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Education bills sideswiped

Four important 2012 education bills have died because of the Colorado House’s late-night impasse over Senate Bill 12-002, the civil unions bill.

Rumors were rife at the Capitol this morning that Senate Democrats might try to graft dead bills onto other measures that are still alive. Possible maneuvers include attaching the school discipline bill onto an education laws cleanup measure. The school finance act also could be target of otherwise-unlikely amendments.

The dead bills include:

Senate Bill 12-172, which would have required the State Board of Education to commit Colorado to one of two groups developing multi-state achievement tests in language arts and math.

Senate Bill 12-046, which would have eliminated most zero-tolerance school discipline requirements, given school districts more flexibility in discipline and encouraged schools to reduce use of expulsions, suspensions and referrals to police.

Senate Bill 12-047, which would have provided state funding to districts that chose to administer basic skills testing such as the Accuplacer to high school students.

Senate Bill 12-164, which would have modernized state regulation of for-profit colleges that offer bachelors and graduate degrees and added some consumer protections for students.

The discipline and higher education bills were the products of extensive negotiations and development by lawmakers, state officials and interest group, so months of work have been wasted. Failure to pass the bills isn’t necessarily disruptive for state schools or colleges, but it does delay reforms sought by a wide variety of policymakers and groups.

The state constitution requires that bills receive preliminary and final floor consideration on different days. All of these bills were scheduled for preliminary consideration Tuesday, meaning they had to pass by midnight in order to receive final votes today, the last day of the 2012 session. A total of 31 bills suffered the same fate, according to our partners at State Bill Colorado.

Senate Bil 12-068, the proposed ban on added trans fats in school foods, did get preliminary House approval Tuesday evening. The two biggest education bills of the session, the 2012-13 school finance act and the early childhood literacy bill, were not affected by the impasse.

House Republican leaders didn’t want to bring the civil unions bill to the floor, where it was expected to pass. The game of political chicken with Democrats kept representatives off the floor for much of Tuesday evening, running out the clock for civil unions and the other bills.

Some lawmakers are urging Gov. John Hickenlooper to call a special session for consideration of the civil unions bill. It’s unknown if he will do that, or if he will include other issues if he does.

Historically, special sessions are limited to consideration of one issue, or to very few. The governor’s formal written “call” for a special session limits the subjects to be covered, so crafting a call that includes multiple topics but excludes other issues could be tricky.

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