Colorado lawmakers water down county COVID-19 restriction requirement for aid

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Republican Rep. Dave Williams hangs his head as he walks the sidelines of the House floor, while opting not to wear a face mask during a special legislative session at the Colorado State Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, Denver. Colorado lawmakers have passed several bills offering assistance to restaurants and food pantries struggling to keep their doors open during the coronavirus pandemic. The special session that was called by Gov. Jared Polis ended on Wednesday.

Colorado’s three-day special legislative session finished Wednesday with lawmakers watering down one of the most contentious parts of their $200 million-plus package aimed at providing economic relief during the coronavirus crisis. 

The Democratic-led General Assembly initially excluded businesses from being eligible for direct government aid if they were located in counties that refused to comply with public health mandates from Gov. Jared Polis’ administration. 

But a last-minute amendment to Senate Bill 1 extended the $37 million in relief to businesses in cities that adhere to the state regulations, as well as those within a mile, even if the cities are in a county that refuses to follow the regulations.

Republican lawmakers balked at the restrictions for aid dollars and struck a deal with Democrats to soften the approach to force counties to follow the guidelines. The move will spare some businesses located in Weld County, where commissioners have vowed to flout the state’s public health orders. The opponents of the bill argued the county was targeted by the compliance clause.

“I believe this amendment is essential to provide protections for businesses that are following public health orders and really want to continue to thrive,” said Rep. Mary Young, a Democrat who represents Greeley, the largest city in Weld County.

The legislation is the marquee relief measure for the special session and will be accessible to restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms and more businesses with less than $2.5 million in annual revenue. The small business relief program can provide up to $7,000 in a one-time payment to those that qualify. To be eligible, businesses must have lost at least 20% of their revenue since March 26, when the state’s first stay-at-home order was issued.

This story is being published partially at Coloradoan.com and in full in Coloradoan print editions through an agreement with the Colorado Sun. Read the full story online at coloradosun.com.