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Colorado barbershop sues Polis over COVID relief set aside for minority-owned businesses

The lawsuit argues that coronavirus relief funds set aside specifically for minority-owned businesses violates the 14th amendment.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A Colorado Springs barbershop owner has sued Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Minority Business Office (CMBO) this week over recently signed COVID-19 legislation aimed at providing relief to minority-owned small businesses in the state.

The lawsuit, filed by Etienne Hardre, who owns Locals Barbershop, argues that the bill is unconstitutional because it includes race-based classifications to receive funding.  

A statement from Hardre's attorney, Michael Kuhn, reads in part, "Mr. Hardre's lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court to examine whether a race-based classification is consistent to the U.S. Constitution."

Polis’ office confirmed they received the lawsuit, but did not offer further comment.

Senate Bill 1, also known as the COVID-19 Relief for Small & Minority Businesses/Arts Organizations, was among the bills passed during a special legislative session last week. On Dec. 7, Polis signed the bill into law, which includes $4 million in funding available to minority-owned businesses.

The bill mandates that the CMBO use a portion of the funds for “relief payments to minority-owned businesses that have been most impacted by COVID-19."

In the lawsuit, Hardre, who is white, states that the pandemic has inflicted "significant economic harm" on revenue at Locals Barbershop, which has seen business decline by 33% this year.

To stay in business, the lawsuit says, Locals Barbershop would apply for economic assistance from the state, including the economic relief payments that are “currently reserved exclusively for minority-owned business.”

"SB1 appropriates $4 million for COVID-19 relief payments for minority-owned businesses,"  the lawsuit reads. "Excluded from this appropriation are businesses owned and operated by Caucasians. These businesses are excluded from participating in these relief payments for no reason other than the racial identities of the business owners."

According to the lawsuit, the legislation defines a minority-owned business as a “business that is at least [51%] owned, operated and controlled by an individual who is a member of a minority group."

Kuhn's statement goes on to say, "We recognize that reasonable people may disagree about whether Section 8 of Senate Bill 1 is good public policy.....The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that race-based classifications are only permissible when they are a 'last resort.'"

Since state and county health departments first began reporting demographic information about coronavirus cases, statistics have shown that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts Hispanic and Black Coloradans.

RELATED: CDPHE: Black, Hispanic people in Colorado disproportionately impacted by COVID-19

The lawsuit seeks to remove race-based qualifications for small businesses seeking the economic stimulus funds. 

“Limiting certain economic stimulus payments to minority-owned businesses violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by unconstitutionally making facial racial classifications,” the lawsuit says.

RELATED: COVID-19 relief funds coming to Colorado's minority-owned businesses, art community, entertainers

RELATED: Polis extends Colorado mask mandate another 30 days

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