would definitely help to have some feedback from the business community,” Furman said.

Mitchell conceded that any comments may not streamline regulation or make a big difference in what gets passed. But it’s not a waste of paper, he insisted. “At the very least it should prompt more sober and informed policy-making decisions,” Mitchell said.

- By Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press Writer

(© 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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