House Bill 12-1118, which would make school district-union bargaining sessions open to the public, passed the House State Affairs Committee Thursday on a 5-4 party-line vote.
All the witnesses who appeared supported the bill, but several education interest groups oppose the measure, and it could face problems if it gets to the Democratic controlled Senate.
Greg Romberg, lobbyist for the Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association, supported the bill and described the current practice of closed bargaining as kind of anomaly in the context of state open meetings law.
That law requires any meetings be open when two or more elected officials participate. But bargaining often is delegated to administrators, allowing for closed bargaining.
Only two Colorado school districts, Poudre and Mesa, currently have public bargaining, according to the Colorado Education Association. Colorado Springs District 11 bargaining is partly open, according to board member Bob Null, a D11 board member who testified for the bill.
(Earlier this week, the leader of the union in Douglas County called for open bargaining in that district, something that school board leaders said they also are interested in – see story.)
Sponsor Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton, also pitched the bill as a natural extension of state open meetings law and argued that parents and taxpayers are increasingly interested in the inner workings of district budgets as services such as busing are cut and fees for activities and supplies rise.
Democratic members of the committee raised issues from the start, repeatedly questioning Conti and witnesses about the need for and the advisability of the bill. The committee took testimony and chewed on the bill for two hours.
Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, said she’d received an email from union, district and board leaders in Jefferson County opposing the bill.
“I’m concerned that we are going against the local elected schools boards. … Why should we in the legislature force this upon them?”
In addition to the local control argument, Democrats argued that public meetings could distort negotiations. “There are delicate negotiations, and I could see the potential for incredible grandstanding,” Court argued.
Board member Null from D11, saying his district hasn’t been able to fully open bargaining because of union resistance, said, “We need a mandate from the state.”
The bill is formally opposed by the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Education Association. The Colorado Association of Schools Boards lists itself as “monitoring” the bill. No opponents testified, as sometimes happens when lobbyists feel confident a bill will be defeated later in the legislative process.
Five committee Republicans voted for the bill while four Democrats voted no.
Including Conti, the bill has a dozen GOP House members as cosponsors but no sponsors from either party in the Senate yet.
There are about 60 collective bargaining agreements in effect in Colorado school districts, two-thirds of them covering teachers and the rest other employees.
A short afternoon for Senate Ed
The Senate Education Committee Thursday voted 7-0 to approve House Bill 12-1072, which would direct state colleges and universities to set up systems for evaluating adult students’ military, professional and life experiences as a way to earn college credit.
Some colleges already do that, and there are existing tests to evaluate life experiences and place students. But bill sponsors want to expand the practice as a way to help increase Colorado’s college completion rate.
Army veteran Daniel Warvi testified that he was able to translate military and professional experience into two years’ worth of credits at the private University of Denver. But many veterans have trouble getting experience credits at public colleges, or even transferring credits from service-run community colleges, he said.
Sponsor Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, called the bill “a really innovative way for people to cut down on the costs of going to college.”
Having a feel-good bill to consider put committee members in a jovial mood.
Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, asked how much credit 14 years in the legislature would earn her.
King jokingly suggested six credit hours toward a graduate degree.
“I do not have a bachelor’s degree,” Spence replied, at which point King upped the ante to “24 or 36 hours.”
Johnston’s next assignment
The so-called parent trigger bill, House Bill 12-1149, was introduced in the Senate this week, with Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, the sole sponsor. (See this story for details about the measure’s final passage in the House.)
Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, assigned the bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee, where bills often go to die.
Johnston said Thursday he’s not discouraged by that and is starting work on building support for the measure. He also noted that two of his Senate Ed Democratic colleagues, Bob Bacon of Fort Collins and Rollie Heath of Boulder, sit on State Affairs.
This year Johnston is a prime sponsor of the undocumented student tuition bill and still is talking about introducing a major school finance measure.
For the record
The full Senate Thursday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 12-1090, which would require moving the annual Oct. 1 enrollment count date when it conflicts with religious holidays. The count date already is moved when Oct. 1 falls on the weekend, and current law allows counting of students in a window of five days on either side of the date.
But there’s concern that parents are confused about whether kids can miss school on Oct. 1 for religious reasons. The date periodically conflicts with Jewish holy days.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.