A bill inspired by a Rocky Mountain PBS investigation unanimously passed out of the state’s House Judiciary Committee the afternoon of April 21. Now it faces consideration by the House.
House Bill 16-1347 updates a 100-year old law that shields violators of wage and hour laws, such as minimum wage and overtime, from public scrutiny. Under the law’s current interpretation, state labor authorities consider records of wage and hour law violations confidential “trade secrets” and exempt them from the Colorado’s open records laws, as we reported last spring.
That means consumers, businesses and employees can’t find out whether the companies they want to patronize, compete against, or work for are treating their employees fairly under the law.
Bill sponsor Representative Jessie Danielson (D-District 24) referenced the Rocky Mountain PBS story in her testimony before the committee, saying most employers treat their employees right, but the outdated law on the books shields bad actors.
“What we’re doing right now is hiding people who steal from their employees,” she said.
For the past four months Danielson has met with workers advocates, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry to shape the bill’s language, she said.
“This makes everyone happy,” she said, holding up an amendment to the bill.
The amended HB 16-1437 would give the public the opportunity to view the state department of labor’s notices of citation and assessment against an employer, including information on which laws were violated, how they were violated and how much the employer owes in penalties and back wages. Those records would only become public after labor authorities complete an investigation, close the case and the employer has fully exhausted its rights to appeal.
Republican committee members, Representatives Paul Lundeen (District 19), Yeulin Willett (District 54) and Polly Lawrence (District 39) initially expressed concerns over the bills language, fearing that it “violated due process” and would unfairly “blacklist” employers, they said.
Rep. Willett added an amendment to clarify that records would only be available after an employer had the option to appeal the department of labor’s decision in a civil court proceeding and the case was closed.
The committee deliberated for two hours before the bill with two amendments passed 11-0.
Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition executive director Jeff Roberts applauded Rocky Mountain PBS’s investigation and the legislation it spurred.
“The power of good local journalism certainly is apparent when a state legislator takes notice of a story that exposes a problem begging for a legislative fix,” he said. “And it’s really notable when lawmakers from both parties rally around the proposed solution.”
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