Aurora moves forward bills on lobbying disclosures, sales tax exemptions on menstrual products

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AURORA | Aurora lawmakers gave first OKs during a study session Monday to plans carving out sales tax exemptions for menstrual products, extending a temporary price cap on tech food delivery firms and implementing strict lobbying disclosure requirements. 

The board shot down would-be ethics rules, crafted by councilmembers Nicole Johnston and Juan Marcano, that would have established a new Board of Ethics of experts to hear and enforce possible ethical violations among city officials, including city council members. Currently, a board of three retired judges handles such cases. 

Lawmakers including Dave Gruber and Francoise Bergan were concerned that the city council would stack the new ethics board with politically-motivated figures. But Johnston eventually agreed that the rules would benefit from another look from sponsors and a judge. 

Councilmembers Allison Hiltz and Curtis Gardner co-sponsored a bill that would remove sales tax costs when cashiers ring up tampons, menstrual pads, sanitary napkins, panty liners, menstrual sponges and menstrual cups. It would cost the city about $230,000 and help women suffering in the economy during the pandemic, Hiltz said. 

The plan will move to the council floor for official votes, along with an extension of the city’s price cap on third-party food delivery apps GrubHub, Uber Eats and DoorDash. 

Lawmakers created the rule last year in an effort to help struggling businesses. Instead of expiring on March 31 as originally planned, that rule will stay on the books until June 30. At least one of the delivery giants, DoorDash, responded to the rule this year by raising prices on customers. 

Gardner, who also co-sponsored this bill, said the slow vaccine rollout will likely keep businesses operating under in-person dining capacities that push customers to take-out or delivery meals. 

And enough lawmakers gave first approval to sponsor Angela Lawson’s lobbying ordinance. The sweeping rules would require lobbyists to register their clients and income with the city, which would be made public to boost public trust in government, Lawson said. 

Lobbyists who try to duck the rules, or flout them, could lose the ability to influence city officials on matters from development to zoning rules, permits and city contracts. They’d have to submit quarterly, detailed reports on their activities and financial motivations or face possible expulsion and up to $2,500 fines per each charge. 

The rules would apply to lobbyists and the city council but also the city manager, city staff, board and commission members, presiding judges and more. The city clerk would decide if rules had been violated and hand down judgements. 

Elsewhere, lawmakers gave a first approval to a plan diverting $575,000 in city marijuana sales tax revenues toward homelessness program spending. 

All lawmakers except Gruber approved a resolution expressing support for LGBTQ residents’ free speech in metro districts after a Sentinel report last week; and after a narrow 6-5 vote, the city council will send a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to sever a federal contract with private immigration detention companies including GEO Inc.’s facility in Aurora.

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