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Senate passes bullying bill

Updated 9:45 a.m. May 5 – Without additional debate, the Senate this morning voted 23-10 for final passage of House Bill 11-1254, the anti-bullying proposal.

The measure now returns to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

The Senate also voted 33-0 to pass House Bill 11-1121, which bars people with certain felony convictions from non-licensed jobs at schools. (See this story for background on the bill.)

Nobody’s in favor of school bullying, but that didn’t mean the Senate acted quickly on  HB 11-1254, which would expand the legal definition of school bullying, require school districts to update bullying policies and create a donation-funded grant program for district anti-bullying programs.

Senators debated for nearly two hours spread over two days before giving the bill preliminary approval on a voice vote Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, the House Education Committee gave 13-0 approval to Senate Bill 11-052, the higher education performance-funding bill.

The bullying bill is backed by a variety of education and other advocacy groups, including One Colorado, which supports gay and lesbian rights. The original version of the bill proposed a lengthy set of requirements for school anti-bullying efforts, but the sponsors watered the bill down substantially in the face of district opposition, and the amended measure passed the Republican-controlled House 47-18.

Discrimination against and bullying of gay and lesbian students has been a subtle undercurrent to discussion on the bill. During debate Tuesday, Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, raised that issue directly, saying, “Some people have the misunderstanding that this is about gay and lesbian kids. This is about all kids. … I think this bill is a necessary bill.”

Spence repeated her support after discussion resumed on Wednesday.

Prime sponsor Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, referenced bullying against gays and lesbians, saying, “In my personal experience … kids can be pretty mean. Most every other kid in my junior high school had figured out I was gay before I did.”

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, was the member most skeptical about the bill, saying gay and lesbian students “don’t need a school bullying policy, they have anti-discrimination laws on their side.”

Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, suggested that the problem is better handled at the local level, rather than having the state legislate bullying policies.

Two Republican amendments were added to the bill Wednesday. They expand the definition of bullying to include targeting kids for academic performance and for political views.

Everybody’s happy with SB 11-052 now

House Education gave unanimous approval to SB 11-052 after hearing an assortment of witnesses talk glowingly about how well the higher education community had come together to craft a compromise version of the bill.

Metro State President Steve Jordan (file photo)

Metro State President Steve Jordan (file photo)

Metro State President Steve Jordan, who repeated the old joke about Colorado’s higher ed system being “a loose confederation … held together by envy of each other,” said it’s noteworthy “when you get to a position where you have no one actively opposing the bill.”

College leaders were opposed to the initial version of the bill, which would have phased performance funding in fairly quickly and didn’t contain a “trigger” of minimum state financial support before performance funding would kick in. Extensive negotiations between college executives, the Department of Higher Education and bill sponsors led to a compromise.

The bill is potentially one of the most important education policy measures of the 2011 session, but it has a long implementation timeline and is contingent on significant improvements in the state’s budget situation.

Its main provisions would:

  • Set a Sept. 1, 2012, deadline for the state’s colleges and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to develop a new higher ed master plan.
  • Require the commission to negotiate individualized performance contracts with institutions.
  • Set a Dec. 1, 2013, deadline for the commission to develop the details of a performance-funding program.
  • Delay the start of performance funding until the 2016-17 school year. And performance funding wouldn’t kick in unless state support of higher education was at least $706 million. The money available for performance funding would be 25 percent of the state appropriations above $650 million.

Another higher education measure, House Bill 11-1301, won 63-2 final House approval Wednesday. It would give colleges greater administrative flexibility in use of student fees, creation of non-profit auxiliaries, some hiring, purchasing, construction and other areas.

For the record

  • House Ed also voted 11-0 to pass Senate Bill 11-265, changing the name of Mesa State College to Colorado Mesa University. Members voted 12-0 for Senate Bill 11-111, creating a study of ways to reduce remediation.
  • Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 11-1201, which streamlines some teacher licensing procedures.
  • Hickenlooper nominated Patricia Chlouber of Leadville, Wayne Eckerling of Denver and Steven Schneider of Colorado Springs to the Charter School Institute board.

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