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House debates “unfunded mandate”

Allowing high school students to take college classes before graduation usually is a feel-good issue that attracts wide legislative support. A 2009 upgrade of what’s call concurrent enrollment passed both houses unanimously.

But House Bill 12-1043, which would create opportunities for students who are ahead of schedule in their high school studies, has had heavy going in the House, primarily because of fears about what it would cost school districts.

The bill would apply to high school students who start their senior years needing less than a full year’s worth of classes to graduate. Such students could choose to take college classes, and districts would be responsible for paying college tuition up to $3,176 a year. Districts would continue to count such students as enrolled and receive per pupil funding, which averages about $6,500 a year statewide.

A key issue is student choice; existing concurrent enrollment programs require district approval for students enrolling in college classes.

Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton and sole sponsor of the bill for now, had the bill amended in the House Education Committee to meet some district concerns.

But that apparently wasn’t enough for some House Democrats, who criticized the bill during floor debate.

“Here we are about to pass another unfunded mandate,” said Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. “The intent of the bill is good … the problem is the bill doesn’t come with any additional funding,” added Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County.

A Hamner amendment to make the program optional for districts was defeated, but the House did give voice approval to a Kerr amendment that says school districts wouldn’t have to implement the program until per-pupil funding returns to levels of 2008-09, the last year before school budget cuts began.

Conti returned to the microphone to defend the bill, saying, “There has been a lot of confusion on this issue.”

Then, Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, stepped to the podium and exercised the majority leader’s prerogative, laying the bill over until Tuesday.

Estimated cost of tax holiday trimmed

Committee amendments made to the sales tax holiday bill would trim the amount of lost state revenue from about $5.8 million a year to about $4.5 million, according to a new legislative fiscal analysis released Monday.

House Bill 12-1069 would create a three-day sales tax holiday during the first weekend in August during which school supplies costing $50 or less, clothing not costing more than $75 and computer equipment costing $1,000 or less would be exempt from state sales taxes. (The House Finance Committee reduced those amounts from those proposed in the original bill.) The holiday would run annually through 2016. Counties and cities would be free to decide whether to exempt such items from their portion of the sales tax.

During a Feb. 8 meeting of the committee, Chris Howes of the Colorado Retail Council argued that a tax holiday actually would increase state revenue, based on the experience of other states.

But the legislative fiscal analysis sticks with its estimate of a tax loss. The latest analysis reads: “Sales tax holidays tend to attract more shoppers into stores, which often relates to increased sales on taxable items that would not have occurred otherwise during the holiday period. This increased spending may partially offset the loss of sales tax revenue to the state and local governments due to the sale of exempt items during the sales tax holiday. Increased sales, however, may only represent a shift of purchases as consumers wait for the anticipated tax holiday to purchase items that they were already going to purchase at some point.”

Contracts bill passes on party-line vote

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins
Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins

Senate Bill 12-051 sparked a bit of a floor fight on preliminary Senate consideration last Friday, but the bill received final approval Monday with no debate. All 20 Senate Democrats voted yes, and all 15 Republicans voted no.The bill would direct school boards to “consider” adopting contracting policies that would include the factor of “whether the contractor understands the culture of the affected school and will execute the contract in a manner that supports student success.”

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and chair of the Senate Education Committee, is carrying the bill in the Senate. The House prime sponsor is Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and chair of the House Education Committee.

No debate on digital learning study

Massey also is a prime sponsor of House Bill 12-1124, which passed the House 64-0 on Monday. The measure would require the state Department of Education to hire a Colorado-based consultant to conduct a comprehensive study of digital education and report back to the State Board of Education, the governor and the legislative education committees by Jan. 31, 2013. (Get more details in this story about committee consideration.)

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, is carrying the bill in the Senate.

In other action

Concealed carry bill: In another piece of parliamentary maneuvering Monday on the House floor, House Bill 12-1092 was sent back to the House Judiciary Committee. The measure received preliminary floor approval on Feb. 14 – after addition of a Democratic amendment that broadened the definition of school property on which the bill wouldn’t apply.

The bill would give people who have a legal right to carry handguns the ability to carry them concealed without obtaining a separate concealed weapons permit. Several Democrats questioned the need to send the bill back to committee, but the motion carried on a 34-30 votes. Gun rights bills are a Republican priority in this election-year session.

Another ASSET delay: Senate Bill 12-015, the ASSET bill that would create a special category of college tuition for undocumented students, has again been laid over, this time to the Senate floor calendar for Feb. 27. The measure is awaiting final Senate approval, but supporters are trying to drum up additional support outside the Capitol before sending the bill to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock / File photo
Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock

Philosophical grousing: A relatively minor bill consumed nearly an hour Monday afternoon before the House Education Committee voted 8-5 to pass House Bill 12-1218. The measure would extend the sunset date of the Early Childhood and School Readiness Commission, a legislative study panel, from this coming July 1 to July 1, 2017.Some Republican members wondered if the group’s work overlaps with other state committees and complained that government is getting too deeply involved in families.

“I have a big concern about how we’re inserting ourselves younger and younger into private citizens’ lives,” said Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield and committee vice chair.

“I too have a great deal of concern at government getting too much into families’ lives,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock. But she and Massey joined the panel’s six Democrats to send the bill to the House Appropriations Committee on an 8-5 vote.

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

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