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Key bills rescued as session ends

Final update 11:30 p.m. – Four education bills in danger of dying because of the House civil unions meltdown were amended onto other education measures by the Senate Wednesday, a rescue effort ratified by the House later in the day, not long before the 2012 regular session adjourned for good.

A somber Gov. John Hickenlooper announced he'll call a special session of the legislature to consider civil unions.

A somber Gov. John Hickenlooper announced he’ll call a special session of the legislature to consider civil unions.

Ron Coleman

Also Wednesday, the House accepted the significant Senate amendments to House Bill 12-1238, the sweeping early childhood literacy program, and re-passed it 58-7.

And Senate Bill 12-068, the measure that bans use of industrially produced trans fats in school foods, passed 36-29 in House and 18-17 in Senate. The much-amended bill survived repeated efforts to kill it but was significantly watered down, containing exceptions for food programs that use federal guidelines, for smaller school districts and for food provided at fundraisers.

Here are the bills that missed a key deadline and were effectively killed as standalone measures because of Tuesday night’s House stalemate:

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

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

Senate Bill 12-047, which would provide 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 modernize state regulation of for-profit colleges that offer bachelors and graduate degrees and add some consumer protections for students.

Here’s what the Senate did to save them:

  • The texts of the discipline and Accuplacer bills were added to House Bill 12-1345, the 2012-13 school funding bill, which then got 27-8 final Senate approval. The House agreed and re-passed it 65-0.
  • The content of the multistate testing bill was added to House Bill 12-1240, an omnibus cleanup bill of various education laws. This bill went to a conference committee to change one letter in the bill (honestly, but it’s too complicated to explain). The conference committee report was accepted by both houses and re-passed late in the evening. This bill has gone through lots of ups and downs and caused lots of heartburn for the Department of Education. Little noticed in all the debate is the fact that the bill delays some Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids deadlines, such as that for creation of specialized diplomas. And the testing provisions added to the bill are potentially important.
  • And the text of the higher education regulation bill was added to House Bill 12-1155, another higher ed measure that originally dealt with remediation procedures. It passed 35-0 in the Senate and 65-0 in the House.

The amendments were offered by various members of the Senate Education Committee from both parties. There was no significant debate on any of the changes in either House.

Colorado has relatively strict rules that restrict bill content to the subject listed in a bill’s title. But lawmakers and staff members determined that the titles of the three bills were broad enough to accommodate the orphan measures.

In a related development, an emotional Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Wednesday afternoon that he will call a special session of the legislature to reconsider civil unions and some other orphan bills. (With Wednesday’s rescue of the four education bills, no education issues are expected to be part of the special session.)

Tuesday night’s House problems were keyed to the fact that the state constitution requires bills receive preliminary and final floor consideration on different days. All of the orphan bills were scheduled for preliminary consideration Tuesday, meaning they had to pass by midnight in order to receive final votes Wednesday.

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 lead to a recess that kept representatives off the floor for much of Tuesday evening, running out the clock for civil unions and 30 other bills.

For the record

Here are other education bills of note that crossed the finish line on the last day of 2012 session:

  • House Bill 12-1261 – $4,800 stipends for nationally board certified teachers who work in high-need schools
  • House Bill 12-1350 – Resident tuition eligibility for some military dependents
  • Senate Bill 12-051 – Suggested contracting procedures for school districts
  • House Bill 12-1043 – Updating of concurrent enrollment law

Also receiving final approval was House Bill 12-1086, which ratifies a large number of new state agency rules, including teacher evaluation appeals but not including parent notification of teacher arrests.