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Fighting back tears, state Rep. Susan Lontine told members of a Colorado House committee on Monday evening that she wouldn’t be making changes to a bill on workplace harassment.
“I don’t see the point in running amendments when we already know the outcome,” the Denver Democrat said. The House Judiciary Committee voted down SB21-176 in a 9-2 vote, with sponsors committing to bringing another bill back next year to add more protections against workplace harassment.
The bill passed the Senate last month, and in that version, it would have gotten rid of what’s referred to as the “severe or pervasive” standard to prove workplace harassment; extended the timeline for when harassment or discrimination claims could be filed and allowed them to be filed directly in civil court; required employers to provide training; and made employers’ process for filing claims clear. It also would have added protections for people who are caregivers.
But some disability groups were concerned about how the bill could affect the people they represent, and lawmakers who are attorneys on the committee worried about the bill’s scope. Business groups and Republicans were in opposition because they worried about the effects potential lawsuits would have on businesses.
All of these things prompted sponsors to draft several major amendments to the bill in the final days of the session; sponsors like Lontine felt the changes reduced the bill’s impact but still were a step forward.
It wasn’t enough to get even some fellow Democrats on board. All four Republicans on the committee also voted against it.
“It’s really hard on this committee when we have to separate emotional issues from legal issues,” Arvada Democratic Rep. Lindsey Daugherty said. “It’s really tough to do that and it’s been a struggle for me.”
Democratic members who said they were voting against the bill noted that their votes were about the legal policies and numerous issues the bill was trying to address at one time, not about whether a bill on workplace harassment was needed.
Democratic Rep. Adrienne Benavidez of Commerce City also wanted the bill to go further in inclusivity and address issues like racial harassment.