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Colorado bill seeking to increase worker protections to be heard in committee this week

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Robert Davis | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – Colorado's Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony this week on a bill that would make several changes to the state’s anti-discrimination statute. 

If passed, Senate Bill 21-176, also known as the Protecting Opportunities And Workers Act (POWR) Act, would allow employees to bring claims directly against their employers and would extend "unfair employment practices" to include failing to take immediate action on claims of harassment or discrimination.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Reps. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Matt Gray, D-Boulder.

“The POWR Act establishes caregivers as a protected status and ensures that employers don’t discriminate against those caring for children or loved ones – a crucial provision if we are going to fully recover from this pandemic both socially and economically,” Colorado’s Senate Democrats said in a joint statement on Monday.

While bill sponsors intend to offer increased protections for workers with the legislation, it has already faced some opposition.

The Colorado Municipal League, which lobbies on behalf of municipalities, said it does not support the bill because it would create new liability for local governments and includes independent contractors.

“We also have concerns that the language goes far beyond Title VII in Federal law by including language that an individual would not have to show that an act is 'severe or pervasive' to be considered unlawful,” the organization said about the bill.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses-Colorado, a small-business advocacy organization, said the bill puts small business owners in harm's way by making them liable for injuries or deaths caused by COVID-19.

“We didn’t expect any pro-small-business policies to come out of this Legislature, given the make-up of its membership, but we also didn’t expect it to go out of its way to engage in pillaging Colorado’s Main Street, mom-and-pop enterprises, as it is seeking to do with SB-176,” said Tony Gagliardi, NFIB-Colorado's state director.

SB-176 will make its debut before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.