Froelich-Singer bill to combat wage theft approved 64-0
(Apr. 10) — The House approved two bills with bipartisan support to protect workers from wage theft and to safeguard Coloradans from the unfair practice of wage garnishment.
This morning, the House unanimously passed HB19-1267, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, and Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Englewood. This bill would make the withholding or stealing wages a criminal offense.
“This is about protecting workers. Wage theft is being treated very differently from theft when it is a corrosive act in society,” said Rep. Froelich. “We want to bring restitution for these workers and contractors who have faced wage theft. Stealing from workers isn’t a partisan issue and I’m glad the House made that abundantly clear today.”
Currently, employers stealing wages from employees or contractors is a classified misdemeanor. Often times, it is not even worthy of prosecutors to go after because the penalties are so low.
“Over $750 million a year are in lost wages. These are everyday workers across the board who are losing their hard-earned wages,” said Rep. Singer. “Labor trafficking is the majority of human trafficking. This bill will actually help workers in a way that the government never could.”
This bipartisan bill now heads to the Senate.
The House also approved HB19-1189, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, and Rep. Alex Valdez, D-Denver, with bipartisan support. The bill would require clearer and more timely notice of garnishment and to allow individuals more time to prepare for possible reduced wages and understand their options better.
“We were able to bring consumer advocates and debt collection agencies together to provide relief for Colorado families who need it most,” said Rep. Matt Gray. “Colorado workers who are having their wages garnished will see more take home pay to afford the cost of housing, child care and investing in their future.”
In addition to making wage garnishment intentions more clear, this bill will also reduce the disposable earning subject to garnishments and create a general hardship exemption that would permit individuals to prove in court that the amount of their pay subject to garnishment should be further reduced or eliminated all together.
“When we heard testimony, someone said wage garnishment is traditionally a methodology used to go after people who don’t have any money, I believe this is true,” said Rep. Valdez. “We need to consider the people we can help, even if it’s just a little bit, even if it’s just a few. We need to take a step in the right direction.”
A 2017 national study found that wage garnishments disproportionately impacts lower income individuals earning between $20,000 to $60,000. Colorado ranks 34th among 50 states for protecting individuals’ paychecks from onerous garnishment.
The bill passed the House floor with a bipartisan vote of 37-27. The bill now heads to the Senate.