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School board contribution limits fail

The House Tuesday defeated House Bill 10-1272, which would have imposed contribution limits in school board and Regional Transportation District races.

The measure died on a standing vote after a sharp partisan debate over the role of teachers unions in school board races.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, was seen as a reaction to last autumn’s heavy spending in Denver and Douglas County school board races. Colorado Education Association lobbyists had taken a “monitoring” position on the bill, meaning they weren’t explicitly supporting or opposing. (In fact, every lobbying organization following the bill was in a “monitoring” position.)

As originally introduced, the bill would have imposed a $2,500 individual contribution limit and a $5,000 limit on contributions from small-donor committees, which regularly are used by teachers unions in political races. The bill also would have changed some contribution reporting deadlines.

There currently are no limits for school board and RTD contributions, and McCann characterized the bill as a way to bring those offices into line with Amendment 27, a voter-approved 2002 measure that established individual and small-donor limits in statewide and legislative races, along with restrictions on corporate and labor union giving. (The Colorado Supreme Court Monday, following an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision, ruled the corporate and union bans were unconstitutional.)

An attempt to raise the small-donor committee limit in HB 10-1272 failed earlier in committee, and that issue was the focus of floor debate Tuesday. (Individuals can contribute up to $50 to a small-door committee.)

McCann proposed a floor amendment to raise the committee limit to $10,000, an idea promptly attacked by Republicans.

“It creates an unfair advantage for unions,” argued Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs. “Unions will be able to control what happens in school board elections. The Colorado Education Association will take control of school board elections.”

A variety of Republican substitute amendments were defeated or, in one case, ruled out of order. McCann then withdraw her amendment in favor of one by Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver.

Court’s language proposed a $1,000 limit to school board candidates running in districts and a $2,500 limit for at-large candidates. The corresponding limits for small-donor committees would have been $10,000 and $25,000.

Waller said it would be “a horrible, horrible thing” to give committees 10 times more contribution power than individuals. He tried another amendment to equalize individual and committee limits, but that also was defeated.

With that bit of parliamentary underbrush cleared away, the House returned to Court’s amendment – which also was defeated on a voice vote.

Nearly an hour after debate started, a standing vote was held on the bill.

After the head counting was done, the announcement “The chair is not in doubt, the bill is lost,” came from Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, who was chairing the House during preliminary consideration of bills.

For the record

In other action, the House Tuesday gave final approval to House Bill 10-1074, which would create a system for notifying schools when students return to school from treatment facilities.

The Senate approved final passage of House Bill 10-1044, which creates a system of voluntary licensing for neighborhood youth clubs. (The bill is seen primarily as a way for the Boys and Girls Clubs to avoid licensing as childcare centers, which have stricter staffing requirements than Boys and Girls considers necessary for youth centers.)

Catching up

The Senate Monday gave final approval to House Bill 10-1054 (notification requirements for college emergency procedures) and House Bill 10-1030 (grant-funded scholarship program for ECE workers).

The House Education Committee Monday afternoon made short work of three minor bills, passing Senate Bill 10-154 (fine tuning of accreditation standards for alternative schools) and Senate Bill 10-062 (technical changes in categorical programs law).

At the request of the sponsor, the committee killed Senate Bill 10-026, which was intended to ease data sharing between the Department of Education and College in Colorado. Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, said the matter has been taken care of administratively.

The Senate Education Committee last Thursday voted 6-2 to kill House Bill 10-1206, which would have given full voting rights to student members on the CSU board of governors.

It was the second year in a row that the proposal was defeated, but the student-initiated idea got a lot further this year. In 2009 the bill was killed in the House Education Committee, but the full House passed the bill this year.

Senators who opposed the bill expressed reluctance to turn the board into one that includes specific constituencies.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

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