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“Spare change” education bills last to pass

Three education bills of note went down to the wire on the last day of the 2011 legislative session.

Two of them are “spare change” education funding bills that originated months ago in the effort by Senate Democrats to find any extra funding – no matter how small – for schools.

Senate Bill 11-184 will create a tax amnesty period next fall during which delinquent taxpayers can pay what they owe with reduced penalties. Projected revenue from that program will yield an estimated $9.7 million that will be directed to the State Education Fund.

Senate Bill 11-109 will create an income tax check-off that citizens can use to direct money to the Colorado Preschool Program for low-income children. That’s expected to raise a small amount of money – probably well less than $100,000 a year – but for bill backers, it’s the thought that counts.

Both bills got held up Wednesday as the House and Senate faced off in a partisan showdown over payday lending provisions that had been tacked on to the annual bill to ratify regulations issued by state agencies. There was some concern that Democratic bills like 184 and 109 were being held hostage in that fight by the Republican-controlled House. In the Senate, majority Democrats did use procedural devices to kill some Republican bills.

But a last-minute compromise was reached in the payday flap – House Republicans backed off their position, apparently because of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s threat to call a Thursday special session if they didn’t.

The Senate had refused to pass the regulations bill with the payday lending rider attached. Death of the bill would have rendered hundreds of pending state regulations null and required them to be redone.

After that crisis was averted, all was relative sweetness and light in the session’s closing hours; apologies even were made at the House and Senate microphones. And the rumored hostage bills quickly moved. The House went home for the year at about 7:50 p.m; senators followed at 8:30 p.m.

Inadvertent casualties of the clash were a few Department of Education regulations involving designation of alternative education campuses and some awards. Those regulations will have to be redone.

The House and Senate Wednesday also agreed to amendments and re-passed House Bill 11-1254, the anti-bullying measure that updates legal definitions of bullying, calls on school districts to update bulling policies and creates a voluntary grant program for anti-bullying programs.

Also passed on the last day were Senate Bill 11-245, updating Department of Higher Education regulation of teacher preparation programs, and Senate Bill 11-266, which requires background checks for some employees of school contractors.

The House and Senate both unanimously overrode several vetoes of budget footnotes by Hickenlooper, including some affecting CDE. Whether the footnotes are alive or dead doesn’t directly affect actual programs, and the fight is a perennial and symbolic one between the executive and legislative branches.

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