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No go for bill to bar felons from school jobs

A proposal that would have banned some people with felony convictions from non-teaching jobs at schools was killed Monday by the House Judiciary Committee.

It was the second year in a row that such a measure was proposed and defeated. On Monday seven committee Democrats outvoted four Republicans to defeat House Bill 10-1082, sponsored by Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.

The list of felonies in the bill included child abuse, crimes of violence, sex crimes including indecent exposure and drug crimes. In some cases a person’s juvenile record could have been a bar to non-licensed school jobs.

The bill also would have added drug crimes to the list of felonies that bar a person from a teaching job – and applied that retroactively to current teachers.

Witnesses opposed to the bill argued that it could unfairly deny jobs to rehabilitated applicants, that it was overreaching to include drug offenses that could include mere possession and was too rigid.

Karen Wick, lobbyist for the Colorado Education, said, “We see this bill as unnecessary,” given current law.

State law already requires applicants for non-teaching jobs to disclose felony convictions and submit to fingerprinting and background checks. School districts have wide latitude to reject or fire applicants with criminal backgrounds.

“One-size-fits-all mandates often create unintended consequences,” warned Bruce Caughey of the Colorado Association of School Executives, noting the zero-tolerance weapons law that the legislature had to modify last year.

But, Lisle Gates, principal of Castle View High School in Castle Rock, spoke in favor of the bill, saying student safety is paramount.

Committee member Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, later called opposition witnesses “members of our educational system advocating for having felons in our schools.”

McNulty said, the “second chance [for felons] should not come at the expense of the safety of our children.”

The committee passed amendments to soften the bill, including one eliminating the retroactive provision for current teachers and another specifying the bill would apply only to workers with direct student contact.

But that wasn’t enough for committee Democrats, and the bill was defeated and then postponed indefinitely.

“I think our school districts have all the authority they need,” said chair Sen. Claire Levy, D-Boulder.

In other action

The House Education Committee Monday approved three bills, including:

  • House Bill 10-1232, which broadens the legal definition of school bus to include other kinds of vehicles used by schools, such as vans. A majority of the committee, citing safety and cost concerns, stripped language from the bill that would have allowed 45-foot-long buses in Colorado, big enough to hold 91 elementary students. The current limit is 40 feet.
  • House Bill 10-1262, which would tap into a CollegeInvest scholarship fund to provide job-training scholarships in green technologies and medical services. This one may not go much further, given that it has only one sponsor (Rep. Jerry Frangas, D-Denver) and would use money that the Ritter administration wants to transfer to the general fund to help balance the budget.
  • House Bill 10-1035, which would require recipients of the Child Care Assistance Program to verify eligibility every year rather than every six months, as is required now.

The full House gave final approval to House Bill 10-1178, which would set standard reporting requirements for gift, grant and donations programs, and House Bill 10-1054, which requires state colleges to distribute safety information to students and staff.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

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