Polis vetoes bill that would let more Colorado workers accept tips

An attempt by Colorado lawmakers to allow more workers to receive cash tips was rejected by Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday. The legislation had been intended to help low-income workers, but Polis said he was wary of what he cast as the bill’s unintended consequences.

HB23-1146 would’ve prohibited most employers from punishing workers for accepting tips. The measure exempted health care and gambling workers, as well as employees who work with the elderly or in fields that require licensure. Rep. Alex Valdez, one of the Democratic sponsors, told fellow lawmakers in February the bill was intended to put more money in low-income Coloradans’ pockets during a period of inflation. He pointed to grocery baggers or other service workers who face possible reprimands from their bosses for accepting cash gratuity.

Though it passed on a near-party line vote in the House, even some Republicans voiced support for the bill. Rep. Rick Taggart, of Mesa County, said he found it “objectionable” that workers often can’t accept tips. No group had registered with the Secretary of State’s office to support or oppose the bill, and no one testified during its primary committee hearing in February. Business industry groups, including the Colorado Restaurant Association, did not oppose the bill (albeit after slight tweaks).

Still, Polis vetoed the bill Tuesday, part of a suite of three rejections. In a letter explaining the decision, he said he worried about workers giving preferential treatment to patrons who tip. He also expressed concern about what he described as the “arbitrary and incomplete nature” of a list of employees who would still not be allowed to accept tips, like health care workers.

“Above all, this is not an appropriate area for state regulation,” he wrote in a letter to Valdez and the bill’s other primary sponsor, Democratic Sen. Robert Rodriguez. “Some employers use innovative business models or choose for other business reasons to disallow tipping of their employees to reduce corruption, encourage equal treatment of patrons, or foster a more professional environment.”

Nina DiSalvo, the policy director for the nonprofit law firm Towards Justice, said she wasn’t displeased that the bill had been vetoed. It risked further entrenching tipping culture and creating confusion for businesses with no-tip policies, she said.

Valdez did not return requests for comment Wednesday. Rodriguez said the veto “hurt” and that the governor’s concerns were related to stifling businesses and the risk of preferential treatment given to tipping patrons. He said tipping generally was an area worthy of further exploration — a late attempt to add a broader study into the bill failed — but he wasn’t sure if he would be involved in working on a similar bill next year.

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