A bill to ban carrying of concealed weapons on state college campuses was introduced in the state House Thursday, making higher education part of the swelling gun-control debate at the Capitol.
In other developments, a new bill that would allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees adds an intriguing higher education issue to the 2013 legislative agenda, and House committee action Thursday set up a potentially emotional floor debate on sex education.
CU gunfight enters a new round
Current state law allows holders of concealed weapons permits to carry their guns almost anywhere in the state (K-12 schools are an exception), but House Bill 13-1226 would change the law to ban carrying on college campuses, including in campus buildings, at sporting and other indoor events and at many outdoor campus events.
The bill is sponsored by two Boulder Democrats, Rep. Claire Levy and Sen. Rollie Heath, who have close ties to the University of Colorado.
CU and its board of regents have been involved in a long-running war with gun rights advocates over whether concealed weapons could be carried on campus.
The regents had argued that state law on concealed weapons didn’t apply to them, but the Colorado Supreme Court disabused them of that notion with a unanimous March 2012 decision that said the law did in fact apply to CU.
With Democrats back in control of both houses of the legislature this session it was expected that CU’s legislative allies would try to reverse the effect of the supreme court ruling.
The campus gun bill was introduced along with several other Democratic gun control measures that are expected to generate days of debate during the rest of the legislative session.
A new mission for community colleges?
The speculation of the last several months crystalized Thursday with the introduction of Senate Bill 13-165, which would allow community colleges to seek approval from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education for up to 10 bachelor’s degree programs in technical, career and work force fields.
The bill requires, among other things, that such degrees be “sufficiently distinguishable from a degree program at a public four-year institution of higher education in the community college geographic service area.”
Community college leaders have been talking about this for some time, and the bill highlights the blurring of traditional lines that is taking place as the state’s higher education system tries to adjust to new kinds of students, increasing work force demands and the pressures of competing for students and revenue in an era of declining state support.
Other indicators of the trend in recent years include the conversion of four state colleges to universities and the slow growth of graduate programs at those institutions. The 2010 legislature passed a law allowing Colorado Mountain College to offer a limited selection of four-year degrees. CMC is a two-year institution that is supported by local taxes but which is subject to some state oversight.
Sex ed hearing consumes nearly six hours
There was a whiff of the culture wars in the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee’s marathon hearing on House Bill 13-1081, which its supporters hope will improve “comprehensive human sexuality education” in the state’s schools.
The committee’s Democratic majority approved the bill 6-5, sending it to the House floor.
The bill wouldn’t mandate a specific form of sex ed in all the state’s schools – Colorado’s local-control system prevents that.
But the bill sets out a detailed set of requirements for sex education that districts would have to follow if they applied for money from the grant program that the bill also would set up. The grants would be paid for with still-to-be-obtained federal and private funds.
Republican committee members and several witnesses are uncomfortable with bill provisions such as those that would require sex ed appropriate to gay and lesbian students.
Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, unsuccessfully led the charge against the bill, raising concerns over whether the grant program might be unduly influenced by liberal sex ed groups. Stephens is a former Focus on the Family policy analyst and an advocate for sexual abstinence by teenagers.
Stephens, who has an aggressive debating style, repeatedly sparred with bill prime sponsor Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, who can be equally assertive.
Stephens also questioned why the bill was necessary, given that the legislature passed a comprehensive health education law in 2007 and updated its academic standards for health in 2010.
Duran and bill supporters also argued that those standards haven’t been fully implemented in state schools and that the grant program is needed to give districts the resources they need to provide effective sex ed.
Bill supporters also argued that comprehensive sex ed – ranging from abstinence to contraception – is needed to reduce the incidence of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Duran said the bill grew out of a 2012 report by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment titled “Youth Sexual Health in Colorado: A Call to Action.”
Stephens disparaged the quality of that report and repeatedly asked why no officials from that department or the Department of Education were actively supporting the bill or appeared at the hearing.
For the record
There was more activity on education-related bills around the Capitol Thursday. Here are the highlights:
Senate Bill 13-015 – The Senate Education Committee spent an inordinate amount of time on this measure, which would allow school boards create policies that would allow members to occasionally participate in meetings remotely, such as over the telephone or via Skype. Some school boards already do this, but there’s an interest in clarifying the legality of the practice. The committee got hung up on how to handle executive sessions but finally came to agreement and passed the bill 8-0. But chair Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, wasn’t fully convinced and said, “I’m going to fight this on the floor.”
Senate Bills 13-017 and 13-141 – Senate Education took less time to kill these two Republican measures, both of which basically would have made it easier for teachers to opt out of union membership. However, a fresh bill along similar lines, Senate Bill 13-168, was introduced on Thursday.
Senate Bill 13-164 – This new bill would eliminate length-of-residency and registered-voter requirements for people who want to run for school board seats. It’s sponsored by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray. He’s known for such out-of-the-box ideas as a bill to legalize driverless cars and measure that would have allowed underage young adults to order drinks in restaurants if they were dining with their parents. Both of those were killed recently.