State senator removed from bill targeting wage theft after facing accusation she refused to pay staffer

State Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis lost her position chairing a powerful Senate committee and was removed from a bill concerning wage theft — both decisions made by top Democrats earlier this year after she allegedly refused to pay an employee working under her.

Records obtained by The Denver Post show that the senator’s resistance to signing off on an aide’s time card in December was among concerns raised by her party’s leadership over the last year. Jaquez Lewis, a Longmont Democrat, also was admonished months earlier by Senate leadership for “concerning” behavior reported by staff and other members of the legislature, according to email records.

Early in this year’s session, in January, a Senate leader quietly removed her as chair of the chamber’s Local Government and Housing Committee, though she remains a member of the panel. Committee chairs help steer — or stall — legislation as bills move through the General Assembly, and they are powerful positions when it comes to setting state policy.

Jaquez Lewis was also an initial prime sponsor of House Bill 1008, a bill aimed at preventing wage theft in the construction industry, that was introduced in early January. By February, House Majority Leader Monica Duran had removed Jaquez Lewis’s name from the bill.

Duran did so, she said in an interview Tuesday, because she “felt it would not be appropriate” to have Jaquez Lewis carrying it. Refusing to pay an employee for work done could have led to claims of wage theft if the aide ended up going unpaid for their work.

“I wanted that focus to stay on the bill, not on Sen. Jaquez Lewis,” Duran said. “Nor did I feel it was appropriate to have someone who’s being questioned — being asked about wage theft — to be on the wage theft bill.”

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Jaquez Lewis denied refusing to sign anyone’s timesheet. She said she was traveling when the incident happened and tried to sign off on it when she could, but it had already been handled internally.

Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, would eventually sign off on the aide’s time card, according to records obtained through the Colorado Open Records Act.

Underscoring the rarity of the issue, email records show that Fenberg had to ask staff if it was in his power as Senate president to OK the timesheet if the aide’s supervising senator “refuses” to sign off.

In a brief interview, Fenberg said he chose the word “refuses” because it reflected his understanding of the event. He otherwise declined to discuss the incident, citing workplace confidentiality requirements.

Records show Fenberg also had previously warned Jaquez Lewis about her alleged behavior toward staff members.

In September, Fenberg wrote to Jaquez Lewis that several staff members and legislators “witnessed behavior they found concerning,” according to an email obtained through a records request. While he did not specify the behavior at issue in that email, Fenberg wrote that it was “similar to the issues” previously discussed with her.

“For a staff member to not feel respected and …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Politics


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