The five members of the Senate State Affairs Committee listened politely to witnesses and then voted 3-2 Wednesday to kill House Bill 12-1118, which would have required that school district collective bargaining sessions be open to the public.
Also Wednesday, a House committee significantly downsized a bill that would allow expansion of gambling, with part of the proceeds going to community colleges and to scholarships.
Bargaining bill was expected to fall
The panel’s three Democrats provided the majority necessary to kill the measure, which had only Republican sponsors and which was opposed by such traditional Democratic allies as the Colorado Education Association. The bill had passed the House, where Republicans hold a one-vote majority, on a 33-31 vote.
Hearing testimony mirrored much of what was said last month during a House State Affairs Committee session.
Sponsor Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said open negotiations are needed “to make sure that the taxpayers have the ability to come in and see what’s happening with their tax dollars.” He said the bill would help restore public trust in government.
Walt Cooper, Cheyenne Mountain district superintendent and a representative of the Colorado Association of School Executives, opposed the bill, saying the decision to open bargaining sessions should be up to local school boards and unions. Greg Romberg, lobbyist for the Colorado Press Association and Colorado Broadcasters Association, urged passage, saying the bill was a logical extension of the state open meetings law.
Perhaps the most interesting witness was Tiffany Vaughn, who identified herself as a Douglas County teacher and parent. Although she said she’s a member of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, she was critical of the union. She argued that because negotiations are closed, “We cannot be assured that the AFT union leadership is actually representing us. … Teachers should be able to see if their unions are truly representing them.”
The bill was formally opposed by CASE and CEA. The Colorado Association of School Boards listed itself as “monitoring” the bill, but lobbyists for the Cherry Creek and Littleton districts were registered as opposing the bill.
Districts and unions currently can choose open negotiations, and three districts have that system.
Gaming bill gets pared down
Statehouse observers have been wondering about the prospects for House Bill 12-1280, which originally proposed to allow creation of three locations with video gambling devices, two along the Front Range and one on the Western Slope, with part of the revenues going to community colleges and to college scholarships.
Under terms of the original bill, community colleges would get an annual cut of up to $29 million from potential revenues, and a state scholarship fund theoretically would receive as much as $43 million. The Building Excellent Schools Today school construction program also would get a cut of the revenue
The bill was the subject of a lively House Agriculture Committee hearing on Feb. 22, but no vote was taken, apparently because there wasn’t a majority for passage of the bill. (See story about that hearing.)
Debate over the bill is the latest skirmish in the long-running feud between horse racing interests, primarily a company named Mile High Racing and Entertainment, and casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. Casinos fear that allowing video gaming devices in population centers along the Front Range would decimate their business.
The casinos seem to have won a round Wednesday, when the bill came back up in House Agriculture.
Rep. Don Corum, R-Montrose, moved a successful amendment that would limit the bill to one gambling establishment on the Western Slope, erasing any chances that gaming halls would be located in Arapahoe County and Pueblo, as some supporters had hoped. The amendment also requires the casino be located at least 100 miles away from any of the three gambling towns. (Possible locations are thought to be near the fairgrounds in Montrose or Grand Junction.) Corum is one of the prime sponsors of the bipartisan bill.
Reducing the number of potential locations would reduce the expected net revenue from the project to $34 million in 2013-14, raising questions about whether community colleges would get their full $29 million and about how much would be left for a scholarship fund. A successful amendment by Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Grand County, would take $4 million a year off the top for state tourism promotion efforts.
“It feels like we’re doing less for colleges now,” said Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora.
The bill passed the committee 7-6, with Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the roll call.
The measure is expected to have a rough road ahead. Casino interests argue the whole idea is an unconstitutional expansion of gambling. The bill proposes to put the new gambling hall under the Colorado Lottery Commission – the gaming devices are described in the bill as “video lottery terminals.” But opponents argue it should be approved by voters and be regulated by the Limited Gaming Control Commission.
One more step for Adams State
After a brief but cordial session with President David Svaldi and two trustees, the Senate Education Committee Wednesday voted 6-0 for House Bill 12-1080, which would turn Adams State College into Adams State University.
A bill upgrading Metro State to university status already has passed both houses, and a measure to change Western State College to Western State Colorado University is pending in the House.
During a Senate Ed confirmation hearing last week, two prospective Fort Lewis College trustees were asked if their college also is contemplating a name change. They said no.
For the record
The House Wednesday voted 61-3 for House Bill 12-1043, which would require districts to do a better job of informing students about dual high school-college enrollment options. The measure started out proposing creation of a new concurrent enrollment program, but school district lobbyists, their clients concerned about the potential costs, worked out a compromise with sponsor Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.