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Senate slaps down president on bus belts

Senate President Brandon Shaffer Friday morning tried to pull a fast one with a technical bill on school vehicles, but his amendment to require shoulder belts on new buses was buried by 29 no votes.

House Bill 10-1232 was on the Senate’s final consideration “consent calendar,” a part of the daily schedule reserved for minor or otherwise non-controversial measures and used to pass such bills quickly and without debate.

Shaffer, a Boulder Democrat, upended that routine when he requested, and received, permission to offer an amendment on final approval. (Legislative rules are designed to encourage debate and amendments on preliminary consideration, so approval of the members is required for amendments on final consideration.)

The president’s amendment would have required that school buses purchased after June 30 have three-point restraint “systems” for all passengers.

Shaffer has become something of a crusader for bus belts. Last year he proposed Senate Bill 09-029, which originally would have required belts on new buses and retrofitting of old buses. The Senate passed the bill after stripping out the retrofitting provision, but a unanimous House Education Committee subsequently killed the bill, persuaded by arguments that it was an “unfunded mandate” on financially strapped school districts.

During Friday’s floor debate, Schaffer got lots of pushback and no support. Republican Sens. Nancy Spence of Centennial and Keith King of Colorado Springs argued that the amendment didn’t fit under the bill’s title, which has been narrowed by the Senate Education Committee to prevent such tinkering. (Presiding officer Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, ruled the amendment did fit.)

“This is a bad amendment … this is totally unnecessary,” said Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster and vice chair of the education committee.

When the vote came, Shaffer and four other Democrats were the only yes votes. Among the 29 no votes were 15 Democrats, including the president pro tempore, the majority leader and the chair of the education committee. (All members of the committee also voted no.)

The unamended bill passed 34-0. It merely changes the definition of school vehicles to include vans, SUVs and other non-bus vehicles that are used to transport students.

In other action

• The main package of 2010-11 budget bills was introduced in the House, including House Bill 10-1376, the 2010-11 long appropriations bill, and House Bill 10-1383, which proposes a one-time transfer of $29.8 million from the CollegeInvest scholarship fund to the state general fund to help pay for need-based student aid in 2010-11.

The long bill is expected to take up most of the House’s time through Wednesday next week. In a sign of how quickly the legislature is taking up major issues this year, the long bill was introduced a full 11 days earlier than the 2009 appropriations bill was. (The 2008 long bill, however, was introduced on March 20 of that year.)

• The Senate Appropriations Committee, with no discussion, voted 9-0 to pass House Bill 10-1369, the 2010-11 school finance bill that cuts state K-12 aid by 6.3 percent. That sets the bill up for Senate passage early next week before the main 2010-11 budget bill comes over from the House.

• The Senate gave 25-9 final approval to House Bill 10-1183, which would allow a study of alternative school finance systems through pilot programs in a select number of districts. (Senators defeated an amendment proposed by conservative Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, that would have required the pilot studies look into the costs of illegal immigrant children. “Illegals” are something of a fixation for Schultheis.)

• The Senate agreed to House amendments and repassed Senate Bill 10-008, which commissions a study of the average daily membership method of county school enrollment.

• Senators voted 22-12 for House Bill 10-1026, which would create a grant-funded program of financial incentives for quality early-childhood education programs.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

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