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A day of much talk, little action

A chaotic day for education bills at the Colorado legislature ended with just one noteworthy bill passed and much work left over for later.

The highest-profile casualty of the day of delay was House Bill 12-1091, Rep. Judy Solano’s proposal to eliminate state writing tests and one set of high school tests.

Senate Bill 12-148, the proposal to rename Metro State College as Metropolitan State University of Denver, did pass the Senate Education Committee on a 6-0 vote, but not until after the committee spent two hours on it.

And of four bills related to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which provides pensions for Colorado teachers, one was killed at its sponsor’s request and three were delayed for later consideration.

Messy morning for State Affairs

Solano, a term-limited Brighton Democrat, is making her last attempt to cut back on statewide testing with HB 12-1091. She proposes to use the savings from elimination of writing tests and one set of high school tests to increase funding for the Colorado Preschool Program.

The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee is commonly known as the “kill committee” because House GOP leadership sends bills that it wants killed to the committee. So Solano is facing somewhat long odds, but she’d marshaled a big list of witnesses, including several cute preschool kids.

The trouble was that the committee burned more than two hours hearing testimony on two non-education bills before killing them on party-line votes. That left less than an hour to consider Solano’s bill before the panel had to vacate the room for the 1:30 p.m. meeting of another committee.

Vice chair Rep. Don Corum, R-Montrose, tried to allocate the remaining time equally among supporters and opponents of the bill, but he seemed to have only tenuous control over the meeting. (Chair Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Lakewood, was in and out of the meeting because he was carrying a PERA bill in the House Finance Committee, which had its own problems Thursday acting on bills – see below.)

As the crowd grew a little restive, Corum announced the bill would be laid over to a future meeting so that every witness would have a chance to speak.

An anxious Solano crammed in a few more witnesses, including the odd spectacle of the preschoolers counting to 10 in different languages under the direction of a teacher.

The committee didn’t get to House Bill 12-1118, which would require school district collective bargaining sessions be open to the public.

Full-court press for Metro name change

The Senate Education Committee did pass the main bill on its agenda Thursday, but it took awhile. Senate Bill 12-148, the Metro State name change bill, was approved 6-0. The measure was considered pretty much of a lock this session, given that Metro has worked out “branding” differences with the private University of Denver that derailed a Metro name change in the 2011 legislative session.

But Metro wanted to clinch the sale with a long list of witnesses – trustees, students, alumni, business leaders and others – testifying in support of the bill. Former Denver Nugget Bill Hanzlik, a Metro trustee, even testified twice, one for himself and once for trustee chair Robert Cohen, who couldn’t make the meeting.

The proceedings also were slowed by committee member Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, who kept asking questions about why the bill was needed. Hudak said she was worried that Metro’s target demographic – minorities, low-income and first-generation students – might be put off by the word “university.” Metro leaders, including President Steve Jordan, are adamant that the name change to “university” will increase the value of Metro degrees in the job market.

In the end, Hudak missed the vote because she had to leave the committee room to say goodbye and take photos with the students who were shadowing her on Thursday (see below).

PERA bills die, stall in House Finance

The House Finance Committee had four PERA bills on its agenda Thursday. Some legislative Republicans, fretful about the financial future of the big pension system, are proposing various changes in the system.

Three PERA bills already have been killed in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the Republican-majority House is considered a somewhat friendlier environment.

It didn’t work out that way, at least on Thursday.

Conservative Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, asked the panel to kill his House Bill 12-1250, which some critics said would cut some retirees out of some health insurance benefits.

Three other bills – to change the membership of the PERA board, change the base for calculation of retirement benefits and expand the system’s defined contribution system – were laid over for later consideration.

Miscellany

• The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 7-2 to pass Senate Bill 12-130, which would consolidate several early childhood programs into the state Department of Human Services. While the bill tangentially affects early childhood education programs, it’s of interest because it’s a priority of the Hickenlooper administration, which has made early childhood programs and literacy a priority.

• The Capitol was overrun with students Thursday, giving the marble-and-brass halls the air of a middle school. In addition to the counting preschoolers in House State Affairs, there was a large contingent of students marshaled by the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented, many of whom shadowed individual legislators.

The Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families and the Colorado Cyberschools Association rallied what they claimed were 1,000 students and adults on the Capitol’s west steps to support online education.

And some 150 kids (according to FOX31), watched as the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee gave 7-0 final approval to House Bill 12-1147, which would name the tiger salamander as the official state amphibian. The idea originated with school kids, as have many of the “official state whatever” bills of the past.

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

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