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Colorado Capitol

Jaclyn Zubrzycki/Chalkbeat

Data privacy protection bills die in committee

The House Education Committee late Monday killed two Republican-sponsored data privacy protection bills following a meeting that lasted more than eight hours.

Monday’s marathon session featured often-emotional testimony from parents expressing fears about intrusive school surveys and the dangers of detrimental information following children for life.

The bills were supported by a long list of witnesses, most of them parents with passionate arguments about what they consider to be intrusions on student and family privacy, particularly surveys that ask information about drug and alcohol use, sex, suicidal thoughts, and other personal matters.

“There’s a lot of mistrust, and there’s a lot of anger,” said Cheri Kiesecker, a Fort Collins activist. “This is profiling them forever.”

Both bills were “postponed indefinitely” on 6-5 votes, with majority Democrats opposing them.

Democratic committee members agreed that data privacy and security need to be dealt with, but in another way. “There are issues that need to be addressed. I just don’t believe this bill does it,” said Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora and chair of the committee. “I am hopeful still that there will be a bill this session.”

The defeat of HB 15-1108 and House Bill 15-1199 leaves only one data privacy bill currently alive in the 2015 session, Senate Bill 15-173. That measure, introduced late last week, has bipartisan sponsorship and seeks to impose new privacy, distribution, and security requirements on outside vendors, such as database companies, that handle and process student information.

The two House bills sought to broaden parent control over student data and set new requirements on school districts.

“We need this bill to protect the personal and constitutional privacy rights of students,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument and prime sponsor of HB 15-1108.

But Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, testified, “It is far too prescriptive … and will tie the hands of our educators.” Other witnesses who opposed the bills warned they could hamper collection of data needed to identify and provide services to at-risk and special education students, as well as other special populations.

HB 15-1108 would have set new rules for protection of data privacy. It would have required individual parent consent to surveys and assessments and allowed parents to restrict distribution of data and have data destroyed. (Read unamended bill here.)

HB 15-1199 would have set detailed parent consent requirements, imposed limitations on vendors, restricted disclosure of data to third parties, required destruction of most data five years after students have left school, and set criminal penalties for violations of the bill’s provisions. It also would have set requirements for protection of teacher data (read bill).

School district witnesses who testified against the second bill warned that it could completely disrupt compiling data from statewide tests.

The committee Monday also killed a third Republican-sponsored measure, House Bill 15-1037. That bill from would have prohibited state colleges from denying student religious groups access to campus facilities and funding based solely on a group’s requirement that its leaders hold certain religious beliefs or standards of conduct.

The backstory to this bill is controversy over whether colleges and universities should support student groups that, because of religious convictions, discriminate against gays. Testimony and committee discussion on the bill consumed more than four hours. A similar bill by Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, was killed by House Education early in the 2014 session.